INDIANAPOLIS — With all 32 NFL teams gathered here, there’s ample opportunity for fraternization among league peers.
One thing has stuck out for Bills President Russ Brandon during those get-togethers.
“I’m blown away by some of the responses I’ve received from league peers about where they saw coach (Doug) Marrone,” Brandon said. “I’ve heard from so many people just in the day and a half I’ve been here about the excitement about coach Marrone and what he brings to the table and the staff he’s assembled.”
The glowing reviews are indeed pouring in for the Bills’ new coach.
“We’ve watched him closely when he was at Syracuse. He used to visit me in the offseason. He’s very serious, very smart,” New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “Syracuse is going to miss Doug Marrone, no doubt. ... I saw him Thursday and wished him well. He put his staff together fast and he’s hit the floor running, without a doubt.”
“Every general manager, as George Allen used to say, keeps a list in his right-hand drawer of potential head-coaching candidates, because situations do occur,” said former Bills General Manager and current ESPN analyst Bill Polian. “... I can tell you Doug Marrone was No. 1 on my list and I’m certain that he was very high on a lot of other lists in the National Football League.”
Marrone got his first exposure on the national stage Friday at the NFL Scouting Combine during his 15-minute session with reporters inside Lucas Oil Stadium. Asked beforehand what he thought it would feel like to be on the big stage, the coach gave an answer consistent with his no-nonsense nature.
“For me, I don’t even really think about that. I think about getting back and working with our players,” he said. “There’s so much time between when you get the job and you meet your players, and that’s very difficult.
“People are going to ask you a lot of questions about personnel, roster evaluations, and you really want to deal with the players first, because the players are the most important part of what we do.
“None of us would be here if it wasn’t for the players. So for me, my excitement and what I think about all the time is our players.”
Marrone will get a chance to meet most of those players face to face for the first time April 2, when the team holds its first day of volunteer offseason conditioning.
Until he does get the chance to “smell the breath” of his players, as he says, he’ll be loathe to offer many specifics on players or even schemes the team will use.
“It’s not that I’m trying to put anyone off, it’s that I’m a big, firm believer that watching the tape is just part of the process,” he said. “If I was going to talk about an evaluation of a player I would want to do it right in front of him first, face to face.
“I’m not going to be able to do that when the players report. What I’m going to have to do is be able to build a foundation of our three systems of offense, defense and special teams and start working with those players on the field. And then, even when they’re on the field, you’re in shorts and T-shirts and football’s a contact game. It’s not as easy as watching the tape and saying, ‘Let’s go.’ You want to watch them play football in the systems you do.”
It’s not just the media that Marrone is guarded with. He’s also been careful with what he’s shared with his NFL brethren when it comes to scouting reports on his former Syracuse players.
“I’m just going to say that they’re great kids and whatever you see on the field, that’s what you’re going to get,” he said. “Other than that, I’m not going to lie to you: I think it’s information that’s an advantage for us as the Buffalo Bills.
“It’s been very difficult for me. I have a lot of friends, obviously, in this league that have asked me these questions quite a bit during the week, and I’ve kind of had the same response: We’re in the information-gathering business, not the information-giving when it comes down to players. Strategically, do I think it can help us along the way? Shoot, I don’t know. I really don’t. But it’s something that ... I shared all that information prior to” becoming Buffalo’s coach, “but I’m not looking to share it again.”
Marrone sat in the interview room when the Bills met with Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib at the Senior Bowl, but didn’t make a sound.
“Because if I asked him a question, I knew how he’d answer it,” the coach said. “It would be hard for me to ask him a question without laughing.”
Marrone is sitting in on the Bills’ formal interviews at the combine, of which they’re allowed to meet with 60 prospects. Those sessions are heavy on the mental side of the game.
“We want the player to tell us, what’s going on here, what’s this play, and really start describing what he was thinking,” Marrone said. “What his thought process is ... just really try to find out from a football standpoint maybe a little bit about instinct, how he’s able to communicate, what he’s supposed to do.”
“That sort of energy that he brings, that level of accountability, he’s sort of a culture-changing guy,” Brandon said of his new coach.
Now, it needs to translate to wins on the field. Polian is confident that will happen — provided Nix and Co. give him the proper tools.
“Right now the quarterback situation is an open question. He’s said that,” Polian said. “But if you ask the question, is this the right guy for the job? In my humble opinion, absolutely.”