Chan Gailey took in several NFL vagabonds and gave them a home in Buffalo.
Not surprisingly, those players maintained a high level of respect and admiration for the Bills’ coach, even in a 2012 season that ultimately ended Monday with his dismissal.
“Chan means a lot to me as a person and as a coach. Before he took over here, I was kind of the lost journeyman, bouncing around from team to team,” quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said. “He was the guy that gave me my first real shot, the guy that showed a lot of confidence in me and has stood by my side for the last few years. He means a lot to me as a coach and as a person and he’s somebody I’ll always respect.”
Fitzpatrick is the most noteworthy of the coach’s reclamation projects, but he’s far from the only one, particularly on offense. Tight end Scott Chandler, for example, had been with three teams in four years before coming to Buffalo.
“He pulled me off the trash heap. That guy gave me a chance to play,” Chandler said. “He’s a guy who’s pretty special to me, who I have a lot of respect for.”
Receiver Stevie Johnson had 12 receptions and 112 receiving yards in his first two NFL seasons before Gailey arrived in 2010. Since then, he’s got 237 catches and 3,123 yards, including three straight 1,000-yard seasons.
“It was a great offense to be in. It was a great offense for me,” Johnson said. “I’m happy that I was here. I’m happy that he came here and I was able to get that opportunity from him. My feelings about coach Gailey, it’s always good. He gave me my opportunity and gave me my chance and I pretty much took advantage of it. But if it wasn’t for him who knows what would’ve happened?”
Receivers Donald Jones and David Nelson were undrafted free agents who are now three-year NFL veterans because of Gailey.
“I owe everything I have so far to Chan. He brought me in when not a lot of people would,” Nelson said. “He gave me an opportunity. He continued to stick behind me. A lot of people have doubted me. I have his back to the end.”
That end officially came in an email release by the team at 11:04 a.m., or four minutes after the media’s availability with players on locker room clean-out day was to have ended. Defensive tackle Kyle Williams was in the middle of addressing reporters when the news came out.
“We didn’t win enough,” Williams said, when asked what didn’t work with Gailey. “I think everybody in here has a tremendous amount of respect for Chan. I’ve been lucky in the sense, the two guys I’ve had as head coaches [Gailey and Dick Jauron] are really, really solid, good men. They’re great men to be with. Their yes is yes, their no is no. Obviously we haven’t won enough, which is what it’s all about.”
Players placed the onus on themselves for failing to meet expectations, and ultimately costing their head coach his job.
“It’s sickening. As players, we had the highest hopes out of anybody. For us to fall short of that, we don’t like it at all,” running back Fred Jackson said. “It’s depressing. You play this game because you want to win. We’re all competitors and want to do better than 6-10.
“All we can do is try and make that adjustment, and get better. This season didn’t go the way we wanted it to or expected it to, and that’s on us. As players, we’ve got to get better.”
A new coaching staff - Gailey himself announced all of his assistants were also let go — brings about the need to “start over,” a welcome change for some fans, but the price of business in the NFL for players.
“I get tired of losing, whether it’s starting over or this or that, I don’t know,” Kyle Williams said. “Honestly, I think every year is kind of a new year whether you have the same coach or not. You’re kind of starting over at square one, trying to find the identity of the team that year, what you’re going to do well, what you’re not going to do well. But, more than anything, I get tired of putting in tons and tons of work, and it’s hard, sitting here talking to you guys at the end of December or January, feeling like another one kind of slips through your fingers because we only have so long to play, and I’ve been around a little while.”