INDIANAPOLIS — In Buffalo, Year Three of a head coach's tenure essentially has been a make-or-break campaign since Marv Levy retired following the 1997 season.
But don't try to convince Chan Gailey that he is under any added pressure.
"I've been in this thing too long to feel different pressure," Gailey told PFW from the NFL Scouting Combine. "If you don't have the pressure inside of you to go out there and try to win a championship every year, you ought to not be in the business."
Since 1997, the only Bills coach to survive into a fourth season is Dick Jauron, and he was fired before he could finish that fourth campaign.
Under Gailey, the Bills improved by two wins in 2011, but the season was marred by a 1-8 finish that included a seven-game losing streak. Gailey had the Bills atop the AFC East with a 5-2 record before injuries crippled both sides of the ball and the wheels came off. Gailey is nothing if not honest, and he understands why 2012 might be considered a pivotal season.
"It's societal. What have you done for me lately? Instant gratification. Microwave ovens. That's the way we are in society. If that doesn't work, change," Gailey said. "Tom Landry and George Halas might not have ever made it in today's society."
Gailey knows the business. His only other time as a head coach in the NFL lasted only two seasons (1998-99) with Dallas, which made the playoffs both seasons. The pressure is different in Buffalo, and this offseason is unique to Gailey as well.
"We had our first offseason, then last year we had no offseason, so this is a totally different scenario," he said. "This is a new kind of adventure — a new point for us."
Gailey's style and tone are in stark contrast to his most well-known AFC East counterparts. He isn't secretive like Bill Belichick nor is he boisterous like Rex Ryan. He tells it like it is in his calm, southern drawl. Gailey doesn't give anything away, but he isn't going to sugarcoat it, either. And that's how he handled his locker room when things unraveled in the second half of the season.
"The most important thing for me as a leader of the football team is to always tell the truth to the players," he explained about the challenge of maintaining his locker room during the losing stretch. "If you try to play the psychologist or motivate with some abstract idea, you're killing yourself in the long run. That doesn't make it wrong, that's just my opinion. I try to be straight up with these guys. I try to tell them exactly what's going on, why we're not winning, what we have to do to win."
The team's success last season, and subsequent downfall, could be tied to QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, whose sensational start to the season earned him a contract extension. But his struggles in the second half brought doubt from the fan base.
Coach and quarterback. The two are tied together more today than ever before, and Gailey doesn't have to look beyond his own division to see where it has worked (Belichick and Tom Brady) and where it has failed (Tony Sparano and Chad Henne).
"The quarterback position used to be a part of the game. Now he is a huge part of the game," said Gailey, who, like Fitzpatrick, is sporting a beard this offseason. "We are passing more than we ever passed before. If you don't believe in a guy, he knows it, you know it and eventually that'll crumble.
"If you find one that you can believe in, you'd better jump on that table because he's going to get more criticism than he deserves when things go bad and more accolades than he deserves when things go good. That's just the way it is. If you believe in one, you ought to stand up for one."
Gailey never stopped standing up for Fitzpatrick, and has maintained the confidence he has in the Bills' signalcaller.
"We can get to a Super Bowl with Ryan Fitzpatrick, there's no question in my mind. We've got to get better as a football team, but there's no question in my mind we can get that done."
It might be hard for younger football fans to fathom that the Super Bowl was once commonplace for the Bills. Coaching in Buffalo gives Gailey the challenge of not only trying to end years of playoff futility, but also putting up with playing one game a year in Toronto and the persistent rumors of the team leaving town. Gailey paused a moment when asked about the experience of coaching in a city like Buffalo, and then gave its fans quite a compliment.
"I've been fortunate. I've been in some pretty great fan bases. The Pittsburgh Steelers, Denver Broncos and Dallas Cowboys organizations, I've been in some really strong fan bases with passionate people," he said. "The Buffalo people — they care. It means more to them than I think any group I've ever been around. When I came there, yeah, it was big and it was important, but the longer you're there, the more you want to win for them.
"They are loyal. They are passionate. The older you get, the more you realize that it's not about you, it's about something bigger than you, and those fans are bigger than we are."
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