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Before the start of the season, Chan Gailey described the NFL as a "production business." If you fail to produce, he said, the organization is sure to go searching for somebody who can.
Gailey has done some fine things in his two-plus years as Bills head coach. He kept his players from giving up on the season after an 0-8 start in 2010. He had some inspired moments as an offensive guru, getting no-names like Stevie Johnson, Ryan Fitzpatrick and David Nelson to perform like stars.
A year ago, after the fast start, I even had Gailey on the short list of candidates for coach of the year. He seemed to be proving himself to skeptics who had dismissed him as another retread, getting one last kick at the coaching can after bigger names turned their backs on the Buffalo job.
But the standard is higher these days. Management has invested big money in key veterans and a couple of free agents, most notably the $100 million on Mario Williams. No more charming loser talk. It's Gailey's third year as the head coach. He needs to produce. The time has come for hard, unsentimental judgments in a league that spits out coaches after they've spent two or three unproductive years on the job.
They've played only one game, I know. But Gailey has won 10 of 33 games here. The Bills have lost nine of their last 10 regular-season games. It's too early for panic, but not too soon to wonder anew about where this team is going. The heat is on after that dreadful performance against the Jets - not just on Gailey, but on his coaching staff and the people who put the roster together.
Gailey is the head coach, not simply the man who runs the offense. He bears responsibility for every aspect of the operation. Yes, it's a production business. It's also a coaches' league, where franchises remain successful for a decade or more because they have the right coach. It's about time for Gailey and his staff to measure up against the best in the NFL.
The product is supposed to reflect the head coach's football vision. Gailey installed a 3-4 defense when he took over, despite the fact that he didn't have the personnel for it. They began wavering on the idea almost from the start. Last year, Gailey brought in Dave Wannstedt to help the defense and it allowed the most yards from scrimmage in team history.
So Gailey fired George Edwards and handed Wannstedt the coordinator's title. In the opener, Wannstedt got soundly outcoached by Tony Sparano, the new Jets' offensive coordinator. Wannstedt sat back and waited for Williams and his front four to dominate, while his defensive backs got roasted by the quick drops and rhythmic passing of Mark Sanchez.
Buddy Nix defended Williams on his weekly radio show on Friday. He made the laughable claim that Williams had been "double- and triple-teamed" most of the day. Nix questioned the defensive backs for playing too soft, and said the coaches would need to fix it.
Nix was right about that much. He didn't overpay for Williams to watch the secondary get taken apart. Wannstedt needs to get results in a hurry. A few creative blitzes might help. NFL offenses have changed dramatically since Wannstedt coached that great Cowboys defense in the Super Bowl 20 years ago. The question is whether his methods have changed with the times.
The heat is also on George Catavolos, the veteran defensive backs coach. Catavolos has to get production from his young cornerbacks, the way he did with Jairus Byrd when Byrd made the Pro Bowl as a rookie in '09. Bruce DeHaven, the veteran special teams coach, can't have his punt coverage unit fall asleep and allow long touchdown returns, as they did against the Jets.
The offensive staff has its work cut out today against the Chiefs. One week into the season, the offense has been hobbled by injuries to running back Fred Jackson and receiver David Nelson. Curtis Modkins, the running backs coach and nominal offensive coordinator, has done well with C.J. Spiller. Now he must prepare Spiller to function as the featured back, the focus of the defense's game plan.
Bob Bicknell, the receivers coach, has to get wideout Donald Jones accustomed to running routes as a slot man in Nelson's absence. Oh, and how about David Lee, the celebrated quarterbacks coach? Lee was supposed to work wonders with Fitzpatrick's mechanics and turn him into a more efficient passer. It looked suspiciously like the same old Fitz in the opener.
Again, it all gets back to Gailey. This is his show. Fitz is his guy. It's his steadfast belief in Fitzpatrick that has allowed management to hold off on drafting a successor. Gailey and Nix botched the backup QB situation, taking a bad gamble on Vince Young and cutting him late in camp. In his first year, Gailey picked Trent Edwards as his starter and changed his mind after two weeks.
The head coach needs to figure it out, and fast. Injuries are no longer an excuse. Gailey has enough faith in his wideouts to run all those multiple-receiver sets. Presumably, he was in favor of moving up in the draft for T.J. Graham. Graham was supposed to help stretch the field. It's the coach's job to integrate him into the attack.
Opposing coaches have caught on to Gailey's spread attack. He should stop acting as if he has the quarterback to pick defenses apart. Show some flexibility. Even Nix said they might need to run more. Why not use the fullback more? How about some play-action? One way or another, Gailey needs to find ways to back defenses off the line and create space for his playmakers.
No one said it would be easy. But as Gailey said, it comes down to production. Wins, in his case. The Bills were expected to contend for a playoff spot this season. If they can't win the home opener against a Chiefs team they blew out on the road a year ago, it'll be hard to sell it as production, or progress. At 0-2, another 10-loss season would seem a lot more likely than 10 wins.
Given Ralph Wilson's fragile health, it's hard to say what that would mean for Gailey's future. But since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978, only four NFL coaches have lost 10 games three years in a row and kept their jobs: Ray Perkins (1987-89) and Sam Wyche (1992-94) in Tampa Bay; Joe Bugel in Phoenix (1990-92) and Dave Shula with Cincinnati in (1992-96).
It's early, but it's a win-now league. The Jets game was a jolt of reality. A loss today would have the wolves at Gailey's door. He'd better get it fixed soon, or people will be asking exactly how this was an improvement on Dick Jauron.
email: jsullivan@buffnews.com