OK, so he’s not Marv Levy. In his first news conference as the Bills’ head coach, Doug Marrone didn’t dazzle us with historical references. He didn’t mention World War II, or quote from his favorite authors. If he had, I’m guessing it would have been from Peter King’s Monday morning column.
Marrone is a football coach, not a statesman. Like most of the men in his profession, he seems practiced in the art of saying nothing, with a certain air of authority. He danced around many of the pertinent football questions during a half-hour session with the media.
But Marrone knew enough to play to the sympathies of fans who are always eager to embrace athletes and coaches who sound and feel like one of them.
“I’m not going to stand up here and say, ‘I know this town. I’ve lived in this town,’ ” said Marrone, a native of the Bronx. “But I feel this town, and the core values here are one of the things that I look for.
“When you think about it, I was born and raised in this state I went to school in this state [he played college football at Syracuse]. My first coaching job ever was in this state [Cortland]. My first head-coaching job was in this state [SU]. And now, my dream job as an NFL head coach, again, is in this state.”
Russ Brandon, the team president and CEO, was beaming. It was nice to have the new coach embrace the role of a New York guy. It was only a few weeks ago, remember, that Gov. Andrew Cuomo was signing off on a new lease deal and helping push the idea of a new football stadium a decade down the road.
Brandon, a Syracuse native, is a big believer in regionalizing the franchise. He didn’t hire Marrone for his local roots, but it can’t hurt to have a New York guy who resurrected the state’s top college football program in charge of the only NFL team located in the state.
“I didn’t care if he was the coach of University of Tahiti,” Brandon said. “That’s a legitimate question, him being from Syracuse, but our focus was on the best man for the job, wherever that individual came from. He knows the area and he knows the tradition of this franchise. He respects it.”
He’s right. Marrone could just as well be from Tahiti, Texas or Toledo. And he wasn’t brought here to simply respect the Bills’ tradition. He’s here to restore it from the ashes, to lift it up from years of dysfunction, the way he did with a Syracuse program that had fallen on hard times.
It’s not words that matter now, but results. The Bills need a head coach who will take over the operation and make it his own. Brandon called Marrone, 48, the ideal man for the job.
“We wanted toughness, we wanted intellect, we wanted a culture change, a guy that will bring leadership, competitive leadership,” Brandon said. “We wanted to hopefully have someone with an NFL pedigree and head-coaching experience. Doug was a perfect candidate.”
Marrone, who played offensive line in college and the National Football League, said he’s “old school” in some ways. But he’s also an advocate of the new “analytics”. He said the New Orleans Saints used some analytics when he was offensive coordinator from 2006-08. He was open to new ideas, including the K-Gun offense, at SU.
Brandon intends to creates a department of analytics with the Bills, so Marrone’s innovative background was a selling point. General Manager Buddy Nix, who has been around football for half a century, agreed that Marrone brings a mixture of the old and the new to his dream job.
“I do,” Nix said. “He’s highly intelligent and keeps up with all the new trends. He knows about the old school stuff, too. So we’ve got the best of both worlds.”
Brandon said “organizations win championships, individuals do not” (although it certainly helps when one of those individuals is an elite quarterback).
But make no mistake about it. This will be Marrone’s show. At Syracuse, he changed a sloppy culture and restored a sense of order and discipline. He ran off problem players. He instructed the ones who remained to dress properly and be accountable.
Marrone made it clear that he will be in control of every aspect of the Bills’ operation. He’ll have a say in all three phases: offense, defense and special teams. This won’t be Gailey abdicating control of the defense, or Jauron being a clueless passenger on the offense.
“The main thing is when you’re the head football coach, you want to make sure that you’re truly the CEO of the program,” Marrone said, “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. 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. I do take offense when people say,‘You’re an offensive coach.’ I’ve been attacking defenses my whole entire life.”
Marrone doesn’t want to be pigeonholed. He had a reputation in Syracuse for being thin-skinned, sensitive about the way criticism affected his family.
“Who, me?” he said. “I’m an old school offensive lineman … I was always the kid that couldn’t play Pop Warner because I was the big, chubby kid. So I’ve learned about having thick skin for a long period of time.”
However thick his skin, Marrone strikes me as a guy with an edge, a coach who will demand a high standard from his players and everyone else in the organization. I don’t care if he came from college. An NFL player will respond to a coach who is consistent and fair, and who makes him better.
Marrone might be the sort to push back when the media ask the tough questions. That’s fine. After seven years of Jauron and Gailey, who had the emotional range of a monk, it would be refreshing to deal with a coach with a volatile side.
Bills fans wouldn’t mind, either. They’re tired of watching head coaches who look like statues on the sidelines. A little passion would be nice around here. I’m told Marrone was impassive in his early days at Syracuse. Then he decided to be true to his nature and became much more animated.
We have a well-earned skepticism. No one sells false hope like the Bills. But after years of disappointment, maybe they’re due for some luck. Wouldn’t it be something if it was a New York guy who finally got it right?