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At this stage of a losing season, it’s always a struggle. As you know, I speak from experience. This is the eighth straight year in which the Bills enter the finale with a losing record, with nothing to play for and a cloud of despair and uncertainty hanging over the franchise.

You can barely listen at this point. A handful of players show up on media day and mouth the usual platitudes. They talk about pride and the importance of playing at a high level. They claim a mutual disdain for the Jets, but show no genuine hostility toward Sunday’s opponent.

Everyone was going through the motions at One Bills Drive, even the reporters. It was like a wake in the locker room. They should have had a guest register and Mass cards at the door.

It’s sad. One way or another, a lot of faces are bound to change next year. Even in good times, there’s a sizable changeover on an NFL roster from one year to the next. But as Eric Wood said after the loss in Miami, people lose jobs after a season like this one. It’s part of the business.

“It could be,” said George Wilson. “I’m not going to stand here and speak in hypotheticals. We’ll have to wait and see. That’s everybody. I don’t think anybody in this building should be completely comfortable with where we are or where our team has been.”

The Senator is right. When a team has underachieved to this extent, no one should be safe. You look around that locker room and realize a lot of the old, familiar faces, might be gone. That includes a lot of the old guard, stand-up guys like Wilson, Chris Kelsay, Nick Barnett, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Terrence McGee.

The list will be long, especially if Chan Gailey gets fired as head coach. That seems more likely by the day. The longer it goes, the more Gailey looks and sounds like a Dead Man Walking, like a lost, discouraged soul who knows his time as the head man is very short.

This year seems even more disspiriting than other late Decembers. I can’t recall such a suffocating sense of resignation within a team. That’s probably because Gailey, a decent guy who lacks the capacity for phony rhetoric or manufacured emotion, seems like the most defeated man of all.

Gailey is almost apologetic about his plight, as if he’s disappointing people. Surely, he must feel he is letting down his boss, Buddy Nix. Gailey has put Nix into the excruciating position of firing his old friend.

On the day of Gailey’s hiring in early 2010, Nix told us he “didn’t ask for” the responsibility of hiring the head coach. So you have to imagine he wouldn’t relish the task of cutting Gailey loose after three years, with time left on his contract. Ralph Wilson isn’t fond of paying people not to coach.

Gailey said Wednesday that he had not gotten any indication during the previous two days about his job security. He had been asked the same question Monday and said he wouldn’t let on if he did know.

Are you tired of answering that question, he was asked? “Yeah,” Gailey said, “ 'cause I wish we’d won more so it wasn’t an issue.”

He was asked what he felt would justify keeping his job.

“I’m trying to do the best I can every day,” Gailey said. “That’s not my decision. I understand that.”

You’re tempted to grab Gailey and say, “Show some emotion, for God’s sake!” Blow up at a reporter. Throw a clipboard. How about a little more Rex Ryan and a little less Mister Rogers? Act like a coach and display some passion.

The notion of the football coach as a raving motivator can be overdone at times. But if it was a myth, we wouldn’t celebrate Vince Lombardi and Woody Hayes. You’ve seen Gailey on the sidelines during games. How does a coach with that mild demeanor inspire passion in a bunch of NFL players?

Presumably, they’ve been playing for Gailey’s job the last three weeks. You wouldn’t know it. If anything, they seem to be going through the motions. Why would you expect anything more, when Gailey himself seems incapable of mounting a passionate case in his own defense?

When he was asked what might justify him staying, Gailey could have said something more rousing than he was trying his best.

Come on, you’ve got to do better than that, Chan. Talk about the offense being in the top 20 again. Brag about the gaudy average per rush, the top-rated punt returns. Talk about the defense’s improvement. Play the “continuity” card. Twist statistics, if you must. It always works for me.

The way Gailey talks, it’s as if even he believes he deserves to be fired. I admire his honesty, but is this the sort of guy you want coaching one of the 32 teams in the most important sports league in American history?

It’s no wonder the Bills come out flat for games. Rex Ryan, who is 5-0 against Gailey, is on the hot seat, too. But I suspect the Jets will be motivated Sunday. They had nothing to play for in the finale two years ago, remember, and blew out the Bills with a bunch of backups.

Beating the Jets shouldn’t matter, anyway. If Nix needs to see more, he shouldn’t be running an NFL team. Bringing Gailey back would be an embarrassment. It would only affirm that the Bills are playing to a lower standard than other NFL teams – after they signed a new lease and floated the promise of a new stadium a decade down the road.

But this is Ralph Wilson and the Bills, so you never know. Maybe they’ll give Gailey another year. If that happens, I’ll be sure to ask him, “Chan, now that you’ve had more time to think, what exactly was it that justified bringing you back?”



email: jsullivan@buffnews.com