As Hurricane Sandy approached the Eastern Seaboard on Monday, several commentators on both television and the internet recalled the last time an apocalyptic scenario had managed to infuse genuine fear amongst the populace.
We now know the ‘year 2000 problem’ — affectionately known as Y2K — was a small issue that didn’t cause airplanes to fall out of the sky and didn’t turn microwaves into pizza pocket heating machines of death. Those who actually knew the world wouldn’t explode were silenced by doomsayers with platforms far too large for their lack of credibility.
What I remember most — again, I got problems — about 1999 was the state of the Buffalo Bills heading into a new decade.
The Bills were on their way to an 11-5 season. Holdovers from the glory days — Andre Reed, Bruce Smith and Phil Hansen — were on the downswing of their career. Their head coach Wade Phillips — son of Bum — was being hailed as the next great defensive mind in the game. He spent from 1995-1997 as Marv Levy’s defensive coordinator. Bryce Paup was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in Phillips’ first season with the Bills. During Phillips’ tenure as the Bills DC, the defense put up these numbers (league ranks):
|Year||Points allowed||Yards allowed||First Downs Allowed|
Phillips became the head coach in 1998 and the defense continued to shine.
Indeed, Phillips’ defences as Buffalo’s coach ranked sixth, first and third in the NFL, whereas since then only two Bills defences have been ranked higher than 14th (the 2003 and 2004 units both were ranked second).
The crux of Kryk’s article is how much the Bills’ sputtering defense — and team in general — could use a coach like Phillips. He does mention the infamous quarterback shift before the wildcard game in Tennessee that I refuse to mention by its stupid name because my masochism only goes so far. What people forget about that game is the play of Rob Johnson, the man who supplanted local hero Doug Flutie. Johnson played well enough to win, but I digress.
One season later – the Bills went 8-8 and missed the playoffs - Ralph Wilson Jr. fired Phillips for refusing to get rid of special teams coach Ronnie Jones. Phillips’ dismissal came one month after Wilson fired general manager John Butler. Marcellus Wiley was quoted saying Wade would “go down with the ship”.
We know what came after. Tom Donahoe, the new GM, hired Gregg Williams and the Bills went 3-13. We haven’t seen the playoffs since.
My argument is not that the Bills made a mistake in getting rid of Wade — the dismissal of John Butler was far more damaging to the team’s long-term prospects. However, as the Bills travel to Houston to play the best team in the AFC and a defense that’s led by the former Bills coach, it’s time we realize a couple things.
1. Firing Phillips and Butler was an egregious overreaction on the part of ownership, who were clearly shocked they missed the playoffs in 2000. It shouldn’t have been a surprise. Butler & Co. would need at least a year to gather the personnel needed to replace an aging core.
2. That said, Phillips was (and still is ) the perfect defensive coordinator, but not a head coach. Though the Bills went 29-19 in this three seasons at the helm, his dismal playoff record speaks to a lack of preparation from he and his staff. The Johnson-Flutie clusterfuck will go down as one of the most bizarre weeks in franchise history. Phillips found success in Houston after going 34-22 as the HC in Dallas. Once again his teams would get run in the playoffs, failing to make it to the NFC championship game in both their post-season appearances.
3. History has repeated itself. Chan Gailey is a fine offensive coordinator, but not a head coach. Gregg Williams, Mike Mularkey and Dick Jauron — the same damn thing. When will we learn?
So yea, Mario Williams heads back to where it started. The Bills attempt to make this game competitive in what looks like another demolition on the road. So be it, because no matter what the outcome I’ll cast a forlorn eye to the Texans’ sideline. Miss you, Wade.