The Jets coaching staff underwent a significant overhaul this offseason, headlined by the hiring of head coach Todd Bowles. For any defensive-minded head coach, the most important hire is his offensive coordinator. Here, Bowles tapped veteran coach Chan Gailey as the man responsible for reviving the Jets offense and, perhaps, the career of Geno Smith.
Gailey has been lauded as a quarterback whisperer based on… well, let’s just take a look and see exactly what that is based on. Because when it comes to new Jets offensive coordinators, it’s best to actually study the numbers and not just listen to hype.
The table below shows Gailey’s coaching career in the NFL as either a quarterbacks coach, offensive coordinator, or head coach. I have listed his main quarterback during each applicable season of his coaching career, along with that player’s Relative Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt. For new readers, Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt is simply a modification of yards per attempt, with a 45-yard penalty for interceptions, a 20-yard bonus for passing touchdowns; in addition, this metric includes sack data. Relative ANY/A compares a quarterback’s Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt average to league average. As it turns out, Gailey’s quarterbacks have produced, on average, at about a league average clip:
When your quarterback tree has John Elway and Tyler Thigpen branches, looking at just averages won’t tell us much. So let’s look at how each quarterback fared during his career, both with, and without, Gailey. Let’s begin with Elway. For all of the following graphs, the Gailey years are in red, and the non-Gailey years are in blue. The size of each circle corresponds to that quarterback’s number of attempts that season. The X-axis always displays the year, and the Y-Axis always displays Relative ANY/A.
We know Elway had a funky career curve, peaking in his late thirties as his supporting cast and coaching improved. The Elway years certainly don’t cast Gailey in a positive light — he had a HOF quarterback in the prime of his career and got average numbers out of him — but then again, this was 25 years ago, and probably says little about Gailey the coach now.
Gailey was next in charge of an NFL offense six years later in Pittsburgh. Tomczak had a funky career, and some lower-attempt seasons caused his RANY/A numbers to bounce up and down. During his one year with Gailey, he played about how you would expect Tomczak to play, regardless of his offensive coordinator.
Kordell is the first name you hear when stories of Gailey’s coaching prowess are told. Gailey coached Stewart for just one season — but it was a magical one in many ways. Stewart was a first-year starter in 1997, and led the NFL with four 4th quarter comebacks and five game-winning drives. He threw for 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns, while also rushing for 476 yards and 11 touchdowns. He was the first player to throw for 20 TDs and run for 10 TDs in the same season, and it’s only been done once since (by Cam Newton in 2011). Pittsburgh went 11-5 and made it to the AFC Championship Game, and Stewart looked like a special player who had been emerged under Gailey’s guidance.
That said, in retrospect and based purely on RANY/A — which, of course, ignores Stewart’s rushing contributions — it was not a standout season, even by Stewart’s standards.
Kordell did struggle the next three years without Gailey — although the talent also eroded around him — but had a career revival in 2001. His offensive coordinator then? Mike Mularkey.
Gailey was the head coach of the Cowboys as the team’s dynasty was falling apart. But his quarterback, who had declined the past couple of years, saw his numbers spike back up under Gailey. Aikman was never his old self, but he does seem to be a positive data point for the Gailey whisperer crowd.
After being fired in Dallas, Gailey took over as the offensive coordinator in Miami. His work with Fielder has been praised, but… well, I’ll let you decide.
Fiedler was an unknown before Gailey, and the pro-Gailey argument would be that the coach coaxed solid play out of an undrafted free agent from Dartmouth. The anti-Gailey argument would be that Fiedler with Gailey looked a whole lot like Fiedler without him, and the quarterback was a seasoned and well-coached 28-year-old when he arrived in Miami. It’s also worth noting that Fiedler’s non-Gailey years came under Norv Turner, another respected offensive mind, so perhaps Fiedler’s baseline isn’t the right standard here.
Fiedler was not particularly efficienct, and his record was better than his metrics. That’s because he was aided by an excellent defense, allowing Gailey to limit what was asked of his quarterback. That’s probably his formula for 2015, too.
No Chan Gailey, Quarterback Whisperer article is complete without talking about what Gailey did in 2008. Frankly, this part of Gailey’s history has always mystified me. No, Tyler Thigpen was not any good, but what exactly are we praising? Thigpen went 1-10 as a starter, and put up below-league average numbers. He did produce close to league-average numbers, and that’s noteworthy given that he was probably a replacement-level talent, but the praise for what Gailey did with Thigpen has always seemed disproportionate to me.
The other reason “What Gailey did with Thigpen was amazing” is a thing is because Thigpen did have one very hot month. From October 26th to November 23rd, Thigpen threw for 1,185 yards, 11 TDs, and 3 INTs (and the Chiefs went 0-5). Those are pretty outstanding numbers, and Gailey actually was tied for the league lead in passing touchdowns during that stretch. But he “only” ranked 11th in AY/A during those same five games, and it can’t be ignored that he also ranked 25th in AY/A during his next five games that season. And lest anyone forget that five-game splits can be deceiving, see who topped the list in AY/A over the final five weeks of ’08. Gailey was innovative with Thigpen, putting him in the pistol and running a pass-heavy offense, and he probably got more out of Thigpen than anyone else could have. But I think it makes sense to err on the side of not overly praising the offensive coordinator during the year his team went 2-14 and ranked 26th in points.
Cut from the Fiedler/Thigpen mold, Fitzpatrick is another example of a player with a limited pedigree that Gailey inherited (and, ironically, Fitzpatrick is being reunited with Gailey on the 2015 Jets). Here, was can see that Gailey really did improve Fitzpatrick’s level of play — well, at least it looked like he did. Fitzpatrick’s sneakily-efficient 2014 season throws some cold water on what Gailey was able to get out of the Harvard quarterback.
So what does it mean?
Is Gailey a quarterback whisperer? He’s been stuck with some bad or unconventional quarterbacks, and gotten limited (but perhaps more than expected) success out of most of them. Whether that is more impressive than getting excellent results out of a better passer is outside the scope of this article. But it does seem like Gailey may be the right man for the job, if that job is coaching Geno Smith and Ryan Fitzpatrick.