The tales of a Syracuse fan

So the Bills hire Doug Marrone and Mr. Pinzone essentially begs me to do a post for him (Editor's note: The cloak Kramer wore in Seinfeld was my bargaining chip) …for those of you who don’t know, I used to write for the site but then life got in the way and I decided to not continue (Editor's note: Hmmm).

But essentially with the Marrone hire, there is so much people invest emotionally into these types of hires I figured I’d take a few minutes to share my thoughts. 

I live in Syracuse, I’ve become a Syracuse fan and I’ve watched a lot of Syracuse football.  I’m not an expert, but I think there’s some value here.  Let’s walk through Doug Marrone’s recent history a little.

The downfall

Syracuse football was atrocious before Marrone took it over.  Paul Pasqualoni had taken much of the Syracuse high of the late 90s (Donovan McNabb and Marvin Harrison) and took a step back. Many here locally were displeased with where the program was going. 

For the record, Pasqualoni was 107-59-1 at Syracuse, but his last three years he went 16-20.  It was over. Syracuse turned the reigns over to a highly sought out coordinator Greg Robinson, who had been defensive coordinator for the Broncos during their Super Bowl years and had done a good job at Texas.  

He brought an entirely new system to Syracuse (West-coast offense vs. historical option).  For the sake of brevity, the tenure of Greg Robinson at Syracuse is most comparable to combining the Dick Jauron and Chan Gailey years.  Robinson was a west coast guy and tried to recruit nationally to Syracuse and disbanded much of the northeast recruiting network.

He disengaged the fan base and left Syracuse in what many publications called one of the 5-10 worst football programs…..in ALL of College football. 

Syracuse was dead. 

Robinson was 10-37. 

This isn’t exaggeration, it is fact.  Ask alumni and fans. Ask Michigan fans about their defense the next year after Robinson left.  Look up the 2008 roster and see Cameron Dantley’s gaudy 1,300 yards passing and 48% completion. 

There were some players Marrone got the most out of later (Darrell Smith, Doug Hogue, etc.), but it was painful to watch.  They lost to Akron 42-28.  Penn State? 55-13. Robinson’s career moment was winning against an underperforming Notre Dame team, but at that point, he was already gone.  

First game

The team had become completely unenjoyable and almost unwatchable.  When I first went to Oswego in 2001, I went to my first Syracuse game.  That team that year finished 10-3 had a decent 1-2 QB combination along with James Mungro at RB.  The team lost their first two games against top 10 teams (GT 13-7 and then Tennessee 33-9) but then went on a tear that had the Dome rocking each week including my first game, 24-13 win over WVU. 

By 2009, that was a distant memory.  It was as distant a memory as the Bills beating the Dolphins in ’95.  In ways, it was worse.  In college, there is no salary cap.  Free agency is begging kids to come play in Central New York.  Syracuse was dead. D-E-A-D.

Raising the dead.

Marrone was hired here for a multitude of reasons.  He was from the northeast, he was an alumni and most importantly, he was a highly sought after candidate.  I’m sure you have read numerous accounts of Marrone’s resume.  He’s been with Herm Edwards and Sean Payton, while being endorsed strongly by Bill Parcells.  He’s been a position coach in college and the pros, a coordinator for the Saints, and a head coach for Syracuse.

But who is Doug Marrone? 

Marrone is the guy who was hired and implemented what he called a CEO approach.  Marrone was very hands on with the offense his first two years, but then delegated much of those responsibilities to Nathaniel Hackett.  He almost completely turned over the defense to Scott Shafer. 

Marrone implemented an almost George Steinbrenner type policy of player’s needing to be clean shaven and wearing shirt and tie on game days.  He made players take etiquette classes.  He made them go to class.  He held them accountable.

Marrone’s delegation did not exclude him from holding his coaches accountable either.   When special teams coach/assistant head coach Bob Casullo’s unit underperformed and he undermined Marrone, he “left” the team.  It was that CEO, ruthless approach showing its head. 

What the Bills are getting

So the Bills hired a guy with a 25-25 record, who never called plays for the Saints and half of you didn’t hear about before he interviewed.  Typical Bills.  Russ Brandon is from East Syracuse and sits on a board of SU’s Sports Management Program.  REGIONALIZATION!!  I’d temper a lot of those thoughts and you are certainly entitled to them, but think about several of these things.

One…we have no idea what is said in interviews.  Brandon, Whaley and Nix may have been blown away by Marrone.  It is said he went to his SU interview with three binders of a detailed plan he had meticulously planned for years in order to turn around the orange. 

He wanted SU or an NFL head coaching job.  My guess is he had an equally prepared set of binders (cue up the Romney jokes) for turning around a NFL Franchise.

Two… we have no idea if any of these guys were going to work.  You wanted Chip Kelly?  At least Marrone is familiar with NFL lifestyle and players.  You wanted Lovie? Well, consider Marrone wasn’t fired last week and a fan base is now devastated because he’s leaving.  I am not so sure Bears fans feel that way. 

You wanted a hot named coordinator?  Well, as Joe pointed out on this site you would have been happy with this hire in 2009 then?  Point is that all of them are a wait and see candidate. 

The Bills have been a collective failure for 13 seasons now and it was going to be an uphill battle for any of them to turn this around. And regardless, whoever was picked a large subsection of fans were going to be upset. That is unless Whisenhunt was picked. Then we’d all be upset.

Why do I like the Marrone hire?

His single greatest accomplishment at Syracuse wasn’t 25-25 or two bowl games. It was the changing of a losing culture. Methodically and deliberately.  Numerous players quit and left the program because Marrone was too demanding.

He was selling his way, got people to buy in to it, and Syracuse improved well before the influx of better talent arrived.  Will his tactics work in the NFL? Aaron Williams in etiquette classes?  Definitely not, but this is where his previous NFL experience will aid him. He’s worked with grown men and multi-millionaires.  One of the other areas Marrone has shown qualities in was being progressive and adaptable. 

When Syracuse had Nassib start as a sophomore with Antwan Bailey and Delone Carter, they pounded the ball in a more traditional offense, while the last two years they utilized a more progressive spread attack. 

At the end of the day, picking a coach is a lot like picking a quarterback in the draft. It’s a crapshoot.  There are no guarantees or sure things.  Who they bring on their staff and whose on their roster becomes an equally important aspect. 

The first step of this wait and see approach is who the Bills hire, particularly as defensive coordinator.  I think Marrone has the right approach to try and make this work, but none of us have any clue whether he will or not. 

Let’s not pretend we do either.


About Joe

The Lord of Buffalo Wins