FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — If Chan Gailey had never worked another day in the NFL, the Jets’ 63-year-old offensive coordinator would have been fine with it.
“Coaching is not my life,” Gailey said Wednesday. “I’ve got other things that go on in life.”
Gailey was so disconnected during his two seasons out of the league that he barely watched games.
“I played golf on Sundays,” he said.
Good thing Todd Bowles managed to convince Gailey to return to the NFL, because Gailey has been doing a fabulous job running the Jets’ offense. With Ryan Fitzpatrick enjoying a career renaissance at age 32 and with wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, as well as running back Chris Ivory, all producing at a high level, the Jets’ offense has been stunningly exceptional through most of the season.
Give a major assist to the play-caller, because Gailey has been at the top of his game in orchestrating the offense. The Jets rank ninth with 371.2 yards per game, and they’re 10th in scoring with an average of 25.0 points per game.
Gailey figured his NFL career was over once the former Bills’ head coach was fired after the 2012 season. But Bowles had targeted Gailey as his offensive coordinator a year before he actually got the Jets’ head coaching job. Bowles was interviewed for several vacancies in 2014, but remained the Cardinals’ defensive coordinator until being hired by the Jets.
“Every time we played against him in Miami when he was in Buffalo, there were some wrinkles you had to adjust to,” said Bowles, who had been the Dolphins’ secondary coach when Gailey was with the Bills. “Usually people give you tendencies, but Chan didn’t do that.”
Bowles’ gut feeling about Gailey was reinforced when a mutual friend, Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards, who had worked under Gailey in Buffalo, offered a glowing assessment.
“The way described him was exactly what I was looking for,” Bowles said. “He’s even-keeled. He can run and throw the ball. From a communication standpoint, he can relate to players differently as far as being able to command the room yet make you feel like you can still talk to him and come up to him with ideas. He understands the game inside out. Personality wise, he doesn’t have an ego. He comes in and gets his work done and that’s the type of coach I was looking for.”
It could not have worked out better. Although Gailey’s initial plan was to develop Geno Smith as his starter, spending the entire offseason getting the third-year quarterback ready, those plans blew up when Smith was punched in the jaw on Aug. 11 by linebacker IK Enemkpali. A roster move that was made months earlier, with plenty of input from Gailey, proved instrumental in the team’s eventual success.
Gailey had a big say in trading for Ryan Fitzpatrick, his quarterback in Buffalo, and the deal has since turned into a godsend. He’s having by far the best year of his career, throwing a career high 25 touchdown passes and just 11 interceptions.
“One of the best things with Chan and his system and really just the offense in general is that there’s not an ego,” Fitzpatrick said. “So if Chan hears something from me or from Brandon or from [Decker] or somebody else and they think that there’s a better way to do it he’s always open to it.”
Gailey’s next challenge comes Saturday night against the Cowboys, the team he previously served as head coach in 1998-99.
“It was my first head job and I didn’t know what I didn’t know,” said Gailey, who was fired by Jerry Jones after just two seasons. “We were more successful the first year than we were the second year. I thought we were laying the groundwork to get back. Jerry saw it differently. He owns the team. He can do whatever he wants. I don’t have any animosity. Zero.”
Besides, there are more important things to worry about, all of them centering on his current team.
“We’re still a long way from where we want to be,” Gailey said. “We haven’t done anything.”