For the fourth time since 2004, the Buffalo Bills will soon hold a press conference introducing the newest head coach of the team. However, for the first time in the team’s fifty three year history, they will be hiring someone directly from the college ranks, to assume control of the floundering franchise.
Syracuse University Head Coach Doug Marrone will step to the podium in the coming days and answer the probing questions of (a rightfully so) impatient and skeptical fan base, about being named the 17th head coach in Buffalo Bills history. What Marrone represents, unlike the previous men to stand behind the same podium he soon will, is tangible proof of change in the decision making process at One Bills Drive. Over the past decade-plus of upsetting mediocrity and irrelevance, the Bills decision-maker(s) have always sided with the “safe choice” when selecting a head coach- someone from the “good ole boys club” who has enjoyed brief, staggered success in previous NFL years. Much like playing a game to not lose, the only result this tactic of coach selection has bred for the Bills- is more losing.
On the heels of the organizational hierarchy change on this past New Year’s Day, the selection of Marrone as head coach, demonstrates the change in culture new President and CEO Russ Brandon was speaking to. The sentiment of the Buffalo Bills brand being “tarnished” is not something that could have been fixed by selecting yet another retread, recently fired “safe” coach, such as Ken Wisenhunt or Lovie Smith. How does any company or business in America go about re-legitimizing their brand after a PR disaster? Typically, it’s by taking a risk, thinking unconventionally and perhaps even wincing a little bit as you pull the trigger.
In short, with the choice of Marrone as head coach, Brandon and the Bills will be wincing a little. It’s a leap of faith that his hard-nosed, meticulous approach to coaching will translate to a roster of professional men, and not just a group of college kids. It’s a hope that his fiery, innovative ways will allow the Bills to step into the same stadium as the Patriots, and not just “hope” to play well, but expect to win. After transforming a 10-37 woebegone Syracuse Orange football program, to a culture of winning and relevancy, Marrone seems to be just the man to take over the tire fire that has been the Buffalo Bills, and clear out the “loser mentality” that seems to be hanging over Ralph Wilson Stadium like a thick, gray January snow cloud.
Who Marrone chooses to join him on his Bills staff, will be very telling. Despite his NFL experience as a position coach for the NY Jets and offensive coordinator of the Saints, will Marrone be able to re-assimilate back to the NFL game, after spending the past four years at Syracuse? A great way to accomplish this would be to surround him with a blend of new and experienced NFL coaches that can offer varying degrees of expertise and vantage points. While Marrone will of course be calling the shots on game day, and intricately involved in game planning during the week, he must empower and lead those he tabs as coordinators and position coaches, to contribute to the team’s success. Hopefully, the days are gone of the head coach of the Bills wearing “many hats” and having their hands on one side of the ball too much (see Gailey, Mularkey, Williams, Phillips, etc). A head coach must be first and foremost, a leader of men. Focusing on this, with the attitude and accountability that Marrone showcased at Syracuse, should come naturally for the Bronx, NY native.
Since fans and media always tend to label the status of an NFL franchise with terms like “rebuilding” or “reloading”, the term that seems to fit best (especially in light of the sentiment spoken by the team’s president and CEO) is “rebranding”. The 2013 Buffalo Bills are attempting to rebrand themselves with a different type of hierarchy, coach, and philosophy.
Only time will tell if this risk Brandon and the Bills are taking, will in turn lead to more victories. But for most Bills fans, after thirteen years of enduring incredibly meaningless and dreadful football, the very act of this type of change has to at least be met and welcomed with open minds.
Good luck Doug Marrone, Bills fans are pulling for you.