If I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s to expect little information to emerge from season-ending news conferences. They’re a necessary but often tedious and repetitive exercise in which the media attempts to cross-examine witnesses who are experts at bending the truth.
The gathering Monday along One Bills Drive after the players cleaned out their lockers followed the template. Doug Marrone and Doug Whaley were asked to sing but danced instead. Marrone two-stepped in circles while saying little. Whaley marched while saying less.
Yes, they felt good about the future after finishing the season with a winning record. No, they’re not satisfied after falling short of their goal.
One nugget that was largely overlooked, however, was Marrone explaining how he responded when Kyle Orton told him he would retire. He revealed how he double-checked with Orton to make sure he thought through the process. He spoke about how he respected the quarterback’s decision. And then this:
“As soon as I was informed, I informed Russ Brandon,” Marrone said. “I told Russ to make sure that he told Doug at the time because I was trying to call the owner to tell him what was going on.”
Perhaps it was nothing, but everything is dissected when a team with new owners misses the playoffs for a 15th straight season. I’ve been around enough autopsies in professional sports to become suspicious when hearing something that sounds, well, a little off. It was enough to grab my attention.
So what’s the big deal?
To me, it was an indication that Marrone is looking for more power within the organization. Otherwise, the news about Orton would have gone from Marrone to Whaley to Brandon to Terry and Kim Pegula. Instead, it was Marrone telling Brandon to tell Whaley while he called Terry Pegula.
It seemed an odd chain of communication, a hint about how Marrone views the chain of command. Stop the presses? No. This is not to suggest there was anything wrong with Marrone calling Pegula, only that he did.
Marv Levy spoke with Ralph Wilson nearly every day. They became very good friends and had a strong relationship that was understood throughout the organization. Marrone is smart enough to know that building a similar bond with the Pegulas has long-term employment benefits.
Marrone gaining more power inside the organization could be good for the Bills, but only if he respects his clout and does his job. He has a strong personality. He knows how to take charge. He’s willing to throw his weight around. “Saint Doug” needs to make sure he doesn’t get carried away.
Whaley came off weak Monday when he was asked who should be held responsible for selecting EJ Manuel in the first round in 2013, a decision that looks like a mistake. Whaley said it was a “Buffalo Bills’ pick,” as if the secretaries, custodial staff and everybody else on One Bills Drive had a say.
Maybe if the security guard threw in his two cents they would have taken Manuel later in the draft, or gone in a different direction. Whaley certainly should have known the 2014 draft included receivers who were as good as, or better than, Sammy Watkins before trading away a first-round pick to grab him.
Whaley has made some good decisions, some terrible ones. Even though it’s not his area of expertise, it was disturbing that the general manager didn’t know exactly how much room the Bills had under the salary cap. Regardless, his response to the question about Manuel was a cop out.
For the most part, Marrone holds himself accountable. Since he arrived, Marrone accepted too much responsibility for losses and too little credit for victories. Say what you will about his decision-making – and the line extends to Lackawanna – but the Bills were better with him as their coach than they were before he arrived. And now he has the appearance of leverage.
Marrone had a clause in his contract that gives him a three-day window to leave the organization after the second year. He said he never talks about his contract, which leads you to believe somebody from his camp leaked that information. Given the timing, who had the most to gain? Doug Marrone.
The window closes today, but he doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. I’m sure some Bills fans who wanted him fired after the Oakland loss worried this week about the prospects of losing him. He could wind up getting an extension, a pay raise and more say in personnel matters.
It would be a major victory considering he arrived with a reputation for being an offensive innovator only to see the unit regress. The Pegulas could send him on his way and hire someone else. There are other good coaches who became available Monday, such as Mike Smith.
Smith was an assistant with Baltimore when they won Super Bowl XXXV. He was named Coach of the Year in 2008. He guided Atlanta to the playoffs four times in his first five years, including two 13-3 seasons and one NFC Championship Game, before two bad years led to his dismissal.
He’s just an example.
There are others.
It’s much more likely the Bills will stay with Marrone.
Give the guy credit for knowing the game behind the game. Sometimes, it’s more important than the game played on Sundays. He knows Brandon is being pushed back to the business side and away from football. Marrone is angling to have more say in Whaley’s 53-man roster, not just the 46 suiting up for games.
Marrone seemed more at ease about his place in the organization Monday than at any other time during his tenure. Is that because the Pegulas have assured him that he will become a bigger player in a restructured hierarchy? Or does he know the Bills will hire a consultant, such as Bill Polian, who holds him in high regard?
Does he have a quarterback in mind? Will he consider changing offensive coordinators? Does he have a plan to improve the offensive line?
Good questions, no answers.
Welcome to the offseason.