Tonawanda News

January 7, 2013

PARRINO: Bills back in business?

By Matt Parrino
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News —

I didn't like it at first. 

It was about 11 a.m. on Sunday morning and I wasn't expecting to wake up to the news that the Buffalo Bills had found their new coach, not even a week after firing Chan Gailey. Then when I didn't hear the name Lovie Smith or even Ken Whisenhunt (come on, he led the Arizona Cardinals to a Super Bowl appearance), I was ready to explode.

How often does a college head coach successfully transition to the pro game? For every Jim Harbaugh there is at least a Steve Spurrier, Nick Saban and Butch Davis, and those are some heavy hitters. How could the Bills possibly be on the road back to respectability with Doug Marrone, former head coach at Syracuse — a name most sports fans outside of New York state probably didn't even know existed before Sunday?

Well, here's what I've come up with in the 36 hours since hearing the news.

I like his attitude and I feel like he's the kind of coach players might respond to. I know Stevie Johnson came out publicly in support of Gailey after he got the ax, something I respected, but how many of these 20-something-year-olds can relate to a 61-year-old coach. It's the issue I had with Gailey from the start — that and the fact that he spent several seasons at Georgia Tech after years coaching in the NFL. It's not usually a good sign when football coaches backtrack, there must have been a reason why.

Bills fans have seen why Gailey isn't an NFL-caliber head coach after three seasons drowned in mediocrity after several flickers of hope. He was given the gift of C.J. Spiller and never was able to figure out how to use him — and let's be honest, all he needed to do was give him the ball.

Marrone won't have that problem. He's an innovative offensive mind that is always looking for ways to get the most of his players. He won't stick with a Ryan Fitzpatrick-like quarterback who is underperforming because he's determined to prove that he was right by making him a starter. He said it on Monday afternoon in the news conference that introduced him as new coach: he will play the player that gives the team the best chance to win, no matter what.

In his two stints in the NFL — offensive coordinator for New Orleans from 2006-08 and offensive line coach for the New York Jets from 2002-05 — Marrone has had a great deal of success. He coached Drew Brees to the two highest quarterback rating seasons of his career and hall of famer Curtis Martin had his best yardage output in the 2004 season behind Marrone's offensive line.

The 2013 athlete is a bit more high-maintenance than when Gailey started coaching, which means a coach has to be able to cater a bit to his players. Marrone believes it's critical to maintain a good line of communication with his players so they always know what to expect. I never got the sense that Gailey kept his players in the know. On numerous occasions this past season, Johnson made it a point to question the play calling, and it never really seemed that everyone down at One Bills Drive was on the same page.

Marrone brings excitement, a proven track record and — if he's able to bring in a good defensive coordinator — I think Bills fans should be happy with the direction of the franchise. There have been many reports that Marrone was on the radar of several teams looking to fill a head coaching vacancy, and in his press conference he said he chose Buffalo.

I didn't like it at first, but I think Doug Marrone was a good hire. Now the Bills have to find a competent quarterback. That might take a while.

Respond to Tonawanda News sports editor Matt Parrino on Twitter @MattParrino or by email: matt.parrino@tonawanda-news.com.