The Buffalo Bills were one of the NFL's biggest disappointments in the 2012 season. The offseason champs became the in-season chumps when Mario Williams and Co. flopped miserably. Coach Chan Gailey was rightly fired at the end of the season. He couldn't inspire. He couldn't lead. I wasn't sure, based on his play calling, if he remembered he actually employed C.J. Spiller.
The Bills needed two major pieces after Gailey was fired: a new head coach and a new quarterback. Gailey's chosen signal-caller, Ryan Fitzpatrick, has fizzled mightily since signing a new deal in the middle of the 2011 season. Fitzpatrick is not the answer for Buffalo, and he never should have received huge money.
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There were other, flashier candidates out there. I'm sure rabid Bills fans were eager to see a proven winner like Lovie Smith or Ken Whisenhunt shuffle to lovely Western New York. The Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles, meanwhile, were busy flirting with and romancing highly coveted Oregon coach Chip Kelly.
Unless the pool of available candidates suddenly changes, the Browns and Eagles will regret not hiring Marrone. He's smart and disciplined, the right man to lead the Bills out of the stone ages; he's ready to win now. But he needs a quarterback, which leads me to my next prediction: Marrone might not be the only one-time member of the Syracuse Orange football program to help save the Bills' franchise.
Enter Ryan Nassib.
Nassib, who just wrapped up his final season with Syracuse, is a legit NFL prospect. He has the height (6-foot-3), the weight (227 pounds), the arm and the savvy to succeed.
The people I most respect in the NFL think Nassib will eventually start and win as a pro. I polled five executives about Nassib, and they think he grades as someone who will be picked in the middle of the second round.
Bills general manager Buddy Nix told reporters in Buffalo on Monday how much he liked Nassib. Nix has also gone on record lamenting the fact he hasn't drafted a quarterback. Perhaps the wheels started turning that hiring Marrone could turn into a package deal, like what the Miami Dolphins ended up with after making former Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman their offensive coordinator and drafting former Aggies quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
Nassib is going to be drafted higher than his grade -- much higher. Watch him rise through the process. Many teams need a quarterback, but the free-agent class is weak and the draft class is worse.
When people studied Tannehill in the fall of 2011, nobody thought he was a future eighth overall pick. But that's what he became, and he ended up being solid for Miami, thanks to his knowledge of the Dolphins' system. He should only get better when Miami improves its receiving corps (perhaps by adding Greg Jennings) in the offseason.
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In October, I identified Marrone as someone who could be the next Greg Schiano, the long-time Rutgers coach who helped turn things around in his first season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. On Monday, two NFL general managers both used the word "smart" in describing to me what makes Marrone great for Buffalo.
Some well-respected NFL types like Marrone even more than Kelly because Marrone, a former offensive coordinator for the New Orleans Saints and offensive line coach with the New York Jets, has NFL experience. He also had a cup of coffee as a player, bouncing around as a training camp vagabond and landing with the Saints and Dolphins for short stints. He was cut by the Minnesota Vikings and went through true "two-a-days" under Don Shula, experiences that should give him credibility with players as well as perspective on what they go through.
"From the moment Sean (Payton) hired him here, it was clear he would be a head coach," Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said. "He has the requisite football schematic knowledge and, more importantly, the ability to teach it."
Bills fans shouldn't be concerned that Marrone had a .500 record with the Orange. As a proud Syracuse alum, I know all too well that it's a minor miracle those teams were even that good, considering the mess Marrone inherited from the clueless Greg Robinson, who couldn't coach (or recruit) his way out of a paper bag. Marrone worked tirelessly to restore relationships and bring quality players to the program. His charges responded. This experience puts him ahead of qualified and top NFL assistants who haven't been head coaches before.
After his news conference, a jubilant Marrone told me on the SiriusXM Blitz how he liked facing adversity and taking it head on as both a player and a coach. It's how he has shaped his career.
"When there is adversity," Loomis said, "he will have a calm presence and be a problem solver."
The Bills' front office has been a bit of a punchline in recent years, highlighted by Nix's not-so-funny quip about being asleep when the free-agency period started. But Nix can pick players, and his eventual replacement, Doug Whaley, is well respected. The Bills needed someone like Marrone, someone who can maximize the talent. They needed someone like Marrone, who can be authoritative in shaping the roster and the team's identity. Marrone told me that he buys into the statistically driven approach CEO Russ Brandon wants to implement, saying he has used it for years.
One of the knocks against Schiano was that he didn't put together a great staff, but this shouldn't be an issue with Marrone, who is respected in league circles and has great relationships.
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"Doug has great people skills," Loomis said. "He understands the need for chemistry among his staff and in the locker room.
"He was been in the NFL for a good period of time and will be able to identify and hire a good staff."
Marrone even confessed that, with the omnipresent reports about his status as a candidate over the weekend, he was getting texts from NFL assistant coaches he didn't know. However, Marrone stressed to me that he doesn't want "independent contractors." He wants guys who will bleed Bills football. He said he will talk to guys he used to work with "and smell their breath to make sure they are still as I remember them as football guys."
You have to love Doug Marrone.
If anyone can end Buffalo's long playoff drought, he can -- perhaps with the help of his old Syracuse gunslinger.