ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – Calling himself "a realist," Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson warned it might take as many as three years to rebuild his team, and added drafting a quarterback next year is the club's top priority.
Speaking by phone from his home in suburban Detroit on Monday, the Hall of Fame owner seemed nearly lost for words in describing the Bills, who at 0-5 are off to their worst start in 25 years.
"I hope you understand that there's really nothing I can say," Wilson told The Associated Press. "You've seen this thing. I'm not going to try to explain it or make excuses. It's bad."
Wilson then expressed confidence in the plan that general manager Buddy Nix and coach Chan Gailey — both in their first years at the job — have for turning the team around. But he cautioned it won't happen overnight.
As for any message he had for the team's fans, Wilson said: "Two words. Pain and patience. P and P."
"Well, it is what it is. Everybody can see it, it's very painful," Wilson said. "It's going to take time. And I've said that from the beginning. It's going to take another three years until we get to turn this thing around."
Wilson then added the turnaround could come sooner, but he didn't want to sound too optimistic.
"Maybe one year, two years: But I don't want to throw out a lot of hope," Wilson said. "I want to be a realist. I always have been. And we have to get some talent."
That search for talent begins at quarterback. Wilson said Nix will be spending the next two weeks on the road scouting the top crop of college quarterback prospects. The Bills join Carolina and San Francisco as the NFL's three remaining winless teams, giving them the early inside track for a top-5 pick in next year's draft.
The Bills haven't had a franchise quarterback since Hall of Famer Jim Kelly retired following the 1996 season. Since then, nine players have started at least eight games, with Drew Bledsoe holding the job for the longest tenure, from 2002-04.
Buffalo has already shuffled quarterbacks this year, with Ryan Fitzpatrick taking over the starting job in Week 3, and Trent Edwards being released a week later.
Wilson spoke as the Bills enter their bye week, and a day after he watched his team blow a 10-point first-half lead in a 36-26 loss to Jacksonville. Buffalo is off to an 0-5 start for the fifth time in franchise history, and first since 1985.
Buffalo has allowed 30 points in four straight games for the first time in team history. It's a stretch during which the Bills have been outscored 146-77. And the team's already in jeopardy of missing the playoffs for an 11th straight year.
Wilson took full responsibility for the team's decade-long woes, a stretch in which they've only had one winning season (a 9-7 finish in 2004) since 2000. The Bills are on their sixth coach (including Perry Fewell, who finished last season on an interim basis), and fifth general manager over that stretch.
"The blame falls on me because I made those selections," Wilson said. "And I don't want to blame somebody else. I take the blame."
And Wilson is well aware of how fans have begun to criticize him for the team's troubles.
"Oh yeah," he said. "I know that, and I don't blame them."
Wilson, who turns 92 on Sunday, also referred to his age during the interview.
In discussing the team's turnaround, Wilson said, he "probably won't be around," when it happens.
Wilson said he's feeling fine, but noted that at his age anything can happen. And he suggested that fans shouldn't worry about his health.
"Listen," he said, chuckling. "Tell them to worry about something else."
Wilson has been the sole owner of the Bills since founding the team in 1960 as an original member of the American Football League. The team won AFL titles in 1964 and '65 and lost four straight Super Bowls in the early 1990s.
When reminded of his upcoming birthday, Wilson laughed, using it as an opportunity to poke fun at himself and his losing team.
"It's a good thing we've got a bye week," Wilson said. "Because I might not make it."