The most important decision a defensive-minded head coach can make is selecting an offensive coordinator. Todd Bowles has decided to ride with Chan Gailey.
On the surface, it's a curious choice for the New York Jets. Bowles never has worked with Gailey, 63, who went off the radar after sitting out the past two seasons. His last job was coaching the Buffalo Bills in 2012, so the initial thought is that Bowles is dusting off an antique.
But, after digging a little deeper, a different picture emerges. Gailey is described as a flexible coach who knows how to maximize modest talent. Consider:
In 10 seasons as a coordinator and head coach, Gailey presided over only two top-10 offenses -- the 1997 Pittsburgh Steelers and 1998 Dallas Cowboys. That would seem to be a red flag, but check out the quarterbacks he's had: Ryan Fitzpatrick. Tyler Thigpen. Jay Fiedler. Kordell Stewart. Mike Tomczak. Except for a two-year run with Troy Aikman, who was at the tail end of his Hall of Fame career, Gailey hasn't worked with any elite quarterbacks. Nevertheless, his offense was good enough to make the playoffs in six of the first 10 seasons. He had no shot in Buffalo (2010-12) because he had the worst defense in the league.
Former Steelers coach Bill Cowher swears by Gailey, and the thing he likes most about his former coordinator is that he's flexible. Said Cowher: "He's not married to a system. The one thing I like about Chan is he tries to stay unpredictable." Gailey operated a run-oriented attack with the Steelers. When he coached the Bills, he did a 180-degree turn, employing a spread passing attack that featured short, quick throws out of a one-back set. His pass-run ratio during that three-year stretch was 58-42.
A spread passing attack could be good for Geno Smith, who thrived in West Virginia's Air Raid attack. Obviously, systems aren't identical, but it could put Smith back into a comfort zone. Cowher suggested that Smith might have been overwhelmed by Marty Mornhinweg's complicated offense, saying, "They did a lot of different things, and it's almost one of those things where I think sometimes less is better. I think sometimes you try to do too much, too many different things. You become OK at all of it, but not really good in any one thing." Interesting take.
The recurring theme among people who talk about Gailey is that he adapts his scheme to suit the personnel. On that note, Cowher said he wouldn't be surprised if Gailey continues to feature the running game. After all, that's what the Jets do best. Said Cowher: "You don't have to go full-fledged into a wide-open spread offense. Let it continue to grow with the quarterback. Continue to utilize the strengths you have on the team. I don't think they're that far away."
The concern with Gailey is that he hasn't been in the league for two years, which means he's not as familiar with the personnel as he needs to be. He has a lot of catching up to do.
The Jets will look to add a veteran quarterback, and the obvious choice is Fitzpatrick -- assuming the Houston Texans are willing to let him go. He ran Gailey's spread offense in Buffalo, and he ran it well enough to land a six-year, $60 million contract. Fitzpatrick spiraled after signing the big deal, but he showed last season he's still a functional quarterback. Remember, too, that new general manager Mike Maccagnan, a former Texans executive, is familiar with him.
Another player to watch in the offseason is Bills running back C.J. Spiller, who will be a free agent. Under Gailey, he rushed for 1,244 yards in 2012, ripping apart defenses that were stretched thin by the three- and four-receiver packages. The Jets probably will release Chris Johnson, so they could be looking for a speed back to pair with power back Chris Ivory.