Some NFL teams, such as the one on which Doug Whaley learned the personnel side of the pro-football business, are religiously devoted to roster-building through the draft.
For these teams, free agency is viewed warily, more for back-filling the roster than goosing it.
As pro scouting coordinator with the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1999 to 2009, Whaley saw how that could work — gloriously. As in two Super Bowl wins.
But after his promotion Thursday to GM of the Buffalo Bills, the 40-year-old Whaley said in a telephone interview he won’t be close-minded in his talent searches.
“Our philosophy is just to accumulate good players,” Whaley said. “We’ll go and get them through the draft, or free agency, or picking them off through the waiver wire.
“Every day we’re going to evaluate what’s out there, and how we can make our roster better. I’m a firm believer — don’t limit yourself.”
It sure didn’t take the Bills long to replace Buddy Nix — who stepped aside on Monday. But, really, that was three days too long. The whole world knew Whaley was in line to get that job, and it was pointless to separate the announcements.
Thursday was mere formality.
Whaley left the Steelers for the Bills organization in February 2010, to become Nix’s assistant GM and director of pro personnel. The latter title was elevated to director player personnel just a year later.
Whaley signed a contract extension three months ago, which all but rubber-stamped his ascension upon Nix’s departure.
New Bills president Russ Brandon said during Thursday’s news conference at club headquarters that he has known Whaley since the two became friends at an NFL management seminar at Stanford University about seven years ago.
“I am thrilled for Doug,” Brandon said. “He deserves this opportunity. I have watched him work very closely for the last three-and-a-half years.
“Doug has every quality you look for in a leader. He has great work ethic. He is tireless at work, he is one of the most humble guys I have ever met, and everything is about ‘us’ … I have never heard an individual in this league say one negative word about Doug Whaley. He is the perfect guy to lead this organization and lead our football operation.”
Whaley played college football at Pitt. Two years later, in 1995, he became an assistant in the Steelers pro-personnel department. From 1996-98 he was the East Coast area scout for the Seattle Seahawks, before returning to the Steelers in the increased role.
Whaley has no small task in turning around the fortunes of the Bills, the NFL franchise mired in the longest playoff drought — 13 years. To say Western New Yorkers are impatient for immediate success is like saying Leafs fans wouldn’t mind a berth in the Stanley Cup Final.
Whaley admitted the temptation to quickly jack the current roster for new head coach Doug Marrone and his staff, at the possible expense of the long-term, is something he will have to carefully weigh.
“I think the thing you have to let everybody in the organization know, and everybody outside the organization, is we want to win — that’s our goal,” Whaley said. “But we also want to win consistently. So, yeah, there’s going to be a balancing act.
“We don’t want to sacrifice the short-term for the long-term, nor the long-term for the short-term. Our main focus is consistency.”
Whaley wasted no time in shaking up his player-personnel department, hiring two outsiders at the get-go — director of player personnel Jim Monos (from the New Orleans Saints) and director of college scouting Kelvin Fisher (from the Steelers) — in addition to a few internal shuffles.
Whaley himself played a greater role in the past two Bills drafts than he had in 2010 and 2011 — perhaps more than people realized.
“I had a little more input and influence in setting up the draft board,” Whaley said. “It was still Buddy’s pick, but I was the one that put the magnet on the board, and Buddy (maybe) pulled it off.
“My drafting philosophy is to get people who are competitive, love to play football and who are productive.”
And how does he gauge that?
“A lot of the times you can see by how they play. It comes through. The production will be obvious. How they attack not only practices but conditioning and stuff — that will let you know how much they love the game.”
Ideally, as much as Whaley.
2013 is going to wind up being a helluva year for Whaley. He and wife Stephanie are expecting their first child in mid-December.
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BILLS’ LAST TWO CANADIAN TARGETS GOT AWAY
With the recent success in the NFL of such ex-CFLers as Miami Dolphins’ all-pro pass rusher Cameron Wake and Seattle Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner, shouldn’t the border-city Buffalo Bills cast their scouting eyes north too?
Well, they already do.
“I think we’ve always put an emphasis on scouting the Canadian league, along with (Canadian) colleges and the Arena League,” Doug Whaley told me over the phone on Thursday, shortly after being named the club’s 12th GM.
“With our proximity I think it gives us a leg up. Unfortunately the last couple of guys (we targeted) we’ve not been able to get, for one reason or another.”
Wake starred for the B.C. Lions in 2007-08 before the Dolphins scooped him up. Browner was a standout with the Calgary Stampeders from 2007-10.
Some guy name Doug Flutie didn’t turn out too badly after a glittering CFL run. That is, until the Bills inexplicably benched Flutie for the team’s infamous Music City Miracle playoff loss in Tennessee. Buffalo hasn’t reached the playoffs since.