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Thoughts On Big Bills Changes

Posted on January 1, 2013 by Patrick Moran

Russ BrandonI’ve been predominantly on vacation while simultaneously preparing for some new things at Buffalo Sports Daily over the final week of 2012, so you’ll have to exonerate me for not being more up to date with the all the big things going on at One Bills Drive.

Rather than regurgitate Buffalo Bills news you already know, allow me to indulge some insight and opinion on the sweeping changes in Orchard Park this week.

Chan Gailey out as head coach: I’m positively not surprised at the firing, but will confess to being shocked it happened so swiftly.  Historically even when Ralph Wilson drops the hammer, it doesn’t come the day after the season ends. He meets with his staff at his home in Detroit before furnishing an outcome.  So to learn by late Monday morning Gailey was out caught some—or at least me off guard.

It shouldn’t have. I’ve since learned the decision to fire Gailey (as well as the entire coaching staff) was sealed shortly after the Bills lifeless loss at Miami in Week 16.  From what I hear, Wilson was utterly ashamed of his team following an effort that looked like the team had no real interest in competing.  More than any other team, Wilson hates losing to Miami and it clearly didn’t sit well with him.

Anyway, neither Gailey nor any of his players were told about the decision last week because the front office desperately wanted to end the season with a win over the Jets, and having an interim guy for the final week could’ve become a distraction.

Gailey ends his tenure here as one of the least successful head coaches in franchise history.  Gailey won exactly one-third of his games here, going 16-32 and was only 4-14 in divisional games.  As head coach, Gailey’s defenses allowed the second (435) third (434) and fourth (425) most points in franchise history in all three of his years.  Only the 1984 Bills allowed more than the team did this year—454.

Simply put, Gailey wasn’t making progress in the win/loss column and change was necessary.  Gailey came to Buffalo in 2010 with very little talent on the roster, but that wasn’t an excuse in 2012. The Bills spent considerably during the offseason on retaining their key free agents as well as landing Mario Williams and Mark Anderson.  They also had another top ten draft pick.  As a whole the team underachieved and when that happens, it’s usually a reflection on the head coach.

To Gailey’s credit he handled the dismissal with plenty of class.  Gailey insisted on speaking with the media upon learning of his firing, and used it to make a 90 second statement thanking the team and their fans, and said that it was the first job he’s ever been fired from where he’ll still be pulling for said team.

Classy guy… not a good enough head coach. I’d like to see him land a coordinator job somewhere as no coach wants to exit the league permanently in this manner.

Brandon Seizes Control: This was quite the bombshell.  A Tuesday press conference revealed that CEO Russ Brandon was promoted and given title of team president, essentially meaning he’s inherited the team from Ralph Wilson.  Wilson is still owner, of course, but Brandon will now run the team and have final say in all football decisions.  Whoa.

With the move, you can now regard the Bills management as younger and if things go the way Brandon hopes, more innovative. Brandon stated during his presser that the team will build “a robust department of analytics” that’s completely focused on the statistical analysis of the sport, much like the Oakland A’s are doing in the sport of baseball.

I’m not sure how I feel about this, at least not yet.  I’m thrilled Wilson has finally stepped down from being the judge and jury on football decisions, but Brandon’s strength has always been in marketing.  If Wilson was ready to step down, I’d have strongly preferred Jim Kelly inherited this role, much like John Elway has in Denver with Brandon keeping his post.

There’s no question this move was a momentous show of trust by Wilson in Brandon, who sounds like a man ready to get aggressive.

Buddy Nix Stays… For Now: For the time being Buddy Nix is staying on as general manager, and the team will soon transition the role to Doug Whaley.  This changeover very well could end up happening after this April’s NFL draft.

While Nix didn’t give a timeline when speaking with the media Tuesday, he did acknowledge this has been his plan all along.   For the most part Nix has done a pretty good job building the roster though free agency and the draft.  Mario Williams didn’t have a huge year despite his mammoth contract but was a factor and figures to be a bigger one going forward.  Both sides of the line look solid going forward, and there’s enough talent to win at most the other positions.

He’s drafted three first-round keepers during his three years here in C.J. Spiller, Marcell Dareus and Stephon Gilmore.

Of course, not everything Nix has done as GM has benefited the team.  Most conspicuous was his awful overvaluing of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.  Nix jumped the gun on getting Fitzpatrick a large extension in 2011, and thought enough of him as the long-term starter to make a few critical mistakes in the past two drafts, including the passing over of Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson beyond the first round in favor of Aaron Williams and T.J. Graham. Unfortunately he’ll always also be known as the guy who drafted Torell Troup one spot ahead of hometown kid Rob Gronkowski.

By firing Gailey, retaining Nix and soon transitioning to Whaley, the Bills are replacing coaches without blowing up the entire team. Brandon is thoroughly convinced Nix’s direction is the right one to take, and they can keep their “continuity” by operating in this manner.

Coaching Candidates Emerge: It’s been less than 48 hours since Gailey was fired, but a lead candidate is already emerging.  Brandon, Nix, Whaley and Jim Overdorf were in Arizona Tuesday evening dining with former Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt.  They’ll interview him Wednesday as well as former Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton.  Both were fired Monday.

I’m confident I speak for many when saying Whisenhunt is a move I hope Brandon doesn’t pull the trigger on.  Whisenhunt had a winning record just two of his six seasons in Arizona and an overall mark of 45-51.  He did get Arizona to the Super Bowl in 2008, but in the three years since Kurt Warner retired the Cardinals were a mess.  They won just two more games than the Bills over the last three years and under Whisenhunt’s tenure and the quarterbacking situation has been worse than Buffalo’s recently.

Arizona has finished 31st, 24th and 26th in the league in points scored over the last three years post-Warner.

To me the hiring of Whisenhunt reeks of moving laterally instead of forward and feels too much like a Gailey or Dick Jauron move.  No thanks.

Just because the Bills are meeting with Whisenhunt first doesn’t mean it will, or should be their last in the process.  A writer buddy of mine, Charles Roberts told me best, saying “Well, hopefully Brandon is planning more than one dinner date. Can’t get married after just one meal. Sleep around, Russ.”

Well said.  There are other candidates the Bills are rumored to be interested in, including college coaches Chip Kelly of Oregon and Syracuse’s Doug Marrone.

Former Chicago Bears Lovie Smith has also reportedly said he’d be a good fit for the Bills.

Hot possible coordinator candidates include San Francisco offensive coordinator Greg Roman, Washington offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan as well as Cincinnati coordinators Jay Gruden and Mike Zimmer.  All are in the midst of playoff runs with their respective teams and none have been reported as tied to the Buffalo job.

Ultimately, I’m confident the Bills will end up hiring someone with head coaching experience, whether college or the NFL.  Like most I’d love to see Chip Kelly be that guy, but don’t think it will happen. I’d much prefer Smith over Whisenhunt, especially considering the defensive talent already in place for Buffalo.  But at the end of the day, I want whatever coach will do the most to develop the next great quarterback, because now more than ever this is truly a quarterback-driven league.



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