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Draft room decision making

Posted Apr 12, 2011

The Buffalo Bills have always been about consensus when it comes to making draft day decisions. Everyone in the team’s draft room naturally has their opinions about prospects because it’s the primary reason they’re on the club’s payroll. But when the Bills are on the clock and time is winding down there’s one person pulling the trigger.

“Buddy has final say so,” said Bills head coach Chan Gailey. “There’s no question about it. He makes the decision. He asks Mr. Wilson’s opinion, my opinion and he asks the scouts’ opinion and the coaches’ opinion, but he makes the decision. That’s what he’s great at and we need to let him do that. That’s what his forte is and where his strength is. He should do that.”

Nix in the end makes the call, which is relayed down an open phone line to Bills representatives in New York City at the NFL draft. They then write down the name of the player and bring the card up to the league stationed at the front of Radio City Music Hall. As Gailey described there is an open dialogue prior to the final decision that takes place primarily at the head table.

Seated at the head table are Nix, Gailey, Bills owner Ralph Wilson and Vice President of College Scouting Tom Modrak. With the Bills picking third overall this year they have already laid out several possible scenarios with respect to how things could unfold in front of them with Carolina and Denver. They also know, but cannot easily prepare for another NFL club trading up to get in front of them.

But whether it’s Buffalo’s first pick or last of nine on draft weekend, Nix allows for plenty of feedback prior to the time when a call must be made.

“I’ve been in a lot of different situations,” said Gailey. “I’ve been in it where the coaches have had the majority of the input. I’ve been in it where coaches have had no input. The good thing is we have a general manager and a decision maker that has been a coach. He understands that the coach is able to evaluate the film and it gives him another perspective when it comes to decision making time.”

As much as Nix must take input from the men who will ultimately coach the prospects they draft, he must weigh that with input from the men who have been out on the road scouting these prospects and know them like the back of their hand.

“Buddy does listen to our coaches. He does ask our opinion,” Gailey said. “We do have input, but at the same time you’ve got a scouting staff that has spent almost a year on evaluating these guys and you don’t want to lessen what they do. If you’re going to spend all that time and all that money on those guys doing it, you can’t just say you’re only going to listen to the coaches and what they want and what they say. It’s a balancing act for Buddy.”

Nix along with his scouting staff and coaching staff do everything they can to maximize the success rate on hitting on each and every one of the prospects they choose. Where it starts is relatively simple before they delve into the other areas of prospects that deal more with their football psyche.

“The first thing you have to consider and make up your mind about is whether he’s physically capable of doing what the position requires,” said Nix. “Is he athletic enough? Is he big enough? Is he fast enough? The second thing is is he smart enough? What are his intangibles, how hard will he work? All of those things you have to decide on before you make the pick.

“Then after you make it you make the right pick then you’ve got to do a good job of developing him with coaches teaching and strength coaches and all the things that help him develop. Then the third thing is he’s got to want it and want to be good. When we miss on a draft pick people always think it’s the scouting and personnel and a lot of times it is, and it does start with that, but there are other factors with so called busts.”

Gailey recalls how very different the situation was for him in the draft room the last time he was head coach of an NFL club. In Dallas as head coach of the Cowboys (1998-99), Gailey and his staff were able to provide input when it was requested.

“Jerry (Jones) runs the show,” said Gailey. “Let’s make no bones about it. He runs the show, but he owns the team. He can do whatever he wants. It’s his team. He did give us the ability to have a great deal of input and he did listen. If he felt strongly about something it didn’t matter what you thought, but if he didn’t have a strong feeling about it he would listen to us and he would take into account everything the coaches and scouts said about the direction of the team. Sometimes he gets a bad rap. He really does. He treated us well while we were there.”

The most difficult thing in providing one’s opinion according to Gailey is to keep the main goal of the draft in mind.

“I try to give my opinion, but if you make it personal and you’re a competitor then you get mad when you don’t get your way,” he said. “That’s just human nature, but sometimes that’s not the best way for the organization. We’re trying to make sure we’re making the best decision for the team.”

That’s why Buffalo’s brass has been working around the clock to ensure their choice for the organization is the best one they can make.

“It’s almost 24 hours a day that we’re trying to make sure we know everything there is to know,” said Nix. “People talk about how important the third pick is, but they don’t realize that you may, and I hope not, never pick that high again. So you need to make it count.

“We knew when we came here that we were going to build through the draft and that’s a slow process, but if you hit on those guys then they’re the backbone of your team. That’s what we did in San Diego and that’s what we look to do here. That’s what we did here the first time in the 90’s and it kept us competitive.”