Clearly, when you're a head coach in the NFL, every decision you make, no matter when or where, carries some degree of importance. Every decision carries some degree of magnitude when your job is as high-profile and high-demand as leading a professional football organization from the sidelines.
New Buffalo Bills head coach Chan Gailey, simply because of his job title, has important decisions to make. But his decisions won't be of run-of-the-mill importance; in case you missed it at the beginning of this paragraph, Gailey is the new coach of the Buffalo Bills. Gailey inherits the reigns of a team that has not made the playoffs in ten straight years amidst a level of fan angst rarely seen in these parts. There are holes to be filled at the most important positions on this roster. Without improvement in several key areas, Buffalo will not win many games in 2010, regardless of how much effort and creativity Gailey puts into his first year on the job here.
Right off the bat, Gailey has four critical decisions to make, and he'll need to pull the trigger quickly on most of them. Most of you will see the list that follows after the jump from a mile away; for those who don't, stash this away as a 'to do' list that, if Gailey can't complete, will likely doom the Bills' chances of being even a fringe contender in 2010.
Clearly, the first thing Gailey needs to do is get his stable of assistants in place. Expect him to concentrate on the defensive side of ball first, as Gailey revealed at his introductory press conference that he would be Buffalo's offensive play-caller in 2010.
The team will target coaches that can teach, preach fundamentals, and demand the respect of their players. That's easy to promise, but sometimes can be difficult to deliver on. Gailey's most important hire will obviously be his defensive coordinator, and it is imperative that he find a guy that will demand as much respect from Buffalo's current and future defenders as Gailey garners for his impressive offensive resume.
Scheme will be revealed with these hires, as well. We have at least a philosophical idea of what Buffalo's offense will work, because that unit will be Gailey's baby. Buffalo would be a physical, run-to-set-up-the-pass offense in Gailey's ideal world, but Gailey made it clear that personnel would shape his ultimate plans on that side of the ball. Gailey ran a 4-3 while head coach in Dallas, but made it known that he is not averse to running a 3-4. More on that in a moment.
Strength and conditioning
Buffalo's injury history is well-documented, and has, at least in this humble writer's opinion, been the most frustrating thing about being a Bills fan for the past 2-3 years. Bills players have dropped like flies, and there hasn't really been any rhyme or reason to it. While I wouldn't place the blame entirely on former strength and conditioning coordinator J.T. Allaire, it's fairly obvious that he won't be returning.
Bills GM Buddy Nix, at his own introductory press conference, promised that he'd be looking into the injury issues and trying to spot a pattern. I sincerely doubt he'll find anything routine, but my guess is that he and Gailey will put an emphasis on bringing in a quality strength coach with an established program; that might be a huge selling point to fans if they can land someone with a reputation.
There are a lot of players that donned Bills red, white and blue last year that we assume would jump at the chance to do so again next year. Right now, most of those players are on their post-season vacations, but it won't be long before they get back into the weight room on a regular basis to get their bodies ready for the 2010 season. Gailey needs to have a program in place well before that happens, and the new strength and conditioning staff will need to consult with Buffalo's players to make sure that their needs are taken care of, and that programs are developed on an individual basis. The NFL is big on players taking care of themselves, and that work will need to start pretty quickly. And, obviously, it's particularly important for the injury-ravaged Bills.
One of the curious things about the Bills firing Dick Jauron's old coaching staff the day after the season ended is that it left a significant amount of immediate post-season work waiting for a new coaching staff. Unless random Bills staffers and interns have been busy cutting up film and preparing portfolios on each current Buffalo Bill while Nix searched for his next coach, that's work that Gailey and his staff will need to address before they can even begin thinking about the direction of the organization.
Evaluating personnel is obviously a huge step that Gailey and the coaches he brings in will need to take. There are commonly-held, public perceptions of the quality and potential utility of each and every Bill currently on the roster, but the only perception that ultimately matters in regard to those players is whether or not Gailey believes he can win with them. By my count, the Bills have 22 free agents to break down, first and foremost, and then an additional 58 guys that were on the active roster last year to analyze. That's not an insignificant amount of work, and how those players are evaluated will be the first test of whether or not Gailey is on the same page with Nix, who should be in on these evaluations as well.
Obviously, we need to discuss scheme here, too, because the defensive coordinator that Gailey hires may run some funky scheme that renders the talents of, for example, Kyle Williams completely moot. Gailey made it clear that he'd tailor scheme to talent to some degree, so what the Bills eventually run will pertain highly to the results of these initial personnel evaluations.
Addressing the critical positions
We know what the big ones are. Gailey needs to find a quarterback, first and foremost, and to say that Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Brohm didn't get a ringing endorsement from Nix would be an understatement. My sense is that Gailey will look to overhaul that position - if not completely, then in a significant way - and his first big personnel change may be to bring in a veteran quarterback.
The two other big areas, of course, are the offensive line and, defensively, the linebacker position. No matter who ends up being Gailey's quarterback in 2010, it's fairly obvious that the Bills need to be better up front. Expect massive changes in that area (emphasis on the word "massive"). Meanwhile, Buffalo's overall lack of top talent and, more importantly, depth at the linebacker position may have a bigger effect on scheme preference defensively than most are willing to admit.
One last thought: not only do positions need to be addressed, but specific players need to be addressed as well. Does Gailey see Eric Wood as a right guard or as a natural center? Where does Geoff Hangartner fit in? Does Gailey believe that Aaron Maybin can play 4-3 end, as the previous coaching staff did, or does he view him as a better fit somewhere else? There are a significant amount of players that will be in Buffalo next season, based purely on quality and contract status, and finding those players concrete positions will play a role in how the big need areas are addressed as well.