So it's official - the search is over.
The jury is still very much out.
Chan Gailey was named as the new head coach of the Buffalo Bills on Tuesday, ending a search process that included the likes of Jon Gruden, Mike Shanahan, and Bill Cowher, along with up and comers like Leslie Frazier and Brian Schottenheimer. Frazier interviewed, and Schottenheimer turned down the job.
Fans are left with the questions:
Did the Bill settle for Gailey? Can he get the job done?
As you would expect, new GM Buddy Nix announced the hiring with conviction, saying they "got the right guy."
At the very least, Gailey is a guy that fit the description Nix said he was looking for. Nix said he wanted a man with previous head coaching experience, and proven offensive insight.
Gailey's resume matches up given his head coaching experience with the Dallas Cowboys and at Georgia Tech. He's also got extensive experience as an offensive coordinator which is an area he says he'll oversee as head coach of the Bills. Still, he's not the high profile candidate that many had in mind, leaving fans to wonder why anything should be different this time around?
Gailey says the answer to that question starts at the top.
"Buddy Nix and I, who are in charge of the football operation are on the same page."
It sounds like a cliche, yet it's something that hasn't existed in a truly stable and qualified fashion over the last ten years at the top of the organization... and that's where I think a sliver of hope could lie for Bills fans.
It goes back to the hiring of Tom Donahoe in 2001. Donahoe came in with more power than any man in that position had ever been given, and whiffed on his two coaching hires in Gregg Williams and Mike Mularkey. History tells us he was jaded from losing a power struggle with Bill Cowher in Pittsburgh and wanted coaches that he could keep under his thumb. People inside the organization tell a story of the "ultimate control" Donahoe sought, and looked to maintain over his head coach.
In the process, Donahoe alienated owner Ralph Wilson, who then over compensated by hiring Marv Levy as his General Manager in replacing Donahoe. Wilson brought in the man with whom he was most comfortable, but one who wasn't qualified to run the show despite a Hall of Fame coaching career. Again, it was a hire that involved psychological and political factors as much as it did football decision making. Levy of course hired Dick Jauron as head coach.
After two years, Levy stepped aside, and Russ Brandon stepped up as Chief Operating Officer. He oversaw the football operation despite not coming from a football background.
That brings to the present with the firing of Jauron during the season, and the hiring of Buddy Nix as General Manager. Wilson said Nix was something the Bills needed... "a general manager of football."
That brings us back to the question - can things be different this time around?
I think they can be if the structure at the top of the organization represents a true break from the past. I think they can be if Nix is qualified to make unfiltered decisions on football and coaching. Too many external factors influenced decisions at the top in the past. While the hiring of Nix represented what was technically a predictable promotion from within by Wilson, his time in San Diego gave him separation from the problems he now inherits as general manager.
His first and most important move has been to hire Gailey, who claims to be on the "same page" as Nix. That would be starting point given the various agendas of the past. You can certainly argue the merits of the individuals the Bills have in the key football roles, but at least they seem to have the structure right at the top of the organization.
It's more than worth noting that Ralph Wilson and Russ Brandon were not at Tuesday's news conference introducing Gailey. That seems an obvious attempt to distance themselves somewhat for reasons we've discussed, and let Nix and Gailey stand alone to represent the future.
They face that challenge without an answer at quarterback. They face that challenge with major issues on the offensive line. They face that challenge with more skepticism than ever among the fan base.
"I can't say anything to change anybody's mind. All I can do is go try to help us win football games. If we win football games, everybody's mind will be changed, right?"
Gailey's right out of the gate... the answer will lie in actions not words.