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Marrone has plenty of work ahead

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Posted: Monday, January 7, 2013 2:29 pm

So it’s Doug Marrone.

At least that’s who every NFL insider and the Associated Press are saying is the latest Buffalo Bills head coach though, as of late Sunday night, there’s been no official announcement from the team.

 

There’s a reluctance to criticize the new coach with the ink not even dry on his contract — but the choice leaves me wondering.

To many Buffalo fans, Marrone’s hiring followed a predictable pattern ... a non-marquee selection who was willing to take the job AND work for a low-end salary.

Clearly Marrone wasn’t among the big names on the market — Lovie Smith, Andy Reid, Ken Whisenhunt or even Jon Gruden, a name tossed out every year since he went to ESPN, but never really attached to an actual job, were the premier candidates.

Smith, Reid and Whisenhunt had just been fired by the Bears, Eagles and Cardinals, respectively, but still had appeal to other teams.

Ray Horton, the Cards’ defensive coordinator, and Mike McCoy, who runs the Broncos’ offense, also had emerged as head-coaching candidates after solid runs as top level assistants.

Then there was the highly-coveted college coach du jour, Oregon’s Chip Kelly.

Reportedly, of those seven Buffalo interviewed all but Gruden and Reid, who quickly took the job in Kansas City.

 

TO ME, the best I can say about Marrone is that he’s not Kelly.

The impressive numbers he put up with the Ducks — 46-7 record, 48 points-per-game average this season, and in the Top 3 Division I season scoring each year since 2010  — mask one very critical omission from his resume ...  NFL experience.

That might be one reason why the Browns, where Kelly was reportedly headed, backed out.

Then, the Eagles, who supposedly wanted him, said they were “going a different direction” when Kelly appeared Cleveland-bound, only to interview him for nine hours on Saturday.

 

MARRONE, a .500 coach at Syracuse, did string consecutive 8-5 seasons with the Orange, including an impressive pasting of West Virginia in the Pinstripe Bowl. That was a decided improvement for a school that had won barely 30 percent of its games before Marrone arrived.

But most important, as it relates to the Bills, he has an NFL pedigree.

Marrone spent four years as offensive line coach for the Jets and three as the Saints’ offensive coordinator, though it was in name only, as head coach Sean Payton actually called the plays.

But here’s the problem.

Marrone hasn’t been in the NFL since 2008 and now he’s charged with filling a staff of assistants — the fired Chan Gailey had 18 of them — four years removed from his days in the pros.

And that’s only problem No. 1.

An even bigger issue is quarterback.

No single circumstance will decide Marrone’s fate more quickly and completely than the quality of his QB.

Incumbent Ryan Fitzpatrick has become an impossible sell for the Bills’ marketing department due to his sub-standard arm and dismal record as a starter.

And a decision on his fate is accelerated by the fact he’s owed a $3 million bonus on his six-year, $59 million contract, come March.

The only other possible option on the current roster is Tarvaris Jackson, acquired for a draft choice from Seattle last August, but never active for a single game this past season.

 

GENERAL manager Buddy Nix, who lost some of his authority when Russ Brandon was elevated to President/CEO last week, was on record as saying the Bills would draft a quarterback, come April.

Of course, they should have done it last year when they could have taken the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson in the third round, instead of bust-in-the-making wide receiver T.J. Graham.

The issue this year is that there aren’t any Andrew Lucks, Robert Griffin IIIs or Wilsons in the draft.

West Virginia’s Geno Smith seems guaranteed to go in the first round, but after that there are vast differences of assessment of the QBs available, including Marrone’s Ryan Nassib, currently rated the No. 7 draft eligible quarterback, seen as a third-rounder.

 

SO MARRONE must fill a staff quickly — either using college assistants or NFL observations he made four years ago — then find at least one QB even before the draft.

And there’s one other issue ... unrealistic expectations.

During his introductory press conference, when talking about the search for a head coach, Brandon allowed, “I think we have the best opportunity in the National Football League and I’m not saying that for newspaper clippings. We have a very robust roster and young core of talent. We have a brand new lease. We have a renovation package going into this stadium. We have a (potential) new stadium on the horizon. We have world-class, great people in this organization. This is a plum opportunity.”

Maybe not.

The folks in Philadelphia, Cleveland, Arizona, Kansas City, Chicago and San Diego might just disagree.

Buffalo has missed the playoffs for an NFL-leading 13 straight years with one winning record.

Brandon’s assessment of the roster is curious, considering it went 16-32 under Gailey and showed no depth at linebacker, wide receiver, cornerback or tight end.

The new lease is fine, hopefully keeping the Bills in Buffalo for seven years ... though there’s no guarantee what a new owner would do after owner Ralph Wilson’s passing, $400 million lease buyout notwithstanding.

Yeah, the 40-year-old stadium will be renovated, but it’s still among the six oldest in the league and virtually at the bottom of the NFL in creature comforts. And talk of a potential new stadium, at this point, seems to be nothing more than that ... talk.

Brandon’s a marketing guru, so what else would you expect him to say?

But the reality is, the Bills’ job is hardly a “plum opportunity.”

So what if it isn’t?

The important thing is finding a coach willing to tackle the job, shortcomings notwithstanding.

Clearly the Bills feel they’ve found that guy.

But here’s hoping Marrone knows what he’s getting into.

 

(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at cpollock@oleantimesherald.com)

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