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Russ Brandon is in charge. He now has the final say on all the Buffalo Bills' decisions.

That's the bottom line from Tuesday's news conference announcing that Brandon has added the title of president to his chief executive officer duties. Brandon gets even more power.

Buddy Nix is staying as general manager. For how long? Brandon and Nix were vague on the subject. Nix made it clear that he views Assistant General Manager Doug Whaley as the man who will succeed him.

Nix previously reported directly to owner Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Now he reports to Brandon, whose authority expands fully over the football department, as well as the business department.

Nix ran the search for a head coach in 2010 and handled the interviews. Now Brandon is overseeing the search. Brandon, Nix, Whaley and Jim Overdorf, the team's top negotiator, will conduct the interviews with candidates to replace fired head coach Chan Gailey.

That process already hit the road Tuesday afternoon. Brandon said he, Nix, Whaley and Overdorf were heading on a private plane to Arizona. Recently fired Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt, Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton and ex-Cardinals offensive line coach Russ Grimm are expected to be interviewed by the Bills.

Brandon becomes only the second person other than Wilson to hold the title of president. Tom Donahoe was president from 2001 to 2005, but he had to clear all major decisions with Wilson. Brandon doesn't, in the wake of a Monday meeting in Detroit with the 94-year-old owner.

“He told me he was passing the torch to run this franchise in totality,” Brandon said. “He has granted me full authority to run this franchise with zero restrictions and zero limitations. Obviously, I'm honored and humbled in his confidence in me to lead this organization into a new era and provide a clear direction and winning pathway into the future,” Brandon said.

“I have granted him full autonomy to run the organization as he feels is best,” Wilson said in a statement released by the team. “These past 13 years have been very difficult on our fans, and we have not produced the type of winning team that they deserve. It has been frustrating for our organization and for me as well. We want our team to be one that our fans are proud of. I believe that Russ has the unique abilities to assemble and lead the talent we will need to get the job done.”

How much different will decisions be as a result of the fact that Wilson isn't approving them? Not much. Nix had pretty free rein. It's not like Wilson was overruling the GM on his evaluations of free agents.

It's just that a different man has final say, and Brandon has more authority to influence all decisions.

“I think it's going to make the organization a little more nimble, having the guy in the building who has that kind of power,” said Bills all-time great Steve Tasker. “Thumbs up or thumbs down. … There's going to be some times where it may make a difference on a player where you don't have to make a phone call or wait to hear back.”

Brandon, 45, joined the Bills in 1998 and has overseen remarkable off-the-field success in the last 15 years. The Bills had more sellouts in the first decade of the 2000s, when they never made the playoffs, than in the 1990s, when they were the second-winningest team in the National Football League. Their marketing of training camp is a model for the NFL. Their regionalization of the franchise to Rochester and Southern Ontario has been a great success.

Yet Brandon was candid about the plight of the franchise on the field. The Bills' 13-year playoff drought is the longest in the league.

“This is an organization with a proud tradition, but I will tell you that this brand has been tarnished,” Brandon said. “Its relevancy has been tarnished, and it's unacceptable because we just haven't won enough games.”

Brandon avoided offering platitudes on how wonderful everything will be at One Bills Drive from now on. “We've got to prove it,” he said, “and that's the bottom line.”

Brandon stressed that Nix remains the driving force behind player evaluations and acquisitions. “I will not be drafting people, I will not be making the final decision on a free agent,” Brandon said. “I will empower the general manager, Buddy Nix, to do that. Do I have final authority and say? Yes. But that's what Buddy Nix, the general manager, does.”

Nix is 73. Whaley, groomed in the Pittsburgh organization, is 40 and has a good reputation around the NFL.

There is some suspicion around the league the transition from Nix to Whaley could come as soon as later this year. Nix wouldn't be specific.

“He's a smart guy,” Nix said of Whaley. “He's the kind of character we want, and he's gotten better every day. The plan's the same. We want somebody that the transition's going to be smooth. He can make the next step.”

When? “I'll let you know when we announce that,” Nix said.

In the Bills' 2010 search for a head coach, Nix specified he wanted a man who had previous NFL head-coaching experience. Nix said it would not be a requirement this time.

“The percentages of being successful is hiring a guy that's done it,” Nix said. “But we're not going to limit that. We'll be open. Might be a college guy, might be a coordinator. We're just going to try and make sure we get the best guy.”

Meanwhile, Brandon said he would create an analytics department, a growing trend in the NFL. “We are going to create and establish a very robust football analytics operation that we layer into our entire operation moving forward,” Brandon said. “That's something that's very important to me and the future of the franchise.”

More teams are employing complex statistical analysis in game-day, draft and free-agency preparation. Examples: Analyzing completion percentages against multiple coverages; how often a draft prospect has been targeted in obvious passing situations; calculating the odds of going for it on fourth down; analyzing the rate of recovery from injuries based on specific therapies.

Teams are guarded about the information. New England was at the forefront of statistical analysis for more than a decade. Baltimore, Atlanta, Jacksonville and Tampa Bay are among those that have recently added an analytics department.



email: mgaughan@buffnews.com