Russ Brandon

XFL Hires Russ Brandon, Doug Whaley, Marc Ross

By the time the XFL returns for its third launch, two years without major spring football will have passed. But the Dwayne Johnson-spearheaded league remains intent on restarting again in 2023.

XFL 3.0 made some notable hires recently. Former Bills CEO Russ Brandon is coming aboard as the league’s president, Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com notes. In addition to Brandon’s post, the XFL is hiring ex-Giants exec Marc Ross as executive VP and will bring back another ex-Bills GM in Doug Whaley to work with Ross.

This marks a return to a major post for Brandon, whose 20-plus-year Bills tenure ended in 2018. Brandon worked as Bills GM in the late 2000s but was with the franchise from 1997-2018. Brandon held an advisory role with RedBird Capital Partners, which joined Johnson in buying the XFL out of bankruptcy.

An 11-year Giants staffer, Ross interviewed for the team’s GM job that went to Dave Gettleman. After landing the gig, Gettleman fired Ross, who landed with the NFL Network. Ross, who also worked with Brandon in Buffalo, rose to the post of Giants college scouting director. He will oversee on-field operations, Seifert adds.

Whaley was with the XFL during its second launch, under Vince McMahon in 2020, and worked with Brandon in Buffalo during his four-season GM stay. The Bills parted ways with Whaley after the 2017 draft.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Coaching/FO Notes: Jets, Texans, Ware

A week after the Texans made the move to bring Jets executive Matt Bazirgan into the fold as their director of player personnel, the Jets will hire one of the staffers the Texans axed after the draft. Former Houston college scouting director Jon Carr will assume the same position in New York, Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle reports. Carr spent over a decade with the Texans, rising from the scouting level to his most recent post with the AFC South franchise. Carr has a history with Jets GM Mike Maccagnan, with the two working together with the Texans for several years. Carr ended up replacing Maccagnan as the Texans’ director of college scouting in 2015 when the Jets named Maccagnan their GM.

Here’s the latest from the managerial side of the game, shifting back to Houston’s revamped scouting department.

  • The Texans hired Saints scout C.J. Leak to be their assistant director of pro scouting, per John McClain of the Houston Chronicle. Leak spent two years as the Saints’ Combine scout and prior to that spent eight years with the Bills, working in their pro personnel department.
  • The NFL closed an investigation into former Bills president Russ Brandon, who resigned from his post recently, and the longtime executive can move forward without any punishment. Brandon was accused of having inappropriate relationships with female employees. “We are satisfied the club addressed the matter in a timely, thorough and appropriate manner,” the league’s statement read, via NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport (on Twitter). “There will be no further action by the league office.” Brandon worked for the Bills for more than 20 years.
  • After drafting Bradley Chubb to fill the void DeMarcus Ware‘s retirement created, the Broncos reached out to Ware in hopes of the future Hall of Famer helping out on a part-time basis this summer, Mike Klis of 9News reports. Denver also contacted other former NFLers, but Ware is the only known name the to whom the team has reached out. The Broncos’ goal appears to be for these retired players to work as consultants during some OTA sessions and a few additional training camp dates. Ware played the final three seasons of his career with the Broncos, his tenure obviously peaking with a 3.5-sack postseason en route to Denver’s Super Bowl 50 title. Klis writes that it can be safely assumed Chubb would be Ware’s primary project if he accepts.
  • Kris Richard oversaw the final years of the Seahawks‘ full defensive core, but the team fired him after last season. Now working as the Cowboys’ defensive backs coach, the 38-year-old assistant is grateful for the opportunity, even if it is not a coordinator role. “I love (Cowboys DC Rod) Marinelli. It will work because I think we’re cut from the same cloth,” Richard said, via Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News (on Twitter). “I’m truly grateful to be here. I’m truly grateful for him.” Richard’s spent his only seasons as an NFL staffer with the Seahawks, with the former NFL player entering his ninth season as a coach. Richard interviewed for the Colts’ HC job before signing on to work under Marinelli in Dallas.

Russ Brandon Steps Down As Bills’ Prez

Russ Brandon is out as the Bills’ president. Brandon has resigned his post as the managing partner and president Pegula Sports and Entertainment following an internal investigation into his workplace behavior, two sources tell Tim Graham of The Buffalo News

Kim Pegula will take over the the Bills’ new president in what seems to be a permanent role, tweets Graham. The club is not planning to open a search for external candidates.

I have been contemplating transitioning out of my role for some time,” said Brandon, who is in his early 50s. “My goal when the Pegula’s purchased the franchise was to reach 20 years with the Bills in which I achieved this past November. Given where we are from a timing standpoint, particularly with the conclusion of the NFL Draft, now seems like the time to make that transition. As grateful as I am for the amazing experience and the incredible people I’ve had the privilege to work with the past two decades, I am just as anxious for the professional opportunities that lie ahead.”

Brandon has been with the Bills since 1997 serving in a variety of high-ranking roles, including GM. After last year’s offseason shakeup which included the hiring of coach Sean McDermott and GM Brandon Beane, Brandon lost much of his control in the front office.

Two sources with knowledge of the investigation tell Graham that Brandon has been accused of inappropriate relationships with female employees. When confronted by owner Pegula, the sources said, Brandon denied the allegations. However, the investigation found that Brandon was less than truthful about what transpired and uncovered other issues.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Fallout From Bills’ Front Office Shakeup

The Bills deciding to trade out of their No. 10 slot, when the Chiefs surrendered their 2018 first-rounder to headline a package that netted them Patrick Mahomes, indicated Doug Whaley was not going to be around much longer, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports notes. Buffalo moving down 17 spots — a move the Bills were believed to be pushing for prior to the draft — signaled a long-term plan more than one designed to help an embattled GM’s team win now. (However, Chiefs GM John Dorsey told B.J. Kissel of KCChiefs.com — Twitter link — Whaley was involved in talks that originated early this week.)

Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com notes the Bills’ chaotic front office situation goes back to 2014, when Terry and Kim Pegula took over and were surprised when Doug Marrone exercised an opt-out option that garnered him $4MM and left the Bills without a coach despite having completed a rare over-.500 season in 2014. The current Jaguars HC’s 9-7 campaign, aided the Patriots resting starters in Week 17 of that season, represents the most the Bills wins since 2004.

La Canfora notes Whaley has not gotten along especially well with any of his coaches, describing less-than-ideal relationships with both Marrone and Rex Ryan, and the one with Sean McDermott did not take off. Bill Polian declined to join the Bills in January of 2015, and La Canfora notes that decision kept Whaley in charge and helped lead to Marrone bolting on his contract.

Now running the show in Buffalo, McDermott was not happy the Patriots plucked Stephon Gilmore in free agency, La Canfora writes. The RFA decisions on Chris Hogan and Mike Gillislee did not help, either. The CBS-based reporter notes some of Pegula’s confidants advised him to fire Whaley years ago. The Bills signed Whaley to an extension last year, however.

A source categorized the Bills’ draft room this weekend as “one of the weirdest three days,” per Breer, due to the fact a leadership component wasn’t entirely present. McDermott, though, was the one who was providing the final say, Breer reports. The first-year HC was given autonomy to remove prospects from the draft board as well. Pegula said today Whaley put together the draft and the organization decided to fire him after the three-day event, Mike Rodak of ESPN.com relays.

Scouts were upset with Ryan’s program last year, Breer notes, adding that Bills coaches felt some of Whaley’s draft decisions — be it the trade-up for Sammy Watkins or selection of injury-risk Shaq Lawson — didn’t fit the schemes they were using. As for Watkins, it’s possible the Bills made his injury situation worse. Breer reports that the wideout’s foot injury was too severe for him to complete walkthroughs, but no one put a stop to his comeback attempt, and the pain worsened as he pushed through it to lead to a two-month shutdown. Watkins returned for the final six games but only cleared 80 receiving yards twice, albeit on a run-centric team. Already rumored to be set to decline Watkins’ fifth-year option, the Bills are probably more likely to go in that direction now that Whaley is gone, Jason Fitzgerald of OverTheCap tweets.

Further complicating things with McDermott: Anthony Lynn was Whaley’s first HC choice, according to Breer, and ownership went with the former Panthers DC — with whom Whaley did not have much of a relationship — while letting Lynn proceed to the Chargers’ job. Tyrod Taylor‘s return on an adjusted deal also went against Whaley’s wishes and was more in line with new OC Rick Dennison‘s. The latter was the Broncos’ OC when the team pursued Taylor in 2015.

As far as the selection of the next GM, the Pegulas might not lean on team president Russ Brandon too much, with Terry Pegula saying today the owners would ask Brandon questions if they believed they need to (Twitter link via Breer). Former Eagles president and Browns CEO Joe Banner understandably expects the new GM to be someone with close ties to McDermott, the longtime exec told Sirius XM Radio (Twitter link). Panthers assistant GM Brandon Beane could well become a candidate.

Rex Ryan On Rumored Playoff Ultimatum

In January, Bills owner Terry Pegula announced that head coach Rex Ryan and general manager Doug Whaley would be returning to the team for the 2016 season. However, according to one report, Pegula also told the duo that they would be let go after the 2016 season if they were unable to guide Buffalo into the playoffs. Rex Ryan (Featured)

Soon after, the Bills locked up both Ryan and Whaley on multi-year extensions that could keep them in Buffalo through the 2019 season. While those deals would seem to be pretty solid endorsement of both men, it’s far from a guarantee of their long-term job security. The Pegulas spent $1.4 billion to purchase the franchise in 2014, so they probably wouldn’t worry about eating a few million dollars to replace a GM and/or head coach if they felt it was necessary.

Today, Jenny Vrentas of The MMQB released a bit of material that was left on the cutting room floor of her recent interview with Rex and Rob Ryan. During their lengthy chat, Rex dismissed the notion of their being a hard and fast postseason ultimatum for 2016.

The media looks at it [like], Well, we have to win this year,” the Bills head coach said. “Or what? Oh, I am going to be fired? I don’t think so. I’m not going to worry about it, because we are going to win anyway. But it’s like, that is an ultimatum. No.”

On a related note, Rex also indicated during the interview that the business staff Buffalo might not be big fans of his. Some speculated that he was referring to team president Russ Brandon, but Vrentas notes that the two men have a solid relationship. Instead, she believes that Ryan was “simply picking a department in the building that he doesn’t interact with on a daily basis, and making the point that they might not buy in because they don’t know him well.”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Latest On Bills’ Head Coaching Search

The Bills, after seeing head coach Doug Marrone opt out of his contract on New Year’s Eve, officially kicked off their search for a new head coach yesterday by requesting permission to interview Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase. As Buffalo looks to play catch-up to the five other teams looking to fill head coaching vacancies, we’ll track all of today’s updates on the club’s coaching hunt right here. The latest:

  • It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Bills set up an interview with Mike Shanahan, since “there is some interest” there, tweets Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com. Based on La Canfora’s wording, it’s not clear if it’s the Bills or Shanahan with the interest, but I’d guess it’s probably coming from the team.
  • The Bills have now scheduled interviews with Bevell and Quinn, according to Graham (Twitter link).
  • As we noted in this evening’s round-up of coaching rumors, the Bills weren’t able to line up an interview with McDaniels this weekend, according to Peter King of TheMMQB.com.

Earlier updates:

  • The Bills have requested interviews with Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, and Quinn, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (on Twitter).
  • As hoped, the Bills’ interview with Reich will go down on Sunday in San Diego, according to Dan Graziano of ESPN.com (via Twitter).
  • According to Graham (Twitter links), Terry Pegula and Kim Pegula will sit in on the Bills’ head coach interviews, which will be conducted by Whaley and Brandon. Graham notes that the next Buffalo head coach will report directly to Terry Pegula, who – according to Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com (Twitter link) – would still like to hire a football czar to “oversee the building.”
  • The Bills are trying to arrange an interview with Reich for Sunday in San Diego, before he leaves to interview with the Jets, tweets Graham. According to Graham (via Twitter), even though Reich was viewed as a Bill Polian favorite, and Polian is no longer ticketed for Buffalo, mutual interest between the Chargers’ offensive coordinator and the Bills remains high.
  • General manager Doug Whaley is leading the Bills’ coaching search, and Gase will be the first candidate to interview on Saturday, according to Tim Graham of the Buffalo News (via Twitter). Graham adds that the club will also speak to offensive coordinator Frank Reich, as expected, while John Wawrow of The Associated Press tweets that Bills CEO Russ Brandon will serve as an advisor to Whaley during the process.
  • According to Graham (via Twitter), the Bills also have interest in talking to Rex Ryan about their head coaching opening, but nothing has been scheduled at the moment.
  • Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and current Bills defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz are two names to keep an eye on for potential interviews with the team, tweets Joe Buscaglia of WGR550. We’ve previously heard Schwartz mentioned as a possible candidate, and Quinn is no surprise either, considering he’s already been linked to several teams with head coaching vacancies.
  • Speaking of Schwartz, Bills defensive players are pushing for the defensive coordinator to remain in Buffalo, writes Jay Skurski of the Buffalo News. Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk suggests promoting Schwartz to head coach could provide much-needed stability and continuity for the club.
  • John Kryk of the Toronto Sun (all Twitter links) thinks the Bills shouldn’t hire a head coach until they install a new football czar, since it seems clear that the Pegulas want to hire one. If they do hire one, that new czar can decide whether or not to keep Whaley, and if they don’t hire one, they should announce they aren’t looking, and promote Whaley to VP of football operations.

Zach Links contributed to this post.

Front Office Notes: Eagles, Raiders, Bills

We’ve passed along a couple rounds of coaching-related rumors already today, but with teams looking ahead to the 2015 season, some front-office shakeups could occur as well. Let’s check in on the latest updates on front offices around the NFL…

  • In a surprising move, the Eagles announced today that they’ve mutually agreed to parted ways with vice president of player personnel Tom Gamble (Twitter link). Reporting on the move before it was officially confirmed by the team, Chris Mortensen of ESPN.com (Twitter link) called it a firing, predicting that the Eagles may refer to it as parting ways, but “it is what it is.” Gamble was identified by Adam Caplan of ESPN.com a couple weeks ago as one of the league’s top candidates to land a GM job this offseason.
  • Reacting to Gamble’s departure, Eagles writers like Geoff Mosher of CSNPhilly.com (Twitter link) and Sheil Kapadia of PhillyMag.com suggest that it sounds like a win for GM Howie Roseman, who has the backing of owner Jeffrey Lurie. As Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote earlier this week, head coach Chip Kelly was a fan of Gamble, calling him a “heck of a football guy” while referring to Roseman as more of a cap manager.
  • According to Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com (via Twitter), Mike Holmgren, Kevin Warren of the Vikings, and Russ Brandon of the Bills are drawing some interest from the Raiders as a potential team president. Following up on that report, Tim Graham of the Buffalo News tweets that Brandon may have headed to Oakland if Terry Pegula and Kim Pegula hadn’t taken over as the owners in Buffalo, but he’s staying with the organization now.
  • With a midnight opt-out deadline looming for Bills head coach Doug Marrone, La Canfora tweets that he continues to hear about friction between Marrone and general manager Doug Whaley. Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk writes that Marrone is still expected to remain in Buffalo, so it will be interesting to see if Whaley returns for the 2015 season as well.
  • Earlier this afternoon, we learned that Vikings assistant GM George Paton turned down opportunities to interview for the Bears‘ and Jets‘ general manager openings, and will stick with Minnesota.

AFC East Notes: Wallace, Caserio, Bills

Dolphins‘ receiver Mike Wallace was benched during today’s game against the Jets for what was apparently an attitude problem, according to Albert Breer of NFL.com (via Twitter). Breer highlights this as a situation to watch going forward into the offseason.

Wallace is signed through 2017, with cap numbers of $12.1MM, $13.7MM, and $13.7MM the next three seasons. The team would only save $2.5MM by cutting him this offseason, according to OverTheCap.com.

Here are some other notes from around the AFC East:

  • The Patriots extended the contract of director of player personnel Nick Caserio earlier today, and one reason for this could be the opinion of head coach Bill Belichick, writes Phil Perry of CSNNE.com“He contributes in a lot of different ways, and I’m glad I have him. I need him,” Belichick said. “He probably does more than any other person in his position in the league in terms of his amount of responsibility and the number of different things at the coaching and scouting level. He’s really a valuable guy that has great working knowledge of really everything that we do on the scouting end and the coaching end.”
  • Bills‘ CEO Russ Brandon and head coach Doug Marrone both confirmed that they do not have any scheduled meetings with new owners Terry and Kim Pegula, writes Mike Rodak of ESPN.com“I’m sure at some point we’ll get into some more in-depth meetings,” Brandon said. “There’s nothing scheduled at this point. I talk to Terry all the time, and I have nothing on the books right now for any meetings.” Marrone confirmed that he had not been contacted regarding a meeting.
  • Marrone has three days after the end of the season to opt out of his contract with the Bills due to a change in ownership, reports Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk. Florio does not believe Marrone will exercise this clause in his contract.
  • Bills‘ running back Fred Jackson earned an incentive of $150,000 in the team’s Week 17 victory over the Patriots, reports Rodak (via Twitter).

AFC East Notes: Bills, Pegulas, Brady, Jets

Terry Pegula and Kim Pegula met with Buffalo reporters today at their introductory press conference as Bills owners, and prior to the presser, the team also sent out a statement from the Pegulas with the caption “THE BILLS ARE HERE TO STAY!” (Twitter link). In both the statement and the press conference, the Pegulas expressed excitement about being able to keep the franchise in Buffalo and about being able to contribute to the legacy established by the late Ralph Wilson.

Here’s more on the Bills and the Pegulas, as well as a couple other AFC East items:

  • Terry Pegula has assumed a CEO role for the Bills, meaning Russ Brandon is simply the team’s president now, tweets Mike Rodak of ESPN.com.
  • Pegula indicated at today’s presser that he hadn’t had a chance to consider the Bills‘ football operations yet, while Brandon expressed support for the job done by GM Doug Whaley and head coach Doug Marrone. According to Tim Graham of the Buffalo News (Twitter link), both Whaley and Marrone are good bets to be around for the 2015 season unless the team totally falls apart this year, an observation echoed by Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (via Twitter).
  • Tom E. Curran of CSNNE.com wonders if the cap space being carried by the Patriots this season – and presumably into next year – is an insurance policy that could allow the team to consider trading Tom Brady. While Curran can envision New England dealing its franchise quarterback at some point, he doubts that it’s in the team’s plans quite yet.
  • Veteran interior offensive lineman Mike Brewster, who was waived by the Jaguars during preseason cutdowns to 53 players, worked out for the Jets today, tweets Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com.

Bills CEO Denies Ownership Situation Affecting Football Decisions

During 2014’s draft, only one NFL team traded away a future first-round pick in order to move up this year, as the Bills sent their 2015 first-rounder to Cleveland as part of a package to move up five spots to snag wideout Sammy Watkins. Buffalo is the also the only franchise known publicly to be available for purchase in the near future, with the sale process expected to begin soon. According to Judy Battista of NFL.com, a new owner is likely to be in place by the end of the year, with as many as eight groups viewed as potential bidders.

Given the uncertainty of the club’s ownership situation, and the fact that we’ve seen many new owners overhaul NFL front offices, many observers wanted to connect the dots on the Bills’ upcoming sale and their decision to mortgage their future to land an immediate playmaker. If Watkins helps the team improve right away, it could make GM Doug Whaley and CEO Russ Brandon look more appealing to new ownership. However, Brandon denies that possibility played a role in the Bills’ decision to move up for the standout receiver.

“It has nothing to do with the future,” Brandon said. “It is everything about the future is now. Doug Whaley and our player personnel department are empowered and have full autonomy to make football decisions. That was a football decision, and it wasn’t tied to the future of the organization. It is business as usual. We’re making football decisions, no matter what. … It has not one iota of an impact on who the future owner may be.”

While Brandon’s comments don’t come as a surprise – if the ownership situation played a role in the decision, he likely wouldn’t admit it – it’s still fair to read them at face value. It’s not as if drafting Watkins provides any guarantees for the Bills — even though the 20-year-old certainly has the talent to make an immediate impact, his ability to contribute will be directly linked to the performance of quarterback E.J. Manuel, and it’s possible the move could backfire, at least in the short term. In that case, Brandon and Whaley would be even more vulnerable when new ownership takes over, having made a risky decision that didn’t pan out.