“The Buck stops with me. I understand that.”
Huddled over a podium in the warmth of the Rogers Centre press area, Chan Gailey may have proven to be more profit-like in the moments following the Buffalo Bills 50-17 loss to the Seattle Seahawks than he ever would have liked to. In front of a luke warm crowd of just over 40,000 at the Rogers Centre the Bills came out flat, and looked the part of a team struggling with their identity and a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs in over a decade. These are not easy times in Buffalo, and these are not easy times for Chan Gailey, who is looking at potentially a change in address once this season ends. The seat that Chan Gailey held with comfort not to long ago is now very hot, especially after a 11 penalty, 4 turnover loss to the Miami Dolphins.
I have a few rules with firing coaches: one, I try not to call for a coach to be fired if he takes over a bad team and improves every year after he is hired. Gailey went 4-12 in his first year and 6-10 in his second year. This third year is a little tricky because although a win would on Sunday would match the Bills win total from last season, the talent discrepancy from last year to this year is sizable. It isn’t just Mario Williams, C.J. Spiller has emerged as one of the most dangerous backs in the league, the offensive line has been revamped, Stephon Gilmore has been developing well as a shut down corner, and even through all the criticism Ryan Fitzpatrick has had the best season of his career. With the talent of this team and the schedule that was perceived to be easier than it actually was I predicted a 10-6 season for this Bills team.
My second rule is to only fire a coach if you have a realistic replacement in mind, and this is true with all positions. So often we find fans blindly calling for the heads of coaches or players with absolutely no idea who will replace them. It defeats the whole purpose of change. Buffalo can be a hard sell for coaches, as we saw after Dick Jauron was fired. The Bills were turned down by almost every big name rumored to be interested in coaching. The market is small, the weather is awful, and for years the talent hasn’t been there. Especially with the Buffalo Bills, a viable, realistic candidate has to be out there and willing to take over a fairly difficult job.
Despite the fact that both of these characteristics don’t necessarily reflect Chan Gailey’s situation, I don’t think the Bills can realize their full potential as a playoff team with Gailey as coach. To be clear, I’ve always liked Gailey. I like the wide-open, aggressive offensive system he employs and for the most part I believe he gets his players to play hard for him. The problem this season has been his tendency to fall in love with the passing game despite having two running backs that are Pro Bowl caliber. Yes, the Bills fell behind a lot and were forced to turn to the passing game, but in two games against New England and Tennessee it seemed like the game plan was to throw the ball 40 times a game. C.J. Spiller has averaged 12.2 carries per game this season. That signals a colossal failure in play calling by Chan Gailey. Yes Spiller was featured out of the backfield on screens that have become an entirely too predictable part of the Bills offense but the fact that one of the most explosive players in football isn’t given the ball on the ground more can not happen. The Bills are in the top 10 in penalties and penalty yardage, which I’ve always felt was a direct reflection on the discipline preached by the head coach.
In the end the numbers can paint an expansive picture, but a player, coach, and ultimately an organization needs to pass the eye test. On the verge of news that the Bills will sign an extension on a lease that will keep them in Orchard Park until at least 2020, the Bills laid an emotional egg in South Florida. The score was closer than the game seemed. You can tell when a team has packed up and given up. These past two weeks seem like the Bills minds are on the golf course instead of finishing the season strong. It is hard to watch a team like that. It is harder when hope sprung eternal at the start of the season. In his almost three years in Buffalo Gailey has won a total of 3 divisional games. In the games where familiarity is high and preparation is even more paramount for success the Bills fail, and fail drastically. I understand when Gailey inherited the Bills they were a rebuilding project, but a 3-15 division record is enough to get any coach fired. The time has come for the Buffalo Bills to find Chan Gailey’s replacement. The buck does stop with the head coach, and while that is a great thing in some NFL cities, it has proven detrimental in Buffalo.