Ralph Wilson founded the Buffalo Bills in 1959, and went nearly 53 years without ever giving anyone as much power as he gave Russ Brandon on Monday in Detroit. Brandon, already the team's CEO, was bequeathed Wilson's long-held title of team president, giving Brandon full control of the organization moving forward.
Wilson had only once previously relinquished the role of president - and that was temporary. When luring Tom Donahoe to be his general manager in 2001, he was also given the title, but never had the "autonomous control" Brandon will enjoy. When Donahoe was fired in 2005, Wilson re-assumed the title of president. There is another distinction between Donahoe and Brandon, according to the new president.
"There's one clear difference with this role from me than when Tom was here," said Brandon at his press conference. "He's the General Manager. He's in charge of the football operation - Buddy Nix is. Buddy will have the autonomy to run the football operations moving forward. The only difference is he reports to me."
Another AFL-era owner used a similar setup to pass control of his team to a proxy as he aged. The late Lamar Hunt hired Carl Peterson to run the Kansas City Chiefs in 1988, and gave him the title of president in addition to the title of GM. Hunt died in 2006, and Peterson resigned following the 2008 season as Clark Hunt, Lamar's son, took a more hands-on approach to the Chiefs. At the time, Peterson noted it was too much of a job for one man to handle.
"I told Clark that this franchise and the NFL have become too complex for one individual to wear both hats – President/CEO and GM," said Peterson at his farewell press conference.
That delineation should ease the minds of anxious Bills fans.
Wilson remains the owner of the Bills. That will not change, but he won't be having daily conversations with Nix. That role will fall to Brandon. Wilson issued a statement about the move through a team's spokesman.
"Russ Brandon has done a tremendous job in his 16 years with our organization and is very highly respected throughout the National Football League," said Wilson. "He has proven to be extremely successful with each new level of responsibility he has been given and has earned this opportunity. Russ is a proven leader and he will now have full authority over the entire Buffalo Bills operation. I have granted him full autonomy to run the organization as he feels is best."