The Bills victory over the Giants this Sunday gives us hope that the team isn’t too far off from their plan to make a Super Bowl run. Sure it’ll be at least a year behind schedule, but if the team plays the way they did on Sunday, solid on both sides of the ball, would a major rebuilding effort really be needed after the season is complete? The remaining three games of the season could be crucial to the Bills front office as they try and determine what will be needed after the season to get the team back on track next year.
Getting the Bills back on track, back to the playoffs and hopefully beyond to the Promised Land will start with the coaching staff. Like the corner pieces of the puzzle, start here and the rest will fall into place. The head coach will be responsible for staffing all the assistant coaches – from offensive and defensive coordinators down to position coaches and probably even the water boys. The coaches in turn will set out the offensive and defensive philosophies that will dictate the general game plans for the season. The game plans should set the personnel who will be required to successfully execute them. Personnel decisions will be made by the front office and this will affect such things as the salary cap and the quality of the team beyond the next season. It all starts with the head coach.
Most fans can see that after week 2 the train jumped the track and became a horrific train wreck. What had started out as a season with such promise turned into a nightmare as the team found new and painful ways to fail. The mental health of me and many other members of Bills Nation quickly deteriorated (my wife and some friends feared I was on the edge). What started out as “denial” eventually evolved into “anger”. Happily, I think I have completed my 12 step journey and have arrived at “acceptance” – the Bills are going nowhere after December 27th.
If you listened to the post-game press conferences you heard players talk about needing to “execute better” and “go out and make plays” ad nausea. We all knew that the real issue was the coach – he wasn’t getting the team ready and the game plans were terrible. Refuse to play to your strengths (the running game) and you’re going to get beat. Throw in a bunch of penalties and the lack of discipline makes it worse. Top it off with crazy trick plays and it gets downright ugly. Indeed, the coach was responsible for all of this.
It became painfully obvious that Gregg Williams would soon be ousted from his post. There was simply no way an organization like the Buffalo Bills would tolerate such ineptitude. The only question on the table was whether Williams would finish out the end of the season or whether he would be replaced with games remaining on the schedule. Despite cries from Bills Nation (myself included), Williams survived the bye week. Further losses stacked up and still there was no indication that a coaching change was forthcoming. While it was obvious that Williams was going, it was obvious that it wouldn’t be until the season was complete.
Or is it that obvious? Could Gregg Williams return as coach for the Buffalo Bills in 2004? I’ll let you do your best Edvard Munch painting impression while you ponder that thought (for those who don’t know art, Munch painted “The Scream”).
There are reasons the Bills could continue their relationship with Gregg Williams. Chief among them is the turmoil a new head coach would bring to the organization. A new coach would likely mean an entirely new coaching staff, potentially whole new offensive and defensive systems and a change of player personnel to accommodate the new system. Few if any coaches are willing to stand pat with players they did not bring into the organization – just ask Bill Parcells about being able to do the shopping if he’s going to cook the meal. Tom Donahoe and company must seriously weigh the impact of gutting the coaching staff and starting over – is this the best way to get the train back on track?
Other factors help Williams’ case to continue as head coach. Williams is a Donahoe guy – throw him out and it’s a black eye for Donahoe, an admission that after making a supposedly solid decision 3 years ago it was a colossal mistake. If the Bills felt it was more beneficial to the club to bring in a new coach rather than continue with Williams, who would the new coach be? There aren’t any Bill Belichick’s or Bill Parcells’ out there – in fact, there is no clear front-runner. It’s been said that it’s better to dance with the devil you know rather than the devil you don’t know. Past history also suggests that many coaching greats started poorly in their first 3 seasons, even if they had talented teams. Could this cause Tom Donahoe to shy away from parting ways with Williams?
Perhaps the biggest thing Williams has going for him is that the team has not quit on him. The frustration is there under the surface, but aside from some comments from Antoine Winfield, the team has not started to unravel publicly. The Bills played well against the Giants – they still have some fire and some pride (their opponent did not – there’s a team that has quit). Despite the terrible season it is impressive that the Bills still want to win.
Before you write me hate mail, understand that I do not in any way advocate the return of Gregg Williams as head coach next season. I think signing Williams to another contract (his current deal runs out before next season) would be a sign that the Bills are unwilling to admit a mistake and reward Williams for a job poorly done, but it’s not out of the question that he’ll return.
Despite signs pointing to a possible extension for Williams, there are ample arguments to be made for the end of his tenure. Chief among them is the poor performance of the team on the field. The team obviously has the talent to win and to win decisively against solid opponents (witness week 1 against New England). Ralph Wilson opened his checkbook to rebuild the defense and it worked – they have been a solid unit and are pulling their weight week after week. The offense has regressed substantially since last season. Sure Peerless Price is gone and has been missed, but does that provide an excuse for shoddy game plans and the unwillingness to commit to the run? Does it explain why the offensive line has been so susceptible to the blitz? Obviously the coaching staff must shoulder a great deal of responsibility for the poor performance of the offense as a whole. Coaches should also be held accountable for the lack of discipline on the team – penalties have killed the Bills this year and they have wracked up quite a few in the “really stupid” category – too many men on the field or in the huddle. Simply put, there is no excuse for the lack of discipline displayed on the field this season.
Williams has also shown a great deal of arrogance with fans and the media, implying that they simply don’t know enough about football to question his coaching. I’m not an NFL coach and probably never will be, but I think I know poor coaching and bad play calling when I see it. Having someone like Gregg Williams refuse to answers questions on such topics in his post-game press conferences week after week because we don’t know enough about football is insulting. More than insulting, it’s antagonistic – why treat the fans and the media with such disdain? These are the people who can make or break you.
If there is anyone less popular in Western New York than Gregg William the guy must have an uncanny resemblance to Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden. Bills fans aren’t used to such shoddy play and lack of fire and they know most of the blame should fall on Gregg Williams. Tom Donahoe has already shown that he is indifferent to the fans (he advised organizers of a fire Williams petition to “save the postage” and not bother to send it to him), but if he keeps Williams next year he’s going to have a mighty enraged fan base next season. Bills fans won’t be willing to let up on Williams until the team has played up to expectations – playoffs and beyond - and that can’t happen until next season. I don’t see fans having that sort of patience. Someone has to pay for the wasted season this year and Gregg Williams is the man.
The decision to keep Williams as head coach for 2004 will ultimately boil down to how far off track the team appears to be. If things don’t appear to be too broken we just may see Williams secure another contract with the organization. If the Bills are ready to rebuild the organization yet again and hope they cannot suffer too great a setback then we’ll see a new face on the sidelines as head coach.
I won’t be happy with Gregg Williams as head coach in 2004 and neither will many Bills fans, but it could happen. If it does, remember that you heard it here first. Perhaps you can send me mail extolling my virtues as a football oracle – I’ll need something to bring me back off the ledge as I ponder another year with Gregg Williams at the helm.