Chan Gailey will have to beat some long coaching odds if he’s going to execute a turnaround of the Buffalo Bills.
Gailey’s coaching seat keeps getting hotter with every Bills’ loss – at least in the eyes of the team’s fan base. Sunday’s 50-17 defeat at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks dropped Gailey’s three-year record in Buffalo to 15-31.
Gailey has at least one year left on his contract and probably two, based on the comments of Bills General Manager Buddy Nix. Furthermore, Nix has made it clear on repeated occasions he wants to keep Gailey.
Nevertheless, most NFL coaches do not get to a fourth season after three straight losing years.
The ones that do get to a fourth season almost never ultimately succeed.
In the last 25 years, only 11 NFL head coaches have survived after starting their tenures with three losing seasons. The most recent was Dick Jauron, who came back for a fourth year in Buffalo in 2009 after three straight 7-9 seasons.
Of those 11, only one led that team to a playoff berth. That was current New England coach Bill Belichick, in his first coaching stint in Cleveland. Belichick’s Browns won 6, 7 and 7 games his first three seasons. They won 11 in his fourth year, 1994, and earned a playoff spot.
Gailey said Monday he can’t worry about his future.
“To be honest with you, I’m focused on this game and the next game,” he said Monday. “And that’s all I’m focused on. That’s all I can be focused on. No matter what the situation that’s what I’d be saying.”
The Bills, who have lost six of their last eight games, visit Miami this week then close the season at home against the New York Jets.
The Bills’ players say they’re viewing those two as important for everyone’s job security, including that of Gailey.
“I think the last two games will kind of show a lot of that one way or the other,” said quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, when asked what case can be made for keeping the current program together.
“I think this is a group that’s not gonna quit, and we all understand the situation we’re in right now. And I think we all understand the importance of these last two games in terms of the effort and the product we put on the field to show that we have made progress and there is hope with the guys we have in this locker room.”
Said receiver Stevie Johnson: “We’re making all our positions tough. That’s why these next two games will be crucial, because I like playing for Coach Gailey and the whole staff. I like these coaches. So I’m going to do my part and hopefully we can win these games and have another run next year because I seriously believe we’re building something here.”
“I think there is a lot of disappointment right now in this locker room,” Fitzpatrick said. “We know what is at stake here the last two games, and we know we have to go out, be professionals and finish on a high note.”
Will finishing on a high note be enough for Gailey?
Nix has stated: “You change every three years and you never quite get there. That’s my take.”
But the ugliness of the Bills’ losses could force Nix’s hand. It didn’t derail Jauron in 2008, even though the Bills lost eight of their last 10 that season.
Of course, the fact Jauron had just received a contract extension in the middle of that season helped his survival.
Poor job security is an occupational hazard for NFL coaches.
While 11 coaches have survived three straight losing seasons over the past 25 years, 72 different coaches have lost their jobs over that same span after three or fewer seasons on the job.
Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, 18 coaches have survived three straight losing seasons to start their tenure. Besides Belichick, the only ones to subsequently make the playoffs were Pittsburgh’s Chuck Noll, Green Bay’s Bart Starr and Tampa Bay’s John McKay.
Gailey said center Eric Wood has a chance to return from a knee sprain this week, although he will not practice Wednesday.
Special teamer Arthur Moats (ankle) is out the final two games. Receiver Marcus Easley (hamstring) is out this week.