Doug Marrone could barely wait for his introductory news conference as the Buffalo Bills’ new head coach to end.
He needed to get out of town – and fast. Marrone was eager to get to New York, where he would interview the man who would ultimately become his defensive coordinator, Mike Pettine.
“We jumped on a plane and went right down to see Mike,” Marrone said. “I couldn’t be happier with that choice. I couldn’t be more excited with the staff we put together on that side of the ball.”
Pettine, who met the Western New York media for the first time Friday afternoon, had never previously worked with Marrone, but had heard plenty of good things through mutual acquaintances.
“The response was overwhelming when people found out I had an opportunity to come and work with him,” Pettine said. “It got to the point where I was literally answering the phones and saying ‘if you’re calling to tell me how good a guy Doug is, and how great he is going to be to work for, I already got that. You got anything else?’ ”
Now that Marrone has his guy in Pettine, the two can get to work on fixing a defense that fell far short of expectations in 2012. The Bills gave up 435 points, second most in franchise history.
That’s after making defensive end Mario Williams the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history, and drafting on that side of the ball with consecutive top-10 picks (Marcell Dareus third in 2011 and Stephon Gilmore 10th in 2012).
“I can’t really speak on what happened here,” Pettine said. “I do know that we are going to bring a passion. We are going to work hard and ... highlight what we do well. There is no substitute for putting the work in, both on the field and in the classroom. I think that’s where a lot of people think there is some magic schematically. It really isn’t. Football is a game of a million little things, and we’ll try to get as many of those things taught as we can.”
Asked what the identity of his defense will be, Pettine hit all the right notes.
“We’re going to play smart, we’re going to be tough, we’re going to be relentless. We’re going to put pressure on you. We’re going to force quarterbacks, we’re going to force offenses to make very quick decisions,” he said. “We’re going to take our best shot at you. We’re not going to be a read-and-react defense. That is not in our vocabulary. I think in this league to be successful, you have to be aggressive. I don’t think you can be reckless, your aggression has to be calculated, but if you want to sum up what we’ll be, it’s going to be an attack style.”
What Pettine wouldn’t commit to was a label on what the team’s base defense will be. The Bills last season played in a base 4-3 scheme under defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt after spending two years in a 3-4 under George Edwards.
Pettine called it a “misconception” that the Jets, with whom he served as defensive coordinator for the past four years, were a 3-4 team.
“We are a multiple front, multiple packages. We’ll be in 3-4, we’ll be in 4-3, we’ll be in 46. If you can draw up a front, we’ll probably be in it,” he said. “The cornerstone of our system is its flexibility and its multiplicity, that you can mold it to your talent.”
As the league continues to trend more toward the spread passing game, Pettine said it’s important to keep up.
“You’re in nickel defense, you’re in sub defense more than you are in base anyway,” he said. “I think it’s getting to the point where your third-down defense is almost your base. We’ll be as multiple in third down as we are in early downs. Offenses are too good to sit in one front and be categorized as a 3-4 or 4-3.”
Having been in New York the past four seasons, Pettine got to see the Bills eight times. He said the “cupboard is not bare” when talking about the team’s talent level on defense.
“[There are] some good football players here and we’re excited to work with them,” he said. “They are explosive athletes and playmakers and we’re looking forward to building a system that’s going to take advantage of that.”
The Jets under Pettine ranked no worse than eighth in yards allowed in any of his four seasons as coordinator, and led the league in 2009.
“Having more of a background on the offensive side of the ball ... I think what you look for is someone that has caused a lot of problems for offenses around the NFL,” Marrone said. “Someone that you don’t ever want to play against. When that was going through my mind and what I was thinking and talking to people in the league, it kept coming around to one name, one name.”