The Buffalo Bills have gone through four head coaches since their last trip to the postseason in 1999. They’re now officially onto their fifth option in 13 seasons, and they hope that this time they’ve hired the right guy.
Doug Marrone didn’t have to travel far from his home as head coach at Syracuse to his new digs in Buffalo — two hours and 21 minutes via car, according to Google Maps — but he knows the journey he’s embarking on with the Bills will take a lot longer than that.
Marrone spoke at length during his introductory news conference on Monday about “working with the players” and “getting to work,” showing that he’s well aware of the tall task at hand, but he also appears to be the perfect man for that job.
The Bills finished below .500 for the eighth consecutive season in 2012 (6-10) and in the cellar of the AFC East for a fifth straight year. Some glaring issues on defense have contributed to that disappointment, but the Bills’ primary concern remains on the offensive side of the ball — something of a specialty for Marrone.
Before taking over at Syracuse in 2009, Marrone directed the New Orleans Saints’ offense under Sean Payton for three seasons. During his stint as offensive coordinator, Marrone led the Saints’ offense to new heights, which included three consecutive finishes among the NFL’s top-five offenses — twice finishing first. By taking the job at Syracuse, Marrone didn’t have a role in the Saints’ 2009 Super Bowl winning team, but his imprint on that offensive system was very much a part of their championship success.
Marrone’s most remarkable feat, though, might be his role in the development of Drew Brees in that Saints system. Brees is now one of the NFL’s preeminent passers and even broke the record for passing yards (5,476) in a single season in 2011. The hope for the Bills is that Marrone will be able to similarly develop a quarterback — likely not Ryan Fitzpatrick — and instill some offensive innovation in Buffalo.
The presence of running backs C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson and wide receiver Stevie Johnson offers the Bills plenty of offensive weapons for such innovation, now Marrone’s job will be to find a quarterback to lead the attack. Fitzpatrick isn’t the answer unfortunately, which the Bills are a little late in realizing after handing him a five-year, $30 million contract last season, but there will be options on the free-agent market and through the draft to find a replacement.
With an Alex Smith, Jason Campbell or even Michael Vick under center, the Bills very well could be competitive in 2013 and beyond. There are some questions left to be answered in Buffalo, but Marrone’s creativity and hands-on approach could have the Bills back in the playoff picture in no time, which would solve one problem for the franchise. As for the division, the Patriots may still have a stranglehold on the AFC East, but a few years down the line Marrone may even have these Bills vying for division titles.
Photo via Facebook/Coach Doug Marrone