Buffalo Bills fans that craved organizational change this off-season have gotten their wish: the team on Thursday wrapped up a busy off-season featuring sweeping and, at times, drastic changes at the most prominent positions in the organization. In other areas, change may not have been as dramatic as fans had hoped - and probably in at least one case, the lack of change was particularly upsetting. Here's a recap and a timeline of everything that has gone on within the past five months.
12/21/12: Ralph Wilson Stadium lease agreement announced
The Bills' expiring stadium lease had been a major topic of conversation since negotiations stalled in the summer months, but a new 10-year agreement was announced before the new year. That 10-year agreement includes a $400 million relocation penalty for any entity trying to move the team out of Western New York, but also includes a one-year respite from that penalty after the first seven years of the deal. Stadium renovations costing roughly $130 million were announced, and the deal also provided the first public language for a potential new stadium to keep the team in the area over the long haul.
12/31/12: Chan Gailey fired
As the first signal that major changes were coming, head coach Chan Gailey was fired less than 24 hours after a 28-9 win over the New York Jets capped off a second straight 6-10 season. Gailey concluded his three-year run as head coach with a 16-32 record.
1/1/13: Russ Brandon named team president
Bills owner Ralph Wilson had held the team presidency and final organizational authority for his entire stretch with the team, save for a brief period in which he ceded that authority to Tom Donahoe. It was a historic moment, then, when the 94-year-old Wilson again gave up control, this time handing it to the 45-year-old Brandon, who had made a name for himself on the business side of the organization. The move put Brandon in charge of the entire organization, including the football side, with the dual titles of President and CEO. He announced that the team would be building a department for analytics, and immediately assembled a team to identify the next head coach.
1/6/13: Doug Marrone hired as head coach
Brandon, Buddy Nix, Doug Whaley and Jim Overdorf flew out to Arizona and spent a week interviewing coaching candidates. The successful candidate, Doug Marrone, is the former head coach at Syracuse University, where he took one of the worst programs in Division I and turned it into a 25-25 outfit with two bowl wins and an NFL-caliber quarterback prospect (Ryan Nassib) in four years. One of the more energetic and hands-on coaches you'll find, Marrone spent the next several weeks building a young coaching staff featuring 33-year-old offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and 46-year-old defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.
1/29/13: Bills in Toronto Series extended
In an expected move, the Bills announced that the team's series - in which one regular season home game per year is played at the Rogers Centre in Toronto - had been extended an additional five years. The series is universally despised by the fan base and uncomfortable at best for the players, and the team is just 1-4 playing north of the border. The series does generate some revenue for the franchise, however, and is very clearly a major part of Brandon's regionalization efforts for the franchise - efforts which also include holding training camp at St. John Fisher College in Rochester.
3/12/13: Ryan Fitzpatrick released
There were some indications that Fitzpatrick might be retained to play for Marrone, but a contract impasse eventually led to Fitzpatrick's release less than 17 months after signing a six-year, $59 million contract extension. Fitzpatrick started 53 games in a four-year run in Buffalo, finishing with a 20-33 overall record, 11,654 passing yards, 80 touchdowns and 64 interceptions. The team had already re-signed Tarvaris Jackson and would eventually add Kevin Kolb to the mix, as well, but Fitzpatrick's release opened the door for a major move at quarterback.
4/25/13: EJ Manuel drafted in Round 1
Until this year, the Buffalo Bills franchise had never used its first pick in any NFL Draft on a quarterback; that made the selection of Manuel yet another moment for the record books. Though he is raw as a prospect and needs plenty of technique work and time to develop, Manuel is clearly a charismatic young man with immense physical gifts, and the Bills - in taking the first quarterback off of the board, and the only quarterback to be selected in the first round - clearly believe that they can mold Manuel into the franchise signal caller that the team has desperately needed for going on two decades.
5/13/13: Buddy Nix steps down
He retained his General Manager title after Brandon's big promotion and therefore spearheaded all of the team's personnel decision this off-season, but with the 2013 NFL Draft in the books and the 2014 scouting season set to kick off in less than a week, the 73-year-old Nix decided to step aside. He'd been the team's GM since December 31, 2009, sharing the same overall record (16-32) as Gailey. To an arguable degree, however, he'd also improved the physical talent on the roster. He is still a member of the team's front office as a Special Assistant, but his was the last, expected change of the off-season.
5/16/13: Doug Whaley promoted to GM
In need of a new football operations chief, the Bills promoted the 40-year-old Whaley to the GM post. Whaley immediately brought in a new player personnel director and college scouting director, shuffling around some existing front office personnel along the way, and will hit the ground running next week as the 2014 NFL Draft scouting process begins. Whaley's promotion gives the Bills the youngest front office in the NFL - Brandon is 45, Whaley is 40 and Marrone is 48 - and drastically changes the way the team is perceived around the league from what it was in December of 2012.