Last January, Thomas Chandler Gailey and Buddy Nix came up with a plan to rebuild a moribund franchise. They would build through the draft, while supplementing the roster with less-than-marquee, free agent acquisitions. Chan came in with a reputation of making the most out of what he had. Buddy has been scouting and evaluating talent for years. In Chan, Nix tried to find a head coach that could tap the potential of the players he brought in. To that point, 14 games in, the Bills are probably the most competitive 4-win team in recent memory.
For all of his faults, Dick Jauron did a great job uniting the locker room. This is a galvanized group that plays for each other. It seems like whenever a player makes a mistake, another player steps up and answers. Watching them play together, I just get the feeling they all want to battle to the death with each other. The importance of locker room chemistry cannot be overstated in the NFL. A perfect example of this would be the Texans. While I think they’re very overrated at times, they are a much better squad than their record would indicate. That team is just not built for success though, as indicated by the skirmish between teammates yesterday. It appeared that Titan offensive lineman Leroy Harris went for the knees of Houston’s DE Antonio Smith, which is a huge no-no for football players. Their knees are their livelihood, just ask Joe Namath. Smith and Harris began mixing it up, so Texans LB Brian Cushing ran over to break it up before things escalated. Instead, Smith (who incidentally is a team captain) went after Cushing, tearing off his helmet and drawing a 15-yard penalty for the Texans. That’s a sign of a locker room that needs a change up. Meanwhile, Chan has been able to keep these guys close together despite the drastic change that the team incurred the past off-season. One of my favorite quotes was from Shawne Merriman. When asked whether or not he would return to Buffalo next season, he said “If I did it will be because of the guys the[y] are great.”
Chan’s time in Dallas gave him a valuable learning experience, despite being fired a mere two seasons into his tenure. He had to manage the egos and characters of Michael Irvin, Emmitt Smith, Leon Lett, Nate Newton, and Deion Sanders among others. It takes a good head coach to manage people with differing personalities, which Gailey has shown an aptitude for doing. While it is way too early to really make judgment calls, Gailey seems to have that innate balance between being a disciplinarian and a “player’s coach.” He is fiery when he needs to break players down, and he is uplifting when his guys need to be built back up. I loved the way the Chan handled the young, extroverted Stevie Johnson after his meltdown outing against Pittsburgh. He told him, “In this business, there are two types of people–the humble and the humbled. If you’re not in the first group, you will be in the second group some point in time.” His interactions with the Joker over the course of the season have been calculated, in my opinion. He exchanged words with Stevie after his mock-shooting in New England cost the Bills 15 yards. When Johnson basked in the media spotlight following his dominant game against Cincinnati, Gailey didn’t blow smoke up his…umm…nose. He tried to keep him in check. Your coach needs to be able to figure out what each player needs to stay motivated and hungry.
Considering how grueling it can be to play call and be head coach, I was skeptical on this aspect when it was first announced. Gailey has resoundingly proved me wrong thus far. He has the guts to call whatever he likes whenever he likes. Chan bucks conventional wisdom, and is always surprising me and opposing defenses. The Bills have to be in the Top 5 in the NFL in using 4WR spreads in situations less than 3rd and 4. The offense keeps defenses off-balance and while it is hardly the 49ers of the ’80s, it does show potential. Speaking of potential, the defense continues to improve every week. The team limited the Fins to 65 net yards on the ground. Last week, the Bills dominated both trenches, which is why we were able to out-muscle Cleveland in what was supposed to be the Peyton Hillis Show.
This team continues to overachieve because they are cohesive and well-coached. The players have been quoted all year as saying how prepared they were for the game, they just didn’t execute it. The Bills are a team on the rise and I can feel it. At 4-10, it may seem like a stretch. However, a closer look reveals the nature of the team. Besides losses to GB, NYJ, and MIN, the Bills have been in every game. For arguments sake, we’ll turn any loss by one score or less into a win, and our record would be 9-5. We’ve lost to the Ravens, Steelers, Bears, and Chiefs by a combined 12 points. Their combined records? 38-17 (the Bears haven’t played their week 15 game yet). With a few more pieces, this team has quick turnaround written all over them and Gailey has been integral. I’m Billieving in Chan being the man.