Doug Marrone hasn’t coached enough games for us to draw any real conclusions, so Bills fans shouldn’t waste their energy getting swept up by one win. He’s an NFL head coach after all, prone to outsmarting himself and looking foolish like all the others. For proof, examine Sunday’s game against Carolina.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera practically led the Bills to victory in the final two minutes. First, he elected for a field goal on fourth-and-1 against a weary Buffalo defense that had trouble stopping the run. He trumped that decision with a prevent defense that allowed a rookie quarterback to beat them, with no timeouts, in the final 1:38.
It set off Manuel Mania in Buffalo, but that’s how coaches quickly become ex-coaches. Rivera will be fortunate to survive the season.
Marrone is bound to make mistakes, but there’s an admirable authenticity to him that leads you to believe he’s the right fit for Buffalo, N.Y., even if he fails for the Buffalo Bills. He was born and raised in the Bronx, but he’s not pushy and arrogant like many New Yorkers who roll into town thinking they have the answers for us bumpkins.
If anything, he has shown just the opposite. He showed up with no pretense or ego and has remained grounded and unassuming. Maybe he was humbled while playing college ball at Syracuse or by having a short NFL career or starting as a volunteer assistant coach at Cortland or taking over a terrible Orange team as a head coach.
Regardless, he comes off like a Buffalo guy.
That’s a compliment, by the way, not an indictment.
His vulnerable side came through after the game Sunday when he broke down in tears while talking about Rob Edson, a friend from Syracuse who died a day earlier while mowing his lawn. Head coaches rarely show emotion when standing behind a microphone and hardly ever invite people into their personal lives.
Marrone did, and you couldn’t help but feel for him. He looked like a grieving neighbor rather than a big-time coach celebrating his first NFL victory. He showed more human qualities in two minutes than most coaches do in 20 years. Anyone watching wanted to give him a hug, take him out for a beer and convince him that everything would be OK.
So far, he has been forthcoming and honest – to a point, anyway – about his team. He takes his job seriously while making it clear that football is supposed to be fun and exciting. He wants his team playing with emotion. He’s also well aware that he’s trying to win a few football games, not solve the crisis in Syria.
His personality will take him a long way in Buffalo.
Bills fans are desperate for a winner first and a good guy second, but they’ll embrace the latter while hoping for the former. Buffalo has a small-town feel, in many ways a college town feel like Syracuse, compared to most NFL markets. The community longs for reasons to wrap its arms around the organization. Usually, it starts with winning.
Buffalo will forever have a soft spot in its collective heart for Marv Levy, who lost four consecutive Super Bowls. Levy had a grandfatherly relationship with people who saw him walking their neighborhoods and eating at their restaurants. Many came to know him personally, and he became infinitely more charming because he won.
Years ago, fans who filled the stadium on Sundays would celebrate with players over a beer or two – or more – at the Big Tree Inn after the game. There was a communal connection to the Bills that stretched beyond buying tickets. It dissipated through time and failure and hasn’t returned in quite the same way.
It’s a fragile relationship.
Wade Phillips was a good guy who had the misfortune of replacing Levy. Gregg Williams was a good guy in private, overbearing in public. Mike Mularkey took the first bus out of town. Dick Jauron, distant and impersonal, was intelligent for only six days a week. Chan Gailey was likeable enough but stubborn to a fault.
We were inclined to give each of them the benefit of the doubt early in their tenures but too many losses led to their inevitable dismissals.
The same could happen with Marrone, of course. I could be getting caught in a familiar trap, but there have been reasons for optimism. There’s a sense he’s leading the Bills in the right direction. He should grow with his collection of youth and experience on his roster. He appears to have a capable coaching staff.
And he hasn’t been exposed as a rookie head coach. You could question his clock management against the Patriots, but he went clipboard to clipboard against Bill Belichick before the Bills fell in the final seconds. The Bills were in trouble against the Panthers but stayed in the game just long enough to beat them.
Marrone hasn’t looked rattled. He hasn’t made any boneheaded decisions. Granted, he’s been here for only two games. But if first impressions mean anything, it looks like the Bills have found the right man for the town. They need the right coach to lead the team. It’s about time they had both.