Monthly Archives: December 2012

Bills perpetually rebuilding a legacy from scratch

To watch Chan Gailey’s post-firing statement to the press in its entirety, click here:

http://www.torontosun.com/videos/2065756836001

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BILLS

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – “BUILDING A LEGACY.”

That’s the foot-high, wall-long message adorning a hallway that leads to the Buffalo Bills’ indoor practice field.

In reality, the message should read, “PERPETUALLY REBUILDING A LEGACY FROM SCRATCH.”

The sad-sack NFL franchise whacked yet another head coach on Monday, following another short, failed stint of a man not quite up to the job.

Chan Gailey is gone. So are all 18 of his assistant coaches, including defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt (right, with Gailey, in June.)

Who could be surprised?

The Bills fire a head coach about every three years here – almost as reliably as a periodical insect infestation.

You can’t make this up:

Gailey’s three-year record (16-32, .333) was worse than his predecessor Dick Jauron’s four-year record (27-37, .422), which was worse than his predecessor Mike Mularkey’s two-year record (14-18, .438), which was only marginally better than his predecessor Gregg Williams’ three-year record (17-31, .354) – all of whom haven’t come close to matching the 29-19 record (.604) of Wade Phillips – who was fired for not winning enough.

Phillips was the last head coach to take the Bills to the playoffs, after the 1999 season. Buffalo’s 13-year drought since is the longest in the NFL.

To be fair, standards and expectations in Buffalo were much higher when owner Ralph Wilson whacked Wade – the residue of four consecutive Super Bowl appearances in the early ’90s.

Not one molecule of that residue remains. Well, other than some framed tributes on the hallway walls within One Bills Drive.

Expectations are lower now. Much.

Hell, if the next coach goes .500 after the three years he’s almost sure to get a fourth. A playoff berth might even warrant a parade, similar to the one that success-starved Torontonians put on for the Maple Leafs merely for reaching the Campbell Conference finals in 1993.

Gailey is a nice guy who knows offensive football forward and backward. And he worked his ass off to turn the club around, as defensive tackle Kyle Williams pointed out in praising Gailey moments after the news broke:

“There’s not been anybody else up here spending 100 hours a week trying to help me win, or make me a better football player,” Williams said.

Yet as Gailey himself told reporters in a brief, classy statement on Monday, it’s a production business. And he didn’t produce much other than more burst hope, more failed expectations.

Gailey’s Bills won only four of 24 games against teams that finished .500 or better, lost 14 of 18 games against their AFC East rivals, and were 5-19 on the road.

Beyond such statistics, while his pass-centric offence was creative schematically and earned public praise from such defensive-minded NFL head coaches as Pete Carroll, Rex Ryan and Jeff Fisher, it was how Gailey misused personnel, called plays in the crunch and continually relied too much on a clearly struggling Ryan Fitzpatrick that drove everybody nuts.

This certainly is no shot at C.J. Spiller, but that the running back was still averaging more than six yards yards per carry entering Week 17 said only one thing – that Gailey wasn’t using him enough.
At one point a few weeks ago, Spiller was averaging a run of 20+ yards every 13 carries; but he averaged only 11 carries a game. Go figure.

For Bills fans, one of the most depressing things about a season that had contained so much hope four months ago is that it was all there for the taking. Outside of a few teams the AFC was terrible this year, and the Bills had more tomato cans on their schedule than most.

Yet the only clubs the Bills could defeat were ones of their own ilk, or worse – Kansas City (2-14), Cleveland (5-11), Arizona (5-11), Miami (7-9), Jacksonville (2-14) and the New York Jets (6-10).

In 2013 Buffalo’s schedule – by NFL rotation – is considerably more difficult. Four playoff teams visit: New England, Baltimore, Cincinnati and Atlanta, compared to only one this year, New England. And the Bills play at Pittsburgh, New Orleans and improving Tampa Bay.

But, even here, with a new head coach comes renewed hope.

Kinda like those huge blow-up Santas we see on lawns every December.

Shrinking the club’s requisite three-year cycle into 24 hours, the Bills reinflate hope and expectations to bulging capacity in the morning. Merry Christmas!

Then, inevitably, by dusk all the air has gone pffffft – leaving a rumpled, repulsive, rubber clump of nothing.

But by the next morning, someone has pumped it full again.

Happy New Year.

 

Chan Gailey’s full statement upon being fired

CHANThe Buffalo Bills fired head coach Chan Gailey just before 11 a.m. EST on Monday. (*my photo, right, taken Dec. 12)

Half an hour later, Gailey said this to reporters, without taking questions:

“A couple things.

“One … The staff has been relieved of their duties as well, so we all get that straight.

“The second thing, there won’t be any questions after this. I’ve just got a few things I want to say, then we’ll be done.

“The first thing I want to say is thanks to the Bills organization – to Buddy (Nix) and Mr. (Ralph) Wilson for the opportunity. I understand this is a business. We didn’t get the job done. I’ve been called two other times to get things turned around, was able to do it. We didn’t get this one done soon enough. I understand that completely.

“I want to thank the fans – great Buffalo fans, great football town. These are loyal, loyal fans and I understand that.

“I think that the next staff will have a great opportunity for success and to make this another great football franchise.

“This will probably be – and I say probably, but I think it will be – the first placed that’s ever fired me that I pull for.

“Thank-you.”

Tim Tebow reduced to over-pleasing glad-hander

Kryk

 

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – It has come to this for poor Tim Tebow.

The most celebrated, written-about benchwarmer in NFL history had hoped to befuddle NFL defences this season as a feared, second-offence wildcat specialist with the New York Jets.

Instead, he barely played at all. And had almost no impact.

Tebow’s hollow 2012 season could not have ended more inconsequentially on Sunday, when he saw the field for one play – on which he merely handed off for a two-yard gain out of the wildcat – in the second quarter of a 28-9 loss to the Buffalo Bills.

That’s quite the come-down from his out-of-the-blue playoff run 12 months ago in Denver, when he led the Broncos into the second round of the playoffs and became a pop-culture superstar.

Tebow is still Tebow, though. And he knows it.

And he milks it for what it is as best he can.

Thus, while trudging toward the Jets team bus about an hour after Sunday’s loss, he noticed about three dozen fans atop a hill outside Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Tebow climbed the 50 or so steps and allowed himself to be swarmed. He posed for smart-phone pictures, accepted pats on the back and signed some autographs. (That’s my photo, above.)

That, right there, has become his only usefulness as an NFL quarterback.

From over-achieving left-hander to over-pleasing glad-hander.

Minutes earlier, in an overcrowded Jets locker room, Tebow gamely tried to mask his disappointment while offering some desultory words to the press.

“Well, this year has had its ups and downs,” Tebow said. “Obviously you wouldn’t have liked to end on this note.”

How was the season personally for him? he was asked.

“I think you have to take a few days to take it all in and look at the season …”

Does he expect to return to the Jets next year, what with all the speculation that his hometown Jacksonville Jaguars are anxious to acquire him?

“I’m not sure. Like I said, I’ll take a few days to just let everything sink in from the season and see from there.”

Did this season set his career back?

“No sir.”

After all, he could always become a celebrity greeter in Vegas.

PREGAME: Bills vs Jets

HELMETS

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Pregame th0ughts, notes and observations before the Carnival (Bills) play the Circus (Jets).

For starters, cue the appropos soundtrack:

– Sunshine, wind, and c-c-cold greet the players for warmups.

– Tons (probably literally) of snow still on seats, especially in upper decks. But workers for past couple of hours were working diligently to clear out as much as possible.

– Mark Sanchez, who gets the start for Jets, was with He Who Shall Always Be Named In A Jets Story on the field at about 10 am EST. The latter, Tebow, was already in workout togs. Sanchez was in shirt, tie and overcoat. Both appeared to be making precise calculations in gauging the wind. So instead of “chuck it up wildly, in the vicinity” it’ll be “chuck it up wildly, in the area.”

– Busiest part of game day for Rian Lindell taking place right now (11:50) — pregame warmup kicks.

– Chan Gailey walks onto Ralph Wilson Stadium field at 12:05 pm … for the last time?

– Wounded-duck season concludes. Fitzpatrick, Thigpen, Sanchez, Tebow conclude pregame throws, 12:25ish.

– Bills players last to leave field, 12:36. Sun brighter than ever. Hard shadows. Probably will be  factor in return game for those facing away from scoreboard endzone.

– Will post analysis column by early evening. Have a good one, folks….

 

Sunday’s likeliest swan-song coaches, GMs, QBs

SWAN
Goodbye. Good luck. And good riddance.
Behind a them’s-the-breaks headshake and a firm handshake, that’s essentially what a bunch of NFL franchises will be saying to their face-of-the-franchise millionaires – starting on Monday.

All the bromides will be said … It’s not personal, just business. Things just didn’t work out. Appreciate all your hard work. But those hounding bastards in the press didn’t give us any other option.

Among those about to pay a visit to Helen down the hall in HR are failed head coaches, failed coordinators, failed GMs and – soon enough – failed starting quarterbacks.

Reports suggest anywhere from five to 13 head coaches will be shown the door in the days ahead. As a result, dozens of their assistant coaches will pack up and uproot their families, too. Happy New Year.

The doomed quarterback under-performers probably won’t learn their fates until February or March – just before teams have to commit however many more guaranteed millions to them.

Here’s who we think are likeliest to sing their swan songs (above right … er, maybe that’s a different Swan Song) at their current NFL stops only hours from now:

HEAD COACHES

EaglesANDY REID, Philadelphia Eagles. For more than two months, Reid (my camp photo, right) has been the lamest duck since Daffy tried to convince Elmer Fudd it wuth wabbit season. Six NFC East titles, nine playoff appearances and five NFC title-game appearances – all things of the past in the 14-year Reid regime. Philly is 4-11 this year, and 12-19 over the past two seasons. Reid’s dispirited, mistake-ridden team was expected to compete both last year and this for the Super Bowl, but never got close. This year’s Eagles are tied for the worst record in the NFC. A fresh start is required for all.

NORV TURNER, San Diego Chargers. Turner himself has already admitted he’d be content merely to be an offensive coordinator elsewhere next season. And that’s likely his next landing spot – soon. San Diego is Turner’s third failure as NFL head coach, after previous thuds in Washington and Oakland. At age 60, a fourth chance is unlikely. Turner appears to have made peace with that fate.

ROMEO CRENNEL, Kansas City Chiefs. How does a team with five Pro Bowlers wind up 2-13 heading into Week 17, likely to land the No. 1 overall draft pick next April? By being terribly coached – full empathies notwithstanding for what Crennel personally endured in the Jovan Belcher murder-suicide tragedy. On the field, Crennel’s offence behind QBs Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn has reeked. And the defence – supposedly Crennel’s specialty – massively underperformed.

MIKE MUNCHAK, Tennessee Titans. After a pair of humiliating blowout losses, owner Bud Adams described his Titans’ play this season as “embarrassing,” “not acceptable,” and “in my 50 years of owning an NFL franchise, I’m at a loss to recall … such a disappointment for myself and fans of the Titans. We were grossly outcoached and outplayed from start to finish.” That about covers it. The second such loss was just last Sunday. Munchak’s only argument is that he’s only in Year 2.

PAT SHURMUR, Cleveland Browns. New owner. New top football man. Ergo, new head coach. Shurmur actually has done an admirable job. He’s had to work with the youngest, greenest roster in the NFL this year. The Browns broke camp with 26 first- or second-year players on the 53-man roster, and that number now stands at 27. Yet since late October, the Browns are 4-4. The 47-year-old Shurmur deserves another head-coaching gig some day.

 

COORDINATORS

TONY SPARANO, offence, New York Jets. Can you think of any measure by which Sparano’s first year in New York has been anything but a complete failure? Me either. Talent shortages abound, sure. But he made Mark Sanchez worse, not better. And Sparano remains the only human with a clue as to both what he was trying to accomplish with Tim Tebow, and why he chose the times he did to insert him.

MIKE TICE, offence, Chicago Bears. Quarterback Jay Cutler was only speaking for virtually all Bears fans when he cold-shouldered Tice for all the world to see after another non-sensical series of play calls this season. If Cutler is at his wit’s end, head coach Lovie Smith probably is too.

SCOTT LINEHAN, offence, Detroit Lions. Lions head coach Jim Schwartz is head-strong and unpredictable enough to retain Linehan, if only to defy his quickly growing and evermore vocal critics among media and fans. But even when Linehan had healthy WRs besides Megatron to work with this season, the Lions passing attack hiccupped at all the wrong times, especially in the red zone.

Wannstedt

DAVE WANNSTEDT, defence, Buffalo Bills. (Above, my camp photo). A defence that had one of the league’s best playmaking safeties (Jairus Byrd) and an all-pro calibre defensive tackle (Kyle Williams) added one of the top rookie cornerbacks (Stephon Gilmore) and a $100-million pass-rush specialist (DE Mario Williams). And he reinstalled the 4-3 scheme that all defenders were more comfortable with. Yet the Bills defence remains among the NFL’s most putrid, statistically and otherwise. The late-season flourish occurred against struggling offensive units of mostly bad teams. Even if GM Buddy Nix and head coach Chan Gailey are retained – and in our view, either both will be retained or both will be fired – Wannstedt is the scapegoat who’ll be axed.

 

GMs

A.J. SMITH, San Diego. As with head coach Norv Turner, his firing is a mere formality on Monday or Tuesday. Smith barely survived after last season. He won’t be so fortunate this time. He threw all his chips into one wagon and hitched it to Turner.

SCOTT PIOLI, Kansas City. Unless you’ve listened to Kansas City sports radio on Mondays this season, you have no idea just how much the locals despise this man and the job he has done since 2009. In only four years, Pioli is 0-for-2 on head coaches (Todd Haley, Romeo Crennel), and o-fer on all QBs (Matt Cassel, Brady Quinn, Kyle Orton …).

MIKE TANNENBAUM, New York Jets. The Jets have a dearth of talent only at these positions: quarterback, running back, wide receiver, offensive tackle, defensive line, linebacker, safety. Exacty. This year’s draft was a bust, too, as the first two picks – DL Quinton Coples and WR Stephen Hill – have been low-to-no-impact players. The fate-sealers: extending Mark Sanchez’s contract, and trading for Tim Tebow.

 

STARTING QUARTERBACKS

Sanchez

MARK SANCHEZ, New York Jets. With the exception of a solid Week 1 performance against a bad Buffalo defence, Sanchez has been awful – a 64.0 passer rating from completing just 53.7% of his passes for 10 TDs and 16 interceptions. Sanchez is the 33rd rated passer in a 32-team league. Done.

TIM TEBOW, New York Jets. Perhaps only Tom Cruise at the Oscars has been passed over more times than the Sunday-school poster-boy was this fall. When Rex Ryan finally had had enough of Sanchez after Week 15, he gave the ball to greenhorn Greg McElroy instead. Jacksonville beckons.

BLAINE GABBERT, Jacksonville Jaguars. Even before he’d hurt his shoulder, and even before Maurice Jones-Drew went down for the year with a nasty foot injury, the second-year Gabbert was firing blanks – left, right, centre, deep and short. Whether or not the Jags cut him, it’s hard to see him serving as anything but an emergency backup, anywhere.

RYAN FITZPATRICK, Buffalo Bills. There’s a lot to admire in this Harvard grad. Works his tail off. Great team player. Great in the community. Fitz just isn’t very good at football at the NFL level. That’s a detriment. He has milked every ounce of talent from his not-so-talented body. His biggest failing? A weak arm combined with shoddy mechanics that render him unlikely to complete deep balls. And everyone knows it.

VickMICHAEL VICK, Philadelphia Eagles. (my camp photo, right). Turnover machines who are 33 years old – as Vick will be next summer – either start for bad teams, or do the ball-cap/hand-clap thing on the sidelines for good teams. Ten years ago Vick would have been a breathtaking candidate to run one of the newfangled zone-read-option based attacks. Now, he’d just get hurt even sooner.

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We’ll spare you repeat reasons for the rest. You know why they’re listed here. They suck:

Matt Cassell, Kansas City

Brady Quinn, Kansas City

Kevin Kolb, Arizona Cardinals

John Skelton, Arizona Cardinals

Carson Palmer, Oakland Raiders

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THREE HOT-SEAT COACHES LIKELY TO SURVIVE:

SchwartzRon Rivera, Carolina Panthers. After a 1-6 start that cost GM Marty Hurney his job, Rivera has guided the Panthers to five wins in eight games, including a defeat of Atlanta.

Jim Schwartz, Detroit Lions (my camp photo, right). His team wildly under-performed in 2012, and might be the NFC’s worst. But he did take over an 0-16 team after 2008. Will be given another chance to right the ship. Adding a shard of discipline wouldn’t hurt.

Dennis Allen, Oakland Raiders. Year 1 of the attitudinal about-face in Oakland was disastrous. Allen should get at least one more year to transform the Raiders into the disciplined, defence-first team he envisions.