Semi-retired from football for the first time in 53 years, Buddy Nix returned home to Chattanooga around 9:30 Thursday morning. Five hours later, the just-retired general manager of the Buffalo Bills was on his way to a long weekend at Alabama's Lake Martin.
"There's probably never a good time personally to leave a job you love," said the 73-year-old Nix. "But when you take [the GM] job when you're 70, you know you need an exit plan. I never planned to do this until I was 100.
"From an organizational standpoint, this was the right time. And I'm really excited to finally be home more, to spend more time with Diann, our kids and our grandkids."
The first of those grandkid moments came Saturday, when Nix helped grandson Sawyer celebrate his ninth birthday with seven or eight other youngsters at the lake house.
"If it gets too loud," Nix said with a chuckle, "I'll just disappear for a little while."
It would be hard to too loudly praise the career of Nix, who coached the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Mocs from 1984 to 1992, the first of those seasons producing UTC's only NCAA playoff appearance.
An SEC assistant at LSU and Auburn before arriving in the Scenic City, Nix forever was the epitome of the old-time Southern football coach -- quick with quips, slow to publicly criticize, slower to gloat.
Perhaps that's why Buffalo area sports writer Brian Galliford wrote Saturday of Nix's three-year stay as GM: "[Nix] filled a vital role in bringing credibility back to an organization that had very little when his job began."
Credibility carried him far after his coaching career with the Mocs ended in the fall of 1992. Nix almost immediately resurfaced as a college scout for the Bills in 1993, perhaps because he'd had the good sense at UTC to sign the gifted Terrell Owens after watching him play basketball.
Seven years later Nix became the San Diego Chargers' director of player personnel and assistant GM. When that ended in 2009, he returned to Buffalo, where he soon was named general manager.
A single stat to show his personnel skills with the Chargers: In 2006, 11 players drafted by Nix were selected to the 2007 Pro Bowl.
And given more time, he might have put up similar numbers in Buffalo. But when you're 73 years old, when your wife and family are 800 miles away and, in Nix's words, "I'd go six weeks at a time without seeing Diann, and that's just not right," the desire wanes to leave a Hall of Fame professional legacy.
That said, if you're looking for four names with longtime Chattanooga ties to put on your Mount Rushmore of Scenic City football -- to borrow one of my boss's favorite terms -- you could do worse than have Nix join NFL Hall of Famer Reggie White and College Football Hall of Famers Scrappy Moore and Merv Pregulman.
(Side note: Former Baylor School star John Hannah would be an easy choice thanks to his stunning seasons at Alabama and in the NFL, but he only boarded in Chattanooga for a few years while White, Moore, Nix and Pregulman all called our town their home for 20 years or longer.)
How special is this place to Nix? Asked last week to clear up the biggest misconception about Buffalo, he said, "The people. Everyone talks about the snow and the cold, but the people are the greatest in the world. The people are fantastic. There's not an NFL town anywhere that's closer to being a college town than Buffalo."
He then swiftly corrected that statement to add, "Well, maybe not THE greatest people, because Chattanooga is pretty special. Chattanooga is home."
So now he's back home, at least part of the time. He'll still get full benefits from the organization for a couple of years, will have live feeds from practices in order to help evaluate the team in his new role as special assistant, will still attend all home games and as many road games as he chooses.
"They gave me a deal that was hard to turn down," he said.
As for the Internet flap a few weeks ago regarding what Nix believed to be a private conversation between himself and the Jacksonville Jaguars, he said, "I just talked to the FBI. These guys tapped the phones and recorded our conversation for a sleazy website. They didn't do us any damage, but that's the kind of stuff that's going on out there. It gets old."
After reaching four straight Super Bowls -- an NFL record -- from 1990 to '93, the losing has gotten old in Buffalo, where the Bills haven't reached the playoffs since 1999, when they lost to the Tennessee Titans due to the "Music City Miracle."
"I really believe we're there," Nix said. "Everybody says this, but we were literally three or four plays from 9-7. We're headed in the right direction. We didn't have a single arrest the whole time I was there. We've completely overhauled this team from three years ago. It just takes time, even if nobody wants to hear that."
Nor does Nix want to hear any suggestions that he resurface as a youth league coach for any or all of his nine grandchildren.
"If I wanted to coach, I'd have stayed in it and gotten paid for it," he said.
Instead, he'll reacquaint himself with his golf game -- "I live on a golf course in Buffalo but haven't played a round in two years" -- and try to stay out of Diann's way at home.
And he'll do it all with no regrets.
"It's just been such a blessing," he said, "to be able to do what you want to do all your life."
Contact Mark Wiedmer at email@example.com.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...