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Whatta Marrone!

Coach's Power Play Backfires

(Note: At press time, the Buffalo Bills have not come up with a replacement for former head coach Doug Marrone, while their list of completed and scheduled interviews seems to grow by the hour. Nor has Marrone found a new gig. Ongoing coverage of both situations can be found at and

Maybe Doug Marrone wasn’t so smart, after all.

When the most recent coach of the Buffalo Bills abruptly walked away from the franchise on New Year’s Eve, there were two ways of looking at his decision.

From a fan’s perspective, it was a matter of simple betrayal, abandoning his team about 72 hours after it beat a rather shoddy facsimile of the New England Patriots to secure Buffalo’s first season in which it won more games than it lost since 2004. And about 72 hours after telling his players “It’s all about the Bills family” in the visitors’ locker room at Gillette Stadium, where they had won for the first time ever.

From a more detached viewpoint, though, Marrone’s decision was harder to condemn. The opt-out clause in his contract had been negotiated between his agent and the Bills, taking into account the then-fragile health of since-deceased owner Ralph Wilson. Being guaranteed a year’s salary, particularly when that salary is $4 million, had to be particularly tempting, especially with a soft landing spot with the Jets in New Jersey in the offing.

Given the circumstances—new owners, front-office uncertainty, his own torching of any sort of a relationship with the only remotely feasible quarterback left on the roster after Orton’s Irish Goodbye and that sweet opt-out clause, triggered by the sale of the team to Terry and Kim Pegula following Wilson’s death—it’s difficult to argue that Marrone didn’t make the right decision, one which most people would have made in the unlikely event they had the opportunity.

Well, turns out he might not have been so smart, after all.

The Jets’ coaching search did not end when they interviewed Marrone over the weekend. In fact, they have expanded their coaching search in the days since.

Meanwhile, Marrone’s candidacy has taken a beating in the New York-area media, with a series of articles in the Daily News portraying his various gripes about the team’s personnel department—particularly the selections of E.J. Manuel and Sammy Watkins in the last two drafts—and prickly relations with some within the organization, as well as his hurt feelings over criticism from press and fans in Western New York. Much of the friction had already been reported by the Buffalo News, but having it trumpeted from the pages of a New York tabloid on the morning of his interview with Jets owner Woody Johnson could not have possibly helped the chances of a man whose resume is highlighted by a 15-17 NFL record and a Pinstripe Bowl win at Syracuse.

There is no small amount of irony here. Marrone’s dismay that not everyone treated Buffalo’s 21-13 win over Green Bay as affirmation of his coaching genius reportedly played in a role in his decision to split. If Buffalo’s sporting media, which consists of one major newspaper from Buffalo, one from Rochester, and a handful of TV and radio stations, was too much for Marrone, how was he going to handle his coaching decisions being dissected at length by Mike Francesca, or mocked in screaming headlines on the back pages of the Daily News and the New York Post? If he winds up without a head-coaching gig after all this, Marrone will have his own hometown papers to blame.

(Note: We Want Marangi’s editorial board endorses Marrone for the Jets job, if only to set up a reader contest to guess the date when one of the tabloids goes with “Whatta Marrone!” While this would be a fairly obscure reference to an old Bugs Bunny catch-phrase, the target demographic of most daily newspapers is now people who first experienced Warner Brothers cartoons in a darkened theater, after the newsreel and before the feature presentation. So it’s a natural.)

And Marrone may have had a point about the need for organizational change, but if so, it was buried by the way he left.

For all the uncertainty surrounding the Bills and their former coach, at least we now know what Marrone meant when he kept saying Kyle Orton “gives us the best chance to win,” despite all statistical and aesthetic evidence to the contrary.

Translation, in light of this week’s new information:

“I have a three-day window at the end of the season in which I can collect $4 million and get the hell out of Buffalo, and since I have absolutely no idea how to develop the young quarterback who I was involved in selecting less than two years ago, I believe Kyle Orton gives me the best chance to scrape out an extra win or two this year, which could be the difference between another team that has not really been paying attention viewing me as an up-and-comer or realizing that I am really Mike Mularkey with a Bronx accent.”

Being a bright guy, though, Marrone deftly used first-person plural pronouns to give the impression that he might have given a crap about the progress of Buffalo’s first-round quarterback, or anything else related to the Bills beyond Dec. 31, 2014.

Clearly, he did not.

So, good for him. Assuming he is really as hot a coaching property as he and his agent believe, Marrone can now take his asterisk-riddled 9-7 record to New Jersey, or wherever.

As for the Bills themselves, whatever meaning there might have been to that win in New England—or Buffalo’s eight other victories in 2014, for that matter—followed Orton and Marrone out the door.

Maybe Marrone was right. Maybe the Bills would have gone 6-10 or 7-9, or worse, if he stuck with Manuel.

Or maybe Manuel would have improved, beginning with what would have been his 15th professional start.

Either way, the Bills would have a better idea whether Manuel has a future here, or if those who are convinced he’s a bust—in no small part because Marrone benched him—are correct.

Instead, they open the offseason without a coach, without a quarterback and without a first-round pick in the upcoming draft.

That last missing element was yet another source of discontent for Marrone, according to multiple reports. Supposedly, he was against drafting Manuel, too.

All of which makes you wonder a bit. How much of the decision to bench Manuel, and keep Orton in there even after some horrific outings, was about sticking it to Doug Whaley (Buffalo’s general manager and Marrone’s chief adversary in several anonymously sourced stories dating back to last summer)? After all, if Manuel did rebound from his own low point in Houston enough to get Buffalo, home to one of the NFL’s top defenses, to .500 or above, Whaley’s choice of Manuel would have looked inspired.

Marrone certainly did not take any chances on that happening. Instead, he stuck with a repeatedly dismissed journeyman who was, by any measure, one of the league’s least-effective full-time starters.

The chronic under-usage of Watkins through much of his rookie season also seems a little odd. Fans and media have griped about Watkins being out-performed by other first-year wideouts chosen later in the draft, like the superlative Odell Beckham Jr. of the New York Giants, while insisting Whaley gave up too much to get him. Writing Watkins out of the game plan in several key contests did little to combat either impression.

You would like to think that an NFL coach would not be so petty, or power-hungry, as to make decisions intended, even in part, to show up his boss. But at this point, Marrone deserves the benefit of zero doubts.

Dave Staba has been writing about the team, among other topics, for local and national publications since 1990. Follow him on and

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