It may have caught Bills fans off guard, but Chan Gailey fits exactly what general manager Buddy Nix was looking for in a head coach all along. Hired as the 15th head coach in Bills history Tuesday, the 35-year coaching veteran has 15 years under his belt in the NFL including nine as a coordinator and head coach.
"I understand the challenge that is ahead of us," said Gailey. "The challenge to get the Bills back to a winning franchise on a consistent basis and that is the plan. I know it's going to be a tough task, it's going to take a lot of hard work, it's going to be something that's not done easily and the only way to get it done is for everybody to be on the same page.
"The great thing about our situation right now is the two people at the top of this thing, Buddy Nix and I, in charge of the football, are on the same page. I also think I have, through the years, come to understand what it takes to build a winning organization."
Nix made it clear when he was hired as general manager that while it was not essential, it was important that a candidate have prior head coaching experience.
"There is not a way to prepare for it, it is different," said Nix of being a head coach. "I don't care how good an assistant you are, when you get to be the head man and have it all, then you might be successful at it or you might not. You are rolling the dice."
The Bills feel they're doing anything but, as they believe they've got a coach that can lead the team and expertly design offenses to fit the talent on his roster. Granted Gailey has run offenses with ultra-talented quarterbacks like Troy Aikman as the head coach in Dallas (1998-99) and John Elway as offensive coordinator in Denver (1989-90), but he also orchestrated productive offenses with signal callers like Mike Tomczak, Jay Fiedler and a 25-year old first-year starter in Kordell Stewart.
"The one thing we're always tried to do is put people in position to be successful," said Gailey. "We don't have a name for our offense. We're not East this, West this, North this, South this, we're not going to have a name for it. We're going to do whatever it takes to move the football, score touchdowns and if it has to adjust because we have players that are better suited for one thing than another, then we're going to do that. I think that's the responsibility. Every player is not going to be suited for every offense. So you have to suit things to those people."
Stewart perhaps is the best example of how Gailey can adapt to the talent he has at his disposal. Though he credits his offensive staff in Pittsburgh at the time, Gailey invented the "slash" role for Stewart before he became a full-time starter. Gailey deftly did more with less in his time with Pittsburgh and Miami.
In those four years as a coordinator when his offenses lacked a proven triggerman, his teams ranked 11th, 7th, 16th and 8th in points scored. They also went to playoffs all four of those seasons losing twice to the eventual AFC champion and one other time to the defending Super Bowl champions. He also advanced to the postseason in his two seasons as head coach of the Cowboys.
Scoring points and reaching the postseason is where the Bills would like to be after ranking in the bottom third in the league in scoring the past five seasons and failing to qualify for the playoffs over the previous decade.
To achieve that however, Gailey and his staff will need to mold and develop a lot of young players on the roster particularly on the offensive side of the ball. And Gailey is familiar with teaching young players after spending six years as a head coach at the collegiate level with Georgia Tech.
"My job was to get us the best guy to help us win games and we found that guy," said Nix. "This guy met more of the criteria than I ever thought we could find. This guy has won everywhere he's been. Very few times do you get an offensive-minded coach that's been a coordinator on defense, that's been a special teams coach in the NFL and he's been successful everywhere he's been."
And though Gailey's background lies largely on the offensive side of the ball his overall knowledge of the game is also rooted in experience. From his time as a defensive coordinator at Air Force to his first NFL coaching job under Dan Reeves as special teams coach.
"He knows the game extremely well. He's coached all phases," said Reeves. "He's coached special teams for me, so he's coached that and he's coached offense, quarterbacks, and been offensive coordinator. I think he has a great background. I just think he has a great grasp of the game and people that play for him love him, they respect him. He's just a really bright coach and a great character. The type of person you'd love to have leading your organization."