As we trickle into the New Year, there are still people asking me about this Buddy Nix hire and who he is and where he came from. Friends have once again chuckled at the notion of the hire, proclaiming the Bills continue to succeed at failing to grasp what it takes to win. The naysayers are at it again, telling us this is the same old company line the Bills always walk. How can a 70-something guy with no prior general manager experience turn around this mess of an organization?
It’s easy to understand the initial discouragement among the fans. We’ve been burned before, too many times to count. This hire is reminiscent of Marv Levy a few years back, as far as age is concerned. Levy was 80, Nix just turned 70. Levy knew football when he was on the sidelines as the Bills head coach during their glory days in the early 90’s. He was given a hero’s welcome back to Buffalo, taking over for Tom Donahoe. The Bills believed his football personnel instincts would transition easily into the front office. He was the cowboy wearing the white hat, riding the white horse into town to right the many wrongs made by Donahoe. It never materialized.
Under Levy, the Bills went 7-9 in consecutive seasons and missed the playoffs in both years. He was responsible for questionable personnel choices, notably drafting Donte Whitner and signing defensive end Chris Kelsay to a lucrative deal. But Levy’s legacy, albeit short lived as a GM, will be hiring Dick Jauron as head coach to take over for Mike Mularkey who resigned shortly after Donahoe was fired. And we know how Jauron’s story ended in Buffalo.
Forgetting the age argument, I think what really burns Bills fans is that the hire of Nix seems internal and within owner Ralph Wilson’s comfort zone. Wilson proclaimed he was ready and willing to clean house, yet Nix came from within house. Nix was hired by the Bills last January after spending five seasons with the San Diego Chargers as the Assistant GM and Director of Player Personnel under current Chargers GM A.J. Smith. It also doesn’t give us much comfort to know that those other two guys on that huge billboard, Tom Modrak and John Guy, were considered for the position as well. Very few interviews conducted coupled with an in-house hire and it’s very easy to envision another 7-9 season.
But before we all go sprinting into the familiar arms of doom and gloom, convincing ourselves this too is destined to fail, step back and take a wait and see approach. Nix is a football guy, something the Bills haven’t had at the front office helm since Bill Polian and John Butler. Nix has no affiliation with Donahoe leftovers Modrak and Guy. He didn’t draft John McCargo or J.P. Losman. He didn’t sign Derrick Dockery and Langston Walker. He wasn’t responsible for trading Jason Peters. It would be unfair to make him pay for sins cast by his previous predecessors.
Do I believe this is the route Wilson planned on taking for quite some time? Absolutely. Now it’s clear that when Nix was brought back almost a year ago, he was going to be doing a thorough evaluation, leaving no stone unturned before taking over as GM. Now that the Bills have their GM in place, they can put on the full court press and go after their top candidates on their head coaching list.
But where I believe Nix can succeed is where so many others have failed: evaluating talent. The last time I checked the San Diego Chargers were one of the best teams at evaluating players, particularly when it comes to the draft. At the right hand of Butler and Smith, Nix has been there to see the Chargers hit many home runs. The names speak for themselves: Philip Rivers, LaDainian Tomlinson, Nate Kaeding, Vincent Jackson, Shawn Merriman, Shaun Phillips, Antonio Cromartie, Quentin Jammer, Marcus McNeil and Jamal Williams. Bottom line is, the Chargers know how to draft and Nix has been involved in laying the foundation for the outstanding pipeline of draft choices.
Now for the first time Nix will have the final say over any and all personnel decisions. He has a golden opportunity to establish his own football culture and firmly put his fingerprints on the Bills.