Chan Gailey didn't work out after three losing seasons, leaving the Buffalo Bills looking for their fifth head coach since 2001.
The Bills fired Gailey on Monday after he failed to deliver on his vow to transform a losing franchise into a playoff contender. Gailey's entire staff was fired, too, but the status of general manager Buddy Nix remained uncertain, and could be decided as early as Tuesday.
Bills CEO Russ Brandon returned to Buffalo on Monday night after spending the day meeting with team owner Ralph Wilson at his home outside Detroit. Nix did not make the trip, and instead stayed at the team's facility.
The Bills have made tentative plans to have a team official address the media Tuesday.
The decision to fire Gailey was announced shortly after Brandon arrived in Detroit.
Gailey's teams lost twice as many games as they won, going 16-32 over three seasons. The Bills have now posted eight straight losing seasons, and closed with a second straight 6-10 mark after beating the New York Jets 28-9 on Sunday.
“I understand this is a business,” said Gailey, who had at least one year left on his contract. “We didn't get the job done.”
Gailey spoke for a little over a minute. He declined to take questions, while growing emotional at one point. Among the assistants fired were assistant head coach and defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt.
“I've been called two other times to get things turned around, was able to do it,” Gailey said, referring to previous stops with Dallas (1998-99) and Georgia Tech (2002-07). “We weren't able to get this one done soon enough, and I understand that completely.”
It was a disappointing finish for a team that had much higher aspirations. The Bills spent much of the past 14 months securing their top players, re-signing receiver Stevie Johnson and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to lucrative multiyear contracts.
The spending spree reached its peak in March, when they signed defensive end Mario Williams to a six-year, $100 million contract.
“It's always disappointing,” said defensive tackle Kyle Williams, one of the only players left in the locker room when the team announced Gailey's firing.
What frustrates Williams more is how the Bills keep making changes without getting any results.
“I get tired of losing,” Williams said. “More than anything, I get tired of putting in tons and tons of work. And it's hard sitting here talking to you guys at the end of December feeling like another one kind of slipped through your fingers.”
What's next remains unclear.
Nix was not available Monday, and canceled his weekly radio show on Friday.
Gailey's dismissal is a significant setback for Nix. The general manager announced in November that Gailey wasn't going anywhere, because another coaching change would stunt the team's development.
The Bills, however, closed by losing seven of their final 10 games.
Wilson had initially backed Nix's build-through-the-draft approach. Three years ago, the 94-year-old owner said he expected the rebuilding process could take as long as five years.
Brandon has been unhappy with the criticism leveled at the Bills, and how it's translated into poor ticket sales. Buffalo failed to sell out its three of its final four home games. And the fourth, against St. Louis on Dec. 9, wasn't a sellout until a local restaurateur purchased the remaining 10,000 tickets.
One option is for the Bills to make a splash in hiring their next head coach, as they attempted in their previous search.
After firing Dick Jauron in November 2009, Wilson expressed a desire to open his checkbook to lure a high-profile coach to Buffalo only to be rebuffed by Mike Shanahan, who instead landed in Washington.
The most high-profile candidates available include coach-turned-broadcaster Jon Gruden and Andy Reid, who was fired by Philadelphia on Monday. Then there's two candidates in the college ranks, Oregon's Chip Kelly and Penn State's Bill O'Brien, who had numerous friends and former colleagues on Gailey's staff.
An offensive specialist, Gailey was unable to spark the Bills popgun attack under Fitzpatrick. The Bills finished 19th in the NFL in yards gained and 21st in points this season. Gailey was faulted for under-utilizing the offense's most dynamic threat, running back C.J. Spiller.
“It's sickening,” running back Fred Jackson said, referring to how the Bills failed to play up to expectations. “As players, we had the highest hopes out of everybody. And for us to fall short of that, we don't like it at all. It's depressing.”
Ultimately, it was the Bills' porous defense that doomed Gailey.
The Bills allowed 400-plus points in each of the past three seasons, including 435 this year — the second-most in team history. Though Williams' presence improved the pass rush, Buffalo became the NFL's eighth team, and first since the 1986 Jets, to allow 45 points four times in one season.
Fitzpatrick's status is uncertain in part because he's due a $3 million bonus in March. He went 16-29 since taking the starting job three games into the 2010 season.
Fitzpatrick declined to speculate on his future. After speaking to reporters, Fitzpatrick hugged Johnson, and the two left with the receiver's arm over the quarterback's shoulder.
Reading from notes he jotted on a Bills pad, Gailey's eyes welled with tears when he credited Bills fans for their loyalty, and Buffalo for being a passionate football city.
“I think that the next staff will have a great opportunity for success, and make this another great football franchise,” Gailey said. “This will probably be, and I say probably, but I think it will be the first place that's ever fired me that I'll pull for.”