By Tim Graham
Buddy Nix has been around scores of great players since he broke into football as a graduate coaching assistant under Bear Bryant in 1961.
He was in the Buffalo Bills front office near the end of their Super Bowl years with Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed, Bruce Smith and Cornelius Bennett.
In the 2000s, Nix helped put together some of the greatest teams in San Diego Chargers history, working with the likes of Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates, Junior Seau and Rodney Harrison. Nix also coached Terrell Owens in college.
When it comes to the best he's been around, running back LaDainian Tomlinson has a special place. They joined the Chargers in 2001 and had a fine run together. Tomlinson ended his Hall of Fame career this week, retiring after 11 seasons.
I had the chance to ask Nix what stands out about Tomlinson.
"People don't realize how bad we were on the offensive line when that poor boy first got there," Nix said. "He carried it time after time after time, and then some of our offensive linemen went to the Pro Bowl because of him.
"They jelled and got good, but he made them come together and want to be good. That's a quality of a good leader."
The Chargers were 1-15 the season before Tomlinson arrived in 2001 as the fifth overall draft choice from Texas Christian. He strung together eight straight seasons of at least 1,000 yards. He caught 100 passes one year.
He had an all-time great campaign in 2006, when he rushed for 1,815 yards and 28 touchdowns and caught 56 passes for 508 yards and three more touchdowns.
Tomlinson will go into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in five years. He ranks fifth on the all-time rushing list with 13,684 yards and third in touchdowns with 162. Only Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith scored more touchdowns.
"I love him," Nix said. "I've had some really good, quality time with him when he was with the Jets -- after I left San Diego and he left. He's a class act. He's obviously one of the best running backs ever to play, but a good person, too, a good daddy, a good husband."
Tomlinson and Nix departed San Diego unhappy. Tomlinson spent his last two seasons with the New York Jets and was a strong contributor. He signed a one-day contract with the Chargers so he could retire with them.
Chargers owner "Dean Spanos loved LT," Nix said. "They were close. With the kind of record he had there, that's where he's got to go. It'd be a shame if he left on bad terms and didn't go back there."