Buffalo Bills head coach Dick Jauron is known as a "player's coach." His players love to play for him. If he says jump, they jump, if he says run, they run, if he says win...
Well they haven't figured that part out yet.
He certainly seemed to have things working on all cylinders at the beginning of last season, starting off with an impressive 5-1 record. The Bills annihilated the Seattle Seahawks on opening day, beat the AFC West Champion San Diego Chargers, and only lost to the Super Bowl runner-up Arizona Cardinals in Arizona during the first six games.
Then the AFC East bared it's fangs.
Any NFL follower knows that losing division games is costly, especially when you lose all six, and that's what Jauron and the Bills did in 2008. Accompany that with a nail-biting loss to the Cleveland Browns on Monday Night Football, the aforementioned Arizona loss, and an embarrassing loss to San Fransisco at home in a must-win game, and you end up with Dick Jauron's familiar .438 win percentage.
Another 7-9 season won't cut it for Jauron, and he of all people should know it. After ten years out of the playoffs, the Bills hope that their head coach will at least make it to his second playoff appearance.
The Bills seem to have all the right puzzle pieces, both personnel-wise and player-wise, but those pieces have yet to fall in to place. Assistant head coach and Special Teams Coach of the Year Bobby April always seems to have a top-five special teams unit. Perry Fewell is an exceptional defensive coordinator, and Turk Schonert has plenty of weapons at his disposal in his second year as the offensive coordinator.
So where is the finger to be pointed for the past three years?
The itchy trigger finger of many Bills fans throw it straight in Jauron's direction, due to his four straight 7-9 seasons as a teams full time head coach (one with the Chicago Bears). Add his 1-4 record as interim coach of the Detroit Lions, and there hasn't been much winning in a Jauron regime as of late. In fact, in his nine years as a head coach, he's only had one winning season, but the blame can't be solely placed on him.
When Ralph Wilson Jr. cleaned house prior to the 2006 season, there was a mess to be cleaned up. With the firing of general manager Tom Donahoe and the departure of head coach Mike Mularkey, Marv Levy and Jauron seemed to be the correct janitors for the job. Under Donahoe, the Mike Williams experiment ended with a shoddy offensive line, the defense was aging and hit or miss, and there seemed to be no legitimate starter at quarterback.
While Tom Donahoe's regime netted starters for many other teams throughout the league, the Levy, Jauron and Russ Brandon-led Buffalo Bills have produced ten starters through the draft—12 if rookies Eric Wood and Andy Levitre maintain their spots atop the guard depth charts. Of the 13, three franchise players in Marshawn Lynch, Trent Edwards, and Paul Posluszny look to be cornerstones and contributors for many years to come.
They've also added solid nickel and dime corners Ashton Youboty and Reggie Corner, slot receivers in Stevie Johnson and James Hardy, and depth at tight end in Derek Fine and Shawn Nelson, something the Bills haven't seen for years.
Through free agency, the front office grabbed mainstay tackle Langston Walker, superstar wide receiver Terrell Owens, and recently added Geoff Hangartner from the Carolina Panthers to man the center position on offense.
Defensively, they traded for massive defensive tackle and 2008 Pro Bowl alternate Marcus Stroud, and picked up the Bills' most productive linebacker in recent memory, Kawika Mitchell, through free agency, along with rotational defensive lineman Spencer Johnson and veteran corner Drayton Florence.
The right players were picked up, the holes appear filled, and there's an experienced coaching staff in Buffalo. So what's next?
Three years of rebuilding after a seven-year debacle in Buffalo seems enough to turn a franchise around, and that is what Jauron and company hope to do in the 2009 season. In a tough division with a strong schedule, there is no sure thing for the Buffalo Bills, but Ralph Wilson Jr., the Bills players, and the fans have put their faith in Dick Jauron.
Under Jauron, if the puzzle pieces fall in to place, it may not turn out to be the Mona Lisa, but if the Bills can make the playoffs, at least the Bills faithful will be smiling.