Finding QB is Gailey's top priority
New Bills coach inherits difficult situation, skeptical fan base
Even though Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier appeared to be the leading candidate for the Bills' head-coaching job, Buffalo hired Chan Gailey because the team ultimately wanted an offensive mind with head-coaching experience.
Gailey takes over a tough situation, one of the reasons big names such as Bill Cowher, Mike Shanahan and others passed on the job. The Bills haven't been to the playoffs since 1999, and their loyal fan base is getting frustrated by years of average teams that seem to be in perpetual transition.
What are the five things Gailey must prioritize to turn things around?
1. QB situation: First, Gailey must figure where to find a new quarterback. Under the circumstances, it might not be a bad idea for Gailey to convince ownership to stay with Trent Edwards for one more season, but owner Ralph Wilson might not go for that. Edwards has a year left on his contract, but the offense went in reverse this season with him behind center and several people in the organization are ready to go a new direction.
Even though he can bring the college spread offense into Buffalo, Gailey must find the right person to run it. With the possibility of an uncapped year, the Bills would have to make a trade to get either Kyle Orton or Jason Campbell as a restricted free agent. Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen could be an option if he falls to the Bills at the ninth pick, but Wilson might not be patient enough to go with a first-round quarterback. Gailey is in a tough spot.
2. O-line problems: A bigger task is fixing the mess along the offensive line. Dick Jauron lost his job as head coach because of the lousy offensive line. The Bills traded Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters. They cut high-priced guard Derrick Dockery. They tried to go with two rookie guards, but they either were injured or manhandled.
The line was a disaster. A second season with Andy Levitre and Eric Wood at guard should be all right, but Gailey and general manager Buddy Nix must find a left tackle good enough to match what the Bills lost with the Peters trade to Philadelphia. Deep down, Gailey is a coach who prefers running the ball, so he has to find the right offensive line coach and the best tackles to fix the problems along the line.
3. Evans' burden: Gailey also must find a way to take double-coverage pressure off No. 1 receiver Lee Evans. The Bills thought they had the answer when they signed Terrell Owens, but that move didn't work out. Owens wasn't the reason for the failure. Jauron spent the offseason developing a no-huddle offense that had no chance of working.
With either schemes or player acquisitions, Gailey must build threats other than Evans at wide receiver, and the job isn't easy. Owens is a free agent and isn't expected to return. Josh Reed is a free agent and might not be re-signed. Gailey has something to work with at tight end with Shawn Nelson, who shows some promise as a pass-catcher.
4. 3-4 crisis: What was inexplicable during the Jauron years was why the Bills were so bad playing against 3-4 defenses. The Bills' three divisional foes all feature the 3-4. No matter what he tried, Jauron lost to fellow AFC East teams because the opponent's nose tackle would dominate Buffalo's center and stop the running game, and the corners would take away Evans and leave the Bills with no ability to make big plays in the passing game. The key to any team is being competitive in division games. To do that, Gailey must find ways to beat the 3-4 teams.
5. Fans' skeptcism: Gailey's toughest mission will be winning credibility with the fans, who were excited about the possibility of landing Cowher or Shanahan. Years of losing have the Bills' fans skeptical of front-office moves that end up looking low budget. Even getting off to a good start might not work. Jauron excited fans with a 4-0 start in 2008, only to let them down when the Bills lost nine of their final 12 games.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.