Doug Marrone has deserted his position as Buffalo Bills head coach, and former executive Bill Polian might be on the verge of coming back.
Marrone on Wednesday exercised an exit clause in his contract and became a coaching free agent after two seasons with Buffalo. His three-day window to opt out expired at midnight.
A National Football League source confirmed Marrone still will pocket his $4 million salary for 2015. The money was guaranteed and due in addition to any salary he makes from his next employer.
Marrone guided the Bills to a 9-7 record, their first winning season in a decade. But they extended their playoff drought to 15 straight seasons, longest in the NFL. The Bills went 6-10 in Marrone’s rookie campaign.
“Doug Marrone informed me late today that he has decided to exercise the option clause in his contract and relinquish his responsibilities as our head coach,” Bills owner Terry Pegula said in a statement.
“We are disappointed that Coach Marrone will no longer be an important part of our organization. We thank him for all of his hard work and leadership during his tenure and wish him and his family the best with the next chapter in their lives.”
CBS Sports reported Wednesday night Polian will be returning to the Bills to oversee football operations later this month and that special assistant Buddy Nix’s contract will not be renewed.
Polian, now an ESPN analyst, built the Bills’ roster for their unprecedented and unduplicated Super Bowl run before winning a Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts.
Polian did not return a call from The Buffalo News for comment.
Marrone’s unusual opt out clause was included in the event of an ownership change. Ralph Wilson died in March, and the team was put up for sale. Terry and Kim Pegula bought the Bills for $1.4 billion in September.
Multiple sources close to both parties told The News that Marrone was uncomfortable with the unknown of working with the Pegulas and the changes they might make in football operations.
Polian’s return has been reported rampantly, but nothing was definitive as the clock on Marrone’s exit clause ticked down. General Manager Doug Whaley’s future with the club appears uncertain.
A source close to Marrone also noted the coach was bothered deeply by media criticism, especially after the Bills defeated the heavily favored Green Bay Packers on Dec. 14 in Ralph Wilson Stadium.
One of the hotter topics on WGR after beating the Packers was whether Marrone should be retained or fired. Marrone and the Bills’ front office were incensed, multiple sources told The News.
Players were stunned by Marrone’s departure two days after their season-ending interviews with him.
“Wow ... that caught me off guard for sure,” Bills center and captain Eric Wood tweeted.
“Lost all respect!!” tweeted safety Aaron Williams. “Completely pissed off, but not gonna let it ruin my New Years.”
Almost as soon as Marrone’s departure was reported, so was the mutual interest between him and the New York Jets. Other teams with vacancies are the Atlanta Falcons, Chicago Bears, Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers.
“I just found out Doug Marrone is available. We will look at him,” Jets owner Woody Johnson told the New York Daily News. “He is a coach who was with us. And I know him a little bit.”
Marrone was the Jets’ offensive line coach from 2002 through 2005. He attended Lehman High in the Bronx.
“This is pretty good news,” Johnson said. “I was shocked. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Doug, and I have good memories of him.”
The Bills now must hire their fifth head coach in seven years. The most notable names on the market are San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Frank Reich, Bills defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and former Jets coach Rex Ryan.
“We will now begin the important process of conducting a thorough search for a new head coach as we continue to strive to reach our goal of returning to the playoffs and bringing a championship to Buffalo for our fans,” Pegula said.
In Monday’s season-ending press conference alongside Whaley, Marrone refused to answer questions about whether he would take the opportunity to leave the team.
“I can’t answer that question,” Marrone said. “I will tell you this and my background has been the same and you guys can look into: I do not discuss my contract and that’s my rule. I never have and never will.”