Doug Marrone cut an imposing figure at the podium for his news conference Monday.
The Buffalo Bills’ new head coach is 6-foot-5. While his precise height is not important, what it represents is very important to the Bills.
Marrone is a big, strong presence.
The Bills wanted an assertive leader and a forceful personality to turn around their losing franchise. They think they have found it in the 48-year-old coach from Syracuse University.
“We wanted toughness, we wanted intellect, we wanted a culture change, a guy that will bring leadership, competitive leadership,” said Russ Brandon, Bills president and chief executive officer. “We wanted to hopefully have someone with an NFL pedigree and head coaching experience. Doug was a perfect candidate.”
The Bills have won 19 of their last 57 games. Syracuse had won 10 of its previous 47 before Marrone rebuilt it. Brandon thinks Marrone can whip the Bills into shape.
“He took that program over from where it was to bring it back to beyond respectability,” Brandon said. “The competitive fire that he brings to the table and his level of accountability that he brings across everyone in the organization – everyone who touches football – he will lead this organization.”
Marrone, a Bronx native, was articulate and confident in his introduction. He offered few specifics on what he plans to do.
“I can’t tell you how excited I am to be the head football coach,” Marrone said. “I can’t tell you how excited I am for my family and I to move up here. We’re all looking forward to it. I’m excited about working with the people in this organization.”
Marrone built a reputation as a disciplinarian at Syracuse, instituting strict rules related for player conduct and performance in the classroom. Roughly 20 scholarship players left the program, for a variety of reasons, in his first season.
“All the way through my career, the success we had, part of that success has been discipline,” Marrone said. “And I just think that’s important.”
Marrone, however, is not making an unfamiliar jump to the NFL. He played for parts of two seasons in the NFL after a fine college career at Syracuse. He coached the offensive line of the New York Jets for four years, from 2002 to 2005. He was offensive coordinator under Sean Payton with the New Orleans Saints from 2006 to 2008.
He said he knows how to deal with NFL players.
“A lot of players right now are thinking, ‘Is he going to take a college football approach mentality, or a pro football coach mentality?’ ” Marrone admitted. “This is the NFL. This is the highest level. I’ve been a player in this league. I’ve coached in this league. So I have a good insight into the NFL.”
“I’m excited about taking those principles and approaches that we’ve used in the NFL and, again, discussing that with the players and making sure they know what my expectations are and what their expectations are of me as the head football coach.”
Marrone did not call the offensive plays for the Saints. He said he will not call the plays for the Bills.
He views himself as the manager of the entire team. That’s something that appealed to the Bills, as well. Marrone’s predecessor, Chan Gailey, let his defensive coordinators essentially be “the head coach of defense.” Ex-Bills coach Dick Jauron had almost nothing to do with the offense, until his final season.
“When you’re the head football coach, you want to make sure that you’re truly the CEO of the program, that you know what’s going on on offense, know what’s going on on defense, and know what’s going on on special teams,” Marrone said. “So from a management style, that’s who I am. I have to make sure we know how to win games, make sure I’m managing all three of those phases.
“I’ll be heavily involved in game-planning,” Marrone added. “I do take offense when people say ‘you’re an offensive coach.’ I’ve been attacking defenses my whole entire life. … I understand coverage and front mechanics and things like that. I have a great understanding of defensive football, as well as special teams.”
The Bills’ last two head-coaching hires, Gailey and Jauron, had no other teams pursuing them as a head coach.
This time was different. The Cleveland Browns had interviewed Marrone. Philadelphia and San Diego had interviews scheduled with him. The Cleveland Plain-Dealer reported the Browns had a second conversation with Marrone on Saturday. The Browns had spent much of the previous day with Oregon coach Chip Kelly.
Brandon said the Bills had five interview sessions with Marrone. The Bills moved quickly, negotiating through the night Saturday and into Sunday. The contract agreement was reached in the wee hours of Sunday morning.
“If we had waited we’d have lost him,” Bills General Manager Buddy Nix said.
“I had some opportunities to make a choice, and I’ve chosen to be here,” Marrone said.
Asked during the news conference about Marrone being perceived as a backup choice of the Browns (to Kelly), Brandon interjected: “I think that perception’s wrong.”
Nix said good candidates were pursuing the Bills, and the team got a better response from candidates than in their last search, in 2010.
“It’s unbelievable really,” Nix said. “I got here a little bit late [in 2010]. We were kind of blown away. We had the opportunity, if we wanted to, at a lot of guys. There was more interest than we expected.”
Marrone’s contract details were not yet known. His deal is believed to be at least four years. The average contract for last year’s crop of first-time NFL head coaches, league sources said, was four years and $11.2 million, a $2.8 million average.