Choosing Gailey was an underwhelming surprise


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As this search stumbled on and candidate after candidate after candidate said thanks but no thanks, it became painfully obvious that the Bills would have to settle for an underwhelming choice as their new head coach.

And that’s clearly what’s happened with the naming of NFL retread Chan Gailey as the 17th coach in franchise history Tuesday afternoon.

Because his name hadn’t surfaced on anyone’s radar screen or blog, Gailey’s hiring came as a complete surprise. But not a pleasant one. His coaching resume isn’t much more impressive than the Bills’ previous retread hire – Dick Jauron – and we all know how wonderfully that worked out.

Of course, beggars can’t be choosers.

After Bill Cowher, Mike Shananhan, Brian Schottenheimer, Jim Harbaugh, Russ Grimm, Marty Schottenheimer (am I missing anyone here?) turned them down, they decided to end this embarrassing process and hire a guy who has had moderate coaching success during a much-traveled career that has seen him work as either a head coach or assistant for 11 teams/schools in the past 33 years.

So much for a big splash, or even a fresh, new face, such as the Minnesota Vikings hot defensive coordinator, Leslie Frazier, who reportedly had been the Bills top remaining candidate.

Owner Ralph Wilson had promised dramatic changes after Buffalo completed the first playoff-less decade in the team’s 50-year history. He was going to shake things up from top to bottom. No job was safe. Money wouldn’t be an object, even if it took $10 mil a year to lure the likes of a Shanahan or a Cowher. But, on the surface, it appears as if it’s the same old, same old at One Bills Drive, what I termed back in October as the “status woe.”

Gailey, 58, becomes the fifth Buffalo head coach since Marv Levy retired 13 years ago. You’d be historically accurate in saying that Levy was a coaching retread too when he was hired to replace Hank Bullough midway through the 1986 campaign and went on to earn more than 100 victories and a bust in Canton. Of course, Marv had a lot more going for him than Gailey does – namely a talented roster featuring future superstars such as Jim Kelly, Andre Reed and Bruce Smith and a front office led by Hall of Fame general manager Bill Polian and shrewd talent-assessor John Butler.

So are there any glimmers of hope with this hire? Any reason to believe the Bills won’t continue to be stuck in NFL purgatory? Let me try to offer a few positives from Gailey’s resume:

  • He has NFL head coaching experience, having guided two so-so Dallas Cowboys teams to an 18-16 record and two playoff appearances in the late 1990s;
  • He is regarded as an innovative thinker whose work as an offensive coordinator with the Steelers, Dolphins, Chiefs and Cowboys was lauded by his players and peers;
  • He comes to Buffalo on the recommendation of Cowher, who reportedly was going to bring Gailey along as his assistant head coach/offensive coordinator when he returns to the NFL sidelines;
  • He won’t be queasy about having to work with mediocre quarterbacks such as Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Brohm (I left Trent Edwards off this list because I believe he’s a goner). After all, Gailey was able to make it to four Super Bowls and 11 playoffs in 15 NFL seasons with the likes of Mike Tomczak, Kordell Stewart and Jay Fiedler.

I want to cut the guy some slack, I really do. Just as I want to cut Bills GM Buddy Nix some slack. But it just seems that we’ve been down this road so many times before and the final destination never winds up being the playoffs. 

Previous articles from Scott Pitoniak


A nationally recognized sports columnist and best-selling author, Scott Pitoniak is pursuing new challenges after 35 years in the newspaper business. He hopes one day to write the great American novel and hit a baseball over the wall at Yankee Stadium. In the meantime, he runs his own website – ScottPitoniak.com – and blogs about sports and life’s other adventures.


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