Chip Kelly made a big splash when he finally left Oregon to become the new head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. Kelly was certainly one of the biggest fishes in the college pond, and had been courted by NFL teams for years before finally agreeing to make the leap from college to the NFL. On the contrary, the other rookie head coach in the NFL this year that is making the transition from college to the NFL is more of a hidden gem, and that’s new Buffalo Bills head coach Doug Marrone.
On the surface, Marrone may not appear to be a top head coaching candidate worthy of an NFL head-coaching job, and certainly there were plenty of other college coaches with more impressive resumes than the 25-25 record Marrone had in his four years as the head coach at Syracuse, but like an ice berg, most of what Marrone brings to the table as a head coach lurks below the surface.
Below the surface of that 25-25 record is so much more than just an average coach. To understand what Marrone brings to the table, you must understand the program at Syracuse that Marrone took over. Before Marrone arrived, Syracuse had won just 10 games over the previous four years; he took over a roster that was depleted of both talent and depth; and the team he inherited was among the worst in the country. But with all that working against him, Marrone somehow managed to win half of his games over his four-year tenure, something few thought would be possible when he took over.
Marrone didn’t recruit his way into the win column the way a lot of college coaches do, he coached his way into the win column. Nearly half of Syracuse’s win over the last four years were against teams that had better talent than the Orange, making Marrone’s 25-25 record a lot better than it should have been based on the talent he was working with. On so many occasions, Marrone out-smarted, out-schemed, out-worked, and out-coached his counterpart on the opposite sideline. With the way talent is distributed in the NFL, the intelligence, schemes, and work ethic of the head coach can go a long way, and that’s what Marrone will bring to the Bills.
It’s no wonder that a handful of teams with coaching vacancies sought an interview with Marrone prior to him accepting the job in Buffalo. It’s also no wonder why Marrone received an unsolicited recommendation from both New Orleans general manager Mickey Loomis and New Orleans head coach Sean Payton, who worked with Marrone during his three years as offensive coordinator of the Saints, during which time the team made an appearance in the NFC Championship Game and had one of the most prolific passing attacks in NFL history.
Even though on the surface Marrone appears to be an average coach that’s coming to the NFL from a mediocre college program, those in the NFL that are familiar with him, know that Marrone is so much more. They know that he can out-smart, out-work, and out-coach the best of them. Soon, the people of Buffalo will know that too, and before long, the rest of the league will not it as well.