They face an uphill road to finish out the season, and the hot question now is whether or not Chan Gailey should be retained as the team’s head coach.
While it might be hard to see the reasons in favor of keeping Gailey at the helm, it’s the best decision for the team right now.
Things obviously haven’t gone according to plan thus far. After an offseason full of buzz and excitement, the Bills face yet another slog through the slush at the midway point—a trend that has become all too familiar over the past decade for Buffalo.
The offense looks stale and predictable, and the defense has been largely atrocious.
However, the defense actually appeared to play better coming off the bye week against the Texans. Mario Williams was more effective after undergoing minor wrist surgery, and save for a couple of missed assignments, this unit did a fairly good job overall of containing Houston’s dangerous offense.
A continued collaboration between Gailey and defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt to improve the defense will be welcome sight for anyone who, prior to the regular season, was antsy with anticipation of potentially having one of the top D-lines in the NFL.
The main argument against Gailey, however, is on offense. While Gailey oversees Wannstedt, ultimately Wanny is in charge only of calling plays on defense. Play-calling responsibilities for the offense belong to Gailey.
And it's this area that is stirring a lot of debate right now with the Bills fanbase.
When Gailey came to Buffalo, he took control of play-calling duties on offense because he wanted to install his system. Now in his third year as coach, his system is firmly established, but the play-calling itself has become too predictable.
Through the first half of 2011, the Bills offense took the league by storm, and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was having extraordinary success. But once Fitzpatrick’s downfield accuracy (or lack thereof) was exposed, teams started pressing receivers at the line of scrimmage to take away the short underneath routes that Gailey loves to utilize.
Things are no different in 2012. Fitz has struggled mightily to connect downfield, and frankly, Gailey’s play-calling has become ultraconservative. He doesn’t take chances deep, and his familiar routes underneath have failed to scare off defenses.
More importantly, Gailey has largely neglected his two best offensive players—running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller. Tim Graham of the Buffalo News shared this mind-boggling tidbit on Twitter after the loss to Houston:
Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller combined for three carries, 11 yards in second half. Zero carries in fourth quarter.— Tim Graham (@ByTimGraham) November 5, 2012
So why the endorsement of Gailey to stick around?
For starters, the Bills don’t have any qualified candidates on the staff to take over this season as an interim coach. Ditching Gailey now would essentially be an acknowledgment by team management that they’re not going to try to win the rest of the way. Sending such a message could, in turn, seriously jeopardize team chemistry now and in the future.
Looking ahead, though, Gailey could very well stay on after the season too, and there are several reasons why.
In the past decade, this organization (dating back to its last playoff appearance) has brought change to the coaching staff as a way to catalyze excitement. All those moves did was shuffle head coaches faster than a Vegas dealer:
(*Dick Jauron was fired in 2009, and defensive coordinator Perry Fewell took over as interim)
It's true that if Gailey were inserted into that table, he would have the lowest winning percentage of all those coaches. However, at issue here is the lack of continuity the team has seen in recent years.
Take a look at any successful organization in the NFL, and you will find continuity at various levels. For the Bills, this is their opportunity to make a commitment to Gailey.
The team has worked hard to build its roster, and the addition of a few more playmakers would obviously bolster it even further. But hitting the restart button again...there's no telling how long another makeover might take.
It wouldn’t hurt for Gailey to find himself and innovative play-caller to bring on as an offensive coordinator. Heck, he could even give current offensive coordinator and running backs coach Curtis Modkins a shot.
But in terms of keeping Gailey on as head coach, the front office needs to take the pulse of the Bills locker room; these players seem to believe in Gailey. And trashing that unity could be a big mistake.