Before the 2008 NFL regular season ended - which, for the Buffalo Bills and even-then-embattled coach Dick Jauron, came in particularly brutal fashion - Bills fans across the nation began calling for a change at head coach. When their wish was not granted in late December of 2008, the countdown was officially on. Jauron's 2009 coaching seat was hot from the moment owner Ralph Wilson chose to keep him days after the close of the 2008 season, and after a 3-5 start in '09, Jauron's seat remains one of the hottest in the NFL.
There are websites, billboards and petitions dedicated to Jauron's ouster. As with any lingering desire, aspects of the campaign have reached irrational levels in some circles. No matter what happens over the second half of this season, selling Jauron and the current regime of decision-makers at One Bills Drive to an understandably impatient fan base next season could prove difficult. Still, fans are only part of the rationale behind any given football decision, and even with all of the angst directed towards Jauron from every angle, there are ways that he can survive the 2009 season in Buffalo.
With the Bills set to embark on an eight-game path to either success or mediocrity-with-a-side-of-regime-change, I thought it would be prudent to lay out the ways in which Jauron can save his job as Bills head coach. (And yes, I understand, though certainly don't condone, that many of you will be visited by the temptation to bypass the article entirely and drop some form of "he needs to go no matter what" or "i hope none of these happen" in the comments section. Hooray, redundancy!)
1. Make the playoffs. This is the only sure-fire way Jauron survives the season, and it's been that way since the '08 season ended. Right now, the Bills are 3-5 and rank 12 of 16 in the AFC. They're only two games behind the 5-3 San Diego Chargers, who, if the playoffs started today, would be the No. 6 seed in the conference. A record of 6-2 over the second half of the season would put the Bills at 9-7 on the season, which very likely won't be enough to secure a Wild Card berth. A 7-1 or even an 8-0 finish might be required to pull a slot in the playoffs. Given the difficulty of Buffalo's remaining opponents, that's going to be a tremendously hard task to achieve.
2. Hope more than one of the next three criteria occurs. As mentioned above, the playoffs are the only guaranteed, single-shot way that Jauron will keep his job. If he doesn't achieve that, he'll need a combination of the next three items on the list to stick beyond 2009. No single item from Nos. 3 to 5 will save him, and even if all three occur, it's not a lock, either.
3. Get hot and/or end hot. Let's say, for argument's sake, that the Bills go between 4-4 and 6-2 to end the season. Neither finish is likely to garner a playoff berth, but depending on how the finish occurs, it could buy Jauron a semi-reasonable argument in Ralph Wilson's mind. A strong finish to the season - whether it be winning four of five, six of eight, or even 3-4 wins to close the season - could, at least to Wilson, be perceived as an indication that the team can improve in 2010 under Jauron. The continuity argument won't help Jauron in this regard as it did last year, unless it comes with a streak of wins at some point over the next eight games.
It should be noted, however, that this didn't help Jauron in his final season with Chicago, in 2003. That season, Chicago started 1-5, then rattled off two straight wins to get to 3-5. (Sound familiar?) After losing their next two to drop to 3-7, Chicago won four of their next five to get to 7-8, before bowing out with another loss to finish 7-9. Jerry Angelo fired him anyway, and that might apply to Wilson and Russ Brandon, given that Jauron was Marv Levy's choice as head coach.
4. Turn the offense around. A scenario could play out in which Buffalo's injury-depleted and beleaguered defense peters out over the second half of the season. Given the sheer amount of injuries they've incurred and the amount of time they've been on the field, that would hardly be surprising. If, however, the Bills are somehow able to turn their ridiculously incompetent offensive unit into something resembling a pro attack, again, an argument for continued improvement can be made. Continuity, again, won't hold as an argument unless improvement comes with it, and even if a faltering defense leads to a near-.500 finish over the next eight games, improvement offensively could garner Jauron some votes.
5. Don't lose the team. This isn't stated in the typical "the guys still play hard for him" fashion. This is stated in the "don't roll over like puppies" fashion. Already this season, the Bills have three embarrassing losses to their resume - one of those in blowout fashion - and another two in which the Bills played tough opponents closely, only to be completely dominated in the fourth quarter.
Just because of the honorable type of man he is, Jauron will always have the respect of his players. That obviously counts for something, but it's certainly not enough to save one's job. But the types of losses we've seen in the New Orleans, Miami and Houston games need to stop. (I'd mention Cleveland, too, but I think that one kind of goes without mentioning.) Every time the team is completely dominated late in a close game, it's an exhibition of a lack of confidence. It doesn't need to be a lack of confidence in any individual, including Jauron, but it's a lack of confidence as a team. They have reason to lack confidence, obviously, but those types of defeats do as much harm to Jauron's future job status as two or three straight wins. They can't happen. Jauron's troops are and will remain on board, but they need to believe they can save their coach's job, or it probably won't happen.
Y'all feel free to rank the likelihood of each point coming to fruition if you so wish. I'd imagine that many of you will come to the same conclusion - and with that conclusion in mind, patience might be the best practice for the next eight weeks.