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Jerry Sullivan: St. Doug, reluctant Public Enemy No. 1

As of Wednesday, Bills fans had donated $218,000 to Andy Dalton's foundation to thank the Bengals quarterback for throwing the TD pass that broke the playoff drought. Dalton responded in kind, purchasing five billboards to express his gratitude to the Buffalo people.

I imagine the civic attitude toward Doug Marrone isn't quite so kind. If Dalton is the most popular man in town, the Jaguars head coach is Public Enemy No. 1. If there were billboards in town bearing Marrone's image, the locals would be pulling off the road to throw eggs at his face.

Three years to the day before Dalton's improbable touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd, on a much less giddy New Year's Eve, Marrone abruptly quit as Bills coach after a 9-7, season, pocketing a $4 million opt-out booty on his way out the door.

Funny how these things work out. On Sunday in Jacksonville, the Bills will play their first playoff game since the Music City Miracle in the first week of the new millennium. And Marrone will be the head coach on the opposite sideline.

"I don't think that's the case," Marrone said when told he was a notorious character in Buffalo. "I think their team's playing against our team."

Bills fans would beg to differ. It's still unclear why Marrone left. The organization was in upheaval at the time, with Terry Pegula new to ownership and looking to bring in Bill Polian to run the operation. Marrone was seen as a top candidate for the Jets job, though he was eventually passed over in New York, and for several other head jobs, and wound up in Jacksonville as an assistant.

Whatever the case, people here think of Marrone as a quitter, a man who walked away from the Bills after their first winning season in a decade. Aaron Williams tweeted, "Lost all respect!" minutes after Marrone quit that fateful evening.

Eric Wood, one of seven current Bills who were on the team when Marrone left, agreed that it felt like a betrayal.

"But it's not something you can dwell on," said Wood, who was no great fan of Marrone as a coach, "especially on a week like this. That's kind of far from my mind. At the time it was shocking, I'll say that. He had to make the best decision for him and his family. I feel like we're in a better spot now than we were at the time."

Marrone, speaking on a five-minute conference call with the Buffalo media, said he didn't feel any special emotion about Sunday's wild-card game, which will be the Jaguars' first playoff appearance since 2007.

"I mean, I have no issues," he said. "It was three years ago and all good memories and I'm happy for them, happy for their fans. They've earned the right to be in the playoffs, and at the moment I'm focused on our team and our fans and getting our team ready to play a good football team."

A lot of Bills fans felt you quit on the team, Marrone was told. Does that bother you?

"No, I've moved on from that," he said. "It's been awhile ago. They're where they want to be, and I'm where I want to be. I'm focused on my team and this game. That's where my focus is. It's not what's gone on in my past, whether it be Buffalo or Syracuse or New Orleans or the Jets or wherever I may have been.

"I’m happy for them. I’m glad they’re in a good place. I’m in a great place. Feeling great about where I am. I’m comfortable with it.”

The Bills players have no lack of incentive this weekend. One Las Vegas line has them at 165-1 to win the Super Bowl, worse than before the season. They don't need to feed off any resentment toward their former coach. But you know how athletes are. They'll find any slight to use as fodder.

"I think it's a little extra motivation for some of these guys," said guard Richie Incognito, one of many Bills preparing for his first NFL playoff game. "He quit on them, and that rubs some of these guys the wrong way. I hope guys use that in the right way, as motivation to go down there and get this win."

Marrone's departure was sudden, but somewhat understandable. Before the '14 season, there were national reports of a rift between him and the front office. He was at odds with personnel director Jim Monos and General Manager Doug Whaley. There was uncertainty about the futures of Whaley and team president Russ Brandon. Quarterback Kyle Orton had retired two days earlier.

Things worked out for both parties in the end. Last December, Marrone became the Jags' interim head coach after Gus Bradley's firing. On Jan. 9, they gave him the permanent job and brought in former Giants coach Tom Coughlin to oversee the team as executive vice president of football operations.

"If you watch them, Tom Coughlin's fingerprints are all over this thing," Incognito said. "It really feels like he's running the show. Ball control offense, run the football, take your time, suffocating defense that creates turnovers and when you get in third-and-long, they really turn up the pass rush."

General Manager David Caldwell, the Buffalo native and St. Francis graduate, also gets a lot of credit for the Jags' resurgence. But Marrone has done an admirable job in steering his team from a 3-13 season to an AFC South title at 10-6. The Jags are a formidable team and a solid favorite over the Bills. They have a point different of plus-149. The Bills are minus-57.

"I just want to win," Marrone said. "I don't really care who gets the credit."

Of course, Marrone's nickname is "St. Doug," which he supposedly hung on himself in Buffalo because he had engineered a turnaround at Syracuse and felt it would take a similar miracle to turn things around with the Bills.

Whatever your opinion of Marrone, he now has two straight winning seasons as a permanent head coach, which is more than you can say for any Bills coach during the drought. McDermott is being canonized for finishing with the same record as Marrone had in his second season. But there's no chance of McDermott abandoning his team.

Marrone got $4 million as a parting gift, for doing nothing. There were no billboards, only the everlasting enmity of many Bills fans. Maybe he should be required to toss in a few bucks for Dalton's foundation before ever setting foot in Buffalo again.

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