The Rise and Fall of Chan Gailey Part I

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Chan Gailey’s three year run as head coach of the Buffalo Bills came to an end yesterday after the team’s third consecutive season without a winning record and 13th straight year without a playoff birth. Gailey finished with a record of 16-32 during his tenure and was cut loose after what looked to be a promising 2012 squad grossly underperformed to the tune of a 6-10 record. Examining the reasons for Gailey’s shortcomings may seem to be an exercise in futility but I’ve also been fond of George Santayana’s adage: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Gailey was anything but a popular choice when then recently hired General Manager Buddy Nix named him as his coach in January of 2010. Rumors ran rampant that Ralph Wilson was willing to dish out big money to attract a name like Shanahan, Cowher, or Gruden but in the end Nix and Wilson went with the low cost option of hiring Gailey. For a time after the dust settled on the Cowher talk and Shanahan went to the Redskins, the top candidate looked to be then-Vikings D-Coordinator Leslie Frazier. Wilson hired Gailey, Frazier stuck it out in Minnesota, was named interim head coach after Brad Childress was fired the next season and as the permanent head coach this season led an underdog team to the sixth and final NFC playoff spot on Sunday.

When Gailey signed on he didn’t have huge shoes to fill but he had an enormous task at hand, restoring hope in an exceedingly disgruntled fan base, rebuild a team that’s best player at the time arguably was Lee Evans and end a 10 year playoff drought. His first major decision as head coach was to switch to a 3-4 defense with not defined nose tackle and a linebacking corps that was one of the worst in the league. He added minor free agents in Andra Davis and Dwan Edwards in the offseason before drafting C.J. Spiller as his first pick at the helm with a stable of running backs that included former first round pick Marshawn Lynch and upstart workhorse Fred Jackson. The rest of the draft featured a slew of unheard of picks the likes of Torel Troup, Alex Carrington and Marcus Easley.

2010 was doomed to be a rebuilding year with the end result as the Bills likely picking in the top five of the 2011 draft. His first draft class did little to nothing to help with the most productive player coming in the form of fifth round defensive end turned linebacker Arthur Moats. Looking back to that draft you could argue that Gailey’s tenure was doomed before it even began. You can hardly fault the Spiller pick based on his talent and potential but with a loaded backfield at the time the first pick you make as a head coach/GM duo cannot be a non-necessity. By selecting Spiller, Nix and Gailey passed up on the likes of Texas Safety (and Pro Bowler) Earl Thomas, South Florida Defensive End (and 2011 defensive player of the year candidate) Jason Pierre-Paul, and even the former Georgia Tech head coach’s recruit receiver Demaryius Thomas.

With the team’s second choice in Troup, they passed up on the likes of record-setting tight end (and Williamsville native) Rob Gronkowski, talented defensive end/tackle Lamarr Houston and playmaking middle linebacker Daryl Washington.

The most puzzling pick of the draft could’ve been the third rounder in Carrington, a relatively unknown entity from Arkansas State. Carrington didn’t test particularly well at the combine, his numbers weren’t jaw-dropping coming from a Championship Subdivision school (9.5 sacks his senior season) and he wasn’t a prototypical 3-4 end. The dynamic duo chose Carrington over the likes of Washington linebacker Donald Butler, Penn State linebacker (and two-time Pro Bowler) Navarro Bowman, and superstar tight end Jimmy Graham.

I could go on but honestly this is starting to get depressing. Gailey started off his tenure by dropping his first 8 games, cutting then-starting quarterback Trent Edwards after a week two stomping at the hands of the Packers and made the choice to let Ryan Fitzpatrick carry the reigns as the team’s signal caller for the remainder of the season. The Bills ended the 2010 season with a 4-12 record but finished the year on a high note with a 4-4 run and really began to show signs of life on offense. Gailey began to garner some respect at the end of 2010 with the intermediate resurgence of what looked to be a dismal offense and the emergence of playmakers in Fred Jackson and Stevie Johnson.

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