The time is approaching when the Buffalo Bills will no longer be a bunch of guys running around in their underwear but an actual football team playing actual games. It happens every year.
That is when their fans can start making a legitimate, fair judgment on whether Chan Gailey was the correct choice by owner Ralph Wilson to coach the team. It's been almost six months since Gailey was hired and a large chunk of the sporting public here is still treating him like a pariah.
Buffalo used to be called "The City of Good Neighbors," but Gailey's arrival was a case of the neighbors pulling down their shades when the new family moved into the neighborhood. The fans wanted someone else coaching their team, preferably a big name. A popular choice was Bill Parcells, "The Tuna."
The public remembered that Parcells had won two Super Bowls as coach of the New York Giants. Apparently it was like yesterday with the grousers, since Parcells' last Super victory came 20 years ago, courtesy of "Wide Right." Parcells last coached from 2003 to 2006, in Dallas. He had a 34-32 record with the Cowboys, qualified for two playoffs but lost twice, left coaching and now runs the Miami front office.
Coincidentally, Gailey coached the Cowboys for two years in the same era, 1998-99. His first year he won the NFC East with a team that had finished 6-10 the year before. The next season the 'Boys were an NFC wild card. Like Parcells, Gailey lost both playoff games and was fired. Dallas owner Jerry Jones now admits he pulled the switch on Gailey much too soon.
Currently, Jones employs the most successful Cowboys head coach in the last 15 years, Wade Phillips. You might remember that Phillips coached the Bills in the late '90s. He enraged a lot of fans here because he didn't wear headphones.
Gailey is attempting to put the pieces back together for the Bills by the most sensible method: using a strong running game while sorting out which of his quarterbacks will be the most reliable starter. The Bills did something like that with success back in the early '70s. The coach was Lou Saban, who had salvaged O.J. Simpson's career and in 1973 put together an admirable group of blockers such as Joe DeLamielleure, Paul Seymour and Reggie McKenzie.
Saban's choice as quarterback was rookie Joe Ferguson. Fergy had a gun for an arm but the coach put handcuffs on him and ran the ball. Ferguson completed only 73 passes, just four for touchdowns, but the Bills won nine games. The next year Ferguson was unleashed. In the opening game he beat the powerful Raiders with a last-minute bullet to Ahmad Rashad and the Bills went to the playoffs for the first time since their AFL days.
A reasonable amount of patience with the new coach might be a sound idea.
Larry Felser, former News columnist, appears in Sunday's editions.