Yet Another Rerun: The "Buddy System" Showing Again in Buffalo

Steve PContributor IIJanuary 21, 2010

TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 31:  Team owner of the Buffalo Bills Ralph Wilson answers questions from the media during the The Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2009 press conference at the Tampa Convention Center on January 31, 2009 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

I've tried to be optimistic about the way the GM and Head Coaching spots were filled in Buffalo.  Really.

I've tried to convince myself that despite lack of definitive evidence, Buddy Nix was the sole architect of the San Diego Chargers draft success during his tenure in the scouting department there.

I've told myself that Bill Cowher's strong recommendation and endorsement of Chan Gailey is more than enough reason to believe that he is the guy to turn around the Bills fortunes.

No amount of effort can convince me of any reason for optimism, however.  Mostly because I feel like I've seen this movie before, and I know how it ends.  Badly.  Because this is what is known to long-time Buffalo Bills fans as Ralph Wilson's "Buddy System," with no pun intended.  Allow me to explain.

Ralph, you see, has trust issues.  Always has, and being burned before has only made those issues worse.  Which is why his preference has been and remains hiring only those whom he knows and feels he can trust.  Hence, the "Buddy System."  Let's take a look at it, historically.

First, I must admit that I am without some documentation that I would love to have.  I have looked every place I could think of for a historical list of Bills General Managers but was unable to come up with one.  But the list of Head Coaches I was able to come up with, along with the knowledge I have from memory of past General Managers, should be sufficient proof of this system.

When Lou Saban departed after two consecutive AFL Championships following the 1965 season, Ralph immediately turned to Joe Collier, who was the Bills Defensive Coordinator.  Ralph knew Collier well and liked him very much, which made him a safe hire.

When Collier was fired two games into the 1968 season, Ralph turned to a man he told "was the only man for the job."  This would be close friend and confidant, Scouting Director Harvey Johnson.  The only man for the job did so well that he was once again pressed into service when John Rauch was fired during the 1970 season. 

This double play gives Johnson the dubious distinction of presiding over two of the four seasons in Bills history where they had the first overall pick in the draft the following year.

Johnson was subsequently replaced by a man Ralph knew from the past, Lou Saban.  Then, in the early 1980s, after the resignation of Chuck Knox, Ralph once again went back in time for another guy he knew and trusted, Kay Stephenson, who had once played for the Bills.  Yet another friend, yet another disaster once again.

While I will admit there is room for debate on this one, I submit that the track record of Wade Phillips makes his promotion to Head Coach following the retirement of Marv Levy eligible to be placed in this category, along with the horribly premature extension of Dick Jauron during the 2008 season.

As I stated, I was unfortunately unable to locate a complete list of Buffalo Bills General Managers.  However, I would submit that there is sufficient evidence that the "Buddy System" is in play here as well.

There should be very little doubt that the hiring of Marv Levy as General Manager is more than deserving of fitting the category, along with the tenure of Russ Brandon as General Manager, whom Ralph knew and trusted due to his excellent job in Marketing.  What Marketing has to do with being a General Manager of an NFL football team I've yet to determine.  Sounds like another case of the "Buddy System."

Lastly, we come to the new General Manager, Mr. Buddy Nix.  Yes, Buddy worked as an area scout during the tenure of the late John Butler.  He also worked closely with A.J. Smith at the time.  I realize he was in San Diego from 2000-2008, a period during which the Chargers had excellent drafts, with the likes of Gates, Cromartie, Merriman, Phillips, Jackson, Rivers, and Tomlinson being selected by San Diego. 

However, there is no way of corroborating just how instrumental Nix was in the selection of the aforementioned players, if at all, as John Butler had initial say and A.J. Smith had final say on the draft.  But Ralph knows him and trusts him from his previous tenure in Buffalo, which appears to be all that really matters.

Bottom line to me is that Ralph has promoted a 70-year-old man as a General Manager to a key position in what has to be a critical time in franchise history, with no experience and no proof of his ability to get the job done.

Personally speaking, I question why Floyd Reese's name was never brought up and would certainly preferred someone with his experience in the General Manager's chair. If nothing else, the possibility exists that a known quantity like Reese might have made the Head Coaching position a little more attractive to a better candidate.