For the first time in three decades, Buddy Nix wasn't on site to watch the close of the NFL combine Tuesday in Indianapolis. He instead viewed it from his Ooltewah home, content that endless television coverage and the detailed data he received each evening would suffice.
"A man flies 250,000 miles a year for 10 to 12 years, that's enough," said Nix, who semi-retired from the Buffalo Bills nine months ago, going from general manager to special assistant.
"I'm going to six or seven pro days around the Southeast the next week or so. I'll be in Auburn on Tuesday. I'll also go to Alabama, Georgia, Georgia Tech and either Tennessee or South Carolina, since they're scheduled for the same day. I'm just not planning on going anywhere I can't drive."
The former coach of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Mocs is 74 now, though he looks at least 10 years younger than that.
"But when I stepped down as GM last year, I made a deal that I didn't have to travel unless I wanted to," he said. "Thanks to technology, I can pretty much do everything from my home office that I could do if I was there. And if I want to, I've got workout equipment at home or I can play nine quick holes at Council Fire."
If it sounds like a pretty good life, it is. But few have earned it more than Nix, whose personnel decisions during his days with the San Diego Chargers are still paying dividends for that franchise and whose leadership with the Bills has built a solid foundation for future success.
"We wanted to build around defense," said Nix, who returned to the Bills in 2009 after spending eight years with that organization from 1993 to 2000 after his UTC coaching career ended. "And we have. But you don't get much time these days. With most teams, if the coach isn't winning by his third year, he might be gone."
The Tennessee Titans have just watched that exact scenario do in Mike Munchak, the franchise's former offensive line coach and Hall of Fame player who's now back coaching offensive linemen for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
But it was a defensive lineman who got most of the media attention at the combine, Mizzou pass rusher Michael Sam locked in the limelight after proclaiming two weeks ago that he is gay.
Until that announcement the 24-year-old Sam was projected as a mid-round pick. After a mediocre 40-yard dash time of 4.91 (19th out of 42 linemen), a weak bench press and a three-cone-drill time of 7.80 seconds that was 26th out of 36 participants in that agility test, Nix feared Sam's draft stock might plummet.
"There's a possibility he won't [make an NFL roster]," Nix said. "But it won't have anything to do with his sexual preference. There have been gay players in NFL locker rooms for more than 40 years. I know it wouldn't be a problem in our locker room in Buffalo.
"The problem for Sam is where do you play him? He might make it as a situational pass rusher. We have one of those in Buffalo with Jerry Hughes. But there's no way he'd beat out Jerry Hughes."
One example why: Hughes's 40-yard dash time is 4.69, more than two-tenths of a second faster than Sam.
As for the rest of the combine, Nix said, "It was about what we expected."
Not that he wasn't impressed.
"Every year it gets more unbelievable that these athletes can do what they do," he said. "They're bigger, faster, stronger. There's a lot of talent out there."
And, as always, much of it seems to be in Nix's native Southeast, and most of that from the Southeastern Conference.
"There were 71 players from the SEC at the combine," he said. "That's roughly a fourth of the players who were invited. The talent is just better down here."
Yet even with the NFL draft just 72 days away, Nix is spending his time evaluating current NFL talent.
"I'm studying unrestricted free agents right now," he said. "I'll probably end up writing reports on 120 of them."
At some point soon, he and Diann will return to their second home in Buffalo, the one where the snow remains "within a foot of the top of our mailbox. The snow stays on the ground there until May. It doesn't melt. But it's not like here. In four or five years I think they may have closed the airport one time."
How long this will last is anyone's guess. When in Buffalo he misses spending time with his kids and grandkids. And despite playing golf more than he has in years, Nix insisted, "I'm getting worse as I get older."
But as Tuesday's phone conversation drew to a close, the ol' UTC ball coach -- the last coach to guide the Mocs to the playoffs, by the way, back in 1984 -- was asked whom he's most excited to check out at Auburn next week.
"Dee Ford," he said, his voice filled with newfound energy as he discussed the defensive end. "He's such a tenacious player. Great dedication. Great motor. I can't wait to get down there and see him."
That golf game could get even worse before it gets better.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 ...