Marrone Blocks Ahead

Doug Marrone isn’t going to accept excuses from his players anymore than he’ll ask for them from the Bills Mafia. His no-nonsense approach is no affectation, as this summer’s suitably tough training camp is a reflection of the team he wants to field. Working relentlessly is the loudest way of announcing the intention to prove capability.

Photo of Doug Marrone courtesy of Scott DelleFave.
Photo of Doug Marrone courtesy of Scott DelleFave.

The willingness to adapt is an auspicious sign for fans warming to a new boss. For one, many Bills followers are aware that Syracuse found success last year acting like they were getting points for every snap. But what’s most telling is that the coach succeeded with a high-tempo system to which he wasn’t wed: sensing a new approach would be effective, coaches installed the offense’s hasty approach a mere two weeks before the season started. The bold change worked: it’s hard to be successful at speeding around while weighed down by huge balls, but they managed. Most importantly, the coach was flexible enough to put his team in a position to win with a change virtually made on the fly.

Philosophically, backers should feel encouraged by having a coach who works with what he has. Marrone was able to figure where his college players best fit instead of shoehorning them into a molded scheme. It’s hard to picture him in the pro ranks engaging in infuriating behavior like, say, rigidly sticking with a struggling pass game while idling two gifted running backs.

The same malleable approach could work for Buffalo’s defense, which is designed to be less of an intractably static system and more of a chance to flaunt versatility. An approach which changes in response to a game’s circumstances is itself a welcome change. Good coaches evolve while the league’s dinosaurs wonder how to cope with comets.

Photo courtesy of Alex Joseph.
Photo courtesy of Alex Joseph.

Those new to his background also should put what appears to be a mediocre record in context. Marrone wasn’t so much a coach at Syracuse as he was a disaster response coordinator. From 2005 until the former Orange blocker returned to campus as boss after the 2008 season, watching football may as well have been a punishment for undergraduates on academic probation.

The university had just endured the worst four-year stretch in the history of a program that first played in the 1880s. Syracuse has fielded a football side for long enough to make the Bills seem positively youthful, and Doug Marrone led the recovery from its nadir. He brought stability, on-field competence, and eventually wins as he led the escape from an orange-tinted black hole. With chaotic circumstances enveloping the program in mind, winning half his games was a remarkable accomplishment.

A pair of Pinstripe Bowl trophies (http://twitpic.com/3lgf0k, http://twitpic.com/bqms4w) are his reward for coping with inheriting a catastrophe from the comically useless Greg Robinson. By comparison, cleaning up the mess of the merely obtusely uninspiring Chan Gailey will seem like a trip to Darien Lake. The only thing easier might be managing a better record than the last Syracuse offensive lineman to coach Buffalo.

No matter the record, Marrone’s team should follow his example and treat nonsense like an enemy. Even after heading to the NFL, the coach has maintained a refusal to tolerate balderdash. It’s not a new habit: any Orange coach willing to tell electrifying SU legend Dan Conley that he wasn’t going to amount to anything is one more worried about results than politics. There was tremendous roster turnover when he arrived on campus through players leaving voluntarily or being shown the door, and he showed no interest in keeping troublemakers onboard no matter how badly depleted the depth chart was.

Photo courtesy of Michael Thomas.
Photo courtesy of Michael Thomas.

With his penchant for knowing when not to give a damn what observers think, Marrone offers higher hopes than usual for a first-year coach taking over a squad whose last edition lost five games for every three it won. His demonstrated ability to both motivate players and use them properly can only help a youngish team we should be glad outsiders don’t presently notice on the radar.

It wasn’t a perfect reign a few exits along the 90: most infamously, the Orange started 2011 5-2 and finished it 5-7, as an achingly frustrating season-ending stretch left them bowl-ineligible. And the defense occasionally coped with fundamental problems like finishing tackles and maintaining proper position. But he improved a team in far worse shape than the Bills. The optimism that accompanies him is only sad for Buffalo fans who double as Syracuse backers. And that’s no reason to cheer against a promotion of a favorite employee.

About Anthony Bialy

Anthony Bialy recently moved back to Buffalo from New York City and acts like he never left. He thinks "Buffalo 66" is biographical and considers it a crime against mankind that Steve Tasker is not in the Hall of Fame. He likes getting Tim Hortons on the way to get Labatt Blue. Follow him on Twitter at @AnthonyBialy.