Today, the Bills hired Chan Gailey to be their next head coach. He came out of the blue, a candidate that had received no discussion prior to news yesterday that he was being hired. So, it is time for followers of the Bills to do delayed due diligence. What should Bills fans think of the Gailey hiring? Gailey comes with an offensive background. He has served as an offensive coordinator in the NFL on four separate occasions. Let us start by examining those stints, move on to his time as an NFL coach, and wrap up with the implications he has for the Bills next season.
Gailey was first an offensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos in 1989 and 1990. The 1989 Broncos were 8th in the NFL in points and 15th in yards. The team went 11-5 and lost to the 49ers in the Super Bowl in the biggest Super Bowl blowout ever, scoring only 10 points. In 1990, the Broncos dropped to 16th in points but rose to 8th in yardage. The team dropped to 5-11, and Gailey was fired after the season. He was hired by the Pittsburgh Steelers as offensive coordinator for the 1996 and 1997 seasons. The 1996 Steelers went 10-6, finishing 11th in points and 15th in yardage. They bowed out in the second round of the playoffs. In 1997, the Steelers lost in the second round of the playoffs once again. They went 11-5, with the league’s 7th most points and 6th most yards. In each year, they lost to the eventual AFC champion. Jerry Jones was impressed enough that he hired Chan Gailey as his head coach in Dallas to replace Barry Switzer. We will look at that time in the next paragraph. After being fired in Dallas, Gailey was immediately hired as the Dolphins offensive coordinator for 2000 and 2001. The team was 11-5 each year. In 2000, they were 16th in points and 26th in yards, and the next season they were 8th in points and 21st in yards. He left Miami to spend 6 seasons as the head coach at Georgia Tech, going 44-33 and making a bowl every year. After being fired he spent the 2008 season as offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs finished 2-14, with the 26th most points and 24th most yards. He was fired immediately before the start of the 2009 season.
For two seasons, Chan Gailey was head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. In 1998, the Cowboys were 10-6, winning the NFC East. They lost in the first round of the playoffs to Arizona. For the season, the Cowboys were 9th in points and 8th in yards, yet they only scored 7 in their one playoff game. In 1999, the Cowboys fell to 8-8, winning a wild card. They were 11th in points and 16th in yards. They fell to Minnesota in the first round, scoring 10 points. Gailey was fired and replaced by the immortal Dave Campo. Campo promptly reeled off three consecutive 5-11 seasons before himself being fired.
That is the resume. In Gailey’s 7 years as coordinator, including two coaching John Elway, his quarterback’s best passer rating was 80.3 by Jay Fiedler in 2001. It cannot be said that he ever made a quarterback better, but it also cannot be said he had much to work with in Pittsburgh, Miami, or Kansas City. What does this mean for Buffalo? First look at the offensive rankings. As an offensive coach, Gailey has never coordinated an offensive juggernaut. His best offense, and likely best team, was the 1997 Steelers, who had the misfortune of playing against a dominant Denver team. Gailey teams never cracked the top 5 in either points or yards. In every case except Pittsburgh and Miami, the offense got noticeably worse in his second season in charge. In those two cases, both teams improved slightly in year two. Gailey has never gotten to year 3. Regardless, his resume is substantially stronger than his predecessor Dick Jauron, but it is not particularly overwhelming.
It is hard to see Gailey as anything other that the Bills figuring they could not get anyone better. The Bills problems in 2009 were primarily offensive, as they finished 28th in points and 30th in yards. That is worse than any team Gailey has ever coached, so he is likely to bring some improvement. Playoffs? I see no reason to bet on it. Gailey is a decent coach when given good talent. The Bills have subpar talent. That strikes me as an ill-fated combination.