BUDDY NIX yesterday stepped down as general manager of the Buffalo Bills.

The 73-year-old Nix, confident he's put in place a young foundation capable of turning the Bills into a winner, decided it was a good time to relinquish his GM duties.

"I think at some point, you've got to step aside and let young guys that are qualified have their shot," Nix said. "I never put a timetable on it. I always felt like I'd know when it was the right time.

"And I think it's the right time."

Nix will not be leaving the team entirely. He'll instead move into a newly created role as a special assistant.

Nix steps down 2 weeks after overseeing his fourth draft with the Bills, which the team opened by selecting its quarterback of the future in Florida State's EJ Manuel with the 16th pick. And his departure comes with Buffalo in the midst of yet another start-from-scratch overhaul under new coach Doug Marrone.

Assistant GM Doug Whaley, entering his fourth season in Buffalo, is expected to take over.

Buffalo has not enjoyed a winning season since going 9-7 in 2004. And it has not made the playoffs in 13 seasons - the NFL's longest active drought.

In other NFL news:

* The Kansas City Chiefs have hired former Nevada coach Chris Ault, the innovator of the "pistol" offensive formation that has swept through the NFL, to serve as a special consultant. Ault utilized the offense at Nevada with Colin Kaepernick, who led the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl last season.

Colleges * 

Police in Providence, R.I., said Brown University basketball player Joseph Sharkey is in critical condition after being punched in the head in what appeared to be an unprovoked assault. Deputy Police Chief Thomas Oates said Sharkey, a sophomore, suffered severe head injuries when a man came up to him and hit him early Sunday morning while he was talking to a group of women on Providence's East Side.

* Chattanooga hired VCU assistant Will Wade as its men's basketball coach.

Sport Stops * 

Venus Williams lost to Laura Robson, 6-3, 6-2, in the first round of the Italian Open in Rome.