But as you review Gailey’s history, one thing becomes clear – nobody should be happier with this hire than Chiefs running back Larry Johnson. If things work out according to plan, no one player on Kansas City’s roster will benefit more.
Passing game gurus are all the rage in the NFL nowadays and have been for years. It’s the glam position in assistant coaching. Men who can design and implement efficient, aggressive, smart passing attacks are lucrative hires.
Gailey is just the opposite. In eight seasons as an NFL coordinator or head coach, he’s put together a top ten passing offense just twice. Some of that can be attributed to the talent level Gailey has been forced to work with, but no one will confuse him with the late Bill Walsh anytime soon.
No, the running game is Gailey’s specialty. In those eight years, his offenses have ranked in the top ten in rushing five times. A passing game guru? Call Gailey the running game guru.
At Georgia Tech for the last six years, it was more of the same. The Yellow Jackets didn’t just lead the ACC in rushing this year, they set a standard no other team in the conference even began to approach. Gailey’s running attack racked up 2,591 yards on the ground last season, almost 500 yards better than any other offense.
Now you might say that’s all well and good, but surely Gailey had talented offensive lines filled with Pro Bowlers, blowing open massive holes, right? Wrong.
Other than Richmond Webb (who was declining by this point), Gailey’s offense in Miami didn’t feature a cast of linemen anyone will soon compare with the 2003 Chiefs offensive line. In Pittsburgh, there was the great Dermontti Dawson at center, but no one flanking him comparable to Willie Roaf or Will Shields.
The one exception is Gailey’s time with the Dallas Cowboys, in which he was fortunate to work with a ridiculously talented crew of linemen – Larry Allen, Nate Newton, Flozell Adams, Erik Williams, Mark Stepnoski – it was almost unfair. You’d expect that group to dominate, and they did, leading to two of Emmitt Smith’s best seasons.
But look at those years in Miami and Pittsburgh. Somehow, Gailey squeezed 1,139 yards out of Lamar Smith in 2000. Here was a player with five different teams on his NFL resume who had never even come close to 1,000 yards rushing until he met up with Chan Gailey.
In Pittsburgh, sure, no one will doubt the talent of Jerome Bettis in his prime. But it’s worth noting The Bus enjoyed two career seasons under Gailey, rushing for a career-high 1,665 yards in 1997. Gailey’s two seasons in Pittsburgh sparked the best two years of Bettis’ 13 in the NFL. Just coincidence?
And how exactly did Bettis gain all those yards with Kordell Stewart and Mike Tomczak handing the ball off? Here’s an eye-opening statistic – the Steelers completed just 54 percent of their passes combined in 1996 and 1997. You don’t think defenses were stacking the box like crazy against those quarterbacks?
All of this makes Gailey the perfect man to get Larry Johnson’s career back on track. Is it so wild to think that if two Smiths and a Bettis ran into Gailey and enjoyed some of the best years of their football lives, the same can happen to Johnson?
Sure, this whole exercise in “What can Chan do for you?” is loaded with wishful thinking. It’s worth noting that Johnson’s sessions with Joe Carini last offseason, for all the hype they were given by Sports Illustrated and others (yours truly), resulted in few tangible on-the-field results.
But remember, the Chiefs have hit rock bottom. They ranked dead last in the NFL in rushing last season. Only one team scored fewer rushing touchdowns. At one point, Johnson rushed for 12 yards in a game, and KC’s running attack was so dreadful a team coached by Herm Edwards actually ranked 11th in the league in pass attempts (Herm’s previous best – 24th).
There is nowhere to go but up. You have to figure a running game guru – Gailey – can get something done with the head coach who loves to run the football – Edwards – backing him all the way, especially if the Chiefs bring in a couple of capable offensive linemen, and particularly with a running back like Johnson, who might be the most talented runner Gailey has ever had at his disposal.
Give the Chiefs credit. They identified their biggest weakness from 2007 and attacked it with Gailey and most of his offensive staff from Georgia Tech. And if Curtis Modkins (KC’s new running backs coach) can figure out a way to make LJ an effective pass blocker, anything is possible.