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Saturday, January 12, 2008
Sources: Bills' top candidate to replace Levy has business, marketing strengths

By Len Pasquarelli
ESPN.com

Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson will stay in-house to fill its top front-office vacancy, ESPN.com has learned through multiple league and team sources, and Bills executive vice president of business operations Russ Brandon has emerged as the frontrunner.

The opening was created when Marv Levy stepped down as general manager two weeks ago. A Hall of Fame coach who led the Bills to four straight Super Bowl appearances, Levy had come out of retirement two years ago to serve as the Bills' general manager.

The team likely will announce Levy's successor next week.

Brandon has worked for the Bills for 11 years, and in 2006 was appointed to his current position, in which he joined Levy in overseeing the club's front-office operations.

If Brandon does land the job, as anticipated, it will probably result in a reconfiguration of the Bills' front-office structure. Because his background is more in the business and marketing side of the organization, and he does not have direct experience in personnel matters, it is unlikely Brandon will receive the title of general manager.

He would report directly to Wilson, however, and would be ranked below only the Buffalo owner in the front-office structure.

Under a revamped chain of command, and without a traditional general manager in place, assistant general manager Tom Modrak and director of pro personnel John Guy probably will oversee personnel and scouting matters. It's also possible that coach Dick Jauron, with such a revamping, will have more input into personnel matters.

Among the in-house staffers, Guy and vice president of football administration Jim Overdorf were also believed to have been considered for the position. It is not known if Wilson ever formally interviewed any outside candidates. Chicago Bears director of college scouting Greg Gabriel and New Orleans Saints vice president of player personnel Rick Mueller were mentioned in various reports as having drawn some interest.

Before moving into his job as executive vice president of business operations, Brandon previously served as the Bills' vice president of business development and marketing for seven years. He and his staff are credited with the development of the Bills as a regional franchise and forming strategic alliances with key business partners.

With Wilson having petitioned the NFL to allow him to play one home game annually in nearby Toronto, Brandon's marketing strengths may be increasingly critical to the future of the franchise.

Brandon joined the Bills in November 1997 as executive director of business development and marketing after earning a World Series ring as a member of the Florida Marlins' front office. A Syracuse native, he began his sports business career as a member of the Rochester Red Wings (then the Triple-A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles), serving in many capacities, including as assistant general manager.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.