A distinguished era is coming to an end at One Bills Drive. And it may signal a shake-up in the Bills' athletic training department.
Long-time Bills trainer Bud Carpenter is retiring after 33 years with the team.
"We mutually agreed that now is the time," Carpenter said. "It was time to retire. How lucky am I to be 31, 32, 33 years in the same occupation and not have to move? How many people can say that in the world of sports, let alone any walk of society?"
"To walk away knowing who you've dealt with and the respect that you have from so many players, that's the most important part," Carpenter said. "I can put my head on a pillow saying, hey, I did the best I could for that player."
Carpenter's official title was Director of Athletic Training Operations. A team source also confirmed Friday that Shone Gipson, the Bills' head athletic trainer who had been with the team since 2002, was let go. The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle first reported the Gipson news.
The Bills hired Carpenter as assistant to head trainer and Bills Wall-of-Famer Ed Abramoski in 1985, on the same day the team drafted Bruce Smith.
Carpenter took over the head trainer title when Abramoski retired in 1996.
Carpenter and his staff won the Ed Block NFL Training Staff of the Year award twice, in 2007 and 2014. The award is given by peers, voted on by the league training employees.
Carpenter, 66, was inducted into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame in 2016. Two years ago, the Bills gave him the title of director of athletic training operations, while Gipson, a long-time assistant, assumed the head athletic trainer title.
"Obviously, what a career; it's impressive," said Bills General Manager Brandon Beane. "It says a lot about a guy who has been here through the glory years, and he's been through different regimes, different coaches, different owners. That doesn't happen by accident. It says a lot about him. I've not even been here a full year, but I sense and realize what he means in the community. He's a fixture here, and there's nobody in this building who has a bad word to say about Bud."
Gipson was liked by players and received a special mention in former safety Aaron Williams' retirement announcement earlier this week.
"Thank you, Shone Gipson. My guy. We’ve worked together. We’ve battled back together. We’ve cried together, man," Williams wrote in a piece on the Players' Tribune website. "We’re there for each other for life. I appreciate you more than you’ll ever know."
The defining moment of Carpenter's tenure was the catastrophic spinal cord injury suffered by Bills tight end Kevin Everett in the 2007 season-opening game.
Just 11 days before that game, Carpenter had led a 90-minute spinal cord injury refresher for the Bills' medical staff in the team fieldhouse. It included a person dressed in a uniform and an ambulance on the field.
Everett was in the ambulance being driven off the field just 13 minutes after the injury. Dr. Andrew Cappuccino, the Bills' team orthopedist, quickly administered mild hypothermia treatment, a rapid cooling of the body, and that was credited with preventing further damage to the spinal cord due to swelling. Everett eventually regained the ability to walk.
"Dr. Cappuccino was willing to take – and I don't want to say risk – another avenue to treat this," Carpenter said. "It went off perfectly. All the physicians, all the athletic trainers, all the EMTs we were right in sync. . . . Our bottom line was we did what we were supposed to do. We did what we were trained to do, and it turned out correct."
Carpenter survived 13 different head coaches, an amazing stretch for the NFL, in which organization-wide turnover is the norm. Carpenter survived the tenure of coach Doug Marrone, who wanted changes to the Bills' training staff. Carpenter was able to get along with a lot of different personalities.
"You start out with being blessed," Carpenter said of his longevity. "You had a lot of good fortune. You pay attention to detail, but more importantly you pay attention to people. You care about people — your players, your coaches, the rest of the staff. That doesn't go unrecognized."
The respect Carpenter earned from late Bills owner Ralph Wilson unquestionably was important to his career.
"The rapport with Mr. Wilson was nothing short of tremendous," Carpenter said. "What an honor it was to work for him, but what a privilege it was to be able to call him my friend. Those things certainly play into it. He recognized the effort people put in. he recognized how hard people worked."
"When he'd show up every Thursday that was his day," Carpenter said. "He'd pull up in the Taurus and his corduroy pants and V-neck sweater. When he came into the building he was jovial, he was engaged with everybody. He'd sit at the desk and we wouldn't talk anything about football a lot of the time. He took it to heart when players got hurt."
Carpenter helped start and is president of the Ilio DiPaolo Scholarship Fund, which has raised more than $1 million for student-athletes, local hospitals and other causes. He also is actively involved with Kids Escaping Drugs, the Center for Handicapped Children and Drug Abuse Resistance Education.
Story topics: Bud Carpenter