Buffalo Bills assistant General Manager Doug Whaley keeps a low profile and likes it that way.
"The way I see things, fans are most interested in players and winning," Whaley said during a rare interview, at the NFL Scouting Combine. "I just want to give the fans what they want. I never heard a person say, 'I'm buying a ticket because I love the GM.' No. I love what I do. My job is to help put a consistent winning team on the field for the fans. I don't need anything else."
Profile notwithstanding, Whaley played a big role behind the scenes for the Bills at the NFL's annual prospect convention the past week and will continue to have a big voice in personnel decisions leading up to the 2012 NFL Draft.
> Shift in focus
Whaley has focused more of his time the past year on scouting college players.
"I have always dabbled in it," Whaley said. "Now I would say my main focus is the college aspect of scouting, with an overseeing role in the pro side, but not as much. I'm still involved but not hands-on. I'm more hands-on in the college side."
Whaley, 39, had his title with the Bills tweaked last May. Beside being assistant GM, his supplementary title changed from director of pro personnel to director of player personnel. Again, that reflected his primary focus on college scouting. Serving under Whaley on the college side is Chuck Cook, who manages the day-to-day efforts of the Bills' nine national and regional college scouts. Serving under Whaley on the pro side is Tom Gibbons, a Dunkirk native whom Nix brought from San Diego a year ago to be director of pro personnel.
"He is a really smart and good up-and-coming guy in this business," Nix said of Whaley last month. "He knows players. He's very thorough, he works at it, he played, he coached a little bit and that's the way most of our guys are."
Whaley visited 40 to 45 colleges during the fall to assess talent, focusing mostly on players likely to be picked in the fourth round or earlier.
"During the season, my schedule went like this," Whaley said. "I'd be at the (Bills) game Sunday, be in the office Monday; watch the film, grade the guys on our team, how they're doing. If any injuries come up, Buddy will tell me we're looking for this on the practice squad or a veteran guy here. Again, I'd get with the pro guys, see what's out there, whittle it down to two or three guys we want to bring in for workouts."
"After that was set, I'd have a Monday night flight," Whaley said. "Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday I'd hit colleges. If it's a home game I'd fly home. If it's an away game, I'd either meet the team or go to a Saturday (college) game."
During his first season in Buffalo, 2010, Whaley spent some fall weekends scouting Bills rivals in the AFC East. Pro scouting was his focus during a 10-year career with the Pittsburgh Steelers before coming to Buffalo.
"I don't do any pros any more (during the season)," he said. "It's just straight colleges. Tommy (Gibbons) and (pro scout) Rob (Hanrahan) broke that down. Because of the extensive travel on the college side, and I wouldn't be able to do pro film during the week, I've relinquished those duties. So it's more of an overseeing role."
> Hitting the road
With the combine ending Tuesday, Whaley, the college scouts and the Bills' assistant coaches will begin road trips to "pro days," workouts for draft prospects on college campuses around the country that take place between March 1 and April 6. In addition, each NFL team gets to invite 30 draft prospects to town for individual visits.
"After the combine we'll go through and see all the players that did not work," Whaley said. "We'll definitely hit those guys, and that will probably eat up a lot of time because I also want to be in town when we have our 30 college visits, to help coordinate that, sit in on those interviews and facilitate the coaches getting to know those players."
Like most NFL scouts, Whaley says the fact the draft is the foundation of a team's success can't be underestimated.
"If you look at the teams consistently competitive, they are consistently hitting on their draft choices," he said. "That's why I think Buddy and I have clicked so well, because that's our philosophy. You piece free agents in but you want to hit on as many draft choices as you can and then re-sign those guys. That's where I think you can get depth and compete."
And like Nix and coach Chan Gailey, Whaley thinks the Bills are getting closer to having a winning team.
"I think we can take a bigger step," he said. "Obviously there's a lot that plays into it. We have to get better depth at certain positions so when injuries happen we're not so decimated. The mark of teams that are always competitive is the quality of depth so when your starter gets hurt, the expectations of the guy behind him doesn't drop. It's not a drastic drop. That's what we're trying to get."
"It's pretty obvious where our glaring needs are," Whaley said. "I tell people what I think is a very promising thing is from my background, you build a team that's consistent from inside out. So if you look at the inside of our offensive line, defensive line, we're pretty solid there. We start getting the outside guys, the edges, somebody to complement (receiver) Steve (Johnson), a pass rusher. Those are those outside pieces; now we're a complete team. So that's where I think we're heading."
> Learning on the job
Whaley sat in on a few of the meetings between Jim Overdorf, Bills senior vice president of football administration, and player agents at the combine. Whaley also aims this offseason to increase his familiarity with the salary cap, something he hasn't dealt with much.
"I leave that to Jim," Whaley said. "But this offseason Buddy has talked to me and said this is something I have to brush up on, especially with the new collective bargaining agreement. I knew the generalities of the old CBA. I've got to see what the new tweaks of the new one are."
When it comes to getting out the team's message to fans, Whaley is happy to take a back seat.
"[Buddy] gives you guys great sound bites. And I can sit back and do my job but also learn," he said. "There's still parts of this job that are new to me. I want to get a handle on them. Buddy has been great. He has given me a little bit at a time. He hasn't overloaded me. He says 'all right, he feels comfortable there, let's give him a little more.' My ultimate goal is to get to the point where Buddy can walk in at 9 and say, 'Let's do this, this and this,' walk out at 5 and just leave it to me."