I never imagined it would come to this, but I’m beginning to wonder if Chan Gailey might be a worse head coach than Dick Jauron.
By the time Ralph Wilson woke up and fired him in the 2009 season, I considered Jauron the worst head coach I’d ever seen, a decent defensive mind who lacked command for the big job, a deer in the headlights on game day.
So it shouldn’t be hard to connect the dots and figure out that I’m finished with Gailey. The mind-numbing decisions have been piling up for two months, but enough is enough. Sunday’s 15-12 loss to the Rams cinched it. Gailey is over his head as an NFL head coach. He should be fired.
The dual jobs of head man and offensive coordinator are a challenge for the best coaches. Gailey is proving unqualified for either. This is what you get when the owner is out of touch and hires retreads — an old-school conservative who plays not to lose, who coaches scared.
Gailey hit a low point against the Rams. On a day when the Bills were desperate to keep their playoff hopes alive and played well enough to win, their head coach killed them with a string of boneheaded decisions.
If Gailey was employed by a team with a true sense of accountability, he could be dismissed for any one of three blockhead decisions in Sunday’s loss. Shall we review?
First of all, Gailey gave C.J. Spiller eight touches. Spiller had seven carries for 37 yards and one catch for 15. Spiller is on pace to have the highest average per carry of any 1,000-yard running back in 78 years. But in a close game, with the Bills desperate to keep their playoff hopes alive, he had one touch in the final 22 minutes.
Spiller had a 15-yard reception on the Bills’ first scoring drive, then sat for five snaps before Rian Lindell kicked a field goal. It seems we talk about this every week, I reminded Gailey.
“Well, he gets … he had two good runs in that first drive,” Gailey said. “He gets winded and he comes out. We just put Fred in there. It worked out that the next couple of carries we got behind the sticks on runs that we called he was in there. That is just the way it works out. We are trying to get those guys the football.”
What? He gets winded? Adrian Peterson carried 31 times for the Vikings on Sunday. Spiller had a 13-yard run on the Bills’ first play of the second half. Two plays later, he had another 13-yard run. He had one carry the rest of the day.
“It was not happening there after that first drive of the second half,” Gailey said. “We were trying to run the football when it was Fred’s turn. It was Fred’s turn to be in there. Trying to keep them both fresh.”
Look, I’m a big admirer of Jackson. It took me awhile to admit Spiller needed to play more. This idea of “Fred’s turn” is something out of Pee Wee league. How about Bills fans getting their “turn” to see their team in a playoff game?
Every time Spiller finds space, you feel he could go all the way. This game cried out for a game-breaking run. You never know with Spiller when it’s coming. It could be the 12th carry, the 15th, the 18th. The more you limit his touches, the less chance of him popping the big one.
Gailey has become ruled by fear: A fear of Spiller getting tired or hurt, a fear that Ryan Fitzpatrick can’t throw into the end zone; a fear that Rian Lindell can’t be trusted to kick field goals beyond 50 yards. Two confounding sequences brought this notion crashing home:
Early in the fourth quarter, the Bills had fourth-and-7 from the Rams’ 34. Gailey sent Lindell out to kick a field goal. Then he changed his mind and called a timeout, instead of taking a delay of game.
Punting would have been my third choice. I’d sooner have gone on fourth down. What the heck? You’re 5-7. Show some guts. But at least have command of the moment and know what you want to do!
“We were not going to go for it there,” Gailey said. “The defense was playing good. We were going to try to pin them back. That was the reason. When I first turned, they told me it was a 50-yard field goal instead of a 52-, 53-yard field goal. We had just dropped the snap on the extra point, so that is why I pulled them back out of there and said, ‘Hey, let the defense try to keep them pinned back.’ ”
This makes twice in three games that Gailey punted rather than let Lindell kick from 52. He wouldn’t let him kick a 50-plus field goal in overtime in Arizona and it worked out. Yes, it was windy Sunday, and they pinned the Rams. But kickers make them from 52 all the time. They sure could have used the three points later.
But having to call a timeout, rather than have your team take a harmless delay of game, shows a stunning lack of game-day command. It’s pretty lame to contend someone gave you bad information on the distance, too.
“Well,” Gailey said, “I was trying to get that to them to take the delay of game, and Scott Chandler saw me tell them to take the delay of game. But I did not know he got that word. So I was scared they were going to snap it. That is why I called the timeout.”
Scared. A good word for Gailey these days. Coaching scared, or confused. I asked if the dual duties of coach and coordinator were catching up to him.
“I have done this my whole career,” Gailey said. “This is the way I have always done it. I do not see that as being something that changes now.”
That’s the problem. Gailey’s clock management at the end of the first half was truly abysmal.
The Bills were at the Rams’ 23 with 32 seconds left. Gailey ran Jackson for minus-1 and called timeout. Then Fitzpatrick threw to Jackson in the flat for 2 yards. The Bills let the clock run from 16 seconds to 11 seconds, then called timeout and kicked a field goal.
Why not let the clock run all the way to 3 seconds if you’re going to kick a field goal, rather than leave time on the clock for the opponent? Why not run a play on third down with sufficient time on the clock, then call timeout if you don’t make it?
I suspect that Gailey’s fear of a sack, and his lack of faith in Lindell on deep kicks, played into the poor clock management. But it was pretty clear he wasn’t thinking touchdown, either.
Fitzpatrick said the Bills lack a killer instinct. Well, after a turnover late in the first half, his coach was thinking field goal. He was afraid to go for the jugular, the touchdown that might have taken the heart out of a Rams team that was ready to be beaten.
St. Louis had to take heart from that sequence. The Rams came out in the third quarter and marched 70 yards for a TD. Fisher, who knows how to win low-scoring games, didn’t abandon the run. The Rams gutted out the win.
The Bills came very close, same as in the Tennessee game and in excruciating losses too numerous to recount. It’s always something, but in the moment of truth, they usually get exposed as a second-rate operation.
Buddy Nix says they’re getting better. In some ways, that’s true. The defense played well. A lot of young guys are showing promise. But if Nix really expects them to get better, he needs a better coach.
Until the GM accepts that, he’s running scared, too.