When the Buffalo Bills introduced Chan Gailey as their new head coach on January 19, 2010, Bills GM Buddy Nix - the man responsible for Gailey's hiring - told reporters precisely why Gailey had gotten the job. Nix wanted a head coach that had done the job before, and perhaps more importantly, one that had a proven track record developing quarterbacks.
"I wanted somebody that had developed quarterbacks," Nix said at the time. "Folks with good quarterbacks are winning; folks with bad ones are losing. It's not that hard a game."
Gailey is widely credited with getting acceptable production out of marginally talented quarterback prospects such as Mike Tomczak, Kordell Stewart, Jay Fieldler and, most recently, Tyler Thigpen. (Not mentioned as frequently: Gailey also worked with John Elway and Troy Aikman, and didn't get stupendous results in either case.)
Current Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick - enjoying the best season a Bills quarterback has produced since Drew Bledsoe went to the Pro Bowl in 2002 - is Gailey's latest stellar reclamation project. He might already be his best, too.
Most of you are aware that Gailey handed the starting job to Fitzpatrick prior to the team's Week 3 game against New England. Since that point in time, Fitzpatrick has put up respectable, consistent numbers, even while the Bills are just 4-8 overall in that time frame.
Taking a look at the Fitzpatrick-like players that Gailey has had to work with in his professional career, it's plain as day that Gailey has already milked equal - if not better - production out of Fitzpatrick than he got from middling quarterbacks on much better teams (save Kansas City).
Fitzpatrick isn't done this season, so by the time he wraps up his 2010 campaign, he may surpass Jay Fiedler (circa 2001) for the highest number of completions and attempts on this list. He's already the most productive of this group at scoring points; Buffalo's offense has averaged 19.6 points per game with Fitzpatrick at the helm this season, and his 23 touchdown passes top this list and are the most since Bledsoe threw 24 in 2002 - another milestone Fitzpatrick has a great chance to surpass.
Perhaps most importantly, Fitzpatrick has been able to accomplish these things despite playing one of the NFL's toughest schedules. Right now, Buffalo's opponents are a combined 130-94, and that 58% winning percentage is one of the highest in the league. The results have been impressive. It's another notch in Gailey's belt, but as far as notches go, Gailey has a lot more belt room for bigger, longer-lasting notches.
It's fairly obvious at this point in time that Fitzpatrick will open the 2011 season as Buffalo's starting quarterback. The real question is whether or not Fitzpatrick can ascend beyond this list of middling quarterbacks and become something more than Gailey's latest backup-turned-adequate-starter at QB. Fitzpatrick is just 8-12 in two seasons as a starter with Buffalo, and while clearly the team around him needs to get better, Fitzpatrick can still improve, as well.
Nix and Gailey are just about one calendar year into their re-building project. Ralph Wilson is pleased with the team's progress thus far, but the next step - beyond galvanizing a young roster and playing consistent, competitive football - is to start winning games. The team will attempt to do with with Gailey orchestrating, and Fitzpatrick the face of, the team's offensive attack. They can get a head start on that process with games against the Patriots and Jets to close the 2010 season.