I expect many Bills fans will be underwhelmed by the hiring of former Syracuse University coach Doug Marrone as Buffalo’s new head coach. I realize many will look at his 25-25 record in four seasons with the Orange and say, ‘Jeesh! Couldn’t we have found someone better than this?”
· Marrone knows how to rebuild a program from the ashes. Yes, he had just a .500 record at SU, but consider the mess he inherited. Under his predecessor, Greg Robinson, Syracuse had become the dregs of college football, with a 10-37 record, including two 10-loss seasons, the first and only double-digit loss seasons in the program’s storied history. Marrone had to change a losing culture, and he did. After a 4-8 rookie season, his teams went 21-17 with two Pinstripe Bowl victories over the next three campaigns. Believe me, the challenge he faced at SU was far more daunting than what he’ll encounter with the Bills. SU’s cupboard was bare. There is talent on the Bills roster.
· Marrone knows how to develop quarterbacks. The job the Bronx native did with Ryan Nassib has been remarkable. The graduating quarterback has gone from being an unknown to a guy who is shooting up the NFL draft boards, with some mock drafts even projecting him as a late first-round pick. Under Marrone’s tutelage, Nassib finished his senior season with 3,749 yards, 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He supplanted Donovan McNabb as the school’s all-time passing yardage leader (9,190). Drafting and developing a young quarterback is one of the Bills top priorities. Marrone will be the ideal coach to help that new QB blossom.
· Marrone, 48, has plenty of NFL experience. Prior to coming to Syracuse, he spent seven seasons as an assistant in the pros, including three seasons as the offensive coordinator for the New Orleans Saints (2006-08). Both Saints coach Sean Payton and former Giants two-time, Super Bowl-winning coach Bill Parcells had predicted that Marrone would become an NFL head coach some day. During an appearance at the Rochester Press-Radio Club Children’s Charities Dinner following the Saints Super Bowl victory a few years ago, quarterback Drew Brees told me that he “loved working with Marrone because Doug knew offenses inside and out, was meticulous in his preparation and was a great leader.” A former offensive lineman at Syracuse and for two seasons in the NFL, Marrone clearly has paid his dues. His coaching career began as an assistant in 1992 at Cortland State, and included college jobs at the Coast Guard Academy, Northeastern, Georgia Tech, Georgia and Tennessee, and pro jobs with the Jets (offensive line from 2002-2005) and Saints. So many hot college coaches have made the jump to the NFL only to discover that the rah-rah-sis-boom-bah! stuff doesn’t work with highly paid professional athletes. Marrone understands this. Plus, the work he did with the Saints will give him instant cred with his players.
I understand that many Bills fans were hoping for a big splash – Jon Gruden, Bill Cowher, Chip Kelly. But the reality is that none of those guys was coming to Buffalo regardless of how much money and power was thrown their way. As team president Russ Brandon said at last week’s news conference the Bills brand has been tarnished. And the only thing that’s going to return the shine to the franchise is consistent winning and the stability and prestige that comes with it.
I’m happy the Bills didn’t go the retread route once more with a Ken Whisenhunt or a Lovie Smith. We’ve been that route the past two hires with Chan Gailey and Dick Jauron. It is time for some new, young, blood and new ideas.
I understand how Marrone’s 25-25 record looks uninspiring. But you need to dig deeper into his resume. Only then will you begin to comprehend that the job he did resuscitating a moribund SU program was one of the great reclamation jobs in all of football over the past decade.
Of course, only time will tell, but I think he’s ready to do the same at One Bills Drive.