For Buffalo Bills fans that went to sleep at a reasonable hour Saturday night, they woke up Sunday morning to some startling news. As Adam Schefter was the first to report, the Buffalo Bills agreed to a deal with Doug Marrone to become their next head football coach. Chris Mortensen reported Sunday evening the deal is for four years, though as of late Sunday a deal had not been officially announced by the team.
For at least some causal fans, they woke up asking the same question–who the hell is Doug Marrone?
There’s plenty to learn about Marrone merely by reading, but depending on what context you’re looking for, it’s too easy to prematurely base an accurate opinion.
If you’re for the hire, you likely know that he comes heavily endorsed by the likes of Bill Parcells, Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis among others. You’re also aware that he helped resurrect a Syracuse football program that was to put it mildly, putrid. You’ve also read that he has 21 years of coaching experience, including stints in the NFL with New Orleans and the New York Jets.
Cynics surely concluded he’s another so-what hire after learning his Syracuse teams went just 25-25 in his four years there with just two winning. He certainly wasn’t the sexy hire, not with guys like Chip Kelly and potentially Jon Gruden on the market, not to mention better-known retreads the Bills previously interviewed in Lovie Smith and Ken Whisenhunt. Frankly, at least a small portion of Bills fans never heard of Marrone before the past 48 to 72 hours.
So, exactly who is Doug Marrone? You can read about his coaching history and background by reading this Matt Elder article published Sunday afternoon by clicking here. Still, that doesn’t give all the insight on Marrone personally you may be looking for.
To accomplish that, I’ve enlisted the help of someone who’s actually spent many weekend afternoons covering Marrone and the Orange.
Sean Keeley is eminently qualified to discuss Marrone, not only because Keeley is a Syracuse graduate (Class of 2000) but as an assistant editor at SB Nation, he blogs about all things Orange football. Therefore he knows Marrone and his style as well as anyone.
Keeley feels that overall, Marrone did a fantastic job of rebuilding the Syracuse program and leaves it in far better shape than when he came.
“Big picture, you can’t say enough about what Doug Marrone did in four years,” Keeley said. “He took over when Syracuse Football was at the lowest point in its 100-plus year history and he turned them into a perennial bowl team. That might not sound like much in the days of Urban Meyer and Nick Saban, but turning Syracuse into a winner is a huge difference from turning Florida and Alabama into winners.”
Marrone replaced Greg Robinson following the 2008 season. Robinson’s era was an utter disaster in Syracuse as the team went just 10-37 with him as head coach, including a laughable 3-25 clip in Big East conference contests.
Needless to say, Marrone had plenty of work ahead of to restore pride and respect back into the program. Keeley said that was accomplished in large part due to Marrone’s commitment, discipline and work ethic.
“He re-installed a lot of traditions that had been lost, got a whole bunch of people to buy into something that wasn’t there yet and turned a team full of one and two star guys into eight-game winners,” Keeley said. ” He leaves having returned Syracuse to a level of expectations that it should have been at.”
Marrone went just 4-8 in his first year at Syracuse but things turned around in year two, when his leadership propelled to the Orange to an 8-5 clip and a thrilling 36-34 victory over Kansas State in the Pinstripe Bowl.
Syracuse regressed in 2011, finishing just 5-7 but Marrone came into this past season more determined than ever.
And everyone took notice.
“Marrone had a very interesting 2012 as a coach,” Keeley said. “He came into the season having blocked the media from practice, which some saw as controlling but others saw as a way to focus the team. Normally a very reserved coach on the sidelines, he began to open up and get more emotional. The team turned it around the same time he let himself go a lot more during the games. The team responded to that.”
The Orange finished 8-5 for the second time in three years and earning a spot in the Pinstripe Bowl again, they blew out West Virginia, 38-14.
What does Keeley consider to be Marrone’s coaching style?
“In-game, Marrone focuses his attention on the offense and leaves the defense to his defensive coordinator ( Scott Shafer in 2012.). His offense tailors itself to the talent he’s got. If he’s got a ground-and-pound running back, expect to see a lot of that. If he’s got a quarterback that can fling it, he focuses on that, like he did with Ryan Nassib this past season.”
At this point Keeley was starting to give me the impression that he was Marrone’s campaign manager. For the love of God, what are his flaws?
” If he has some faults, it’s to be found in his clock management and decision-making, which can be iffy. I feel like he’s still perfecting his game management and that’s part of the reason I was surprised to see how gung ho NFL teams were about him. I hope that doesn’t come back to bite him.”
Questionable clock management and decision making? I’m not sure how well Keeley follows the Buffalo Bills, but I assured him fans knew those expressions all too well. I’d be safe in assuming every fan’s nightmare is Marrone turning into a younger version of Chan Gailey or Dick Jauron, no?
Keeley says that overall he thinks Marrone is the right guy for the job. Quite obviously Russ Brandon feels the same. At the very least, Marrone had interest from a handful of other NFL teams currently looking for a coach. According to a team source I spoke with Sunday evening, he thinks the team stepped up to get a deal done with Marrone quickly after things between the Browns and Chip Kelly began to deteriorate. The feeling was Marrone was next in line to get a push from Cleveland and Buffalo didn’t want to take a chance of losing out.
Nobody knows if the hiring of Marrone is going to look brilliant or stupid in two to three years. Head coaches are never an exact science and who the team surrounds him with ultimately goes a long way towards determining how much—or little success he has.
Keeley does like Marrone’s chances.
” Who the heck knows if Marrone will be a good coach but I think he’s capable,” he concluded. “He’s a guy who has a ton of experience working in the NFL, so it’s not like he’s going in blind. He’s got head coaching experience at a high level so he knows what it takes to run a team. And from everything I’ve seen, he should do well understanding and managing players.”