Doug Marrone has been around the NFL enough years to know how training camp works. Nearly everybody hits the reset button and shows up optimistic and upbeat. It’s a blissful period in which strengths are highlighted, weaknesses are minimized and bygones are bygones until results prove otherwise.
Apparently, he didn’t get the memo.
Marrone has been sending mixed messages with his short, terse answers to softball questions about his team. He should be hitting them 400 feet, but instead he has sounded like a grumpy coach desperately needing a break from the monotony and repetitiveness that comes with camp.
His approach is a departure from last season, when he was an engaging and willing participant as the Bills’ rookie coach. He was excited and hopeful and transparent. He handled tough questions with straight answers, often with a hint of humor. If anything, there were times he may have said too much.
So what’s with the porky attitude?
Bills apologists point to oversensitive media types who take his intermittent crabbiness as a personal affront. Some conclude that Marrone is crumbling under the uncertainty of ownership. Others argue that Marrone is mimicking championship coaches such as Bill Belichick and Gregg Popovich.
In fact, it could be all of the above.
My read, after seeing hundreds of professional athletes and coaches come and go over the past quarter-century, is that it’s none of the above. He doesn’t have a particular gripe with the media. He’s not worried about the next owner or his job security. He’s certainly not trying to be somebody he’s not.
Marrone is looking for results, plain and simple, and he’s not backing down until he gets them. Whatever pressure he’s feeling comes from within, not future owners or current management, not the fans and definitely not the media. He’s doing whatever he can to win because that’s his job.
It’s precisely what his team needs and what its fan base should demand. Coaches, like parents, have different styles. Some change their approach from one day to the next, depending on the situation. It’s almost always calculating. Marrone was irritable again Tuesday before being more open and cooperative Wednesday.
He’s pushing and pulling back and using the media to get his message across to players and fans. Nice didn’t work, so now he’s proving he’ll do whatever is necessary to improve. He believes an edge to his personality gives his team a competitive edge. If he offends a few people along the way, oh well.
Take his handling of Robert Woods, a productive player and hard worker as a rookie last season. Marrone didn’t see his receiver playing with the petulance he expected, so he played him with the second team in the preseason opener. Woods was annoyed and returned to practice with something to prove.
Marrone’s approach worked, and now Woods is working harder for him. See how it works?
Let’s remember that Marrone is a tough cookie from the Bronx, a former offensive lineman whose work ethic exceeded his talent. Bills fans grew tired of Dick Jauron’s cerebral, soft nature. Chan Gailey supposedly was over his head and a pushover before he was run out of town.
Marrone is suited for Buffalo. He’s not one for excuses and nonsense. He doesn’t tolerate laziness. His mistakes are usually from snap decisions that backfire, not pure stupidity. No matter what he says, or fails to say, he fears his team failing this season more than anyone.
And he should be worried.
It’s not a good sign when Marcell Dareus shows up for camp out of shape, especially after his offseason of trouble. Marrone can’t be too happy about his defensive tackle putting him in a bind, forcing him to publicly compromise his principles knowing the player helps the coach’s overall mission.
He also can’t be too thrilled with the play of his quarterback, either. EJ Manuel might be more familiar with the offense, but he hasn’t looked any better. He continues to have problems processing the game, and it was evident during his short stint in the preseason opener. He’s a persistent source of concern.
The Bills aren’t going anywhere until they get their offense straightened out, and they’re a long way away. Marrone’s crankiness isn’t likely to change if the Bills play poorly again tonight in Charlotte. His intensity will be ratcheted up a few more notches. His patience will wear even thinner, his demands greater.
So, yeah, Marrone is getting aggravated and showing emotion.
Isn’t that what you want?
Year after year, coaches brush aside the preseason as that, the preseason, while ignoring the obvious. Fans eagerly climb aboard. Marrone has been trying to change their collective attitude. He wants the Bills practicing better and playing better and competing harder because there’s been enough losing.
Nobody should be surprised that his tune, and his tone, changed after finishing 6-10 last season. The Bills weren’t good enough, and he’s trying to turn around their record. He’s not accepting status quo. Everything matters to him, including the preseason. That’s his message. It’s about time, but he should know that it’s also about time his team wins more than it loses. How about making the playoffs? If they fall short, it means he falls short, and ultimately that falls on him. He’s not the only one in town looking for results, and he’s not the only one with an edge.
That’s a message to him.