NFL coordinators are a little tougher to evaluate than head coaches. For one thing, it can be hard to attribute ownership of offense or defense, when some head coaches prefer to impose a familiar scheme or control playcalling for one side of the ball. For another, coaching staffs tend to shuffle every year or two, so it’s not often that we see the same coach build up his resume with a team. Still, we have a few noteworthy coaches to discuss in our final two articles, so let’s go over them.
Gilbride was a long-tenured NFL coach when he took over as Gregg Williams’s offensive coordinator in 2002. He made major use of new quarterback Drew Bledsoe, throwing a team record 610 times in that first season. The Bills ranked fifth in passing yards, 11th in touchdowns, and 14th in net yards per attempt. The team didn’t run very much in comparison, but still ranked ninth in rushing touchdowns. That season, the team ranked 11th in points and yards. In 2003, the offense took a serious step back, ranking 30th in points and yards. Bledsoe had a dreadful season, and the team saw some success when it leaned a little more on Travis Henry in the running game, but the overall results weren’t great. Williams and his staff were fired after the 2003 season, and Gilbride moved on to a new team.
Clements, a former CFL quarterback, was Buffalo’s offensive coordinator during Mike Mularkey’s tenure. Mularkey’s background as an offensive coordinator and tight ends coach may have meant that Clements played less of a guiding role for Buffalo’s offense, but nonetheless, he spent two seasons in the job. Drew Bledsoe’s 2004 season was a step forward from 2003, and the team rode Willis McGahee to respectable results and the cusp of the playoffs. The team ranked 25th in yards but 7th in points, and ranked 13th in rushing yards and 8th in rushing touchdowns. In 2005, Kelly Holcomb and J.P. Losman split the season, and the overall results were disappointing. The Bills were 28th in yards and 24th in points, and McGahee had trouble reaching the end zone, with only 5 touchdowns on 35 goal-to-go attempts (and none from 10 or more yards out). After that season, Mularkey resigned in protest of Buffalo’s front office shuffle, and Clements departed with him.
It’s arguable that Modkins probably didn’t control much of the offense, with head coach Chan Gailey having an offensive background, but Buffalo’s offensive and running game coordinator likely had some of the say in playbook and training. The early teens Bills were talent-bereft, but Gailey and Modkins used a quick-passing spread scheme that opened the field for Buffalo’s undrafted receivers and the Fred Jackson - C.J. Spiller combo.
Over three years with Buffalo, Modkins saw solid but not great offensive production: 25th, 14th, and 19th in yards; 28th, 14th, and 21st in points. The rushing offense steadily improved each year, while the passing offense struggled with turnovers by Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Hackett was Doug Marrone’s offensive coordinator at Syracuse, and with Marrone being more of a managerial head coach, Hackett was allowed to scheme the offense when the pair joined the Bills in 2013. He worked with a rookie project quarterback in E.J. Manuel, and included some college concepts in his play designs, but mostly operated a restrained, ground-heavy offense.
In his first season, the Bills led the league in rushing attempts and ranked second in rushing yards, tenth in rushing touchdowns, and 14th in yards per carry. The passing game was bad, ranking 29th in net yards per attempt, and overall the Bills offense was a bit below average. In 2014 the team inserted Kyle Orton as quarterback after four games and saw its passing numbers improve, but the rushing offense became less of a priority and regressed.
Roman joined the Bills with the hiring of Rex Ryan, bringing his massive playbook and exotic blocking schemes to the team. With a strong resume from his time with Jim Harbaugh, Bills fans expected a better offense, and he delivered it. The team ranked 13th in yards and 12th in points with new starter Tyrod Taylor under center, but they were first in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, and yards per carry. The passing offense wasn’t bad either, ranking 12th in net yards per attempt.
Roman coached two games into the 2016 season, but was fired after a 37-31 loss to the Jets, arguably as a scapegoat for Ryan’s defensive coaching failures.
With Roman out, the Bills elevated rising star Anthony Lynn to offensive coordinator. He kept Roman’s scheme largely intact, though he streamlined the playbook and removed some of the more complicated looks. The team’s results looked similar to the previous season’s. Again they led the league in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, and yards per carry, but this time they scored a whopping 29 times on the ground, five more than the second-place team. The devotion to the run game came at the expense of passing results, with the team finishing 25th in net yards per attempt despite protecting the ball at a good rate. Overall they were 16th in yards and 10th in points. Lynn was elevated to interim head coach for the final game of the season, then became head coach of the Chargers in the offseason.
This list doesn’t include luminaries like Steve Fairchild and Turk Schonert, so I hope no one is offended that they didn’t make the cut. With the six names above as candidates, cast you vote: Who was the best offensive coordinator of Buffalo’s playoff drought? All that remains is a defensive coordinator for the team.
Who was the best offensive coordinator of the Buffalo Bills playoff drought?
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