The Buffalo Bills cleared the way for their next head coach, informing their entire coaching staff to start looking elsewhere for jobs.
Interim head coach Perry Fewell was among those relieved of his duties Monday, though the Bills said he's still a candidate for the job and will be interviewed. Fewell is on a growing list of candidates likely to include former NFL head coaches Brian Billick, Marty Schottenheimer and Bill Cowher.
The latest development came shortly after Fewell addressed his players in a final team meeting and less than one day after the Bills (6-10) ended their season with a 30-7 victory over the Indianapolis Colts.
The Bills announced in a statement that the team's current staff remains under contract, but the coaches have been informed that their obligations for this season have been completed, and they now "have the opportunity to seek positions elsewhere." The release said the staff's status will then be determined by the Bills' next head coach.
Despite how the Bills phrased it, a person familiar with the team's decisions told The Associated Press that the coaches had been fired. NFL.com's Vic Carucci reported that new Bills general manager Buddy Nix told the coaches to clean out their offices and leave the building.
The house-cleaning didn't come as a surprise after Bills owner Ralph Wilson said no job was safe as he was preparing to revamp his entire front office once the season ended. Wilson made those comments to the AP in November, days after he fired Dick Jauron.
The overhaul started last week when Nix was promoted from national scout to GM, filling a spot that had been held by the team's chief operating officer Russ Brandon, who has no football background. Brandon was promoted to chief executive officer.
Bills players were expecting significant changes as they cleaned out their lockers before the team meeting.
"I'm anxious to see what happens," linebacker Paul Posluszny said. "We all want to know what the situation is, who the head coach will be, what type of defense we're going to run. There's a lot of questions, but you have to stay patient."
Defensive end Chris Kelsay saw the possibility of a purge coming when he reported to training camp in late July, warning that jobs would be on the line if the Bills endured another losing season.
"It is what it is," Kelsay said Monday. "I'll wait and see how things play out."
Now going through his fourth coaching change in seven seasons in Buffalo, Kelsay hoped the team can finally find the right man for the job.
"You've got to get it right eventually," Kelsay said. "Mr. Wilson says we need a little luck, (but) we haven't had it."
The Bills closed their 50th season by missing the playoffs for a 10th consecutive year, capping a decade in which they enjoyed only one winning season (9-7 in 2004).
Fewell, the team's defensive coordinator, finished with a 3-4 record as interim coach.
Except for respected special teams coordinator Bobby April, most of the Bills' assistants, including Fewell, had been hired by Jauron.
Nix said he prefers to hire someone with previous head-coaching experience. It's also believed that the Bills are leaning toward an offensive-minded coach to spark a unit that has ranked 26th or worst in yards gained in the NFL in each of the past seven seasons.
Cowher has been mentioned as a candidate, and NFL.com's Steve Wyche reported Saturday that the former Pittsburgh Steelers coach has contacted potential assistants in anticipation of returning to the NFL.
Schottenheimer previously worked with Nix with the San Diego Chargers and also played for the Bills. Though saying "it's not likely" that he'll return to coaching, Schottenheimer didn't entirely close the door on the possibility in a telephone interview with two reporters, including the AP.
"I never make a decision until I must," said Schottenheimer, who added that he hasn't been contacted by the Bills, but he did leave Nix a congratulatory message for being promoted to GM.
"As you're going forward, it's really about putting a partnership together," Billick said. "I think any organization, including the Bills, that are looking for a head coach, have to decide what type of structure they want to put together before they can reach out and say, 'We want this kind of coach or that kind of coach.' I had a pretty good first marriage in Baltimore with Ozzie Newsome, have a firm idea of what I'm looking for in an organization. We'll see how it pans out now as it stands with both Washington and Buffalo."
Other potential candidates for the Bills include Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh, Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, San Diego Chargers defensive coordinator Ron Rivera and Schottenheimer's son, Brian, who's the New York Jets' offensive coordinator.
The new coach will have several personnel decisions to make, starting at quarterback.
Trent Edwards, who opened the season as starter, was benched after Jauron was fired. Ryan Fitzpatrick took over and failed to spark a sputtering offense, though he did go 5-4 in games in which he had a majority of playing time.
Defensive end Aaron Schobel is contemplating retirement after completing his ninth year in Buffalo. Then there's wide receiver Terrell Owens, who becomes a free agent after completing a one-year, $6.5 million contract that he signed with the Bills in March, days after the Dallas Cowboys released him.
Owens reiterated Monday that he hasn't ruled out returning to Buffalo, but only with the right coach, at the right price, and if the Bills are interested.
"I think anything is possible, and I think for myself, just be patient, wait things out and weigh my options," Owens said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.