ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. - Doug Whaley was promoted to take over as Buffalo Bills general manager, making the team's near top-to-bottom off-season overhaul complete.
The much-anticipated decision to elevate Whaley from his position as assistant GM was announced Thursday, three days after Buddy Nix stepped down as GM.
The 40-year-old Whaley has spent the past three years being groomed for the job. After working in various scouting capacities with the Bills, Whaley's influence grew this off-season. He had input in hiring coach Doug Marrone in January, and in the team's decision to select Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel in the first round of the draft last month.
In becoming the Bills' 12th GM and fifth in 12 years, Whaley's challenge now becomes turning around a franchise that has not finished with a winning record since 2004, and has not made the playoffs in 13 years — the NFL's longest active drought.
"We're not going to run from (the past), but what we're going to do is look forward," Whaley said. "We are very proud of what we've got as a team, as a coaching staff and as an organization. And we're just looking to go onward and upward."
And he wasn't afraid of using the word "championship."
"Our main goal is to give the fans of the Buffalo Bills a team that consistently competes for championships," Whaley said.
Though it was unclear when Nix would step down, the Bills began laying the groundwork for the transition in February by signing Whaley to a long-term contract extension.
"Doug has every quality you look for in a leader," team president Russ Brandon said. "We're committed to one common goal and that is one focus, a laser focus, and that is winning. Period. Nothing else matters to either one of us. Winning is what it's all about."
Among Whaley's first priorities will be negotiating to sign star safety Jairus Byrd. Though the Bills secured Byrd's rights by placing a franchise tag on him this off-season, the player has yet to sign his contract.
Byrd is instead holding out in a bid to secure a long-term deal.
"He's a good player. We want to keep him, and we're going to negotiate with him," Whaley said. "Hopefully, everything will be where we need it to be, when we need it to be."
He's also preparing to open talks in a bid to re-sign centre Eric Wood, who is entering the final year of his contract.
Whaley, who is black, snaps an NFL trend this off-season during which no minorities were hired to fill eight coaching and seven general manager vacancies. He becomes the Bills first black GM and the league's sixth.
From Pittsburgh, he spent 12 seasons working in various capacities as a scout with the Steelers.
Whaley played both linebacker and safety at Pitt and broke into the NFL in 1995 as a Steelers pro personnel assistant. He then spent three years as a scout with the Seattle Seahawks, before returning to Pittsburgh.
He's leaning heavily on his experiences with the Steelers, one of the NFL's most stable and competitive franchises.
"My formative years in this business were being part of the Steelers, and the one thing that the Steeler organization is all about is championships," Whaley said. "They don't accept losing. They set the standard of winning and competing for championships. And I think if we instil that here, we'll be in the right direction."
Whaley's promotion comes at a time when the Bills are essentially starting from scratch in rebuilding what Brandon described as having a "tarnished" reputation.
Brandon began the transition immediately after the season ended, when he was elevated by team owner Ralph Wilson to his new position and awarded full control of the entire organization. Brandon's first moves were firing Chan Gailey and then hiring Doug Marrone less than a week later.
The next step in the transformation becomes Whaley.
"It's all about what we do moving forward. And with Doug at the helm as our general manager and coach Marrone, we feel very good about our future," Brandon said. "I can stand up here and talk about it all day, but it comes down to results and proving it."
Whaley will be responsible for the roster and also formulating the Bills' draft strategy. Jim Overdorf, senior vice-president of football administration, will continue in his role as the team's chief negotiator and salary-cap manager, who answers directly to Brandon.
The Bills are a very young team. They have only nine players on the roster who have been with the team since before the 2010 season.
In drafting Manuel, the Bills hope to have addressed a quarterback position that's been unsettled since Hall of Fame standout Jim Kelly retired following the 1996 season.
Whaley's first moves as GM was adding to his staff. He hired Jim Monos as director of player personnel and Kelvin Fisher as director of college scouting.
Monos spent the past eight years working as an area scout with the New Orleans Saints.
Fisher joins the Bills after spending the previous 13 seasons in various capacities as a scout with the Steelers.