Buffalo Bills President/CEO Russ Brandon
Buffalo Bills GM Buddy Nix
Buffalo Bills Senior VP of Communications Scott Berchtold
Tuesday, January 1, 2013
SB: The way that we will run this today and we typically do is we will bring up some of the people here from our organization and have some comments. Afterwards we will open it up for questions. At this time it is my great pleasure to introduce the new President and CEO of the Buffalo Bills Russ Brandon.
RB: I appreciate everybody having the opportunity to come out here. First of all, I want to wish everybody a happy New Year and take everybody through a little bit of what has gone on over the last 24 hours. First and foremost, I want to thank Mr. Wilson for this incredibly opportunity. Obviously I am honored and humbled in his confidence in me to lead this organization into a new era and provide a clear direction and winning pathway into the future. I want to tell you a little bit about when I went over and met with Mr. Wilson yesterday. We had a wonderful visit. It was a rather emotional visit. He told me he was passing the torch to me to run this franchise in totality. He has granted me full authority to run this franchise with zero restrictions and zero limitations.
We certainly understand and appreciate the frustration of our great fans and supporters. We have a couple supporters here today from the business community: CEO Jody Lomeo from ECMC, President of New Era Pete Augustine and obviously some of our other friends who we will get to later (such as) Thurman (Thomas), Ruben (Brown) and such. We acknowledge it; we own it and we will never run from it. This is an organization with a proud tradition, but I will tell you that this brand has been tarnished. Its relevancy has been tarnished and it is unacceptable because we just have not won enough games. As Buddy (Nix) says all the time, it is a production business. That is what we are in this for is to win games.
It is time to start, create and lead this franchise into the future with a new legacy. I make three promises to our fans. Number one, I can promise you that this will be a forward-thinking, progressive and attacking organization heading into the future. One of the items that I am going to spend a lot of time on with Buddy, with Doug Whaley and with Jim Overdorf is we are going to create and establish a very robust football analytics operation that we layer into our entire operation moving forward. That is something that is very important to me and very important to the future of this franchise.
I also will promise that anyone who knows me and has worked with me knows that I will leave no stone unturned in taking this organization to a world class level. My college coach used to say, I think Thomas Edison said this, my college coach used to say all of the time ‘You find me a satisfied man and I will show you a failure.’ The one thing about me and how we approach things is I am, and it probably is a little of a curse too and a blessing, but I am rarely satisfied. We will not sit on our hands until we take this to another level. That is certainly a promise that I provide our fans.
I will identify and I will hire world-class people to bring into this organization, but most importantly I will empower people to do their jobs. It is well-documented the success that this organization has had off the field for the past 15 years. I get a lot of credit for that. Where the credit comes and where it should go are to the people that run that operation on that side of the house. The Dave Wheat’s, the Bruce Popko’s, the Marc Honan’s and their staffs. I empower those people to do their job and I will empower the football people to do their job.
I am going to be real clear about one thing because I know you are going to ask it. I will not be drafting people. I will not be making the final decision on a free agent. I will empower the general manager, Buddy Nix, to do that. Do I have final authority and say? Yes. That is what Buddy Nix, the general manager, does. He identifies personnel. He runs that side of our operation. OK? I cannot be any clearer than that. I think my track record on that side of the house when you look at how we have run an organization we have had great, the overused word, continuity within our organization. We have been enormously successful. My goal with Buddy is to continue that legacy to bring in a top end head coach and keep developing our football side of the house. Hopefully we do not have to sit here many more times in the future.
I am going to address Buddy’s situation real quick because there has been a lot of incredibly false information that has been reported for some reason. Buddy Nix is our general manager. Buddy Nix will run the football operation much like he has run it for the last three years. When you look at where we are today compared to where we were three years ago, it is unquestioned that our personnel and our roster is in a much better position than it was three years ago—which makes this a very attractive opportunity. Buddy will come up here and address some things obviously when we go through that. I will take your questions and again, I appreciate everybody being here.
Q: Did people around here not have the ability to make decisions? You said you will empower people to do what they need to do. Were they not allowed to?
RB: Our organization moving forward is the structure that I mentioned. Mr. Wilson is a Hall of Fame owner. This organization and this community is blessed to have him. For us moving forward, that will go through me and to me alone. I welcome that opportunity.
Q: Is it going to be that much different though?
RB: It stops and starts with me.
Q: How much has Mr. Wilson been involved with what has gone on in the past year? Is this going be a tremendously different situation without his input?
RB: (Mr. Wilson) was over on Friday at our holiday party. He has not been traveling over as much. Buddy talks to him every day. I talk to him all of the time. Mr. Wilson has certainly been kept up to speed with what we are doing here. As I mentioned, Mr. Wilson has been a mentor to me. He has been a father figure to me, quite frankly. He is a dear friend of mine. I have had the pleasure to work for him for 16 years and I love the man dearly. Yesterday when he provided me the opportunity and told me that he was passing the torch to me to run the operation with no restrictions or limitations, it was a very daunting and emotional day. It is like I said; it now stops and starts, those final decisions, with me. Moving forward I will continue to run the operation like I have by empowering great people underneath me.
Q: Given that aside from a new coach you are maintaining continuity in the football operation side, what gives you confidence that you can turn this around?
RB: I think when you look at our roster and you look at our personnel it is much better than it was three years ago. A lot of people, and when I came to this organization I was blessed to work very closely with John Butler, who again John was a mentor and he was like a second dad to me. I learned so much from John. The guy who I spent probably more time with next to John was Buddy Nix. There is not a better evaluator of talent in my opinion when it comes to pure scouting than Buddy Nix. He has done it. He is a pure football man. He has played, he has coached and he has scouted. He knows football. He knows talent. He has sort of raised me in this business along with John. I have great admiration for Buddy. I believe in him 100-percent. We also have identified a good young man in Doug Whaley, which Buddy will talk about. We brought in Doug three years ago as assistant general manager from the Pittsburgh Steelers. Doug is a very forward-thinking, progressive young man who has done a lot in this business at a young age. Really has been a protégé of Buddy’s for the last three years.
Q: How is the head coaching search going to work and who is going to conduct the search?
RB: As soon as we get off this podium we go to work. I cannot wait to get off this podium. Buddy Nix, Doug Whaley, Jim Overdorf and myself will all head out of here and start that process. We will go through a thorough and exhaustive search. We will make the right decision. We are not focused on the quick decision.
Q: In 2009, this team in searching for a coach looked to make a big splash.
RB: It was reported that we were looking to make a big splash.
Q: Mr. Wilson told me in 2009 that he was willing to spend whatever it took to bring in a high profile coach. What is the philosophy going forward?
RB: I am going to speak to that and I am glad you asked that question. I get tired of listening to that we are not willing to spend money. OK? You can end that right now. If there is a coach that we identify or an individual that we identify that can help this organization take it to another level we will do that. When you look at what we have done over the past couple of years in trying to improve this roster, we have stayed with our philosophy of draft, develop and sign your core players. It is well-documented, we do not need to get into it today, all of the re-signings that we have made over the past few years. We have brought in
Q: How does this affect Ralph? For him to just basically turn it over, for him, is that a decision where he’s going to say I’m done basically? This is your thing. That’s part of it. And another part if you don’t mind slipping it in here is what is Jeff Littmann’s role going to be in this?
RB: I’ll answer the first one. Mr. Wilson isn’t traveling as much on a weekly basis over here as he has in the past. I think when looked at it from the day-to-day operation it’s difficult to manage from afar and he was very clear to me yesterday that it is now your responsibility moving forward. Jeff Littmann is a very close advisor, obviously to Mr. Wilson, but also to the organization. Jeff is one of the brightest men I have ever been around in my life. He has been involved in every aspect of our business from the lease to salary cap, and everything that involves our organization. Jeff will continue to be a trusted advisor of mine moving forward and I will utilize his talents in the optimum way because he is a brilliant, brilliant man.
Q: To the same degree, inside the organization he (Jeff Littmann) is viewed that way, the way you just outlined. I’ve talked to people outside the organization that view him as an obstacle for people that want to work here.
RB: Jeff Littmann wants to win, too. And I can promise you that. One of the things that our organization I think does a pretty good job of is we are not self-promoters. I’m not in every Sports Business Journal forum that you see every week in the League and Buddy’s not a self-promoter. And I can promise you Jeff Littmann isn’t. Jeff’s commitment is to be the CFO of this franchise and we all know what CFO’s do. I know Pete Augustine and Jody (Lomeo) can tell you what CFO’s do for their organizations. Jeff has never given me any other direction but to get it done. And I can tell you in my conversations yesterday that we had the exact same conversation. He said, “Russ, whatever you need to me to do to assist you in the process I’m here for you.” And he has been for 16 years.
Q: What will the (football) analytic department do? And what in your baseball experience led you to go in that direction?
RB: I’m going to sit down with Buddy, J.O. (Jim Overdorf) and Doug (Whaley) and talk about that. I was fortunate to be around some great people in baseball as well, when I was playing, but also when I was in the administrative side. And Dave Dombrowski is someone was someone when I was first starting out was a big-time mentor to me and Dave was all about scouting. And he was also about layering in the analytics to what the game presented. We’ve seen it in the NBA and we’ve seen it more in baseball. It’s starting to spruce its head a little bit in football and I feel that we’re missing the target if we don’t invest in that area of our operation. And we will. Jim Overdorf does a great job as our lead negotiator and managing the salary cap and we will sit down and really focus on layering that option into our football operation.
Q: With that in mind, is it important to find a head coach who buys into the analytic end of it?
RB: It’s important to find the right head coach for the Bills organization. We’ll talk about everything we’re looking for in a head coach and I know Buddy will speak to that as well.
Q: You talked about spending money… do you believe today’s move makes the team more relevant to anybody out there as a potential head coach maybe that you didn’t have three or six years ago?
RB: I think we have the best opportunity in the National Football League and I’m not saying that for newspaper clippings. We have a very robust roster and young core of talent. We have a brand new lease. We have a renovation package going into this stadium. We have a (potential) new stadium on the horizon. We have world class, great people in this organization that will be very focused on one goal and have one, clear direction. This is a plum opportunity.
Q: Could you comment on Doug Whaley’s role on now and then on the future going forward?
RB: I’ll have Buddy (Nix) speak to that.
Q: And head coaching qualities you’re looking for?
RB: When Buddy comes up, we’ll both speak to that.
Q: As it stands right now, we haven’t heard from Buddy yet, everybody with the exception of title changes and the head coach is still in place. Ralph owns the team… could you give some examples about how things are going to change?
RB: I’m not prepared to have specific examples now, but I am prepared to do a top-to-bottom full evaluation of everything that we do in this organization. Organizations win championships and people win championships. That’s an old Marv Levy saying, but it’s the truth. Everything you do in this organization has a part of how this organization is viewed and how people accept it. We’re going to look at everything. Buddy and I will do that collectively on the football side of the house. But as I mentioned, I’ll leave no stone unturned. We are going to get better. However we do it, we’re going to get better and I’ve had a lot of time and spent a lot of time with this guy (Buddy Nix) and we’ve talked about a lot of things over the last 24-hours as well as the rest of my staffs. The No. 1 focus right now is on the head coach.
Q: People hear the phrase CEO and they think that’s an all-encompassing role… how does this title or this promotion, what more can you do now that you couldn’t have done before?
RB: Mr. Wilson was the President. And Mr. Wilson obviously handed me the opportunity to accept the presidency title yesterday. That is a big thing in this organization and I do not take it lightly. From that standpoint, having the opportunity that he presented me is I mentioned earlier is a daunting responsibility that I look at with great pleasure and I will do everything on his behalf to make this right.
Q: You mentioned Mr. Wilson doesn’t travel as much. To whatever degree you’re comfortable with can you just update us on his health?
RB: He’s great. I talk to him all of the time. He was at the Christmas party on Friday; I think he was there longer than I was. I know he was there longer than Buddy was (jokingly). But the guy is incredible, an incredible leader and an incredible man.
Q: With the President title, correct me if I’m wrong, when Tom Donahoe was here was he considered the team President?
RB: Yea, Tom was team President and Tom ran everything relative to the organization. But Tom was also the general manager. And there’s one clear difference with this role for me than when Tom was here. He’s (Buddy Nix) the General Manager. He’s in charge of the football operation-Buddy Nix is. Buddy will have the autonomy to run the football operation moving forward as he has for the last three years. There’s really no difference. The only difference is he reports to me. That’s really the only difference.
Q: I want to take you back 24 years ago when you were at Silver Stadium working for the (Rochester) Red Wings selling tickets, jack of all trades, occasionally taking out trash at the stadium. If you were told that you’d be doing this now what would’ve been your reaction then?
RB: I think 24 years ago I was in the batter’s box… this has been an emotional 24 hours. There are a lot of things that have gone through my mind. Number 1 has been my parents and their support. I am from a working class neighborhood in East Syracuse, New York. My Dad climbed telephone poles for 30 years. I’m really the definition of regional because then I went to school in Rochester and lived in Buffalo. This is my dream job to work for the Buffalo Bills. And to have the opportunity to do this is incredible. But it’s been about people and the people along the way that have helped me from. I could sit here all day and talk about people who had an enormous impact in my life from my college football coach to my college baseball coaches to the athletic director at Saint John Fisher Bob Ward to Joe Altobelli who I learned more about life from Alto then maybe I’ve learned anything. He saw me play once in college and said, “No wonder you can’t consistently hit a curveball, so that’s why you better get in the administrative side.” And then as you guys have mentioned from Dan Lunetta to John Butler to Buddy to T.D. So many people have had such a big impact on me and I know I’m missing people. Twenty-four years ago no, I would’ve never dreamed I’d be sitting here in Buffalo. My goal was to be a team President. That was my goal when I got into this. I never dreamed I’d have the opportunity to do it in my home region.
Q: You mentioned Buddy will handle the football side. Where does the head coaching search fit into that?
RB: It’ll be a team effort and Buddy will lead the team.
Q: Could you talk about what yesterday’s trip and meeting with Mr. Wilson was like.
RB: I’ve prepared my whole life for this. Yes, as I mentioned it was emotional because of the relationship I have with Mr. Wilson. It was almost like a father passing the torch to his son type of environment. It was a great day.
Q: Were tears shed?
RB: I’m not going to get too far into that.
Q: Did you think this was what was going to happen?
RB: I was asked to come over and see him. I went over there with an open mind.
Q: There’s obviously changes here. From the outside it might look much the same other than the head coach. Buddy’s going to remain the GM. How much can one guy improve this organization? And if it can, why wasn’t it done sooner?
RB: That’s Mr. Wilson’s decision of when it’s done. I can sit up here and talk all day, but we’ve got to prove it. And that’s the bottom line. I remember we were sitting at training camp and everyone talked about a culture change and we talked about it then. We had high expectations for the year. We didn’t meet those expectations. We will do a full evaluation of why. It all comes down to there’s been too many unfulfilled promises. As I mentioned earlier, where we’ve been the last decade is completely unacceptable to everyone in this room associated with the Buffalo Bills starting with me, obviously with Buddy to Thurman Thomas, Ruben Brown to Steve Tasker back here – every single person that’s here. It is not acceptable. We have a global brand. Mr. Wilson, when he bought this team in 1960, Mr. Wilson was and I know it’s an old term, was the definition of the word sportsman. He bought it for his love of competition and his love of camaraderie. As you guys all know in 1960 he was a member of the Foolish Club and we have had success. Sometimes great success as the winningest team in the 1990s in the AFC and we need to get back to that. Where we’ve been since 1995 and 1996 is just unacceptable.
Q: What can you do to help fans buy in and not just buy hope?
RB: We have great fans, sometimes I am amazed at the level of support that we receive from our fans. I could sit up here with all sorts of different clichés, but I am not going to do that. The only way we are going to show our fans that we are serious is to prove that we are serious and win more games. That is the reality of it. As I promised earlier to our fans, we will not stop until we get it right. Now, I am in a position where I get to evaluate the evaluators. I am in a position where I get to evaluate every single thing that we do in this organization and if I don’t like it, we are going to change it. We are going to do every single thing we can to build this organization to a championship club, but also a franchise that has sustained success.
Q: You backed Chan Gailey in November, but now he was fired, how difficult was that decision and how closer is this team back to square one when a new coach comes in?
BN: It is hard to describe how hard yesterday was. Everybody, fans, talk about firing people -- it’s easy to say, ‘just fire the guy.’ You don’t think about the families, you don’t think about the kids out there. I have been on both sides and I can’t tell you how hard it was. It is as bad a day as you can have. As far as us being back to square one, I think the big thing - when we decided we were going to build this thing through the draft and sign our own guys and be a small player, for the most part, in free agency, that takes time. I think the thing that keeps us from being back at square one is the players we have, we have good depth. We have quality in our offensive line and defensive line. We have young players, we started six first- or second-year guys on defense and you are going to make mistakes doing that, but they are going to get better and they are good players. So, we just have to keep adding to them.
Q: Did you mind change after you voiced support for Chan Gailey earlier?
BN: Absolutely, I mean when I voiced support that is what it was. We were 3-3 at the time, what were you going to say, ‘we’re going to fire the coach at the end of the year.’ You might go to the playoffs, you might win all of it. Things change, and it changed some with us and when we kind of collapsed at the end. That made the difference.
Q: To be fair and accurate, you were 3-5 at the time, this was at the end of November.
BN: Well, I certainly want to be fair and accurate.
Q: What made you decide that Chan Gailey wasn’t the right guy for the head coaching job?
BN: First of all, Chan Gailey as we all know, is a class act and he worked as hard as a man could work. Anybody that we would have brought in, probably, at that time with the roster we had, plus we purged that roster the first year it would have been difficult. So, it wasn’t anything that Chan didn’t do, it was a matter of circumstances. The whole thing is we didn’t win enough games. We had a plan going in, just like in personnel, a transition plan. My hope was we could win enough games for three or four years and there would be somebody on the staff of a successful team that you could move up and you wouldn’t tear down everything, the same way in our personnel department. We wanted all that in place so we could make that transition. It didn’t work out, we just didn’t win enough games. It’s not anything on him, particularly.
Q: What is the plan with Doug Whaley moving forward?
BN: Our plan hasn’t changed with Doug (Whaley) since the day we hired him. I said the same thing when we hired him, we are bringing in a guy that is very experienced, he has done some really good things on good teams. He is a smart guy. He has the kind of character we want and he has got better every day. The plan is the same, we want somebody that the transition is going to be smooth and that can make the step and he can.
Q: When is that transition?
BN: Well, I will let you know when we announce it.
Q: There is a perception that this is a loss of power for you and that your time here is short.
BN: I don’t know who would perceive it that way, but maybe so. I think when you come in at 70 years old, you don’t expect a 20-year run, or I don’t. The whole thing when we started this thing is to get it on solid ground both in the personnel department and on our roster. We are going to continue to do that, but again, you are not talking about another 15 years.
Q: Who made the final decision on Chan Gailey and what are you looking for in the next head coach?
BN: It was an organizational decision, but ultimately it was mine. The first time when we went out looking for a head coach, we hadn’t been able to score many points. We kind of got ourselves in a position where we were talking about getting an offensive-minded coach, somebody to call the plays and we got all that. This time I think, as Russ said, it is open. We are going to try to get the best guy for the Bills that we can find.
Q: Talk to us about quarterback.
BN: It’s a long time until the draft and I like this time of year and I like getting ready for the draft and scouting. I’ve said we are going to try to draft a quarterback and we are. We may even get one in free agency, but we are going to draft a young quarterback at some point.
Q: What about
BN: The new coach will make a lot of that determination by looking tape and that kind of thing and we’ll let him be in, obviously, on the decision.
Q: How familiar are you with the football analytics operation?
BN: Not very, but I am going to get familiar.
Q: How does that affect your thinking on evaluating talent, as Russ said that is your best attribute?
BN: As Jerry pointed out, I am old school in more ways than one. So it’ll be something I have to get used to, because I go a lot on feel and what I see.
Q: In relation to Doug Whaley with so many teams looking for a new general manager and maybe inquiring about him, is there any mechanism in place to keep him here? Are you concerned that he might leave?
BN: I am kind of confident because he has turned them down before, but I would rather him answer that if you want to pass that on to him.
Q: In a head coach, last time you had wanted someone who was a head coach before. Is that still the case?
BN: I think the percentages of being successful is higher in a guy that has done it, but we are not going to limit that. We are going to be open-minded. It might be a college guy. It might be a coordinator. We are going to try to just make sure we get the best guy.
Q: Do you see QB Ryan Fitzpatrick being here next year? And if so, how do you plan to sell that?
BN: I am not selling it. If (Fitzpatrick) will be here it will be up to the new coach and us. We will decide as we evaluate at the end of the year here. I am not going to predict that.
Q: Can you clarify…it sounded like Mr. Brandon started out saying reports of a transition to Mr. Whaley were incorrect and then you insinuated that there would be a transition.
BN: Well obviously at some point there is going to be, isn’t there? You have to have a transition into something. A man only has got so much of this in him seven days a week about 15 hours a day.
Q: Is there a plan of transition in the near future like the next year or so?
BN: Well if there is we will let you know when that happens.
Q: Russ you used some pretty strong words when you talked about the brand and it being tarnished. You say you want to bring in world class people to the organization. How do you go about selling to these world class people that things here are changed?
RB: We have to prove it. That is one of the things, and Bucky (Gleason) asked a very similar question. We have to go out and win more games. We have to have a plan, a clear direction and a vision like I mentioned earlier. We have some stability moving forward with the lease. We have exciting plans around the facility, this facility along with the facility at Ralph Wilson Stadium. We have a lot to offer here, but when it comes down to where this franchise is headed it starts and stops with the roster. Buddy has done a hell of a job over the last three years in building the roster.
I want to address a couple of things that were mentioned that Buddy spoke to. Number one, he has no loss of power. I know that the perception, I think Jerry (Sullivan) might have asked that question, there is no loss of power. Buddy runs the football operation. His report is now to me. That is no loss of power. He runs the football operation, so that is number one. Number two, when I talk about football analytics—football analytics are a layer that we are going to continue to build into our salary cap management, to proficiency of how we handle that area of the business. That is part of the entire organizational process when you do evaluation of players. That is not going to impact Buddy whatsoever when it comes to his scouting acumen because it is unmatched. Moving forward with that, we are going to continue to build this organization. I am not going to stand up here after 24 hours on the job and lay out 15 different versions of what I plan to implement because quite frankly my sole focus has been in getting ready to get off this podium and go to work.