Call them Buffalo Bills fan activists.
They don’t just live and die with their team’s fortunes, as tens of thousands of Bills fans do each Sunday. These fans have gone far beyond that, either starting a fan group, launching a petition drive or even paying for a billboard to tell the world what they think of the Bills.
On Monday, fresh off the news that the Bills have fired head coach Chan Gailey, four of these activists answered with an almost universal response:
It was time for Gailey to go, even if he was a nice guy.
These Bills fanatics, though, think the jury’s still out on General Manager Buddy Nix. Most of them, citing the team’s apparently stronger roster in the last couple years, want to give Nix another chance.
And the group seemed united on one more point, that the team needs to find its next franchise quarterback, to replace incumbent starter Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Let the debates begin, in chat rooms and coffee shops, in corner bars and blogs, and at the family dinner table.
To their credit, these activists, when asked whether the Gailey firing was enough to bring back the fans, suggested it’s too early to say. The offseason was barely one day old, and there’s a long offseason to wade through, including the hiring of a new coach, the April draft, the signing of free agents and the search for a new quarterback.
There was no divided opinion, though, about the Gailey firing.
“I’m happy that the Bills are going to go in a new direction,” said Matt Sabuda, president of the Buffalo Fan Alliance. “It’s tough, because he seems like such a likable guy, but I think the time has come to make a change.”
Del Reid, co-founder of Bills Mafia, a social-media community of Bills fans, echoed Sabuda’s thoughts.
“I really wanted to believe this was going to be the coach that would bring us back to the postseason,” Reid said. “But he [Gailey] had some really confounding game-day decisions, and some of his personnel decisions left a lot to be desired.”
These super-fans cited the same points: Gailey’s 16-32 record, his reluctance to give the ball more to running back C.J. Spiller and some puzzling, conservative game-day decisions that included failing to try 50-yard field goals and punting from the opponent’s 32-yard line.
“I’m not surprised. I’m not disappointed,” said Patrick Moran, who three years ago rented a billboard on the Niagara Thruway calling for the Bills to hire former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher. “At the end of the day, it’s a quarterback-driven league, and Gailey wasn’t able to develop a quarterback.”
“Honestly, I have no problem with them getting rid of him,” added Al Keohane, who helped start a petition drive critical of the Bills’ annual foray into Toronto. “That’s the whole business in the NFL. You have to win.”
Want to open up a can of worms? Ask these armchair quarterbacks who the next coach should be.
Some want Oregon coach Chip Kelly, one of the hottest candidates, but most don’t think he’d come to Buffalo.
If there was any consensus from this group, they seemed to prefer a fresh head-coaching face, not a retread on his second or third NFL head-coaching gig.
Reid, from the Bills Mafia, wants to see someone in the mold of current Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who took that job in 2007 as a young, 30-something coach.
“I want to think that there’s a younger-type guy who can relate better to the players,” Reid added.
“I’d really like to see somebody fresh to an NFL head-coaching job,” said Sabuda, from the fan alliance. “In this day and age, you see so many guys cycled in and out of jobs.”
Even Moran, who touted Cowher’s credentials three years ago, seemed to prefer a younger, fresher voice for the Bills.
“Last time, I wanted a big-name coach,” said Moran, managing editor of BuffaloSportsDaily.com. “This time, I want a coach who can develop a quarterback. This is a quarterback league.”
Names? Moran mentioned three current NFL offensive coordinators: Kyle Shanahan from the Redskins, Jay Gruden from the Bengals and Greg Roman from the 49ers. Others mentioned were Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, a former Bills interim head coach.
One day into the offseason, nobody knows what shape the coaching staff or the roster will take.
But these Bills fanatics suggested there’s still a lot of work to be done, to win back the fans during the current 13-year playoff drought.
“Right now, I think Bills fans still are fed up,” said Keohane, co-author of the Toronto petition. “They want to wait until [the Bills] start winning to get excited again. I think maybe this was the year that broke the camel’s back.”
These super-fans seemed most united in delivering one message about Monday’s news:
So far, so good.