It’s an undertaking that only those with enough self-confidence and belief in the people around them would accept. Beginning the process of pulling a Buffalo Bills franchise out of a decade long playoff drought might not seem all that appealing to some, but for Assistant GM and Director of Pro Personnel Doug Whaley it was a new challenge that was too enticing to pass up.
“It’s definitely a change,” Whaley told Buffalobills.com. “Change is sometimes uncomfortable, but sometimes necessary and I think it’s a good change. I’ve been in Pittsburgh a long time and this opportunity came up so I’m treating it as a challenge and new chapter in my life. It’s something where I can take what I’ve learned from my Pittsburgh roots and implement it here in Buffalo.”
Pittsburgh born and bred, Whaley grew up in a football family with an older brother (Bob Jr.) that played the game, a dad (Bob Sr.) that coached him and a mom that supported him (Gaynell). Whaley admitted he, like any other Steel Town kid, dreamed of playing pro football. Come the end of his college career at Pitt however, he saw his chances of carving out a career in the NFL were far from promising. So with a business degree in hand he took a job on Wall Street never thinking about a career in the game he had played for most of his life.
“Not at all,” said Whaley. “I had a chance to be a graduate assistant at Pitt when I left to get into the coaching field. Coaching was just not my cup of tea and I didn’t really even think about the personnel side. At the time I just didn’t know much about it and wasn’t exposed to it.”
That is until he was helping a Pittsburgh high school coach out one summer when the team’s defensive coordinator discussed with him a career in personnel. At the close of the conversation he was encouraged to send a resume to the Steelers front office to apply for an internship in the personnel department.
“After I sent the resume about a week later I got the form letter that everybody gets thanking me for my interest so I didn’t think anything of it,” Whaley said. “So after about eight or nine months in New York it was probably May or June my mom said that Tom Donahoe called and I called him back, interviewed and got the job.”
But what about his job on Wall Street?
“It was one of those things where it was a one-year internship and the company I was at in New York told me that I had a year of inactivity permitted on your license, so they encouraged me to try it and they said they’d hold my spot, and if I didn’t like it I could come back. So it was kind of a no brainer for me.”
Whaley worked under Director of Pro Personnel Charles Bailey and Director of College Personnel Tom Modrak.
“It was similar to being a sous-chef for the most famous chef in the world,” he said. “You are just happy to have the opportunity to try to be a sponge and absorb every bit of information from those guys as possible. If you follow their guidance you’re bound to be as successful as they are.”
As an intern Whaley naturally did a lot of the grunt work, shuttling prospective players to and from the airport and organizing player database files, but he was afforded some opportunities to scout players as well. In fact the first player he ever scouted was former Bills guard Chris Villarrial.
“You have to start from the ground up and that was a great experience,” said Whaley. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Whaley quickly came to understand the so called Steeler way and fell right in line with its principles.
“Everything they’re about and what they portray to the public is not just a front. It’s truly genuine. They’re people that care about people first and the business second,” he said. “They exemplify the class you hope to find in an organization. They treat people professionally.”
After leaving for a three-year stint as a Northeast scout for the Seattle Seahawks (1996-98), Whaley returned to the Steelers organization after landing the job of Pro Scouting Coordinator previously held by his mentor Charles Bailey, who took an Assistant GM position with the New Orleans Saints.
Whaley admits he was still a bit green at the time being just 27-years old, but he was confident he could succeed in his new position.
“Did I think I was ready? I was ready to learn how to get the job done and I knew the basics of it from interning,” said Whaley. “I knew the job description, what it entailed, what it took, but with any job there’s nothing better than experience. Knowing the people around me and their willingness to help me and the people I could call including the man that left to be an Assistant GM Charles Bailey, I could always call him and he would reference things for me and let me know how he did things and what I might think about in that situation. So I had a nice support system where I never felt like I was drowning.”
Ten years later with two Super Bowl titles on his resume Whaley’s name became a popular one for NFL clubs looking to add an important piece to their front office. When presented with the opportunity in Buffalo, a lot of what Whaley heard from Buddy Nix and Chan Gailey reminded him of the Pittsburgh model he had come to embrace.
“I think it’s very similar,” Whaley said. “I think it’s one of those things where there’s an emphasis on building through the draft and establishing a foundation. That’s how you can consistently compete for championships. I see that that’s what we’re doing here. We’re not trying to get a quick fix in free agency, not over drafting to force a square peg in a round hole when we can just get the best player available. You can never have too many good players even at one position.
“That’s why Buddy, Chan and I are on the same plane. It’s about getting good football players. People want to see good football players. They don’t want to come and see a stadium. They don’t want to come and see signs. They want to come and see good football players.”
In his current role Whaley will deal directly with Nix and Gailey on personnel and roster decisions while monitoring the talent across the NFL. In addition to overseeing the Pro Scouting operation at One Bills Drive, Whaley will also participate in some college scouting as well. He believes there’s an inherent benefit to being involved in both areas of personnel.
“It appeals to me because when you’re doing the pros only you can never really get a firm grasp on (everything). The more guys I see in college before they get to the pros I have a background on them. It gives me a jump on guys once I see them in the pros,” he said. “It’s about not only seeing what’s playing at the pro level, but what’s coming up from the college level. It helps me expand my knowledge and gives me a jump on guys.”
In his short time in Buffalo Whaley has made a quick transition and found a comfort zone in which to work despite being out of his hometown element since the time he worked on Wall Street. He sees a lot of similarities between Pittsburgh and Buffalo as cities and with their respective fan bases.
But what has been most important to Whaley’s successful transition is the direction of the Bills franchise.
“I just see the blueprint being laid here that I’m comfortable with and used to and have subscribed to for the last 11 years,” he said. “Go out and get solid contributing veterans that can start and will be here for most of their contracts and draft the best players available. And that’s the recipe that once I heard that from Buddy and Chan I signed on and they haven’t deviated from that plan since they got here.
“If you can go out and find good football players and try to be as consistent as possible and you combine it with good coaching, which we have with Chan, then you have a chance. Are you going to go undefeated? No. But you’re always going to have a chance to be in each game. And that’s the main philosophy that I’ve picked up through all my years in football.”