News item: Chan Gailey will be introduced as Buffalo's new coach today, and the Bills are laying low beforehand, knowing they're going to get rapped heavily for it and figuring they should put on a united front when they make their case. Four observations:
1. Easy to knock the hire. The Bills brought a batting-practice pitcher to the mound and put A-Rod and Pujols up to bat, so I'll knock it first, then give it the prayer of the chance it has.
Where was the Mike Zimmer interview? It was a big mistake not to interview the Cincinnati defensive coordinator who has turned his unit into a tough day at the office for any NFL offense. Zimmer, I can assure you, would have walked to Buffalo for the job. But he didn't get a sniff. And the list of guys who turned down the chance to even talk about the job ... it's so long that the only conclusion you can logically draw is the Bills are turning into the Raiders. No coach wants the job. So the team has to find a guy who wouldn't be a candidate elsewhere -- and Gailey, after clashing with Todd Haley in Kansas City last year, had nowhere to go.
2. A couple of coaches who didn't want to become a candidate for the job made no bones about the obstacles: They worry about the hire of a 70-year-old GM everyone thought was on the back nine of his career, Buddy Nix. They worry about owner Ralph Wilson's meddling. They worry about where the franchise might be in two years. They worry about luring free-agents to Buffalo. In short, it's a tough sell to attractive candidates. If Jim Harbaugh's going to have one good shot at an NFL job, why would he leave a place he loves, Stanford, for such an iffy venture in western New York? Ditto Brian Schottenheimer, Leslie Frazier and certainly Bill Cowher.
3. The Cowboy incumbents hate Gailey's more conservative offense that he installed post-Switzer in 1998. If it was too conservative then, what is it with the widespread spread offenses 12 years later?
4. Now for something positive. Gailey deserved better than getting fired after inheriting a 6-10 team and leading an aging, set-in their-ways, rich cast of players (including some me-first guys like Emmitt Smith and Deion Sanders) to two straight playoff appearances and an 18-16 record.
Early this season, when the vultures were circling around Wade Phillips in Dallas, owner Jerry Jones said what he regretted most in his first two decades as owner was not giving Gailey more than two years. "I believe more than ever that continuity is important,'' Jones said in October, "and I'm not going to make that mistake again.''
Gailey went 10-6 in his first year, including a club-record 8-0 mark against the then-five-team NFC East, before losing in the wild-card game to Arizona. Dallas went 8-8 and made the wild-card game again the next year, losing to Minnesota. Now, Troy Aikman thought Gailey was prehistoric and should have compromised to leave some of the Ernie Zampese/Norv Turner offense in place, but Gailey's offensive broom swept clean. So before you say he failed in Dallas, I'd caution you use another word. He didn't fail. He took a team in decline and staved it off for as long as he could.
Last point: I can guarantee you one of the things that the Bills loved was Gailey's attitude about how you can win without stars in the NFL. In fact, that's the kind of team he prefers. More than once in his career, he's told coaches he worked with: "You can win the World Series without Babe Ruth.'' In Buffalo, he's going to get that chance.
Lots of questions about Lane Kiffin and my alarmist take on the glacial pace of negotiations for a new CBA. I'll clarify something important in the first e-mail, about the talks between players and owners.
• NO NFL TEAM SHOULD GET PUBLIC STADIUM FUNDING. From J.T. of San Francisco: "I found your comments on the CBA very interesting. I am a banker, not one remotely associated with the banking crisis, but a banker nonetheless. My compensation is under attack by politicians, and not by a lack of revenue. For the honor of doing well, I work 70 hour-weeks and am required to live in one of the most expensive parts of the country, so a disproportionate part of my salary goes to feed and house my family. I live in an NFL city that is desperately in need of a new stadium, but where the schools are grossly underfunded. However, the 49ers, with the NFL's support, will threaten to move the team, as it already has, or we will have to provide tax breaks and incentives to keep the team, further damaging the city's fragile economic condition. For the honor of keeping our team, we get to see the ticket prices and PSLs skyrocket (as in NY and Dallas), so players and owners can get richer. How can the NFL players and owners continue to try to include public subsidies in their business plans without a more vocal public backlash? Take a stand! No more public funding!''
I heard from quite a few people about the CBA, and first, a bit of clarification on my item Monday. NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith would never walk into a room and try to present a contract to players that called for them to take an 18 percent pay cut. Before these talks are even close to a conclusion, the NFL will have more money thrown into the pot -- from negotiations over how much of a contribution players should make to the new stadium construction leaguewide (if anything), from the new money coming in from two additional regular-season game, and from the money funneled to veterans if and when a rookie salary pool is instituted, which could mean upwards of $150 million per year put into the veteran payment pool. There's no way a veteran will take 18 percent less in his paycheck unless his skills are declining or there are fewer teams bidding for his services on the open market. But having said that, J.B., I see your point, and I support your point. The public shouldn't pay for stadiums except in ways that benefit the society at large.
• KIFFIN PRO. From Clair Wright of Littleton, Colo.: "Liked and appreciated your comments on Lane Kiffin. Maybe we missed teaching the younger generation the concept/life lesson, "A MAN IS ONLY AS GOOD AS HIS WORD". Shame on us in the older generation for this failure.''
Sounds like something I would have written.
• KIFFIN CON. From Mike of 'Not in the USA': "Wow, you are really out of touch with the employment market, saying you would not jump for three times the salary! Look around you Peter, the free enterprise system is alive and well. You are one of the few who would not jump! There is no loyalty to employees in the corporate world, and little from the employee towards the company. Your view should take into account the business aspect of the sporting life within higher education, and while I agree some of the recent actions by coaches is horrible, the simple truth is the country oozes a me-first mentality. Look at the economic mess, and the attitude of the companies in trouble. The educational aspect of sports is held to a high standard ONLY because of the free enterprise system delivering boatloads of cash because of sports -- not to make the students/athletes good people.''
You're wrong about one thing: I think there are a lot of people who would not break a contract for three times the salary. I am among them. It's called honesty. I signed a contract with SI for four years, and no matter who offered me what, I would not break it. And to make it clear, I am not criticizing Kiffin solely for treating the contract (which technically he did not break because he had a buyout clause after one year) like toilet paper, but because of hopscotching from one job to another so cavalierly and without conscience.
• TOUGH QUESTION. From Jeff Cobble of Nashville: "If the Super Bowl is on the line, which of the four remaining kickers do you want attempting the field goal? And which one would you be most nervous about?''
Jay Feely is the one I'd want kicking it. He's kicked on the field in Miami quite a bit (he was a 91 percent kicker in Miami two seasons ago). As for the one I wouldn't want kicking, I'd probably say Garrett Hartley, simply because of his inexperience.
• WE'LL SEE IF THEY'VE GOT THE PATRIOT MAGIC IN THEM. From Kevin Thacker of Toronto: "I'm quite intrigued by the recent moves of the Kansas City Chiefs signing both Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis. I think this is a step in the right direction for a team with a lot of recent struggles. Do you think the addition of these two coaches will make a difference for the Chiefs in the upcoming years the way they did with New England in previous seasons?''
Well, it'll be interesting, because both are going back to the roles they played well under Bill Belichick. When they got head-coaching chances, both failed. I think the part I like best is Weis being hands-on with Matt Cassel. Obviously Tom Brady had great success with Weis, and the Chiefs are looking to duplicate this.
• TV. TV. AND MORE TV. From John Dunegan of Denver: "I have been thinking on the bye schedule. Why doesn't the NFL just bite the bullet and get the bye weeks over in two weeks? I have thought of two ways this could be done. First, the AFC takes off Week 8, the NFC takes off Week 9. The only real negative here is TV; CBS or Fox might not appreciate having a dead week. Second, considering the TV conflict, half the AFC and half the NFC take off Weeks 8 and 9. This would allow TV to still have games on. As you have written, a Week 4 bye is worthless. This way, everyone plays about half their schedule, takes a breather, and plays out the second half. Could this be done? Or does it make too much sense to even be considered?''
I'd love to see it, because it's competitively fair. But let's hammer it out. If there are eight games two weeks in a row, you'd have one national game taken away for ESPN Monday, another for NBC on Sunday, another for the national game for the network with the doubleheader weekend -- CBS one week, FOX the next. That leaves five games left for the early and late windows. It's certainly not impossible, but the networks would chafe at the low inventory.