BBD Editor Anthony D. Macari
If you’re worried about this move being the same old approach to coaching with word of Doug Marrone’s signing with the Buffalo Bills, then you may be in for a treat. Coach Marrone understands a coach must be detailed and innovative with game planning and strategy but first and foremost a coach must be a leader of men. Marrone took over a Syracuse program in shambles.
The previous coach was 9 – 25 and 3-25 in the Big East. In his 2nd season, Marrone got the Orange bowl eligible and won his first of two Pinstripe Bowls. The team suffered a setback in 2011 and started 2012 with 3 losses in 4 games, At that point, few would have imagined he would be a hot NFL coaching prospect. However, sometimes a step back happens along the way of a complete re-build. Marrone wasn’t afraid to change after the disappointing season. He allowed the offense to be completely overhauled to an up-tempo style patterned after the Saints only days before the season began.
Right out of the box, the new up-tempo style clicked with an offensive explosion against Northwestern in the season opener, a game where the team fell behind early, but rallied back only to lose in the final minute. The rapid fire change in style led to some mistakes. The team was plagued early by penalties and turnovers that cost them close losses. As the season progressed, the offense became more efficient with a potent combination of Nassib’s passing and a dual threat rushing attack. The Senior QB’s leadership skills learned at Fort Drum were on full display as the Orange rallied back from the slow start to score a dramatic comeback victory over South Florida, get a major upset over at the time undefeated Louisville, become Bowl eligible with a comeback win over Missouri, get a share of the Big East title with a win over Temple and lock up an upset win over Geno Smith and the West Virginia Mountaineers in the cold and snow of Yankee Stadium in the Pinstripe Bowl.
A week of intense training in August is nothing unusual for football teams heading into the season. That is unless they happen to play for Doug Marrrone, who decided a week on a military base was something his team needed to build team cohesiveness discipline and leadership. The team conducted a week of normal football practices an the camp, but also participated and observed military drills. Ryan Nassib credited the week with helping him and his teammates to take more personal responsibility and for the seniors to better understand how to lead. Nassib said, “That experience really taught us a lot. It brought us closer as a team. It really showed us how the best team in the world works. It’s crazy how they operate with the leadership and the different positions in leadership and how they conduct themselves and what they ask of the people below them. I know that helped me, being a senior and stuff. When times are tough for (the Army) they have to be able to bow back a lot of times even in life-and-death situations. We learned a lot from that.”
Marrone’s, known more for his offensive expertise, also implemented an attacking aggressive pro-style defense at Syracuse. That defense shut down Geno Smith in the Pinstripe Bowl. Disguised blitzes and multiple coverage packages often confuse opponents. Bend, don’t break is not the mindset. Its more break or get broken so they play with a sense of urgency. Fans wanting to see more blitzing in Buffalo may get their wish.
Marrone is a guy who is not afraid to change schemes to fit personnel. In fact, the Cuse offense changed multiple times during his tenure. He is not afraid to delegate so it will be critical for him to build a solid staff. They completely revamped the offense right before the season, moving to a no-huddle, up tempo attack. Nassib and the Orange offense flourished in the system. The fast pace offense wore teams down and led to multiple comeback victories. They attack multiple levels of the field and mix in the run as well as the pass. Cuse combined the power running of Jerome Smith and the explosive speed of Prince Tyson-Gulley. The fast paced offense made sure both backs had plenty of opportunities and you could easily see how Marrone will utilize CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson in a similar way. The combo combined for 365 yards in the Pinstripe Bowl and nearly 2,000 yards on the season.
In a quiet way, Marrone is an old school disciplinarian. In his first season, he dealt with troubled but talented Mike Williams in a clear and decisive way. The way he handled Williams academic troubles signaled a change at the time. Losing the team’s best player made those that stayed that realized no one player was above the program.
Perhaps the greatest accomplishment by Marrone in his time at Syracuse was the development of Senior QB Ryan Nassib. He has gone from lightly regarded high school recruit to highly ranked NFL draft prospect under Marrone’s tenure. Nassib is likely to go somewhere in the first 3 rounds and there is growing buzz he could be taken as high as the first. A natural thought is Marrone and the Bills will now target Nassib in the draft. After all who better to run his system.
As a Cuse and a Bills fan, I have mixed emotions on his hiring by the Bills. I think the Orange were a year or two away under Marrone from really making some noise on the National level. As Bills fans I think we are in for a treat. Marrone’s teams are fun to watch.