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Marrone’s winning season left few satisfied

Doug Marrone’s two-year stint with the Buffalo Bills is over, leaving behind a complicated legacy.

On one hand, Marrone did improve the Bills’ record by three victories in 2014. The team’s 9-7 finish was the first time since 2004 it had a winning record.

On the other, though, Marrone went just 15-17 in two seasons, and failed to end a streak of missing the playoffs that has now stretched to 15 years.

He also made several questionable coaching decisions that left a significant segment of the team’s fans howling for his dismissal – despite the improved record.

Prior to Marrone being hired, team president Russ Brandon used words like “forward thinking, progressive and attacking” in describing what the team was looking for in its new coach.

None of those adjectives fit Marrone’s style. His consistent reluctance to show any aggression on fourth-down plays became one of the biggest criticisms of his tenure.

“My philosophy has always been, and I said this from the beginning, to make sure that I’m managing the game where I give our players the opportunity to win, where I don’t make decisions to take the game away from the players,” he said after a Week 11 loss to Miami.

In that game, Marrone punted on fourth and 6 from the Miami 47-yard line down 10 points with less than 10 minutes to play. The Bills didn’t get the ball back for more than 5 minutes in a game they ended up losing, 22-9.

“I would find it hard pressed for anyone at that point in the game, knowing my colleagues in this league, to see who would have gone for it in that situation,” Marrone said.

The willingness-to-punt issue came up again in Week 16 against Oakland – a loss that officially eliminated the Bills from playoff contention. Buffalo punted on a fourth and 1 from their 46-yard line with 8:22 left in a game they trailed, 19-17. Oakland went on a 10-play, 80-yard touchdown drive on the ensuing possession.

Of course, it’s not only fourth-down decisions that didn’t sit well with fans. As a whole, the offense regressed in two seasons, from 19th overall in 2013 to 26th this past season. Much of that regression can be traced to issues at quarterback, which doesn’t fall entirely on Marrone. But it’s worth noting he was involved in the decision-making process to select EJ Manuel in the first round of the ’13 draft – a bust to this point.

The offensive struggles, however, weren’t limited to the quarterback. The team’s offensive line regressed badly in 2014. Marrone, a former journeyman offensive lineman himself, worked as closely with that unit as any on the team at practices.

The Bills rushed for 1,482 yards in 2014 – a franchise low for 16 games. Their paltry average of 3.7 yards per rush was tied for 26th in the NFL.

Running back C.J. Spiller – an explosive playmaker under former coach Chan Gailey – could never get going under Marrone. In the past two seasons, Spiller’s output – 280 attempts, 1,233 yards, 52 receptions, 310 yards and three touchdowns – doesn’t match what he produced in 2012 (207 carries, 1,244 yards, 43 catches, 459 yards, eight total touchdowns).

“How quickly things can change just had a team meeting Monday and wasn’t given a heads up, but guess that’s how this business works,” Spiller tweeted Wednesday night after news of Marrone’s departure was made public.

There were also curious decisions when it came to who played. In training camp this past summer, receiver Robert Woods inexplicably fell down on the depth chart. Woods ended the season with 65 receptions – tied with rookie Sammy Watkins for most on the team.

Marrone also was slow to make a change along the offensive line. After original starting left guard Chris Williams was hurt, rookie Cyril Richardson was inserted into the starting lineup. Richardson’s play quickly deteriorated, but Marrone was slow to replace him with veteran Kraig Urbik, a player with starting experience.

Receiver Mike Williams, a proven red-zone threat, also saw his role drastically reduced after the first month of the season before he was ultimately cut before the end of the year. The Bills’ offense finished 29th in the NFL in red-zone touchdown percentage.

Marrone’s issues also weren’t limited to game-day decisions. His relationship with the local media got off to a rocky start when in his first training camp, he blew up less than a week into practices when asked about Mario Williams’ mysterious foot injury.

Toward the end of his rookie season with the Bills, Marrone declared he was “110 percent” certain Manuel would play in the season finale at New England, but eventually wasn’t able to because of a knee injury.

That misstep stuck with Marrone: Beginning in 2014, Bills Vice President of Communications Scott Berchtold started news conferences by providing injury updates – a most awkward arrangement.

Marrone would generally refuse to provide any specifics on player injuries. He would vacillate between offering one-sentence responses or verbose soliloquies in which he mastered the art of saying a lot without saying anything at all when addressing the media.

That tense relationship with reporters didn’t have any on-field impact, but it also turned off a segment of the fan base.

There were other significant examples of Marrone’s approach alienating people. During training camp, he had a loud argument with defensive end Jerry Hughes, at one point telling him he “didn’t have to be on this team.” There was also a heated conversation with General Manager Doug Whaley at a practice prior to the start of the regular season.

A national report shortly thereafter suggested that Marrone had referred to himself as “Saint Doug,” in reference to the “miracle” he pulled off by winning at Syracuse and what would be a miracle by winning in Buffalo.

Marrone denied that, and on Wednesday it all became a moot point.

For Doug Marrone, sainthood won’t be achieved in Buffalo.

email: jskurski@buffnews.com

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