Sunday, January 03, 2010

Ixnay on the Ad-picks-bay!

The other day, the Buffalo Bills held a hastily-called news conference to announce the hiring of their new General Manager: a guy named Buddy Nix, who was promoted from national scout to GM for the team. After everyone in Buffalo -- and I mean everyone -- agreed that what the team needs first and foremost is a good football person to take over the reins of the never-ending rebuilding project, the selection of Nix was billed as just that. But the reaction in Bills-land has been a pretty resounding "Meh". Jerry Sullivan's column from the other day is pretty representative of the negative reaction, while positive reaction has generally been of the "Well, they could have done worse" variety. I haven't heard anyone who is really excited by Nix's hiring.

To me, the least interesting of the objections to Nix are the ones related to his age (he's 70) and his experience until now. I tend to think that if we can generally think of men in their 70s as being qualified to be President of the United States, Supreme Court Justices, or United States Senators, then surely a man in his 70s can run an NFL team. (So can women in their 70s, for that matter.) Not interested in the age argument. Nor am I much convinced by its parallel argument, that hey, since he's 70, shouldn't he have become a GM way before this? If Nix had been toiling as a scout for three or four decades and was only now getting his shot at being GM, that would be one thing, but he's only been in the NFL scouting scene since 1993, when he left a long college coaching career for an NFL scouting career. Seventeen years of scouting in the NFL, rising up the ranks of two organizations in the process, doesn't strike me as an unreasonable amount of experience for a first-time General Manager. Just looking at one other notable example, Scott Pioli is finishing his first season as an NFL GM in Kansas City; his prior scouting and front-office career with several organizations (most notably the Patriots) started in 1992. So I'm fine with Nix's level of experience.

I'm also fine with Nix's resume. He worked in Buffalo through the mid and late 1990s, when the team was still good and was still drafting good players. Then he went to San Diego at the beginning of this decade, as the Chargers began to build into one of the NFL's better teams. (I have a feeling the Chargers will end up as this era's best team to not make the Super Bowl.) Now he's back in Buffalo -- actually, he was back last year as a National Scout. The first draft since his return, the 2009 draft, was actually not a bad draft at all and may turn out pretty good in the end, especially if Aaron Maybin develops over the offseason into a good player. Nix has the pedigree you want in a GM: he's been with two organizations for a long time each, during their good years.

The more compelling argument against Nix is the nature of the apparent search the Bills made for their GM. They didn't wait to interview candidates from other organizations (which you're only allowed to do when the season is over); from all appearances, they interviewed exactly two people: Nix and current Bills Director of Pro Personnel John Guy, who "happens to be black", thus satisfying the NFL's requirement that all teams interview minority candidates when hiring. The argument is that the Bills didn't cast a wide net at all; instead they went with someone in house, someone safe and comfortable. Maybe. We'll see.

I do think that Nix represents an upgrade over the previous football regime here. Obviously the results will tell the tale and the results won't be in for a few years, but as long as Nix isn't the type of guy to keep John McCargo around (or trade back up into the first round to pick him), maybe the team will be on the rise soon. Let's see what happens when he hires a coach.

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