Chan Gailey carries faith back to NFL

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Chan Gailey, who held firm in his faith during a two-year stint as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, is taking the helm of the NFL's Buffalo Bills.

Gailey, 58, who entered the coaching ranks in 1974 as a graduate assistant at the University of Florida, has been on the staff of four Super Bowl contenders (the Denver Broncos in Super Bowls XXI, XXII and XXIV and Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XXX) but still is pursuing a championship ring.

Gailey was named the Bills head coach Jan. 19; he will enter his 14th year as a head coach at the professional or collegiate level and his 16th season in the NFL.

His career includes a season (1993) as head coach at Samford University, a Baptist-affiliated college in Birmingham, Ala. Five years later, he was named head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, leading the team to the playoffs in both of his seasons, compiling an 18-14 record before the playoffs. Even so, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones released Gailey, replacing him with Dave Campo, who compiled a 15-33 record over the following three years.

"I became a Christian at 11 years old and was very fortunate to grow up in the church," Gailey, of Americus, Ga., and the son of a football coach, said in a July 1996 radio broadcast affiliated with the Christian magazine Sports Spectrum.

"Both parents went to church; we opened the doors and closed the doors of the church," Gailey, the Pittsburgh Steelers' offensive coordinator at the time, said in answer to a youth's call-in question.

"But it was actually at age 29 when I said, 'Hey, I've really got to live it and believe it and breathe it and eat it. I've got to just do everything the way I think Christ would want it done, or don't say I am [a Christian], don't be a hypocrite, don't say one thing and do another. You know, Am I living it or am I not living it? Have I given it to Him or have I not given it to Him?

"And I decided that that was the only way life had any meaning to me. I knew who Christ was, but at 29 is when I said I've got to live it right."

Of his witness to the players he coaches, Gailey said, "I tell them every year that I'm a Christian and that I'm going to treat them in a certain way and I hope they'll understand that, and if they ever want to talk about it I'd be happy to talk with them about it."

After beginning his stint with the Cowboys, Gailey listed "cutting players" as being the toughest aspect of an NFL coach's job, in a Dallas Morning News Internet article.

In answer to other questions, he listed:

• Person in history I would like to meet: Jesus Christ.

• Favorite singer: Sandy Patti.

• Favorite song: "More Than Wonderful."

• If I were president one day I would: Allow prayer in school.

In venturing to Buffalo, Gailey takes the reins of a team that hasn't been to the playoffs in 10 years. According to Bills owner Ralph C. Wilson Jr, "The last few years we haven't been able to score from the 2-foot line."

"I understand the challenge that is ahead of us," Gailey said after his selection. "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.... I also think I have, through the years, come to understand what it takes to build a winning organization."

Gailey and his wife wife, Laurie, have two grown sons, Tate and Andrew, and two grandsons.

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