One Fan(n)'s Opinion by @rich_fann - A History of GM Reactions

One Fan(n)'s Opinion by @rich_fann - A History of GM Reactions

Buffalo Wins

One Fan(n)'s Opinion by @rich_fann - A History of GM Reactions

Brandon Beane is the new Bills general manager – and while the statements of glass eating, blue-collar, hard workers that only show up via the draft and occasionally someone in free agency sounds good, we’d be remiss if we don’t

If anything, I’m encouraged by the setup of the two reporting to the owner, with all of football ops falling under Beane and all of the coaching under McDermott. That doesn’t mean they’re not going to collaborate, but they both have to make sure the house they’re in charge of is in order.

Looking at his predecessors, Beane is in “good” company – five of the last six general managers had prior ties to the Bills, either as a current employer or as a previous one (hello Buddy and Marv). Additionally, only Tom Donahoe had the additional title of Team President with his title of general manager. The closest in title other than Donahoe would have been Russ “I’m just the marketing guy” Brandon, who was COO in addition to his general manager “non tasks”.

Here’s a look at what was said about the rest of the general managers during this drought:

Doug Whaley

Doug Whaley’s first press conference was eerily similar to Beane’s, citing team decisions and “consistently competing for championships”. From Bills president/CEO Russ Brandon (who’s that now?):

“He’s great work ethic. He’s tireless at work. He’s one of the most humble guys I’ve ever met. Everything is about ‘we,’ it’s about ‘us.’ He’s been in the trenches. He’s been scouting his entire career on the pro and the college side. I’ve never heard an individual in this league say one negative word about Doug Whaley,” Brandon said at an introductory news conference late Thursday morning.

Pay attention to this quote from the ESPN coverage of the first press conference:

Whaley will be responsible for the roster and also formulating the Bills’ draft strategy. Jim Overdorf, senior vice president of football administration, will continue in his role as the team’s chief negotiator and salary-cap manager, who answers directly to Brandon.

In my life, I’m a big fan of owning things. Part of our “Race to QB Mountain” plan for the late summer/fall is because I want to look at quarterbacks, have my opinions down from day one and let you, the reader see it without qualifiers.

Doug Whaley went into his job without having the supervision of his cap / money guy. He got his first coach in a search that he didn’t lead and Brandon was out in front of. The dude didn’t stand a chance. If anything, Beane’s going to be in a situation where the football ops department is wholly, “his”, and if he decides to axe Overdorf, or keep him – Overdorf answers to him, not Brandon. And while I appreciate that Beane has experience working with “every aspect of the Panthers organization”, Whaley had the same said of him – as well as a stint on Wall Street.

Again, this man was not a dullard. And Whaley was the second Pittsburgh-based GM hired by the Bills – a team that is wholly focused on building through the draft and being minimalists in free agency.

Buddy Nix

A lot of the Buffalo News articles from the era are dead links, but Pro Football Talk was more than happy to quote Sully, who got this gem from Ralph Wilson as to why (uncle) Buddy Nix was the best choice between John Guy and himself:

“Russ [Brandon] and I scanned a list of possible candidates,” Wilson said Thursday, per Sullivan.  “We didn’t know them.  I didn’t know them.  I don’t think Russ did.  We narrowed it down to two candidates for the job of general manager of football, two in-house candidates.”

For those that don’t remember, you should also know that John Guy, the “other guy” in the interviews, was fired a month later by Nix.


I really enjoyed the source’s opinion in this piece that Florio “gleaned” from Sully:

“Bills fans can rest assured that, a year from now, two years from now, and three and four years from now, the team will still be in last place in the AFC East.  The Jets, Patriots, and Dolphins continue to make moves to get better while the Bills just tread water.  There are good people who were very interested in that job, like Dave Gettelman [sic], Scott Studwell and Doug Whaley that never got a chance.  All those guys could have helped that team.  The best hope for Bills fans is that the owner decides to sell the team and then someone who cares about winning takes over and brings in qualified people.”

I remember this vividly, because it was prior to Nix hiring Whaley as his assistant GM. This is the same dude we’re hearing couldn’t communicate, walk, talk, chew bubblegum and in no way did anything to help the Buffalo Bills. Yet prior to his hire, he was seen league-wide as a good candidate that was being willfully ignored for a promotion.

I’ve got to be honest: when you see things like this and then it becomes “Whaley wasn’t a fit because he didn’t do x”, when it comes to Buffalo I default to the “it’s not them it’s you” mindset.

Just me though.

Buddy’s first press conference also had this, courtesy Chris Mortensen:

Bills hall of famers Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas attended the news conference. Both are familiar with Nix, whose stint in Buffalo overlapped their careers. And both said they are willing to assist Nix in whatever capacity, with Thomas saying he has been asked to serve in some type of scouting role.

When in doubt, ask an alum!

Buddy’s first press will always be known to me as his saying “all teams are getting head coaching calls, even Oakland” – which, considering the Raiders and expansion Texans have been to the playoffs during the Bills’ drought, was pret-ty gutsy in hindsight.

Russ Brandon

Russ Brandon was “appointed” general manager when the team decided not to fill the general manager position upon Marv Levy’s resignation. Jim Overdorf at this time was made senior vice president, which made him “top executive in day-to-day football matters, answering to Brandon and Bills owner Ralph Wilson.”

From the Bills general manager history site:

‘It has been my experience over the years that our greatest opportunity for success comes when we promote from within our own organization,’ said owner Ralph C. Wilson Jr. ‘I am confident in the skills possessed by our seasoned football front office staff. What I feel we need is a person with Russ Brandon’s proven leadership skills to put it all together. He has worked very closely with me over the years and I am comfortable that he is up to the task.'”

Joe is going to lose his mind, but of all the GMs, Russ was the hardest to find articles on. No tin-foil hats though, at the time the biggest focus was on the T.O. effect, etc.

Marv Levy

Marv’s hire was generally seen as a “blast from the past” hire that would restore the glory of Buffalo, etc etc.

This New York Times article, where Levy was cited learning how to use the ‘delete’ key, hasn’t aged well.

The plot thickened when Mike Mularkey resigning a week into the Levy regime:

Levy added that he didn’t plan on being the coach when he
accepted the GM’s job, but said the situation has changed with
Mularkey’s unexpected departure.

His comments, however, contradicted what Wilson stated minutes
earlier after announcing Mularkey’s resignation. Asked whether
Levy, who was standing off to the side, would be a candidate,
Wilson said: “Absolutely not.”

This article even doubles down, citing the inability to even get a title straight for Levy:

What might seem curious to those hearing Levy contradict his
boss is becoming par for the course for an operation that can’t get
its story straight since Wilson fired president/general manager Tom
Donahoe last week.

Upon luring Levy out of retirement, Wilson and Levy couldn’t
agree on a title before eventually settling on general
manager/football operations.

Marv’s tenure was more or less out of the gate seen as curious at best and a sign of dysfunction (where’ve we heard that before?) at worst.

Tom Donahoe

Donahoe was highlighted as a quality candidate – that Ralph Wilson himself fel was the best of the bunch:

“In my discussions with him over the past two weeks I feel he is the most qualified man to oversee the Bills football operations,” said Wilson.

The CBS article above also notes that Donahoe had been fired the year before in a power struggle with Steelers head coach Bill Cowher. So, to recap, one of the most successful teams in the NFL had a public power struggle that was so obvious, the AP had it as a key part of their first article on Donahoe.

Given that it was 2001, the lack of social media response is understood. But man, can you imagine that now? This hire was the equivalent of Rex’s hire, only somehow Tom Donahoe got more power!?

“This is a quality organization, and I’m proud to be part of it,” Donahoe said. “I hope by working together we can take the Buffalo Bills further than they’ve been able to go.”We want to win. That’s paramount. This is a team that should have been in the playoffs this year, and we want to be in the playoffs next year.”Donahoe spent 14 years with the Pittsburgh Steelers, the last eight as a director of football operations, until he was forced out last January.

Looking back, there has been optimism after a new general manager’s first press conference. However, it has been met primarily with a fair bit of skepticism by both the national and local media. In hindsight, all of the questions asked regarding the legitimacy and timing of Beane’s predecessors were valid. Perhaps the praise “Lucky 13” is receiving universally will do so as well.

As always, time will tell.

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