Former Bills head coach Doug Marrone returns to Western New York with his 2-8 Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday for the first time since taking a $4 million opt-out in his contract and quitting on the team. We are remembering his tenure in Marrone Week.
Perhaps the greatest Doug Marrone story ever told was the odyssey Buffalo News sports reporter Tim Graham shared on the "Dunne with Graham" podcast last January.
I don't want to give too much away, because the story is incredible, but main plot points include Graham being awakened by a phone call saying Marrone wanted to meet, a back room at a small airport, and the words "printed-out tweets, highlighted." You really should read the whole thing.
This story has been on our site for months in podcast form, but it is being retold with a text version in honor of Marrone Week. The entire transcript below is the dialog between Graham and former beat writer Tyler Dunne. Enjoy.
Tim Graham: This is one of those stories that’s been told in private for two years, and usually after a few beers people ask me to tell this story. And I was surprised before we did the podcast, before we fired it up, that you hadn’t heard the story. And so…
Tyler Dunne: I’ve heard a lot of Tim Graham stories. Not this one.
TG: …everything I’m about to tell you is going to be news to your ears.
All right, so people have been asking me to go public with this story after I dropped hints about it on Twitter before. It is one of the more bizarre moments of my careers.
So, I actually jotted down some notes about this at the time it happened, and I jotted down some notes tonight, after I had time to digest it, so it’s not as though I’m going purely off of memory two years ago. This is something that was put in emails, I had to notify my bosses about it [TD: laughs], like, "Just so you know, this happened." So here we go.
So the date is Dec. 28, 2013. That was the date of a meeting which I was called – I had been up late the night before working on my NFL Sunday story. And as you know, we work on similar timetables, my story that runs in NFL Sunday is due early Saturday so that people can edit and do the layout, paginate it, graphic design, a lot of that stuff is involved.
TD: Let’s give our editors some props right now because we both do that and we know Saturday night, that’s a good night…
TG: Absolutely. [Deputy Sports Editor] Bob DiCesare, with his graciousness and patience, we try his patience on a weekly basis…
TG: …our executive sports editor, Lisa Wilson, who I think is more in our corner than Bob sometimes because she’s more about the story than the fact that it might put some strain on Bob and Jason Baum, our graphic designer, let’s give a shout out to him.
TD: Definitely. Great people.
TG: And Vince Chiaramonte (the News’ design director), these guys do great work in making that Sunday section look good. So Friday night, I generally will pull an all-nighter, to the point where I generally go to bed at like 7 a.m., 8 a.m., maybe even 10 a.m., because I filed that story, they need it, and then I sleep. So I’m awakened by a phone call from the Sabres – or, the Bills – head communication director, Scott Berchtold.
TD: What time?
TG: It wasn’t early, but for me, I was awakened; 10 in the morning, 11, 12, somewhere in that range. And he says, Hey Tim, Coach would like to meet with you. We’ve been trying to reach out to you all morning but haven’t been able to get you. So, can you meet us down at the airport? Because they’re getting ready to go play the New England Patriots in the regular season finale. This is Doug Marrone’s rookie coaching campaign.
Now, I know what this is about. Immediately. So I say, Sure, I’d be happy to go down there and meet you, where is it? Where’s your terminal? It’s not Prior Aviation where a lot of the charters come in and out, it’s on Cayuga I believe, it’s more in the FedEx area for cargo, that’s where the Bills charter meets. I don’t want give out the exact location because I don’t want people to go down there and ask for autographs the day before games, all that stuff – I’m sure they already do, I don’t want more people to go down there. So there’s this cargo area. So what had happened was, either the night before or a couple nights earlier, I had been tweeting EJ Manuel had been declared out for this game after Doug Marrone had said that EJ Manuel will play in the season finale, he’ll be back from his latest knee injury in time and he will play. He declared that. Well, injury report comes out, EJ Manuel is out for the Patriots game. He’s not going to play.
So I had tweeted about some things about how Doug Marrone is constantly reminding us that he is a straight shooter, but he constantly says things for effect. Like Mario Williams or whatever, he’s always saying things to set the mood or to set the tone. Not in the way that Rex Ryan does. He’d say, "I’m a straight shooter," and then he’d tell a lie. [TD: laughs.] I didn’t use the word the word "lie" because I know that is a hot-button word. Now this is important to note, that I never called him a liar or said that he lied. I said that he says things for effect. And then it got into, because this is Doug Marrone’s rookie year, as you can imagine, a lot of Bills fans came to his defense immediately because he’s our coach and how dare you say something about this.
So then I got into some discussions about how, you know, he reminded me a little bit of a boxing promoter, you know, Don King-type stuff. These are people who will lie to your face type of thing. In that regard, I did use the word liar, but I was talking about King. So I knew that that’s what this meeting was going to be about. So I found humor in it immediately, that this was going to happen.
So I got my bag together because I myself am going to be flying to Boston for the Patriots game, to cover it, and I got my bag and everything and I go down towards the airport and I get there and I am led to this area that is a break room for cargo handlers. This is like a blue-collar break room. There is a table in the middle of the room, there’s a sink, there’s a fridge, there’s like a couch area also where you can sit down, but it is pretty Spartan. It is a blue-collar, working man’s break room where you go in and you’re not there for fine dining, let’s put it that way.
So I’m led into this room by Doug Marrone – I’m sorry, Scott Berchtold. He leads me into this room, Doug Marrone is sitting all by himself waiting for me.
TD: Like leading you to slaughter…
TG: Like walking me into an interrogation. Because the table is in the middle of this dank, dimly lit room with concrete floors…
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TD: He’s Jack Bauer (from the TV show “24”). He’s going to hook you up to something.
TG: So there’s Doug Marrone, he’s sitting there in his suit because he’s, you know, making a business trip – dress code for these trips – Scott Berchtold’s in his suit, and I come walking in there in my henley and my jeans – probably wearing the same freakin shirt I’m wearing right now if you’re watching on the Periscope – and I sit down and as Scott Berchtold shuts the door, [he] walks and sits behind me. So now this is like "CSI Cheektowaga" going on here. [TD: laughs.] This is an interrogation. There’s a guy who has to sit behind me. Like, classic intimidation factor, right?
So I’m sitting there, so Marrone says, Do you think I’m a liar? And – because I already know what this is about, they’re not springing any surprise on me – I was like, No, I don’t think you’re a liar. And he’s like, Well, it seems to me that you think I’m a liar. Do you think I’m a liar?
And so now I was kind of like, now we’re like, do I want to get into a semantics, a discussion of semantics with a guy who’s already tightly wound here? This guy’s looking for a reason to argue. So he says, You seem to think I’m a liar. And – [to Tyler Dunne] you want another drink here?
TD: Sure! Thank you.
TG: So I say, Look, I don’t think… And he’s like, Did you say I’m a liar? I’m like, No, I didn’t call you a liar. So Scott Berchtold pulls out of his suit pocket, his inside suit pocket…
TG: …walks over and puts it on the table, my printed-out tweets, highlighted. I can see highlighter on the pages. He’s like, Says right here that you think Coach Marrone’s a liar. [Laughs.] And I’m like, all right. So then I’m trying to explain myself like I just did about, you know, Don King and the whole thing. And I know it’s useless so I’m not going to try.
TD: You’re not going to convince him.
TG: I’m not going to have an argument here. So he (Marrone) says, Why didn’t you talk to me about this? Why didn’t you come talk to me about this? Well, what had happened was – well, at this point I say, Why is that you get to have an extra guy here and I don’t get to have any assistance here myself?
TD: [Laughs.] Mark Gaughan (another beat writer at the time) couldn’t back you up?
TG: So why do you get an assistant here and I don’t get an assistant here? How come I’m here all by myself? And he looks me dead in the eye, and could not have been any more serious, and says, Well, if you want to reschedule this meeting, you can bring in whoever you want. And I was like, No, no. You’re missing the point. What I’m saying is you and I can have this discussion. We don’t need to make this a big 'effin deal here.
That’s when Scott Berchtold says, You want me to leave? I’ll be happy to leave. And I’m like, No, go ahead, you can stay. In fact, the more the merrier at this point. Like, no, I think this is going to go all right. Why don’t you sit here and enjoy it.
TD: Bring in some people from The Coffee Beanery, Which Wich (a sandwich shop), come on in, folks.
TG: [Laughs.] Not even that, we’re not even in the terminal. It’d be like some guys walking in with earmuffs.
TD: Oh, the earmuff guys! Bring ‘em in.
TG: Yeah. So I’m like, you can stay. I don’t think I have much to worry about here. And so Marrone’s like, How come you didn’t talk to me about this if you wanted to write these things? And the thing was, these comments came out of a news conference in which Marrone announces that EJ Manuel’s not going to play, and people are asking him, well hey, you said EJ was going play. He explained all of it, it’s in the news conference transcript. So now I need to explain to Doug Marrone that in the news conference, there’s a transcript and that’s like public information and I can use those quotes.
And he’s like, You weren’t even there that day. I didn’t happen to be. And with his own PR guy there, I need to explain to Doug Marrone that those are public comments, whatever. And he’s like, How come you didn’t ask, you still could’ve asked me about this before you said these things. And so I point over my shoulder to Scott Berchtold, Because of that guy. Like, because every time I want to talk to you I have to go through that guy, and he doesn’t let me talk to you. So then it got into a pretty heated conversation and Scott had to excuse himself from the room. When this happens, this amazed me – well, this is not the most amazing part. It’s another amazing part.
So once Scott excuses himself from the room, Marrone takes off his suit coat, puts it over the chair behind him, gets out his dip – I don’t know if it was Copenhagen of Skoal – puts his dip in, and every third word out of his mouth is F. F this. He’s like, You know, this ‘effing thing, I didn’t ‘effin want to meet you here today but F this and F that, and now we’re two guys talking. Like he tried the intimidation tactic, I wasn’t all that impressed [TD: laughs] and now we’re buddies. F this and F that. And even my son asked me, he goes, Dad – and the thing is, as he’s imitating his son talking about, 'Dad, you said EJ Manuel was going to play, how come he’s now playing?' – he’s still throwing in F bombs [TD: laughs]. Like, he’s like, ‘Dad, you 'effin said that he’s gonna 'effin play, and then he’s like, Of course my son didn’t have all the F-bombs in there.
And I’m just laughing. I’m just laughing. Now we’re having a good talk. So, in a very theatrical manner, he takes the tweets that were printed out and highlighted and he rips them up in front of me. This is over, let’s all put this behind us. And I was like, Doug, you’re about to play the New England Patriots tomorrow [TD: laughs]. I said, Shouldn’t you be looking at some film? [TD: laughs harder.] Shouldn’t you, you know...
TD: He’s mad about tweets!
TG: This was about to be Thad Lewis versus Tom Brady at Gillette Stadium. Stevie Johnson, if you recall at this point, his mother had died and he was AWOL. Or, I shouldn’t say AWOL because the Bills knew where he was, but most guys come back and this was like his second game he missed because his mom died.
TD: Wow, I don’t remember that.
TG: The Bills were about to play the Patriots in Gillette Stadium, where they’d never won since the place was built. And he was worried about tweets! Now, come to find out the next day, I didn’t know this at the time, Marcell Dareus had been benched for the first half because he was tardy for some meetings. So he had all this stuff going on and he wanted to nitpick about tweets.
TD: Wow. That’s unbelievable.
TG: So the next day LeGarrette Blount goes off for 334 all-purpose yards to set a Patriots record, Patriots win 34-20 in the rain, you know, Marcell’s benched like I said, the Bills finish 6-10. But this was the thing that not only Doug Marrone but the Bills organization thought was a priority to discuss at the airport terminal before they leave.
Now, this was explained to me from someone not involved in that meeting. Because your next question is, so where does this come from?
TG: Marrone got on the plane and was immediately complaining to anybody within earshot that he cannot believe anybody would believe that he had to do this at the airport the day before a game, so he was kind of putting the blame on Scott Berchtold. Scott Berchtold claims that Doug Marrone forced him to do the meeting, which, in Scott’s defense, I will say I’ve been around the Bills for a number of years and never once had anybody to do anything like this.
TG: The other thing that comes to mind is the story that Liz Merrill did for ESPN the Magazine about Doug Marrone earlier in the year in which Doug Marrone’s wife is obviously a micro-manager in Doug Marrone’s life, and I could see Doug Marrone’s wife putting him up to this. And so here you have – I’m sure that fans of Dolphins or Browns (teams that were reportedly interested in Marrone at the time) aren’t listening to this podcast, maybe they’ll be steered here – but this is what this guy was worried about the day before. Now, granted, the Bills were out of the playoffs, but this was a critical divisional opponent, going head-to-head with Bill Belichick, and this was what Doug Marrone needed to have answered.
TD: A reporter’s tweet. About…
TG: Semantics. Oh – I left this part out. I had to explain to him for "for effect" meant. I said, "Doug Marrone says things for effect." He was like, Well what does that mean? Not in terms of, you know, elaborate; it was, What does 'for effect' mean? Like he thought I was calling him – like, no, it just says you’re saying things in a dramatic way to get a response or to say it. You’re saying it for effect. So that’s Doug Marrone.
TD: Whether it’s the players, whether it’s people in the building at the facility, [they're] pretty sour on Doug Marrone now that he’s gone. Before that Jacksonville game, I don’t have it right on my screen, Chris Gragg and a few players were talking about Doug Marrone, what it was like with him in terms of the scheduling, in terms of being in business attire, he just ran it like a college team with kids, like a drill sergeant and rubbed so many people the wrong way. Whether it’s players or...
TG: Or offensive linemen. You know, the whole ‘Saint Doug’ story that came out supposedly happened in the offensive line meeting room where he supposedly should be the most respected, because he’s called himself an offensive line coach – and he had the worst offensive line in the NFL in 2014.
TD: You know what’s ironic, we didn’t even talk about this before air, but I covered Doug Marrone at Syracuse his first year taking over the Orange when he had Greg Paulus and he’s throwing all those picks and it was a really rough year for them. But at the end of the year, at the Daily Orange, our student newspaper, we do a series, A Year In Sports stories. And they’re all enterprising, kind of big-picture stories. And we had a few come in that were pretty big deals, pretty big stories.
One of them, Brett LoGiurato wrote it on, I can’t think of the exact number – it was in the 20s – of the amount of players that just quit the team after Doug Marrone took over. And he caught up with these players or most of these players. And they opened up on just what it was like under Doug Marrone. And one of the rules he had was about guys cutting their hair. And one of the players really took offense it it, I think it was one of the African-American players, was pretty ticked off about it. And we had that story in the works.
And I had a story about Mike Williams, about how he exactly left the team, and it wasn’t him just quitting the team, Doug Marrone kind of kicked him off the team. They had – long story short, he missed curfew Halloween night, Doug Marrone was fed up. Source told me they had this meeting and players decide, is he on the team, is he off the team in this gym. All the African-American players chose one way, all the Caucasian players chose another way; more of one than the other, they vote him on the team. Doug Marrone goes to contact Mike Williams that he’s still on the team – can’t get a hold of him, can’t get a hold of him. Well, Mike Williams says his phone was in his apartment on South Campus and his roommate had swine flu so wasn’t in the apartment that day. The very next day he was trying to get in contact with Doug Marrone and say I’m good, I’m ready to play, and at that point Doug Marrone was like no, you’re gone, you’re off the team, forget about it.
So these two stories are in the works and Syracuse gets wind of it, you know, because we had to get comment from them, and he calls a meeting! So you know, maybe that’s his thing, he likes meetings. We had a meeting with Doug Marrone and Sue Edson, the SID, sports information director. Myself; Connor Orr, who was the sports editor at the time – I was the managing editor – he’s at NFL.com now, great follow for anybody out there, does incredible work for them; and Brett. And we’re all in this meeting. And we didn’t talk about the Mike Williams story much, it was more about Brett’s story. And I’ll never forget his explanation for the hair. I’m paraphrasing, he basically said that studies show shorter hair helps reduce injury risk, and he was trying to point to studies and science.
TG: I would think more hair…
TD: I would think so too. But anyways. I guess he liked meetings. And he’s a hot coaching candidate! We’re not here to like, pile on Doug Marrone. There’s a reason…
TG: He’s a hot coaching candidate because he’s concocted. I’m convinced of that. I still don’t talk to many – in fact, I’ve talked to zero NFL personnel people, executives, who’ve said Doug Marrone is someone we think very highly of as a hot candidate or a contender for our job or whatever. I think it all comes from the media. It’s media-driven, and I think it comes from his agent, Jimmy Sexton. He has a powerful agent who gets people to believe that Doug Marrone is a hot candidate, and I think that’s what happened to the Bills. I think that’s why he got so much control in that contract and had that out clause that he was able to fleece the Bills on, because the Bills were led to believe that they were beating out two other teams for Doug Marrone’s services. And I don’t know that that’s true.
TD: Maybe it came from a power higher than him that wanted this to happen, but it was really ridiculous that Greg Paulus was the quarterback over Ryan Nassib the year I covered Syracuse there. It was obvious that Nassib was better. I guess Paulus was from the area, just had that basketball career at Duke, maybe he’s going to sell tickets, whatever. I don’t know if that’s Doug Marrone, if that’s (former athletic director) Daryl Gross above him, but that was really the head-scratcher there.
TG: Well, he only got one season and he could’ve gone other places. So he maybe got some assurances that I’m not signing with you unless I know I’m going to play.
TD: Could be. I’m just saying, I never would’ve imagined at the time that he would’ve been a top-five coaching candidate in the NFL at this point.
TG: Twice! Twice over. Now he’s quit on a team and he’s still a hot commodity.
TD: Yeah. Quit on them. Walked away. Say what you want about the Bills’ situation right now: A little bit better than it was a year ago.
TG: I don’t know. Rex Ryan’s too unproven for me. I put him in the same bin as Doug Marrone for now.
TG: Rex Ryan began the year with credibility and he lost it, for me. So, the end of last year and the end of last season, I feel the same about the Bills.
TD: I gotta say, Tim, that was an incredible story. You delivered. The people on Twitter were waiting for the Doug Marrone story, you brought it.