LONDON — When Doug Marrone abruptly left the Buffalo Bills on Dec. 31, 2014, players were not exactly drowned in their sorrows. Safety Aaron Williams tweeted "Lost all respect!! Completely (ticked) off, but not gonna let it ruin my New Years."
They viewed his exit as abandonment.
Rex Ryan stormed into town. And while this injury-hit team is at 3-3, with many question marks, players all agree the change was refreshing. Out was Marrone’s college-like approach; in was Ryan’s hands-off approach. Buffalo leads the league in penalties, so who knows if the change is for the better in the win column. Time will tell. But on Friday, two days before meeting Marrone again, multiple players indicated they feel treated like adults now.
Before, under Marrone, they did not.
“He was more college-y,” inside linebacker Preston Brown said. “Coming from Syracuse, he kind of controlled guys instead of letting us be grown men and do what we’ve got to do.”
They cite several examples. Ryan, Brown repeats, is more a “player’s coach."
One reason many college coaches fail in the NFL is precisely this. A coach transitioning from running a program of 19- and 20-year-olds to professionals can be a culture shock for all. At Louisville, Brown said it was similar under then-head coach Charlie Strong. Daily demands are more detailed.
“It was that college thing,” Brown said. “You had to check in and be in this meeting five minutes early — that kind of thing. Now, it’s kind of more lax. He trusts us more.”
Added tight end Chris Gragg, “It has been a little bit more refreshing because he does treat us like professionals. Some the day-to-day things he’d run it like it’s college. But we were grown men. As long as we’re handling our business on the field, that’s really our main objective — what we’re here for.”
And Marrone didn’t.
“I would just say he treated us not like we were men,” Gragg said. “Kind of like we were still in college.”
One walk through the locker room at One Bills Drive or even out here in London at "The Grove" always reveals a very loose, very liberated team. As Ryan often says, he doesn't put a "muzzle" on his players. He lets them speak freely, and they have --- from a receiver seeking targets, to a defensive end not wanting to drop.
Under Marrone, players were told to be quiet on the team bus and wear suits to home and away games. Everything was much more disciplined.
“With Rex, home games especially, you’re coming from home early in the morning, you don’t have to wear a suit,” Gragg said.
Marrone's no-nonsense approach was a major change even at Syracuse. His first year, 28 players left the team. But he did help turn the downtrodden program around... albeit with a few hurt feelings.
In Buffalo, Gragg recalls similar discontent in Marrone’s first season.
“I remember in training camp, there was kind of a fallout of some of the things we were doing in practice,” he said. “But he did have that college mentality for sure.”
Added tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, “Rex let’s us be ourselves more.”
Will the change equate to wins? Ryan is 49-52 as a head coach, battling injuries the first year of his second head coaching job.
Either way, the players have welcomed the drastic change.
“Rex, I love his personality,” Gragg said. “I like that he’s confident all the time. He may say things in the media that rub people the wrong way or it might fire people up—I know it fires me up the things that he says. I like that. And he goes out here and he makes us work. We’re still working the same amount that we did. He just gives us a lot of confidence. He lets us know that he’s behind us.”