Originally posted on Buffalo Wins  |  Last updated 1/11/13
Well that didn’t take long. Less than a week after firing Chan Gailey, the Buffalo Bills — led by newly named president Russ Brandon — have hired Syracuse football resurgence figure, Doug Marrone. This is the latest move by the Bills to lessen the blow of another 6-10 finish that went straight to my heart. I was disheartened after the season finale against the Jets. It didn’t matter that they had just stomped Gang Green (okay, maybe it was kind of nice). All I could think of was the feeling I had 16 weeks earlier. All of the optimism of last offseason heading into this year was deflated in two quarters of football in the season opener against New York. The season was toast two hours in. Heading into the search for a new coach, I felt there were two essentials the Bills needed to accomplish: it had to be quick and the choice had to be relatively young. Check and check. News of hiring a coach so quickly is exactly what me, and thousands of other diehards needed. My mourning period of the Bills’ season lasted less than a week rather than the standard two or three months. And that’s remarkable considering this was one of the most disappointing seasons in my lifetime. With the Marrone hiring, I have newfound faith in this team and organization. Instead of tugging at my heartstrings by conducting a month-long search only to hire some bozo, it’s clear the brass did their homework this time. As a Red Sox fan, I learned during the process of hiring Bobby Valentine last year that a drawn-out search has more consequences than benefits. And I don’t say this just because the Sox made the egregious decision to hire the perverse Valentine. After firing Bobby V after this past season, the Sox brass received many kudos from respected Boston area writers for spearheading a speedy, yet efficient search for their vacated manager position. The same just happened in Buffalo, as they tirelessly interviewed a number of candidates in a short period of time. I’m willing to bet the search was quick but thorough because there were 20-hour days put forth by the committee during the week-long pursuit. Such a fast, ambitious search for the coach to end the Bills’ 13-year playoff drought is a good sign for the franchise moving forward. It shows the new-look front office’s desire to change the woeful fortunes of the past. At the very least, a fast-paced and motivated search committee is refreshing and unprecedented, at least during my time as a fan which began during Jim Kelly’s final year. Everyone involved in this rebirth project can now shift their focus toward getting ready for offseason duties, and there is no shortage of them. The longer the search took, the farther behind the Bills would have been, and good god, they’re already far enough behind. With Brandon’s promotion, Doug Whaley's larger role in football decisions, and the 48-year-old Marrone's new attitude and a forward-thinking model, the franchise is getting younger. Heck, maybe this could actually lead to continuity in the organization! Crazy to associate the “c” word with the Bills, I know.   Getting a coach out of the college ranks who also has NFL credentials is untested water for Buffalo. The Bills have never hired a coach directly out of college. But as I write this, in January, it has the fresh taste of Poland Spring. That cannot be overstated. It is new thinking compared to the other coaching searches of this millennium and at this point, what else does the organization have to lose? Their attempts to change in the past have been feeble and uninspired. Hiring Marrone shows a true effort to bring the Bills back to respectability. Many clamored for Lovie Smith to become the coach and I initially liked that prospect. After rethinking it, I would have been wary of such a move, however. With the cleansing of the front office’s biggest burden (sorry, Ralph), it would have seemed counterintuitive to the visionary model Brandon is now trying to sell. Smith isn’t getting any younger and would have been a retread at the head coaching position. As was Dick Jauron. As was Chan Gailey. It’s that sort of modus operandi that contributed to the 13-year futility of the Bills. Marrone is young and he’s tough. From accounts and reports that I have read, Marrone is a disciplinarian with a strong focus on attention-to-detail and fundamentals. I’ll drink that water. Despite my strong optimism, the Bills faithful seems ambivalent about the move. The initial announcement of the hire seemed to anger a lot of fans rather than energize and excite them. I was among the minority group from the moment I woke up to a text from WGR proclaiming the news EARLY Sunday morning. A heavy barrage of hate proceeded on Twitter. Marrone was actually trending for a period of time that morning. I saw tweets from misinformed fans stating that if Marrone was content with .500 play in college, then that’s exactly his fate in the pros. Talk about delusional. Syracuse was a wreck before Marrone saved the once proud program. Before Marrone paced the sidelines of the Carrier Dome, the Orange’s last winning season was in 2001. ‘Cuse has had two 8-5 seasons during Marrone’s four-year tenure. Greg Robinson, who preceded Marrone as the Orange head coach, had 10 wins in his four years at the helm. Syracuse won 25 games the last four years under Marrone. If you’re scoring at home, that’s nearly four more wins per season than Robinson. So for those that used the argument to protest the hire, how exactly does Marrone’s time at ‘Cuse constitute him being satisfied with .500 ball? I suppose those same people expected him to run the table each year in a “weak” Big East despite sporting a roster that is far from appealing. Nick Saban would have even had his work cut out to accomplish the daunting task of getting the Orange to .500 during these days of Conference realignment, which is beginning to leave the Big East in the dust. It was an admirable job completed by Marrone at Syracuse and it is now time for him to turn around another once proud, but now largely forgotten organization. Now that some time has elapsed since the hire, a plethora of fans have had a chance to dissect the move and have seemingly jumped out of unheated pool and into the hot tub. With increasingly more good words being said about him, the same fans who bashed the move originally are starting to warm up to the positives the new coach can bring. Marrone has received endorsements from Bill Parcells, Sean Payton, and Herm Edwards — all highly-respected football personalities. Not bad, eh? Sorry, had to do it. The NHL is back and Hockey Day in Canada is right around the corner. He came off well in his introductory press conference, too. But most new coaches will say all the right things in that situation. I’m sure Chan Gailey impressed during his as well. But the most promising thing I took out of his presser is that he stated he’s not very fond of being considered an offensive-minded coach. He’s the team’s coach, not just the offense's. No added entitlement to either side of the ball. Great. Chan was so captivated with handling the offense that the defense was often left in the dark. It often seemed they did not receive the appropriate coaching professional football players should obtain. Being the offensive coordinator for the juggernaut Saints from 2006-2008 is also a positive, though he didn’t call plays on gamedays. That’s fine because he won’t call plays for the Bills either. After the last three years of Bills football, it’s probably in the team’s best interest that Marrone not be in over his head with play-calling and head coaching responsibilities. Also noteworthy from his press conference is that Marrone stated he wants an offensive and defensive coordinator with “thorough NFL experience.” That was promising at the time, but he did not follow through with that in hiring Nathaniel Hackett as the OC. Though I am an advocate for the organization to get younger at all authority positions, 33 may be too young for a play-caller in the NFL. But we’ll see. Newly hired defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who has spent the last four years guiding top-10 defenses for the Jets, does fit the billing of “thorough” experience in the NFL. I love that hire. With so much invested in the defense, the Bills’ brass needed to bring in a coordinator who can maximize the value of the team's investment in as well as the talents of the “D.” I have little reason to believe the Bills are not a top-10 defense next year if Pettine can acclimate himself appropriately with the new coaching staff and players. But at the end of the day, anyone is an upgrade over Wanny, really. But the big issue in Buffalo remains the quarterback — more accurately, who is the quarterback? Drafting Syracuse senior Ryan Nassib intrigues me and not only because of his tie to Marrone — though it certainly would play a part in the discussion of selecting him. Drafting quarterbacks in the NFL is a total crapshoot but you have to roll the dice to win big. With that said, I think the Bills should roll the dice on Nassib if he’s available with the eighth pick. The quarterback frenzy the draft has become, there is no way he lasts until the second round. Point is, Nassib is a decent enough prospect, whose value could be maximized by playing for his college coach in the pros. Marrone and Hackett helped get Nassib to the point of being a touted prospect, so maybe he can help him become a touted pro. I can’t think of a better situation for Nassib to thrive, if he’s destined to. The Bills search committee stated that they were enamored with Marrone’s imagination on the offensive side of the ball. Well I’m imagining Nassib working with his old coach to become the Bills franchise quarterback they have so longed for since Jimbo. Maybe it works out, maybe it doesn’t. But you have to try it since the last quarterback the team drafted was Levi Brown, taken in the seventh round in 2010. He now plays in the CFL. Whichever route Brandon, Nix, Whaley and now Marrone decide to go in from this point forward, I’m slowly starting to “billieve” again. Whether it’s false hope or not really doesn’t matter. I’m just happy that a 13-year-old broken model has finally shattered and the higher-ups took notice and have no desire to just adjust it — they’re building a new one instead. That at least shows progress and a willingness to change. Both have been missing at One Bills Drive for far too long. The youth movement seems to have given the organization a spark of life and no one appears winded.
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