Believe it or not, the Buffalo Bills used to be a football powerhouse (four straight Super Bowl appearances from 1990 to '93).
Believe it or not, the Buffalo Bills' roster used to be riddled with Hall of Fame-quality players on both sides of the ball (Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Bruce Smith, Andre Reed—just to name a few).
Believe it or not, the Buffalo Bills used to have a front office and coaching staff that had a semblance of a clue (hello, Marv Levy and Bill Polian).
Bills fans who were fortunate enough to see those great teams couldn't be more fed up. They're watching a once-proud franchise—one without a playoff victory or appearance this millennium—continue to fade further and further into obscurity with each passing week.
They now expect their team to perform poorly, and the Bills' season is generally over right around the time that Christmas lights go up—a cruel irony that surely stings this passionate fanbase.
There's a lot of blame to go around for the current, unacceptable mess in Western New York. Let's examine the main culprits:
Record as Bills head coach: 13-27
Chan Gailey is a very good offensive coordinator who has been unable to find much success as a head coach—at ANY level.
Since a decent stint as the head coach in Dallas (1998-99) that saw the Cowboys quality for consecutive postseason trips, Gailey's coaching record has been spotty at best.
He had a successful run as offensive coordinator of the Dolphins (2000-01), before becoming head coach of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in 2002. In six years (2002-07), Gailey never finished in the Top 25.
In 2008, he became offensive coordinator under Herm Edwards in Kansas City, running the 24th-ranked offense in the NFL (albeit with a very poor team), before being pushed out the door in embarrassing fashion by Todd Haley in 2009.
So, with all of that on his resume, it became one of the easiest first-guesses of my life when I heard the Bills had hired Chan Gailey as their head coach in January, 2010.
Look, it’s not like Gailey has had the “K-Gun” Bills of the early '90s to work with on offense, but it’s been his play selection this year that’s been truly baffling. The Bills employ two outstanding running backs in Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, but it seems like Gailey would rather drop Ryan Fitzpatrick back 30 times per game than feed his two stud backs the rock.
This year, there hasn't been one game where Spiller has received more than 20 touches, and Jackson has crossed the 20-touch threshold only once. This trend culminated in a miserable fourth quarter of play-calling in the Bills' loss this past Sunday in Houston, where Gailey ran the ball zero times in the fourth quarter with either Jackson or Spiller.
Spiller is the Bills' best offensive player, yet Chan Gailey cannot figure out a way to get the ball in his hands. Spiller had only 12 carries in the soul-crushing, 35-34 loss at home to Tennessee a few weeks ago, and then only six in the loss to Houston—none in the fourth quarter of a close game, as noted earlier.
Gailey has also failed to hire the right coaches to fix his team's porous defense. George Edwards and Dave Wannstedt haven't gotten the job done. The defensive ranks during Gailey's time in Buffalo: 24th (2010), 26th (2011), 26th (2012).
Some are preaching for patience in Buffalo, and I can't understand why. It's not like Chan Gailey is a first-time head coach who has his team playing much better now than they have in the past. He hasn't been able to get the defense right, and his side of the ball—the offense—is now suffering.
Chan Gailey needs to go at season's end.
Record as Bills starter under Gailey: 13-24
Yet another easy first-guess was the Bills anointing Ryan Fitzpatrick as their franchise quarterback in the middle of last season after a torrid start to the 2011 campaign. They handed the former Harvard signal-caller a seven-year deal worth $62 million dollars.
Let's face facts: Ryan Fitzpatrick is NOT a quality starting quarterback in the NFL. You simply cannot win with Ryan Fitzpatrick starting 16 games for you. It's not possible. He's as miscast as a franchise quarterback as Arnold Schwarzenegger was as Mr. Freeze in Batman Forever.
While Fitzpatrick has proven to be capable of lighting up the scoreboard on occasion, the fact is that he turns the ball over entirely too much: 20 turnovers in 13 starts in 2010, 25 in 16 starts in 2011, and he's on pace for 24 more in 2012. That isn't good enough. The Bills aren't a talented enough team to qualify for the postseason with their quarterback turning it over at such an alarming rate.
Fitzpatrick's deep-ball accuracy has been poor this year as well, as he's only completed four passes of 21 yards or more in the team's first eight games.
The Bills can get out of the Fitzpatrick contract after this season, as his roster bonus ($3.5 million) and base salary ($4.35 million) in 2013 is only guaranteed by injury. The remainder of his deal (2004-17) sees zero guaranteed base salaries, and only one non-guaranteed bonus (2014).
The Buffalo Bills simply must cut the cord with Fitzpatrick. You can't demote him to the backup position after having him lead your team for three years; that's just not how the NFL works. The Bills need a real, viable franchise quarterback.
Ryan Fitzpatrick isn't that guy.
Hired Chan Gailey, signed Ryan Fitzpatrick
Sometimes, a general manager hires a solid head coach, but fails to build an exceptional roster for him. Sometimes, a general manager hires a bad head coach, and that head coach is unable to draw the best out of a very good roster. And, sometimes, a general manager hires a bad head coach, and surrounds the poor head coach with a below-average 53-man roster.
Bills GM Buddy Nix falls squarely in the last category.
Nix was the guy who told reporters shortly before free agency began in 2010 that "(I'll) be sleeping" when midnight strikes and the FA period begins. The general manager of an NFL team, asleep when free agency begins? To me, that was the immediate sign that the Nix/Bills marriage was earmarked for divorce.
Outside of C.J. Spiller, Nix has had some truly awful draft picks and classes. Look at the Bills' roster.
How many impact players can you name?
Nix's last two first-round picks have been disappointments. Defensive lineman Marcell Dareus, the third overall pick in 2011, has been disappointing considering the spot he was chosen—especially in this, his sophomore season. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore, the ninth overall pick in 2011, has been largely invisible in his rookie year, recording zero interceptions.
The free-agent signings have also left a lot to be desired. Shawne Merriman? Nick Barnett? These guys were supposed to be difference-makers?
Should the Bills replace Chan Gailey, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Buddy Nix at season's end?
The only year the Bills really splurged in free agency was this past offseason, when they made the biggest splash of the period, signing defensive end Mario Williams to a six-year, $100 million dollar contract.
I liked that deal when it was first made; but in retrospect, I should have known better when an organization that actually knows what it's doing, the Houston Texans, made a half-hearted attempt to retain Williams' services.
Williams has been average at best, 4.5 sacks potentially clouding what's been a generally uninspiring and nondescript effort from the artist formerly known as "Super Mario." Another free-agent defensive end, Mark Anderson (four years, $27 million), looks like a bust.
But, as is often the case with general managers on the chopping block, Buddy Nix's largest failure comes at the quarterback position, believing that Ryan Fitzpatrick was "The Guy."
To compound the situation, Nix told reporters last week that he "didn't want to leave without a franchise (quarterback) in place".
I mean, wow. WOW.
You sign Fitzpatrick to a seven-year deal in 2011, and one year later, you're saying you need a franchise quarterback. If you need a franchise QB, then what the hell does that make Fitzpatrick? What about during the 2011 draft, when Nix could have traded down to select Jake Locker, Christian Ponder or Andy Dalton?
Buddy Nix is clearly asleep at the wheel, just like he was when the free-agent period began in 2010.
It's time for a fresh start in Buffalo. The head coach is a retread who hasn't been able to find sustained success as the head coach in either college or the NFL. The quarterback is a glorified backup who can't stop turning the ball over. And, worst of all, the general manager is the man who hired them both, and put his franchise in a position to fail miserably.
Believe it or not, Bills fans, it's soon going to be time for yet another regime change in Buffalo.
Maybe the next one will be able to sniff the postseason.
Nick Kostos is the executive producer of the "SiriusXM Blitz", hosted by Rich Gannon and Adam Schein, on SiriusXM NFL Radio. You can follow Nick on Twitter: @TheKostos.