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Gailey the right man for a tough job in Buffalo

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Sunday, Nov. 28, 2010

Chan Gailey has a well-deserved reputation for making more out of less.

In that regard, Gailey is a perfect fit as first-year coach of the Buffalo Bills, who host the Steelers at 1 p.m. today at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Former Steelers coach Bill Cowher likes telling the story about informing Gailey he had only one healthy receiver prior to a 1996 game against Cincinnati.

No problem, said Gailey, the offensive coordinator charged with assembling Cowher's game plan.

"I remember telling him we're going to have one healthy receiver, and he put together a package," Cowher said. "He said, 'That's fine, just let me know, and if you can get a second (receiver), I really would appreciate it.' "

The Steelers won, 20-10.

"We used a completely different package than we had shown all year," Cowher said. "We had been a three-to-four wide (receiver) team. We were banged up. It was a short week (following a Monday night game). Chan put together a game plan and made it work."

Cowher recommended Gailey, the Steelers' offensive coordinator from 1996-97, for the Buffalo job prior to this season. He also recommended Gailey for the Steelers' opening in 2007 that was created by Cowher's resignation. Mike Tomlin got the job over Gailey, Russ Grimm, Ken Whisenhunt and Ron Rivera.

"We all have beliefs in systems, but the ability to adapt to what you have and find a way to get the players to believe in it is what separates you in the coaching world," Cowher said. "Chan can adapt to situations as well as anybody in the league."

Gailey, 58, has his hands full in Buffalo.

The Bills (2-8) haven't had a winning record since 2004. They haven't advanced to the playoffs since 1999.

"I know it's going to be a tough task. It's going to take a lot of work," said Gailey, who is Buffalo's sixth coach in the past eight seasons. "It's going to be something that's not done easily, and the only way to get it done is for everybody to be on the same page."

The Bills weren't in the same book, as they opened with an 0-8 record under Gailey. However, a win over Detroit followed by last week's incredible 49-35 comeback win at Cincinnati lifted the team's spirits.

Gaining those elusive victories is helping Gailey change the losing culture in Buffalo.

"I think what you have to do is get from a position from hoping to win to expecting to win. That's a big leap," Gailey said. "It's not easy if you haven't won to gain confidence. That's something you keep working on as a coach, which is how to keep instilling confidence in these guys."

For Buffalo's players, seeing is believing.

At halftime of the Cincinnati game, the Bills trailed, 35-14.

Gailey was livid.

"Coach was pretty fiery at halftime," said Buffalo linebacker and former Penn State standout Paul Posluszny. "He was excited at halftime, and that got us going."

Buffalo outscored Cincinnati, 35-0, in the second half.

"We've got a plan," Gailey said. "I told the players I don't know how many games it's going to take, but we're going to get there."

The Bills are getting there with an unlikely starting quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick, a career backup and Bengals reject who passed for 316 yards and four touchdowns against his former team.

Gailey elevated Fitzpatrick over Trent Edwards following two early season losses when the offense performed poorly. Edwards, who won the starting job to open the season, was released in September.

"He's done a great job. He's an unbelievable competitor," Gailey said about Fitzpatrick. "He'll scratch, claw, whatever he has to do to get the job done. He's become a very good quarterback."

Fitzpatrick connected with another unlikely star, wide receiver Steve Johnson, in the Cincinnati win. A seventh-round draft pick in 2008, Johnson caught three touchdown passes.

Under Gailey's tutelage, Johnson emerged from nowhere to put up 52 receptions for 728 yards and nine touchdown catches this season.

"They worked on the scout team quite a bit the previous year," Gailey said about Fitzpatrick and Johnson. "I think they developed something then, where they knew what they were thinking, had a feel for things and I think that just carried over to this season. Steve's a lot better than I had been told he was. I've seen him grow from not knowing anything to where he is today."

Veteran wide receiver Lee Evans has played for five different coaches in Buffalo. He said Gailey is far and away the best in terms of offensive know-how.

"We haven't had an offensive mind around here for a while," Evans said. "It's certainly a change of pace the way he runs the offense."

As for Gailey, his Bills aren't where he thinks they should be. After all, Buffalo finished 6-10 a year ago under Dick Jauron and interim coach Perry Fewell.

The Bills need to win four of their final six games to equal last year's record. If they do that, Gailey's rebuilding task should be well on its way.

Gailey, however, understands that patience is another important element in restoring credibility.

"Any time you transition from coach to coach, there are always going to be a lot of difficulties that come, and this has been no different," Gailey said. "A lot of things have changed across the board. There is a completely different mentality and culture here.

"You've got to be strong mentally. If we don't like it, let's change it. We've got to win. If we win, that changes."

Additional Information:

Leaders of men

Buffalo Bills head coaches since 2000:

2010 • Chan Gailey

2009 • Perry Fewell (interim)

2006-09 • Dick Jauron

2004-05 • Mike Mularkey

2001-03 • Gregg Williams

2000 • Wade Phillips

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