Mike Mularkey’s reign in Buffalo as head coach could kindly be described as “interesting,” but more accurately as “a blunder of colossal proportions that serves as another clue that Tom Donahoe may be Lucifer himself.” To be fair, I will make note here that the last winning season to date for the Bills was during Mularkey’s reign, but to be fair to my hatred of Donahoe, I’ll say that the sun shines even on a dog’s ass every now and then.
We needn’t delve into the well-publicized gory details around Mularkey’s tenure here as we’re all acutely aware of his many failings (I’ll give him a pass on the QB situation, though; having to choose between JP Losman and Kelly Holcomb is akin to choosing between hot dogs at a gas station), but there is one massive misstep he made that does seem to have repercussions on the Bills to this very day: The firing of the well-respected and accomplished Rusty Jones as strength and conditioning coach.
It’s difficult to say with 100% certainty that all injury woes are directly attributable to a poor training staff, or that a lack of injury woes is wholly due to a good training staff. A twitter conversation I had with @bre_88, one of the co-founders of the Bills Mafia movement, about this topic illustrated that point when he noted that injuries such as the horrific one Freddy Jackson sustained last year, or the Wood injury two years ago are so freakish that to lay blame on the training staff for them would be disingenuous. Certainly, though, most of us have likely noticed what seems to be a fairly significant number of injuries plaguing the Bills every year by the time the end of the season rolls around.
To determine whether or not this is simply a perception we create in our minds due to the high-profile nature of some of these injuries, or if the Bills truly do have a problem with injuries when compared to the rest of the NFL, I utilized a stat generated by footballoutsiders.com (and if you haven’t yet read one of their Almanacs they release prior to every NFL season, I highly recommend you check out this year’s version) called Adjusted Games Lost (AGL).
AGL does not account simply for starter’s games lost to injury, a fairly standard metric when dealing with injury discussions, but also incorporates the value of the injured player to the team, the severity of injuries (being placed on IR as opposed to being listed as questionable), and injuries to replacement starters. I was only able to view those stats going back until the 2007 season, but seeing as how that was around the time Rusty Jones was excused from the Bills, it provides us with a decent baseline to start on.
|Team||2011 AGL||2011 Rank||2010 AGL||2010 Rank||2009 AGL||2009 Rank|
|Team||2008 AGL||2008 Rank||2007 AGL||2007 Rank||AGL Average||Rank Average|
While the Bills have had years where they near the league average (2010 and 2008), it’s plain to see from the totals across these 5 years that the Bills’ injury problems have been amongst the league’s worst. Their average AGL over this time period is 6th worst in the league, while their average ranking is 7th worst in the NFL.
Without detailed statistics going back to before Rusty Jones was fired, it’s difficult to say how much would or would not have changed were he still with the Bills. One thing we can do, though, is compare the Bills to the Chicago Bears, as Jones has been employed by the Bears in the same capacity he held with the Bills.
With this comparison in mind, it’s tempting to say that Rusty Jones’ departure has had an impact on the Bills injury woes. The Bears average AGL over this time period is 9th in the league, as is their average ranking. In 2010, they were 2nd best in the league with regards to injuries, and in 2008, they were seventh. Never has their ranking been below the Bills save for 2007, and even then, the difference in actual AGL was miniscule.
This is a huge improvement over the Bills injury problems over the same time period. This is not a perfect comparison; one could make arguments that the Bears may simply have fewer injury-prone players than the Bills do, that there are aspects unrelated to strength and conditioning programs that could play into the difference (i.e. the fact that the Bills play on an artificial field while the Bears play on grass), and even that a difference in coaching styles and schemes that may require more or less of players on either team. But the fact remains that the difference exists, and is significant, implying Jones has some positive impact on a team’s injury situations.
It’s easy enough to write off one bad season in 5 due to freak injuries, maybe even two seasons, but the data above clearly shows there are teams who are quite consistently great at avoiding injuries (such as Tennessee or the Jets, neither of whom have ranked below 12th in the league) and there are teams who are consistently poor at avoiding injuries (i.e. Indianapolis and the Rams, neither of whom have ever ranked above 21st in the league). This would of course imply that there is something organizationally that is happening with those teams that just isn’t with the more injury-plagued teams.
One way to legitimize this observation is to look at the standard deviation of the rankings for each of the teams in question, which aids in understanding how much fluctuation teams have year over year. The smaller the standard deviation, the more consistent a team’s ranking is.
|Team||AGL Average||Rank Average||Std Dev – Ranks|
Looking at the table above, we can see that while some teams experience a large amount of fluctuation in their rankings (which may have been driven by changes in coaching staffs for teams; Baltimore, for instance, had an overhaul in their coaching staff that correlates to their improvement in the AGL rankings), the best and worst teams with regards to AGL are consistently the best and worst teams, with very minimal fluctuation in values. This strongly implies that there is some correlation between organizations (and, by extension, coaches) and the injuries they incur.
While it’s exceedingly difficult to pin the Bills, or any teams’ injury woes or lack thereof on any one factor, I think it is pretty clear from the stats above that the Bills as an organization are lacking somewhere in the ability to avoid significant injuries. It would seem logical to tie many injuries to strength and conditioning programs and the coaches who implement them, and the barebones comparison between the Bills and Bears would seem to bear that out to an extent.
Given that the current Bills strength and conditioning coaches, Eric Ciano and John Gamble, have been with the Bills only since 2010, and it would be unfair to judge their performance on a 2 year sample, I’ll simply go ahead and make the leap to the conclusion I’m sure many of us wanted: Mike Mularkey is still cursing us years after his departure due to this inane and questionable decision-making.
Luckily for Jacksonville fans who must now endure their own Mike Mularkey-as-Head-Coach-nightmare, the Jaguars already have pretty lousy luck with injuries, leaving little for Mularkey to make worse in that specific regard. Unluckily for Jags fans, they still have Mike Mularkey as their head coach.