It took about a week and a half, but Bills new head coach Chan Gailey made significant progress in assembling his coaching staff. The team announced five of his new hirings Wednesday along with a pair of assistants from the previous staff.
Curtis Modkins has been hired as the team's offensive coordinator/running backs coach, Bob Bicknell as tight ends coach, Joe D'Alessandris as offensive line coach, Kevin Patullo as offensive quality control and Giff Smith as defensive assistant.
Gailey also elected to keep two of the most veteran assistants from the Bills previous coaching staff as George Catavolos will remain as secondary coach and Bob Sanders will also continue to serve on the defensive side of the ball.
"Ultimately, we want to make sure we get the right guys; great teachers, great communicators and the right kind of people for the Bills," Gailey said. "These coaches give us a great start in that direction."
Choosing to keep Catavolos and Sanders makes it evident that Gailey wants seasoned coaches to mold Buffalo's youthful roster. The two assistants have almost 35 years of NFL coaching experience between them.
Catavolos was instrumental in improving his unit's takeaway ability this past season as his secondary was responsible for 21 of the team's 28 interceptions, the sixth best total in team history. Buffalo had interceptions in 10 of their last 12 games, and was led by rookie Jairus Byrd, who tied for the league lead with nine INTs.
"I'm ecstatic about him being back," said Byrd of Catavolos. "The way he handles players, especially being a young player that still has a lot to learn, I learned a lot from him. He knows what each player requires in order to make them better. He's just a people person. I could go on and on about how he has helped me develop and the way he pulls the best out of me."
Helping that cause were Bob Sanders' defensive linemen. In Sanders' first season as defensive line coach in 2009, he helped improve the team's performance in rushing the passer. Buffalo logged 32 sacks this past season, including 25 from the defensive line, up from a team total of 24 a season ago, with Aaron Schobel (10) posting his fourth double-digit sack season in the last seven years.
"I'm just glad that coach Sanders is back," said Chris Kelsay, who posted the second-best sack total of his career in 2009. "I feel I put a decent season together individually and I think that's a credit to Bob and how much I learned from him."
Defensive assistant Giff Smith has coached defensive linemen for the majority of his coaching career, though he coached defensive backs and wide receivers while an assistant at Georgia Southern.
He served on Gailey's Georgia Tech staff as defensive line coach for all six seasons. In 2007 the Yellow Jackets ranked first in the nation in sacks and second in tackles for loss. Smith remained on the Tech staff under Gailey's successor Paul Johnson, with whom he coached at Georgia Southern.
The 2010 season will be Smith's first at the NFL after 19 years in the college ranks.
Four offensive assistantsHired to organize things on the offensive side of the ball was former Arizona running backs coach Curtis Modkins. Modkins served this past season as an assistant for the Cardinals under Ken Whisenhunt where Arizona made more effective use of the run game with veteran Tim Hightower and rookie Beanie Wells.
In 2008 Modkins coached Kansas City's running backs prior to a six-year stint under Gailey as running backs and defensive backs coach at Georgia Tech. Modkins had also served under Gailey in 1999 with the Dallas Cowboys as part of a NFL Minority Coaching Fellowship.
"When you talk about a teacher, a communicator and a smart individual, Curtis fits all of those at the highest level," Gailey said. "He is a bright young coach and I am excited about having him here."
Modkins has previously worked with all three of Gailey's other offensive hires. Offensive line coach Joe D'Alessandris and tight ends coach Bob Bicknell and quality control coach Kevin Patullo all worked with Modkins on the Kansas City staff in 2008. Additionally D'Alessandris and Modkins worked together for six seasons on Gailey's Georgia Tech staff.
D'Alessandris also coached on Gailey's WLAF Birmingham staff in the same capacity from 1991-92.
In their last season working with the Yellow Jackets offense (2007), Modkins and D'Alessandris were instrumental in helping Georgia Tech average almost 200 rushing yards per game with current Cowboys tailback Tashard Choice as the ACC's leading rusher.
D'Alessandris had most recently worked for the Kansas City Chiefs as assistant offensive line coach (2008-2009).
Bicknell is a 17-year coaching veteran with experience at the collegiate, NFL Europe and NFL levels. He has most recently served as an offensive coordinator, offensive line and tight ends coach. A former tight end himself (Boston College 1988-91) Bicknell has been on Kansas City's staff the last three seasons.
Patullo spent 2007-08 with the Kansas City Chiefs as an offensive assistant working primarily in quality control. He'll serve in the same capacity under Gailey with the Bills. Patullo began his coaching career as a graduate assistant under Mike Stoops at the University of Arizona (2004-06).
Gailey still has coaching vacancies at defensive coordinator and special teams coordinator along with a few more offensive and defensive assistant positions.