ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. –- “Just win baby” isn’t just the mantra of the Oakland Raiders’ Al Davis anymore.
For Buffalo Bills head coach Dick Jauron, the time is now. Winning isn’t just everything, it’s the only thing—no, make that the only thing likely keep the embattled Bills coach and his staff in place through the 2009 season.
He’d better win—baby—in 2009 and maybe even beyond.
“I guarantee Mr. (Bills longtime owner and president Ralph C.) Wilson is not going to settle for anything but making the playoffs this year,” said former Bills Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly to Randy Cross recently on Sirius Satellite Radio.
“The pressure’s on,” said Kelly, who is also reportedly heading a group interested in eventually purchasing the franchise from the 90-year-old Wilson or his estate.
“The pressure’s on Dick. The pressure’s on Turk Schonert, the offensive coordinator. They got the people that they needed,” he said. “So they have no excuses and it’s time to show up or just pack your bags and there’s going to be a lot of changes.”
After last year’s deflating 7-9 campaign, Bills’ general manager Russ Brandon said the team’s talent level needed to be addressed.
So they bolstered the offense with the free agent acquisition of Terrell Owens, giving third year starting quarterback Trent Edwards another weapon on offense while drafting linemen Eric Moore and Andy Levitre along with tight end Shawn Nelson.
They addressed pass-rushing needs with first round pick Aaron Maybin. They picked up Dominic Rhodes in the free-agent bargain bin and signed Fred Jackson to a long term deal. Both are expected to fill-in until Marshawn Lynch returns from his suspension.
All of which puts the focus clearly on the coaching staff—and there are plenty of questions.
Jauron knows he’d better win after the reprieve given to him after a third-straight 7-9 season. The Bills rushed out to a 5-1 start but stumbled—going 0-6 in the tough AFC East.
It was after that 5-1 start that Wilson reportedly gave Jauron, who was brought on board in 2006 by then-general manager Marv Levy, a three-year contract extension through 2011. The last Bills coach to get such an extension from the Bills owner was, well - Levy.
But the team hit the skids, losing of eight of its final 10 games. Many were ugly losses fraught with questionable play calling, confusion on the sidelines and miscommunication between players on the field and the coaching staff.
There was confusion throughout a Monday night loss to the Browns at home. There was indecision on a play call—not knowing whether to run or pass—on a fourth and goal from the seven at home against the 49ers.
There was the inability to get the field goal team on the field in time as the first half wound down against the Patriots in December.
It all seemed to culminate with the painful Dec.14 loss to the New York Jets at the Meadowlands.
The Bills had the ball with a second-and-4 with 2:06 left and the Bills up 27-24. Instead of a run, Jauron and Schonert called for quarterback J.P. Losman—starting in place of the injured Edwards—to execute a roll-out pass intended to fullback Corey McIntyre (who had exactly zero receptions for the season at that point).
Losman, whose ball-security skills have always been an issue, scrambled and was stripped of the ball from behind. Jets’ DE Shaun Ellis gratefully scooped-up the early Christmas gift and rumbled for the winning touchdown.
“That goes right on me,” Jauron said after that game, perhaps taking the hit for his equally embattled coordinator.
Jauron, 58, has been called uninspiring by his detractors, indecisive by others.
He has a 57-76 lifetime career record (.429 pct) as an NFL head coach. He has one division title to his credit—his 2001 Chicago Bears won the NFC Central with a 13-3 record. He was named Coach of the Year that season.
But aside from ‘01, Jauron has never won more than seven games (his 2003 Bears also went 7-9, after which he was fired) in one season.
His teams have never finished higher than 23rd in the NFL in scoring except once—that 2001 Bears team which also had the No. 1 ranked defense in points allowed—finished 11th in scoring.
In fact, aside from his first year with the Bears in 1999, only once have Jauron’s teams cracked the top 25 in average yards-per-game (2000 Bears, 23rd with 283.8 yards).
Meanwhile last year’s Bills produced the highest average rushing-yards-per-game for a Jauron-coached team—14th in the NFL with a 115.1 yards-per-game average
Jauron’s teams are 28-36 all-time in the second-half of regular seasons. His Bills are 9-15 in the season’s second half and 5-9 during the always critical (in Buffalo, at least) month of December.
In fact, during the Jauron era, the Bills have been outscored 265-254 in December. Last year, the Bills were out-gained by their opponents 811 yards to 501 through the air, 629 to 519 yards on the ground and outscored 85-60 during a 1-3 December.
And why is that so critical?
Because down the stretch each of the last two seasons, with the Bills at least on the outskirts landing a playoff berth, they’ve delivered clunkers—notably the 2007 Cleveland game in the snow (lost 8-0) where they simply failed to compete; the Miami game at the Rogers Centre in Toronto (lost 16-3) and the season finale against the Patriots (lost 13-0). In each game, the Bills barely registered a pulse. Hardly inspiring.
Yet, when it was announced that Jauron would return, the players went on record as being relieved while most of western New York groaned.
“I think I can speak on behalf of our entire team that that’s what we wanted to see happen,” defensive end Chris Kelsay told the Associated Press. “To see the team move forward without him, I think would’ve been a terrible thing, really.”
And so it will move on with Jauron, with Perry Fewell as defensive coordinator preaching the gospel of the “Tampa 2” scheme. The unit allowed almost 600 fewer yards in 2008 than the previous year and held opponents to 16 points-or-less in seven games.
The league’s 14th-ranked defense, though, was also light and vulnerable. It ranked 22nd in rush defense (121.6 average yards-per-game surrendered), 28th in sacks (24) and 27th in Takeaway/Giveaway Differential with a -8 (-0.5/game).
Fewell’s major charge will be to reintegrate DE Aaron Schoebel into the mix.
Schoebel was put on injured reserve last Dec. 11 after aggravating a toe injury early in the season which reduced his effectiveness, essentially rendering him to spot duty, and allowing opponents to double-team nose tackle Marcus Stroud. He also must get more out of Kelsay and Ryan Denney and a mediocre corps of linebackers.
Schonert will also have his hands full – not just with spreading the ball among Owens, Lee Evans, Josh Reed, Stephen Johnson and (assuming he’s still a Bill) Roscoe Parrish or reconstructing a running game without Lynch, but also streamlining the play-calling process from the booth to the sideline to Edwards. It’s still up-in-the-air about that happening, but it’ll be interesting—if sometimes painful—to watch.
Once again, Bobby April will work wonders and have one of the league’s top special teams units. Leodis McKelvin averaged 28.2 yards-per-kickoff and Parrish 15.3 yards-per-punt-on the league’s seventh-ranked return unit with each player taking one return to the house.
Lockport N.Y.native Sean Kugler will be under the microscope as offensive line coach.
All Kugler has the task of is converting last year’s starting right tackle Langston Walker into this year’s starting left tackle; turning guard Brad Butler back into Walker’s old spot on the right side; mold rookies Moore and Levitre into capable NFL starting guards and to have that unit keep Edwards upright and healthy through 16 regular season games – that’s all.
One of the most intriguing jobs in OTAs and once training camp opens belongs to tight ends coach Charlie Coiner. The tight end has been MIA in the Bills attack in recent years and Coiner must work fourth-round pick Nelson (6-foot-4, 250 pounds from Southern Miss.) in with returning vets Derek Schouman and Derek Fine.
And though not officially part of the coaching staff, Bills VP of college scouting Tom Modrak could be on the bubble depending how the season plays out. Modrak and pro personnel director John Guy both date back to the Tom Donahoe regime, and this draft was Modrak’s eighth.
If the Bills fortunes don’t improve, he could be one of those swept away in Kelly’s foretold-of housecleaning.