The house of Chan Gailey

MIKE RUTSEY, Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 12:00 AM ET

BUFFALO - When you swing off Hwy. 190 south and take the Hwy. 5 cutoff that heads west and skirts the north shore of Lake Erie, you roll by a number of vast, empty, decaying buildings that were once mills and plants that now lie still and abandoned.

In the near distance, on the shore, seven windmills rise up, churning, like so many green sprouts in an economic wasteland.

It is the past and the future all at once, a snapshot for a number of the economically battered cities that have become the rust belt of the Great Lakes.

Further down the highway and a little south sits Ralph Wilson Stadium, home to the Buffalo Bills, a team that for the past decade has mirrored the empty plants and mills. There have been no playoff games for the rabid fans to attend, just season after season of false hope and no payoff.

Now they have a new Messiah, a new coach that takes over from the failures of his predecessor, Dick Jauron.

He is Chan Gailey and when his name was announced as the new sheriff in town, you could have knocked the fans over with a feather.

Both the media and faithful alike were filled with a sense of here-we-go-again, that owner Ralph Wilson had once again gone on the cheap and hired a non-entity, a guy who was holding his hat in his hands.

Chan Gailey was to Buffalo what the hiring of John Ferguson Jr. was to the Leafs and their disgruntled fans.

It wasn’t so much that Gailey is a bad coach, a bad choice, as his resume is stocked with winning teams and winning programs. It was more the fact that the Bills fans believed they would finally land a big fish, were due to land a big prize, a Mike Shanahan, a Bill Cowher, to lead them back to the promised land.

They should have known better and with Gailey they get a 58-year-old, polite, mild-mannered man from the south who has but two years of head coaching experience at the NFL level — 1998 and ’99 when he led the high-profile Dallas Cowboys to consecutive playoff appearances.

The problem was there were no playoff victories and Gailey was let go. Since then Gailey spent two years with the Dolphins as offensive co-ordinator followed by six years as head coach of Georgia Tech.

In 2008, it was back to the NFL as offensive co-ordinator of the Kansas City Chiefs and he was in that position at the start of 2009 until being fired in the pre-season.

The fact that Gailey was let go by the Chiefs isn’t that surprising considering he was hired under the regime of Herm Edwards and stayed on when new head coach Todd Haley took over.

Gailey was the offensive coordinator for a Chiefs team that went 2-14 the previous year while Haley’s previous job was offensive coordinator for the Arizona Cardinals.

So after the Chiefs went 0-3 in the pre-season with just two offensive touchdowns, Haley didn’t like what he was seeing and took over. So long Chan.

So, there he was sitting in the coaching trash can until the Bills new GM Buddy Nix this past January gave the call.

“You always believe in yourself but you’re not sure anybody else believes in you,” Gailey said with a grin about his good fortune. “You always hope that that would happen but to tell you for sure that that would happen, naw, I can’t tell you that.”

A few weeks ago, the Bills held a workout session — strictly voluntary — giving Gailey and his new staff a chance to interact with the players for the first time on a collective basis.

Leaving a good first impression with the players, he said, was fundamental.

“I think it’s always important,” Gailey said. “You want to have the guys understand that there’s a method to your madness, so to speak. I think they realize that we’ve won and we have that background coming in with us. At the same time they want to see what’s in store, what they’ve got to do and what direction we’re going in. You want to make a statement in that respect.”

Since taking the job Gailey has done his best to re-assure the rabble. He is polite and civil and reasoned and is not inclined to hyperbole. He believes in preparation, thoroughness and hard work.

Because of his age, his history, he is a man comfortable in his skin. One of the joys of aging is the sense that you don’t have to go out and prove yourself, that aspect has already been taken care of.

“When you get to this point you’re not trying to prove things to other people but you want to be the best of the best if you’re any kind of competitor,” he said. “So you’re really competing to try to win championships, you’re not trying to prove yourself anymore, you’re trying to win championships and that’s your only focus.

“I’m comfortable with where I am and what I’m doing and the direction we’re going and what I expect us to be, but I don’t feel like I have to prove anything to anybody.”

Being here, in Buffalo, is nothing like his first head coaching job in the NFL in Dallas. And it had a lot more to do with things other than the spotlight being so much greater in Texas.

“When it’s your first one, it’s a lot different,” Gailey said. “When you’ve been through it once before, then it’s a little different this time because you don’t feel that little nervousness the first time you step in front of the team, you don’t have doubts about ‘are you doing everything exactly right?’ You’ve got the experience because you’ve been through it that you understand right from wrong, good from bad, direction from non-direction.”

One of his strengths is the fact that he is flexible. He has worked with quarterbacks as diverse as Denver’s John Elway and the Steelers’ Kordell Stewart and built offensive philosophies to try and compliment both. But he also has a core belief.

“I really believe you have to run the football to win,” he said. “Does that mean you have to lead the league in rushing? No, I’m not saying that.

“But I’m saying you have to be able to run the football and everywhere we’ve been we’ve been able to run the football so hopefully we can do that here as well. At the same time, we try to adapt and do what our players do best.”

The Bills, it should be noted are a special case, unlike the other 31 NFL teams.

The fans feel as though they are trapped in a morbid game of beat the clock. Ralph Wilson is 92, and despite all claims otherwise, will not live forever.

His children have no interest in running the team so the thinking is that when Ralph departs this earth, the team will quickly follow, be sold to new owners who will re-locate the franchise pronto. In Buffalo, it makes for high anxiety and fuels their zeal for winning NOW.

Gailey says he understands and feels their plight.

“All that doesn’t change the way I handle a football team,” Gailey started. “But I’d be lying if I didn’t say I had a passion for wanting to win for these people and for the area.

“Any time somebody hasn’t had something and they want it so badly, if you’ve got any compassion in you whatsoever, they you want to try and give it to them.”

In the end it all comes down to winning. It’s not about competing, it’s about victory.

It’s what Buffalo wants, it’s what Gailey wants.

“People ask me” ‘Is football fun?’ I tell them: ‘No, winning’s fun,’ ” he says. “The most fun I’ve ever had in the game is winning. If you don’t win, it’s no fun.

“I don’t care if you’re high school, college or pro, winning is what makes the game fun. It is tough, hard work and either way you go, you can enjoy it a lot better if you win.”

For Bills fans one thing they know is that for the past 10 years there hasn’t been much in the way of fun.

Now it’s Gailey’s turn to try and show them the way.

mike.rutsey@sunmedia.ca


Videos

Photos