by Tommy Lawlor
The Buffalo Bills threw us a curveball and hired Chan Gailey to be their new head coach. I’m sure many of you are saying “What the heck is going on up there?”.
The key to all good coaching moves is to hire the right guy. Fans get excited about big names, but they always forget something. Those guys had to come from somewhere. Who was Bill Cowher in 1991? Who was Mike Krzyzewski in 1979? Who was Urban Meyer in 2002? And so on. Bill was the Defensive Coordinator in Kansas City. Mike was the head coach of the Army basketball team. Urban was the head coach at Bowling Green.
Fans want splash hires. They want proven winners with great reputations to come save their teams. Sometimes that works. Bill Parcells has won every where he’s gone in the NFL. On the other hand Joe Gibbs struggled upon his return to the same team where he built his legendary status.
Is Gailey the right man for the job in Buffalo? That is the key question. Let’s talk about why the move makes sense. Buffalo has had an odd power structure for years…maybe since John Butler left. Tom Donahoe gave them a quality GM at the early part of the decade, but there seemed to be some disagreement between him and owner Ralph Wilson. Since then there have been different coaches and GM types running the team.
Now Buddy Nix is the GM. He’s not a figurehead. He’s not a power hungry guy. Buddy is a football man. He will run the personnel side of things. He’ll let Gailey do the coaching and Russ Brandon and Wilson do the business side of things. All Nix wants is to control football operations. He worked in Buffalo as a scout for years so he knows Mr. Wilson and has a feel for the organization.
Hiring Chan gives Buddy a coach who has been around the block. Chan isn’t coming to town to try and take over. He’s happy to have the job. He will work with Nix to build up a roster that both guys believe in. That’s critical. Nix came back to Buffalo from San Diego. The GM (AJ Smith) and coach (Marty Schottenheimer) could not get along out there. It hurt the team. It ended up in Marty getting fired when it appeared the team was on the verge of being a championship squad. The Chargers have been more up and down under Norv Turner.
Chan is also a good fit because he is an offensive coach. Buffalo has finished 25th or worse in offense for 7 straight years. That is…bad. The Bills know that they must improve on offense if they have any hope of challenging for a playoff spot, somewhere they haven’t been since 1999.
Gailey isn’t some offensive genius who can turn water into wine or Trent Edwards into Jim Kelly. He is a good coach with a solid track record. Yes, he did get fired in his last 2 gigs as HC. Georgia Tech fired him because he wasn’t a great recruiter and couldn’t beat Georgia. Chan did go 44-32 in his time there. The Cowboys fired him for not being Jimmy Johnson. Chan was 18-14 with 2 playoff appearances. The last time Buffalo had consecutive winning seasons? 1998 and 1999. Gailey has never had consecutive losing seasons, whether in small college football, the World League of American Football, major college football, or the NFL.
Gailey has had offensive success in the NFL. The Steelers were top 11 in scoring both years that Chan ran the offense. Dallas finished in the 20s in scoring in the prior 2 seasons to his arrival. With Gailey in charge Dallas was in the top 11 both years. Then he went to Miami (sans Marino) as the OC. Gailey helped them to 11-5 records in back to back years. The Dolphins finished 8th in the NFL in scoring in his 2nd year. Keep in mind that team had Jay Fiedler handing the ball off to Lamar Smith. Miami hasn’t come close to finishing 8th in scoring since Gailey left.
Gailey has a good track record of working with young players. He’s been a HC in college for almost a decade. Only one of those seasons resulted in a losing record. You don’t win in college if you can’t teach players how to play the game. Chan also spent time in a former developmental league, the WLAF. He won there. When he was the Offensive Coordinator for the Steelers he helped a young guy named Kordell Stewart make the adjustment from “Slash” to winning QB (11-5 in his first year as the starter).
Buffalo has some talent in place on offense. Guards Eric Wood and Andy Levitre played well this year. RBs Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch are a very good tandem. WR Lee Evans is a big play threat. TE Shawn Nelson is a promising rookie. The team could use a good LT. Most importantly the team needs a QB who can win games and play at a consistent level. Gailey has worked with a variety of QBs in his time. He’s helped HOF players like John Elway and Troy Aikman. He’s worked with journeymen like Mike Tomczak and Jay Fiedler. He’s also spent time with young guys like Tyler Thigpen and Kordell.
If Gailey can develop one of the guys on the Buffalo roster now (Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick, or Brian Brohm) or if he can find a QB he will go a long way toward getting that team on the right track. His track record suggests that he’ll get some guy to play at a reasonably good level and that the team’s offense will show improvement.
Look at the success that Atlanta has had the last 2 years. The Falcons hired Thomas Dimitroff to run the team. He then hired Mike Smith as coach. Who? And who? I knew these names, but not casual fans. Turns out they work well together and brought the kind of stability and organization that was needed in Atlanta. Big names be damned. Atlanta hired the right guys.
I’m sure Bills fans would have loved Bill Cowher or Leslie Frazier or Mike Shanahan or even Brian Schottenheimer. Instead they got Chan Gailey. That may not be the sexiest move, but it could very well turn out to be the right move.