In January of 2010, the Buffalo Bills hired Pittsburgh Steelers pro personnel director Doug Whaley as their new assistant general manager. Since that time, Whaley has been groomed as Buddy Nix's eventual replacement when the time would come.
Handling aspects of pro personnel where he scouted the NFL for talent, Whaley's job didn't change too much in his first year in Buffalo. Following the 2011 NFL Draft, however, Whaley was given more duties on the college side of the scouting department and the new title of director of player personnel in just his second full off-season. In his new job, he "scouted the top rated players" in the college ranks to add another set of eyes to the existing reports.
A year ago, Whaley's name popped up in conversations around the league as general managers were being fired and replaced. He was never seriously linked to any openings, and spent his spring building the team's draft board hand-in-hand with Nix. In February of 2012, the team put him front-and-center for a chat with fans on the team's website for the first time; Nix did one, too. Following the draft, he spoke with the members of the Monday Quarterback Club about the process of the draft and the players they had picked. Nix didn't speak that day.
When the team announced an unexpected press conference on January 1, there was some initial speculation that a move to Whaley at GM was coming, considering that a second straight 6-10 season had been completed. Instead, Russ Brandon was named team president and Nix was retained as GM - but the first legitimate reports of an eventual succession plan also surfaced that day, with some reporters insisting that the transition would happen sooner rather than later.
Following the Brandon press conference, Whaley was on a plane with Nix and Brandon to interview coaching candidates. This was another step in the training; Whaley was a critical part of the team that identified Doug Marrone as the successful coaching candidate. (Whaley talked about the Marrone hire on The John Murphy Show a few days later.)
In February of 2013, Whaley signed a highly publicized contract extension during the NFL scouting combine. The Bills sent out a press release to some fanfare - but despite alluding to the transition plan, there was no announcement that a move beyond the extension was imminent.
"I think you’re maybe less than confident in what you do if you can’t put your replacement in place," said Nix at the time. "I was on the job three months when I hired Doug. Nothing has changed with him. My energy level hasn’t changed. I’m not going to do this until I'm 100. I promise you."
Whaley was out in front during the pre-draft process this year, fielding questions routinely on the team's nightly radio show and participating in another fan chat at BuffaloBills.com. (Nix did not participate in his own fan chat this year.) He was again the lone speaker at the post-draft meeting of the Monday Quarterback Club.
Nix stepped down as the GM on Monday, and Russ Brandon said it was Buddy's day - a day to honor a long-time Bills employee. It seems a foregone conclusion that the next press conference in Orchard Park will be Whaley's anointing, and it's become increasingly clear in his three-year stay in Buffalo that this has been the plan all along.