on May 13, 2013 - 10:40 PM
, updated May 14, 2013 at 8:03 AM
The Buffalo Bills have a new team president, a new head coach and a new quarterback of the future. Buddy Nix acknowledged Monday there is logic in moving forward with a new general manager, as well.
“Yeah. I think there is. At some point you’ve got to step aside and let young guys that are qualified have their shot,” said Nix, upon announcing he is stepping back into an advisory role after 3½ years as general manager. “I’ve been around a long time. This will be season No. 53 coming up.”
The long-anticipated move by Nix, 73, paves the way for the promotion of 40-year-old Assistant General Manager Doug Whaley. He is expected to be named general manager within the next week or two. Whaley was hand-picked by Nix and former scouting chief Tom Modrak in February 2010, when they hired him from the Pittsburgh Steelers organization. He has been grooming under Nix ever since. He got a promotion in 2011, and his contract with the Bills was extended in February.
The transition from Nix to Whaley was something Bills owner Ralph C. Wilson Jr. and newly appointed team president Russ Brandon considered immediately after the season, in early January. No action was taken on the GM, and Nix continued to run the football department through the draft three weeks ago.
Nix explained that changes to personnel departments make the most sense in the weeks immediately after the draft.
“If you think about waiting until after the season, you’ve already been through a fall of scouting and personnel stuff,” Nix said. “So you’re in the middle. Then you say, ‘Well, I don’t want to waste that and leave before the draft.’ There’s never a good time. This is the best time. I’m sincere about that. It’s the best timing for the organization and to move with somebody new and let them all go through the process together.”
Out of respect for Nix’s 12½ years of service to the organization – he also was a scout for the Bills in the 1990s – the team made no mention of Whaley’s impending promotion.
“We have a plan, and we’re going to execute that plan,” Brandon said. “When I’m ready to address the other situation, at some point we’ll be sitting all here again together. But I’m not going to do that today or any time in the very near future.”
The final judgment on Nix’s performance as the head of the football department won’t be known for several years, until the performance of all of his draft picks — including quarterback EJ Manuel, this year’s first-round pick — can be evaluated.
He took over a football department in desperate need of strong and experienced leadership. Nix, who previously served as the college scouting chief for the late John Butler in San Diego, provided it and bolstered the Bills’ scouting operation. He increased the number of scouts. In addition to Whaley, he hired Tom Gibbons as the pro scouting chief, Darrell Moody as the top national college scout and Chuck Cook as college scouting director.
“He brought instant credibility to the GM role when he came here,” Brandon said. “He has a decorated career and is a pure football man. When I think of what Buddy brought to the table and to this organization … was honesty and conviction in his beliefs of where we were going as a football organization.”
Nix’s quote upon his hiring was “don’t tell me about the labor pains, show me the baby.” Will the scouting infrastructure Nix built help produce a winner? Bills fans have yet to see much fruit from Nix’s labor.
Buffalo went 16-32 the past three years under Chan Gailey, who was summoned by Nix from relative obscurity to be head coach in 2010.
Nix made what looks like three strong first-round picks from 2010 to 2012 in running back C.J. Spiller, defensive tackle Marcell Dareus and cornerback Stephon Gilmore. The rest of the 2010 class isn’t looking good. The career of defensive tackle Torell Troup, picked one spot ahead of All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski in the second round, is hanging by a thread. Third-round pick Alex Carrington is a competent backup defensive tackle. Fourth-round pick Marcus Easley, a receiver, is down to his last shot to produce.
After Dareus, the rest of the 2011 draft hasn’t done much. Second-round pick Aaron Williams, taken just ahead of San Francisco QB Colin Kaepernick, has been switched from cornerback to safety. Third-round pick Kelvin Sheppard was traded. The jury is out on four others from the class (Da’Norris Searcy, Chris Hairston, Chris White and Justin Rogers).
The 2012 class looks promising behind Gilmore. Cordy Glenn is starting at left tackle. Receiver T.J. Graham and linebacker Nigel Bradham could have prominent roles this season.
“First of all, I know that the way we went about this thing with a team is a slow process,” Nix said. “Building through the draft is a slow process. The third year was a hard year, because we expected more, we didn’t get it. … I think the thing that probably I’m the most proud of will be the next two or three years, if that makes any sense. I think we’ve got a really good, young roster. I love our head coach. I think he’s a guy that’s gonna win a lot of games here for a long time.”
Nix did a good job of supplementing the roster with free agents, from unheralded signings like Scott Chandler, Kraig Urbik and Erik Pears to marquee addition Mario Williams. The Bills also spent money under Nix, a sign of the respect the owner and team president had for his judgment. Buffalo was third in cash spending last year and 16th in 2011, according to News sources.
The biggest reason for Gailey’s failure was that the performance of the defense under his first coordinator (George Edwards) was bad, and under his second defensive coordinator (Dave Wannstedt) was even worse, something Nix referenced.
The next biggest reason was quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick didn’t play at a high enough level. Nix OK’d the big contract in 2011 that made Fitzpatrick the 16th highest-paid QB in the league. His faith in Fitpatrick also kept him from drafting a QB like Kaepernick or Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton.
“We went about it the way that it presented itself,” Nix said of passing on some QBs in the draft. “We won just enough games to be picking at a bad time, when you start talking about one or two guys, or three, that you thought were franchise guys.”
Nix now takes the title of special assistant. He will relocate to his home in Chattanooga, Tenn., but said he will keep his home in Western New York and spend significant time here as an advisor.
“It’d be nice to see if there’s something else out there in life,” Nix said. “You know, your family. I don’t see them much. I’m going to my grandson’s ninth birthday party. I’ve never been before, and my family is awful nervous about it.”