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Bucky Gleason: Brandon lost his way before losing his job with Bills, Sabres

Trouble had been brewing for several years and intensified in recent months as Russ Brandon's professional and personal lives collided. The relationship between the Bills and Sabres and their team president was going to end sooner or later, but this didn't figure to end well.

Brandon was a good servant under late owner Ralph Wilson and a humble person before losing his way in both areas, a sad reality he will someday recognize, if he hasn't already, once his mind is clear. He will look back and understand that he succumbed to power, ego, money and more, that he lied to others and mostly to himself.

His downfall is a familiar tale, sad on one level to people who knew him 20 years ago when he arrived with good intentions, when he slept in his office while drumming up corporate sponsors that would help save the Bills. On another level, many would argue, his dismissal was exactly what he deserved.

The flip side of Brandon's exit Tuesday after an internal investigation into allegations of professional misbehavior and personal misconduct is that Kim Pegula is now presiding over both organizations. For all of Brandon's faults, he's more experienced when it comes to running sports franchises than his successor.

We'll see how Kim Pegula performs as president of multiple franchises. It's a heavy lift even for a veteran executive. The Pegulas already made numerous mistakes, particularly with the Sabres. Fans might want to brace for more.

Say what you will about Brandon, who declined to comment Wednesday when reached by phone, but at least he invested the time needed to climb the ranks.

In 1998, Doug Flutie became the name and face of the Bills and helped drive ticket sales. Brandon became a star in the front office. He was a marketing genius who used his creativity and charm to score big-money deals with sponsors. The more power he gained in the organization, the more leverage he gained in the community.

Nobody questioned Brandon's instincts on the business side. He may have been the most effective non-football executive in the league given Western New York's population and economic landscape. He tapped into passion for the Bills and expanded the fan base well beyond the area code and into Southern Ontario.

The running joke years ago was that Brandon and his staff made it their daily goal to be home when SportsCenter aired at 11 p.m. But under his leadership, the marketing and sales department generated enough revenue for the Bills to remain in Buffalo.

Brandon in the years that followed played a large role in keeping season-ticket sales strong even when the product on the field was weak. Some viewed him as the most valuable person in the organization. If he would have stayed in his lane and not been seduced by power, money and fame, he would have been fine.

Instead, his ego obstructed his vision.

Brandon's friends say they noticed a change in his personality over the past several years. The same person who seemed grounded and sincere as a young executive came across as a big shot.

Wilson unwittingly contributed to Brandon's demise. He suggested Brandon learn more about football operations under John Butler and eventually made him general manager. The decision was based partly on Brandon's business acumen but mostly on trust in a relationship similar to father and son.

Brandon had his dream job, one many fans like him wished they had. He was out of his element, however, and it wasn't long before lines separating football and marketing became blurred.

The Bills made plenty a big splash with the likes of Terrell Owens joining them for one season, Mario Williams signing a $100 million contract and Rex Ryan being named head coach. There were other dubious decisions that weren't his doing, but there was no denying he contributed to failure on the field.

In recent years, the same man whose intelligent planning and execution led to success lost sight of his priorities, friends and co-workers said. He was out on the town more and in the office less. He was somebody. Some who had known him for years say they viewed him as somebody else.

Looking back, signs of his downfall coincided with him becoming a general manager when he wasn't suited for the job. He became a punching bag for critics who blamed him for everything wrong with the Bills. He was the one constant during the Bills' 17-year playoff drought, making him an easy target.

Exact details remain unknown about behavior in the front office that led to the allegations, the subsequent investigation and his departure. I'm not the morals police. What happens in his personal life is none of my business until it affects his professional existence. And that appears to be the case here.

Brandon said in a statement Tuesday that he was preparing to leave before the Bills showed him the door, and perhaps that's true. Maybe the pressure that came with putting the future of the franchise on his shoulders coupled with the demands of the job and the impact it made on his family and other factors became too much.

Only he knows for sure.

Here's hoping Brandon rediscovers the person who made a good name for himself 20 years ago.

Maybe the end marks the beginning for all involved. Maybe his exit will become the best thing that could have happened to him and the Bills and the Sabres. Or maybe the trouble is just starting.

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