Kay Stephenson will be kept on as the Buffalo Bills' coach next season, owner Ralph Wilson of the NFL team with the worst 1984 record said yesterday.

Wilson issued a statement saying Stephenson "has the technical knowledge, strength of character and sense of commitment" and is "determined to bring (Buffalo) a playoff contender."

Stephenson, taking over in 1983 after Chuck Knox went to Seattle, guided the Bills to an 8-8 record in his rookie season; they were 2-14 in 1984. Wilson reportedly talked with Sam Rutigliano after the season, but the former Cleveland Browns coach said he didn't want the job.

Stephenson, in Mobile, Ala., for Saturday's Senior Bowl, sent word, "I know and our players know there is much work to be done. We emerged from 1984 wiser, tougher and more determined than ever to restore a winning personality to the Buffalo Bills."

It is expected that several of his staff will be replaced . . .

Jerry Rhome, Washington Redskins' quarterback coach the past two seasons, is one of six known candidates to succeed John McKay as coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Rhome is currently scouting the Senior Bowl.

"I have talked to them, and things went fine. But it was real casual," Rhome said. "I'm going to (formally) interview next Monday in Tampa Bay."

Other candidates: former NFL head coaches Leeman Bennett and Ron Meyer, Buccaneers defensive coordinator Wayne Fontes, Seattle defensive coordinator Tom Catlin and Jim Stanley, coach of the USFL's late Michigan Panthers.