FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Chan Gailey spent the past two years at home in the hills of Georgia, about as far from an NFL sideline as he could be.
He spent nearly 40 years coaching at different levels — but was ready to move on. After being fired as head coach of the Buffalo Bills after the 2012 season, Gailey called it a career.
“I completely thought I would not coach again,” Gailey said Wednesday.
He spent Sunday afternoons on the golf course during the NFL season, taking in the occasional game on TV on Monday or Thursday nights.
“But I didn’t watch it much,” Gailey said. “I really didn’t.”
Yet, here he is with the New York Jets, leading perhaps the NFL’s most surprisingly dangerous offense into a playoff push.
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is having a career season, Brandon Marshall is putting up what could end up being the most dominant receiving numbers in franchise history and the Jets (8-5) are ranked No. 9 in overall offense. They haven’t finished in the top 10 since 1998.
A lot of the credit goes to the 63-year-old offensive coordinator who decided last winter to return to the game.
“I wanted to win a championship,” he said.
Todd Bowles, then Arizona’s defensive coordinator, began picking Gailey’s brain two years ago, trying to get a sense of whether he would be open to joining him if he got a head coaching gig.
“Coaching is not my life,” Gailey insisted. “I’ve got other things that go on in life. So, I had no idea that I would (return) until this right opportunity presented itself.”
Last January, Bowles was hired by the Jets and went back to Gailey, who mulled the offer before heading to New Jersey to start his latest coaching adventure.
“I think he is everything that I thought he was coming in,” Bowles said.
Gailey made his reputation in the NFL and college for being able to tailor his offense to his talent and not force a particular philosophy or style on his players.
“He’s a guy who’s very creative and tries to use his personnel to the best of what our abilities are,” Jets wide receiver Eric Decker said. “He’s been very open-minded as far as if we have a suggestion or we have an idea, we can talk about it.”
There might have been skepticism from players that a two-year layoff could have caused the game to pass Gailey by.
“You could make that assumption that he’s been out of the game a little bit and he doesn’t get it,” Decker said. “But, I never had that mind-set because of the success he’s had in the places he’s been.”
Gailey has also shown a knack for drawing on the abilities of his quarterbacks, whether it was Kordell Stewart in Pittsburgh, Jay Fiedler in Miami, Tyler Thigpen in Kansas City or Fitzpatrick in Buffalo.
That appeared to be a major plus as the Jets headed into this season with an unproven and still-developing Geno Smith tabbed to be the starting quarterback. When Smith had his jaw broken in training camp by a punch from a teammate, Gailey didn’t miss a beat while getting Fitzpatrick up to speed in running the offense.
“One of the best things with Chan and his system and really just the offense in general is that there’s not an ego,” said Fitzpatrick, who has thrown a career-high 25 touchdowns this season. “We’re all in this thing together trying to win and we’ve all got that common goal.”
That’s why Decker didn’t balk when Gailey sat down with him before the season and suggested they move him exclusively from outside routes to also playing in the slot. Decker has 66 catches for 875 yards and nine TDs, with 18 of his receptions coming on third-down conversions — a total that ranks sixth in the league.
Decker has provided the perfect complement to Marshall, who has 89 catches, five shy of breaking Al Toon’s franchise record, for 1,187 yards and 11 touchdowns.
The running game has also been solid, with Chris Ivory 86 yards away from his first career 1,000-yard season.
“I knew we were going to try to run the ball and we’re able to run the ball,” Bowles said. “I knew if we got behind, he can create a great passing offense, as well. Chan can go both ways and he takes what you give and that’s the beauty of it.”
Gailey hasn’t thought about the future, saying “I don’t know” when asked if he sees himself coaching beyond this season.
All he knows is that this year has been a refreshing experience. The Sunday greens and bunker shots have been replaced again, at least for now, by turf and touchdowns.
“Yeah, winning is fun,” Gailey said, smiling. “But we haven’t, as Todd likes to say, we have not done anything yet. We still have a lot to get done.”
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