Buddy Nix simply a spectator for this year's NFL draft

Former Buffalo Bills general manager Buddy Nix, shown here in 2012, doesn't have to concern himself with an NFL draft for the first time since 1992, when he was in his ninth and final year as UTC's coach.

In late April 1992, Buddy Nix had wrapped up his ninth spring as coach of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football program and was turning the page to a season that would begin with a win at Boise State.

That was the last spring Nix didn't have to concern himself with the NFL draft.

Until this one.

Nix will simply be a television viewer tonight when the 2018 draft starts inside the Dallas Cowboys' AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The 78-year-old enjoyed a lengthy career in NFL front offices that included stints as general manager of the Buffalo Bills and assistant general manager of the San Diego Chargers, with the 2017 draft his last.

"I've been trying to get used to retirement," Nix said Wednesday afternoon. "It's been a different feeling, because this was always a hectic time. It's like playing in the playoffs or playing in the Super Bowl. For personnel guys, this is what it's all about.

"This is the week."

Nix came to UTC after assistant roles at Auburn and LSU, and his first job after coaching the Mocs was as a regional scout for the Bills, a position he held until 2000. He worked his first draft in 1993, when the event was eight rounds.

The top three picks that year were Washington State quarterback Drew Bledsoe, Notre Dame quarterback Rick Mirer and Georgia running back Garrison Hearst.

"There are a lot of the same things that make this interesting every year, and it starts with the quarterback position," said Nix, who was a guest of "Press Row" on Chattanooga's ESPN 105.1 FM. "It's amazing what a quarterback-driven league it is, or at least in our minds that's what it is. With Philadelphia doing what they did (to win the Super Bowl) without a game-changing quarterback kind of puts a different light on it, but, for the most part, everything revolves around that position.

"With the draft, either you draft a quarterback and have the advantage over everybody else, or you're always trying to get in position to get one. Probably 26 teams out of the 32 are in the latter position and trying to find a way to get one. If you're not careful, you'll reach for one of these guys, and it can set you back, but you have to take a shot to get one."

Nix was hired by San Diego and served as director of player personnel from 2001 to '07, earning the title of assistant GM in 2003. One of the most memorable drafts took place in 2004, when the Chargers had the top overall pick and wanted to select quarterback Eli Manning out of Ole Miss.

Manning did not want to play in San Diego, but the Chargers selected him and then traded him to the New York Giants for N.C. State quarterback Philip Rivers, who was the fourth overall pick. San Diego also got three more picks in that trade, including New York's first selection in 2005, which the Chargers used on eventual three-time Pro Bowl linebacker Shawne Merriman.

"I had my opinion, and everybody knew it," Nix said. "I didn't want to be dictated by Eli. We earned that first pick, because we were the worst team in the league, and if you earn it, you ought to be able to use it. I was determined to draft Eli whether he wanted to come or not, but the trade had already been decided by the time we did it.

"The two owners were old friends, and they got on the phone and came up with the deal. We sat there and listened. The one thing about the NFL is that whatever the owner wants, the owner gets."

Nix helped mold the Chargers into AFC West champions four times in a five-year stretch from 2004 to '08, highlighted by a 14-2 mark in 2006. He was lured back to Buffalo and became GM of the Bills during the 2010, 2011 and 2012 seasons.

He would not replicate the success he had in San Diego - the Bills went 4-12, 6-10 and 6-10 - and Buffalo remains the only NFL franchise yet to enjoy a 10-win season this century.

"Most teams are kind of like the Bills have been for years, which is kind of in purgatory," said Nix, who was a special assistant for the Bills after his run as GM ended in May 2013. "They win just enough games not to pick early because they're good everywhere else, so they wind up floundering trying to get that franchise quarterback. A lot of teams are in that situation."

Nix believes the Bills could trade tonight with Denver to move up from No. 12 to No. 5 to snag a quarterback, but he quickly added that swapping with the Giants to move up to No. 2 would be "giving up too much."

There are those who watch the draft and those who watch the draft intently, and Nix likely will be in the latter category after several weeks that did not include attending the combine or any pro days.

"It's been a long winter," he said. "If I can't get out and play golf or work out, there is not much else for me to do. After 57 years as either a coach or in personnel, it's been kind of strange."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.