Ever since Buddy Nix stepped down from his post as general manager of the Buffalo Bills earlier this week, I've felt compelled to write an appreciation of his time spent on the job over the last three-plus years. It was, however, difficult to know where to begin, given that his run in the position was relatively short-lived.
The full story of the yield of Nix's four off-seasons in charge - which featured free agent signings major and minor, waiver wire claims significant and run-of-the-mill, and four different draft classes that are still unproven nearly across the board - has yet to be told. Buffalo certainly did not develop into a contender on his watch, going 16-32 over the past three seasons. His first head coaching hire, Chan Gailey, had the lowest winning percentage of any of the seven different Bills head coaches since Hank Bullough headed up the team in the mid-1980s, when your humble narrator was born. The subject of how much Nix did or didn't improve the talent on the roster is thoroughly debatable.
Yet in my two decades of Bills fandom and more than a half-decade of writing about the team for SB Nation, Nix was by far my favorite member of the organization to cover and follow, and that's doubly true when it came to personnel men. In a business positively riddled with executives that are guarded to the point of inanity, Nix was always a charismatic interview, quick to laugh and remarkably straightforward - even in what he referred to as lying season. New GM Doug Whaley admitted in an interview with WGR 550 on Thursday that he won't be able to replicate Nix's success with one-liners.
His candor, relative to what is the norm for a man in his position, was something to appreciate - but it also doesn't define his legacy. What I'll appreciate most about Nix's run as GM has little to do with players or interviews, and everything to do with the concept of a bridge.
We talk about "bridge quarterbacks" all the time. Ryan Fitzpatrick - who will rate as one of Nix's bigger miscalculations, by the way - was supposed to be a bridge between the terrible quarterbacks of yesteryear and whichever franchise quarterback Nix would select. Now that role falls to Kevin Kolb, who may be asked to hold the fort until EJ Manuel is ready. Nix was a "bridge GM," in my opinion - one that filled a vital role in bringing credibility back to an organization that had very little when his job began.
When Nix took over the GM duties on December 31, 2009, the Bills' front office structure had been formless for more than two years. The previous GM, Hall of Fame head coach Marv Levy, had stepped down in 2007, leaving the team without a final decision-making authority on personnel matters. Instead, the team employed a "consensus" approach - instilled by Levy - and left the likes of Tom Modrak, John Guy and Dick Jauron to make personnel decisions between the three of them. The team was desperate for a more traditional power structure after Jauron's dismissal, and Nix was hand-picked by team owner Ralph Wilson to build it.
Nix delivered in a calculated manner. With the help of CEO (now president) Russ Brandon, Nix lured Whaley from Pittsburgh to be his Assistant GM. He re-tooled the scouting department, fired Guy and Modrak, and brought in his own men (Chuck Cook and Tom Gibbons) to run the pro and college scouting departments. With Nix and his new personnel department came a sense of process, of regulation that hadn't existed in several years.
Now, he takes a back seat as Whaley - who has already made front office tweaks of his own with the hiring of player personnel director Jim Minos and college scouting director Kelvin Fisher - takes the reins of a franchise with an established power structure, well-defined player evaluation processes and, most importantly, exponentially more respect around the league than when Nix inherited the team.
Put another way, Nix restored sanity to a football operation that had spun out of control late in the Tom Donahoe era and throughout Levy's tenure. Just as a bridge quarterback steadies that position in advance of the future, Nix did the same for the Bills as a franchise until Whaley was ready. That may not be enough for Bills fans to remember Nix's tenure as GM fondly, but it is for me.
Here's to hoping that Buddy Nix was a bridge between a meandering past and the future the Bills, their fans and the city of Buffalo deserve.