The biggest, most important necessity for Buffalo Bills fans right now is catharsis. At the time of this posting, the 2009 version of the Bills are 5-9 and coming off of their most recent embarrassing home loss. The 2000-2009 Buffalo Bills? Yeah, they're 65-93 in the decade, likely to add two more losses to that pile, and about to finish the entire decade without a single playoff appearance.
I tried to hold off on the "moving on to the next decade" posts for as long as possible. The season is still being played, after all. But I doubt you'll hold it against me that I'm about to start off our GM search articles here at Buffalo Rumblings. We all want to see things change, and change is coming. Hell, the vast majority of Bills fans would take change from Russ Brandon all the way down to the team's uniforms without a second's hesitation right now.
There are plenty of names the Bills have already pursued in relation to their head coaching opening as well as their likely opening(s) in the front office. More names will be linked to the team over the next two or three weeks as the '09 season - and a decade's worth of terrible football in Western New York - comes to a close. For now, we're starting the 'Catharsis Now' movement. It's time to move on. Mentally, I can't bring myself to talk about this team today. So we're going to talk about Greg Gabriel instead.
I've spoken several times of my belief that Buffalo needs to fix its front office before it even considers hiring a head coach. Names like Mike Shanahan and Bill Cowher are nice to talk about and all, but asking one guy to rule the roost and fix every dysfunctional portion of an organization is a move of desperate madness. Fix the front office first; when the Bills miss out on bringing in a big name, it's exactly what the Bills should do.
So I'm not even thinking about the Shanahans of the world. Let them take their money where they can get it. Buffalo needs a GM. It needs a visionary in the front office that isn't here to fix the team; rather, he's here to build a team with the right front office, coaching and playing talent, from top to bottom. (And fix those uniforms, too, Mr. New Bills GM Person.)
The first thing you should know about Greg Gabriel - who, at this time, is the Director of College Scouting for the Chicago Bears - is that he's a Buffalo native. Many of you probably already knew that. He grew up in the area, attended Bishop Neumann High in Williamsville, was a football star at Canisius College, and knows precisely what the Buffalo Bills mean to this area. If there is one single GM candidate on the market that has a rooting interest in this franchise engrained into the very fiber of his being, it's Gabriel.
His bio from the Bears' official team website is linked above. We'll talk about some things piece by piece as we break down that bio.
Hired by Chicago on June 19, 2001, Gabriel is a veteran of 28 NFL seasons, spending 16 years in the New York Giants scouting department, one season with National Scouting and two years part time with the Buffalo Bills.
Not only is he connected to the area, he's actually worked for the organization (in 1983 and 1984). He therefore has at least some small semblance of a working relationship with Ralph Wilson, which is obviously important. That gives him something of a leg up on other up-and-coming GM candidates.
Gabriel's chief job responsibilities are scheduling scouting visits, coordinating scouting meetings, evaluating collegiate players while playing an instrumental role in the development of the Bears draft plan.
That all sounds good to me. It's not imperative that a GM candidate come in with experience in all facets of the game (college and pro scouting, salary cap management, etc.), and Gabriel has had a good job for a number of seasons. I will always and forever prefer candidates that have strong backgrounds in college scouting as compared to pro personnel evaluation, because as the old adage goes, the best way to build a team is through the draft. Gabriel has been in the league long enough to have enough ties to bring in strong people to fill in the gaps.
His first seven drafts with Chicago yielded 16 players who started at least one game for the Bears in 2008 and Pro Bowl selections for Lance Briggs (2005-08), Tommie Harris (2005-07), Devin Hester (2006-07) and Nathan Vasher (2005). Chicago finished the 2008 season with 34 players on its roster drafted or signed as undrafted free agents during Gabriel's tenure with the team, including 13 of 22 opening-day starters.
This is why I generally dislike team bios. Those were not Greg Gabriel's drafts, folks. They were Jerry Angelo's drafts. Yes, Chicago has had some great draft picks this past decade (Gabriel has worked in Chicago since 2001), but they were Angelo's picks, not Gabriel's. That idea encompasses the good and the bad picks, as well. I think Jerry Angelo has as solid a scouting department as anyone, and in general has been a good decision-maker. Gabriel has worked pretty closely with him for a number of years, and knows his way around a war room. But it's important - not just in evaluating Gabriel, but in evaluating any candidate - to understand that Gabriel is not responsible for the team's success, nor their draft picks. He's just one cog in the process, for better or worse. It is noteworthy, however, that Gabriel's profile in Chicago is strong.
Gabriel came to Chicago after serving as the Director of Player Development for the New York Giants... During his tenure with the Giants, the team went to three Super Bowls, winning two.
Gabriel has worked for three organizations - Buffalo, the Giants and Chicago. He left Buffalo prior to the team's glory years, but has been part of Giants and Bears teams that have participated in - and in New York's case, won - championship games. Gabriel's experience with championship organizations is important. At age 58, he's been a part of Super Bowl winners, but has never had the chance to build his own contender from the ground up. He'd jump at the chance to do so, particularly if his home town team came calling.
I should note here that the point of this series - oh yes, we'll be looking at many, many more GM candidates - is not to advocate any one individual. We'll do that at a much later date. For now, we just want to get names out there for discussion purposes. I happen to like the idea of Greg Gabriel returning to his home town as the football ops chief of his home-town team. You might not - that's why we're having these discussions.
Mark Gaughan of The Buffalo News mentioned last week that the Bills would start interviewing for the front office sometime after Christmas. That's as soon as next week, folks. So the obvious question here is this: would you have an objection if Gabriel was one of the first candidates to get a phone call?