The Great Gailey Retrospective


I won’t lie to you, the Bills have made my life easy up till now.

When I first joined BLD back in January, I was busy slapping together ridiculous mock drafts and hopeful articles about Stevie Johnson re-signing, and what to do about Demetress Bell and Fred Jackson.

Then came Mario Williams.

And Robert Meachem.

And Mark Anderson.

Oh ya, there was that big thing on ESPN back in April.  The NFL was treating us all to daily blockbusting news, and my honeymoon of compelling Buffalo related news stories was furious and wonderful.  And then it was over faster than your average Kardashian marriage.  The elation of the Mario Williams signing, and the heavy sigh I breathed when #13 re-signed is now a faint memory.

Enter the NFL Hibernation months.  When the biggest Bills’ news story is what number Mario Williams is going to wear, you know the faucet of information just had a cork rammed into it.  Still, at this point the only news is bad news (see Fairley, Nick).  We’re past the point of free agent signings and rookie news, so as long as everyone stays healthy, I’m OK moving through this time without hearing anything new and compelling.

I was going to write about how next year is the year we draft a QB in the first round to let sit and ferment until he’s ready to go, and then got thinking about Ryan Fitzpatrick and Chan Gailey.  Two guys who I realized are almost the same people, and the most important people in Buffalo this year.

Gailey took over the team during a time when we all thought Bill Cowher was going to come to Orchard Park. (Quick digression- after the Mario Williams signing, that sentence doesn’t look as ludicrous as it did after 2009, does it?) We dreamed sweet dreams of The Chin whipping our boys into shape, giving them an identity, giving us the fans something to gloat about, and some much needed moxy.  “Look we’re relevent again, Bill freakin Cowher is our head coach!”  Jon Gruden?  Another fine choice, someone who at least has coached a few winning teams and was respected around the league.

On the ESPN crawl, I saw the news break on Gailey.  Cowher would have had a press conference.  I’m not even sure the Bills wanted one.  I remember the Facebook status I put up that day: “Chan Gailey?  WTF!”  Just look at what had come before him.  Mike Mularkey.  Dick Jauron.  Chan Gailey.  His name at least looked right when stacked against his predecessors.  The only adjective I could use to describe it was already in our name.

Afterall, this was just so Buffalo.

Of course it wasn’t Cowher, that’s what a functional organization would have done.  It’s why I didn’t get my hopes up when Mario Williams came to Buffalo.  We had been teased by the popular kids before, and we had always taken our cousin to prom.  If George Steinbrenner had been in charge, Cowher, Parcells, Gruden, and the re-animated corpse of Vince Lombardi would have been patrolling our sidelines for the next few years.

Deep down we all knew that coaching the Bills was not exactly like accepting CEO-ship of Google, even if Bills fans across the state groaned at the underwhelming news.  Cowher came out and said that it was he who recommended Gailey as the Head Coach to Ralph Wilson when he unequivocably decided he would not return to coaching.

When Gailey took over the sinking dinghy that was the Buffalo Bills back in 2010, he promptly guided them to 8 straight losses to open the season.  It wasn’t till a Matthew Stafford-less Lions team came to the Ralph that we picked up our first win of the season.  It was 35* out and rained the entire time.

I know.  I was there.  I still have the poncho I bought.

Ryan Fitzpatrick was the QB that day.  He has been the team’s starting signal caller for a month and a half after Trent Edwards was mercifully jettisoned from Western New York.  The book is still being written on Fitz, but in my humble opinion, we have seen his highest highs already.  That is not to say that he is not a capable starter, but he needs an inordinate amount of talent around him to win games.

What?  You’ve heard that before?  Oh right…

The similarity of Gailey and Fitzpatrick have mainly to do with their ceiling.  Gailey is a good coach.  We know that now, even if we didn’t back then.  I think we all agree he is neither a brilliant tactician, nor hopelessly inept, and I generally feel good with him in charge.  Is he a top 10 coach in the NFL?  Certainly not.  But on any given Sunday, he can be in the top dozen.  Is Fitz a top 10 QB?  Again, no.  As we saw last year though, when his ribs are intact and he has healthy teammates around him, he can certainly win you some entertaining games.  Hey, the guy DID throw for over 3800 yards last year with a receiving corps that is quite ordinary.

Injuries took their toll last year.  And the year before.  And the year before that.  This is not news to anyone who watches football, but once Fred Jackson went down last year, our ship was sunk.  That’s why this year, the microscope will be on Chan Gailey on a fiercer setting than ever before

.  If Buffalo finishes with less than 7 wins due to anything short of a meteoroid hitting the sidelines, he’s going to lose his job.  And rightfully so.  For the first time in a long time, Buffalo looks like a superior team on paper.  If he even makes the playoffs- which I think is going to be difficult this year- he has bought himself three more years.

The offense looks set, the defense looks like a Fantasy League put it together, and the optimism in Western New York is at the same level it was circa Week 3 of 2011.

The parts are in place and we are all ready to see what happens.

It’s your game now, Chan.