Today's Tuesday. The Buffalo Bills have now had an empty chair in the head coach's office at One Bills Drive for nearly eight full days, and given the nature of their search, that streak is likely to continue a while longer. GM Buddy Nix has his work cut out for him, as he still reportedly has several candidates to interview for the post. He's also got that tiny task in front of him of making the Bills not stink anymore, too.
Nix, obviously, is the key figure in Buffalo for the time being (we're guessing that once the new head coach is hired, he'll command most fans' attention for a considerable stretch of time). As such, it's important for us to get our heavy discussions on Nix in before the big news breaks.
What follows after the jump is an examination of the work that Buddy Nix has done in 17 years' worth of front office experience at the NFL level. In essence, this is his resume for the job he currently holds; we doubt his coaching experience had a tangible bearing on owner Ralph Wilson's decision to name Nix his GM. This post is not about the process that led to Nix's hire in Buffalo; we've had that discussion too many times to be interested in it. The deed is done, and for better or worse, Nix will be calling the personnel shots in Orchard Park for the foreseeable future.
This is what he's done. It's up to you to decide if you're still comfortable with Nix running the show once the discussion heats up.
At age 70, Nix has only had two major stints in NFL personnel offices. The first came in Buffalo, while the second came in San Diego. His third major stint began on January 1, 2010.
Stint 1: Buffalo Bills regional scout (southeast specialization), 1993-2000
Nix spent his first eight years in NFL personnel focusing the majority of his attention on draft prospects in the southeast. He did this on the staff of the late GM John Butler, who was in Buffalo running the show post-Bill Polian.
In those eight years, the Bills drafted 27 players from southeastern schools, with very mixed results. Clearly, Nix wasn't the man pulling the trigger on those selections, but given his job specialization at the time, it's fairly certain that Butler was relying heavily on Nix's opinions when drafting these players. Nix was, after all, the scout who paid closest attention to these prospects for the longest amount of time.
The Bills found some good players from the southeast during this time period. We'll focus specifically on players selected within the first three rounds of the draft, as that's where teams typically make their most important draft-day decisions. Nix's "hits" include cornerback Thomas Smith, receiver Eric Moulds, linebacker Gabe Northern, linebacker Sam Cowart and receiver Peerless Price. All four of those players were long-term starters in Buffalo, even after Nix departed in some cases, and made significant contributions to the team.
The team also had significant southeast misses during this time frame. Again focusing on players drafted in Rounds 1, 2 or 3, Buffalo whiffed on players like Bucky Brooks, tackle Corey Louchiey, safety Travares Tillman and linebacker Corey Moore. The team did redeem themselves somewhat with solid later-round picks from the southeast, including cornerback Ken Irvin, running back Jonathan Linton and linebacker Keith Newman.
Stint 2: San Diego Chargers Assistant GM and Director of Player Personnel (2001-2008)
In San Diego, Nix's responsibilities diversified. He was now coordinating pro and college scouting, and on the college scouting, his attention was no longer focused on a specific region of the nation. Nix was essentially getting his first national scouting experience, a position he held in 2009 with the Bills. During his tenure in San Diego, Nix again did not make final decisions, but is said to have been heavily involved in the draft-day process with Butler and, after Butler passed away, A.J. Smith. Those two men trusted Nix and his opinions.
Clearly, the Chargers have been one of the better-drafting franchises of the past decade. With Nix as a crucial element in the scouting process, the Chargers drafted the following well-known and highly productive players within the first three rounds of the draft: running back LaDainian Tomlinson, quarterback Drew Brees, cornerback Quentin Jammer, linebacker Ben Leber, cornerback Drayton Florence, quarterback Philip Rivers (acquired via trade), defensive lineman Igor Olshansky, linebacker Shawne Merriman, defensive end Luis Castillo, receiver Vincent Jackson, cornerback Antonio Cromartie, tackle Marcus McNeill, and safety Eric Weddle.
Nix is said to have been particularly adamant about Cromartie, a draft-day gamble that exploded onto the scene in his second pro season with 10 interceptions and a Pro Bowl berth.
San Diego hasn't been perfect - no one is - but their list of misses within the first three rounds is not significant, and their incredible success off-sets much of the poor showing from this group of players. Safety Tay Cody, guard Toniu Fonoti, cornerback Sammy Davis, tackle Courtney Van Buren and linebacker Anthony Waters made very few, if any, contributions to the successful Chargers teams of the past decade.
The Chargers have had plenty of success finding good to outstanding players in later rounds, as well. Tight End Justin Peelle, linebacker Matt Wilhelm, punter Mike Scifres, linebacker Shaun Phillips, running back Michael Turner, tackle Shane Olivea, running back Darren Sproles, tackle Jeromey Clary and receiver Legedu Naanee were all drafted in the fourth round or later during Nix's tenure.
Now, Nix takes the successes and failures he's overseen in two major stints in pro personnel to the GM post in Buffalo. This is all we have to go on for the moment; it's the only tangible evidence of the type of player that Nix targets. It is incredibly important to caution that Nix has never had final say over any personnel decisions until this point of his career, so he does not deserve complete credit for any of the great players the Bills and Chargers drafted in his stays - nor complete credit for any players the teams missed on.
One important note, however: teams that Nix have been on have had success drafting quarterbacks. In particular, the Chargers had their hands on three franchise signal-callers with Nix in town, including Brees, Rivers and Eli Manning, whom the team dealt to New York for the rights to Rivers. That's clearly important in Buffalo, where the team has been searching for the heir apparent to Jim Kelly for well over a decade.
(Keep your eye on Charlie Whitehurst, by the way. San Diego drafted him in 2006 out of Clemson - a southeast school - and he's been sitting behind Rivers and Billy Volek for four full years now. He'll be 28 next pre-season, has solid NFL measurables across the board, and might be a guy Nix takes a look at if he's looking for a younger guy to throw into a quarterback competition. Whitehurst is scheduled to be an RFA this year. No, I have no inside information on this, it's just something to keep in mind.)
Your thoughts on the draft history of Buddy Nix are, of course, welcome in the comments section. There really isn't anything tangible that we can learn here about Nix the decision-maker, but there are enough superstar players in that list to bring forth an interesting discussion, at any rate.