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Gailey had too much faith in his scheme, not his team

On Sports
Rochester Business Journal
January 4, 2013

"There's two kinds of coaches, them that's fired and them that's gonna be fired."
-Former NFL coach O.A. "Bum" Phillips

Ready for some shocking news? If not, brace yourself. Get a grip. Take a deep breath. Ready?

Well, here it comes: The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. The earth is round. Water runs downhill. Blood is red. Rain is wet. The Buffalo Bills have fired head coach Chan Gailey.

OK, so none of the above is even close to shocking-not even Gailey being tossed off the Bills' football cliff after three miserable seasons that left him holding a bag containing a rotten, stinky record: 16 wins and 32 losses.

As this is written, Gailey is one of seven NFL coaches who got canned over the weekend. The others were Romeo Crennel (Kansas City), Pat Shurmur (Cleveland), Norv Turner (San Diego), Lovie Smith (Chicago), Andy Reid (Philadelphia) and Ken Whisenhunt (Arizona). So, ol' Bum was right on!

Except for all that happened and didn't happen on the field, I was sorry to see Gailey go. He seemed like a nice guy. I never heard him raise his voice or tell a member of the media to "shove it" for asking a question he didn't like.

So what was Chan's problem? Why did he make so many play calls that made no sense to those of us who know a football has air in it? You know, have so-so quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick throw 31 passes a game and semi-super running back C.J. Spiller average 12.9 carries a game. We all wanted to know, "What's he thinking?"

Well, after doing some thinking myself, I'm pretty sure I have the answer: Gailey wasn't thinking; it was just his game plan, game in and game out. And a lot of coaches make that mistake: "This is how we're going to do it, because this is how I believe the game should be played when we have the ball."

Never mind that they have a quarterback whose passes look more like placekicks and a running back or two who could win a NASCAR race if he didn't run out of gas. Hmmm. ... Would O.J. Simpson be in the Hall of Fame if Gailey had been the Bills' coach back then?

Fitzpatrick's 2012 numbers don't look that bad-60.6 completion percentage, 24 touchdowns and 16 interceptions-but he made too many bad throws when he should've handed the ball off to Spiller. True, Spiller had 1,244 yards rushing and averaged 6 yards per carry, but there were way too many times when the Bills were in the red zone and he didn't even touch the ball.

Too many coaches don't write their playbooks based on the talent they have or don't have, and there's no doubt in my mind that Gailey is one of them. It's almost as if they believe they are offensive geniuses. Others-the smart ones-recognize their offensive strengths.

A great example: Don Shula, who coached the Baltimore Colts from 1963 to 1969 and the Miami Dolphins from 1970 to 1995. When the Dolphins went 17-0 and won Super Bowl VII in 1973, quarterback Bob Griese threw 11 passes. And the next year in SB VIII, which Miami also won, he threw a whopping seven passes.

Why? Because the Dolphins had running backs Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Mercury Morris. Csonka, who rushed his way to the Hall of Fame, could've run through the Great Wall of China, and the other two could've at least cracked it. Griese averaged 244 pass attempts per season in his 14 seasons with Miami.

Jump forward to 1983, when Dan Marino became the Dolphins quarterback and Shula rewrote his playbook. Marino averaged 491 passes per season in his 17 years.

Those numbers take me back many years, to when I interviewed Bum Phillips and asked him who was the best coach in the NFL. "Don Shula," he said, "'cause he can take his'n and beat your'n and take your'n and beat his'n." It was exactly the same thing he once said about Alabama coaching legend Paul "Bear" Bryant.

So back to Buffalo. Now that 94-year-old Bills owner Ralph Wilson has given Russ Brandon the key to the franchise's president's office, where does the team go from here? Is general manager Buddy Nix's job safe? Who will be the next head coach? Would anybody be willing to take over a team that hasn't made the playoffs in 13 seasons?

Of course, someone will, and let's hope it isn't some guy who arrives with his mind already made up about what to do on the field and when to do it.

Finally, a word of advice to the new Bills coach: Rent a condo; don't buy a house.

Rick Woodson's column appears each Thursday on the Rochester Business Journal website at His book, "Words of Woodson," is available at Listen to his weekly program, "The Golf Tee," at 9 a.m. Sunday on WHTK-AM 1280 and FM 107.

1/4/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email

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