It's fascinating being on the outside looking in as Doug Marrone decides to leave a head coaching gig earlier than expected. When it happened to the Syracuse Orange, emotions made it hard to understand. This time, however, I see it for what it is.
A business decision. And a damn smart one, at that.
First, our condolences to the Buffalo Bills. We know what it's like to be blindsided by a Doug Marrone Business Decision. There were a lot of negative reactions in the fanbase. Quite a few "good riddances." Even now there are people who love to play revisionist historian and say Syracuse is better off without Saint Doug. That for all the games he won, he should have won more and his teams should have been even better than they were.
Those sentiments are currently being echoed word-for-word by Bills fans across Twitter and Buffalo Rumblings comments. And on paper, they are understandable. For all the success of this past season, the Bills could have won more games and could have made the playoffs. They certainly could have punted less.
But here's the cold, hard facts:
- When Doug Marrone arrived at Syracuse, the football program had gone 10-37 in four previous seasons. The program went 25-25 in his four years there, including two bowl games.
- The Orange went 3-9 the year before he arrived. They went 8-5 the year he left.
- When Doug Marrone arrived at Buffalo, the Bills hadn't won nine games in a season since 2004 and hadn't finished 2nd in the AFC East since 2007. In two years, Marrone got a perennial 6-10 team back to both of those levels.
You can make arguments about the game management along the way and you can argue he didn't win any championships but you can't argue that Doug Marrone is capable of turning bad football teams into better football teams. Maybe he's not Nick Saban or Bill Belichick, but, not many people are.
Being a football coach is a pretty thankless profession. Win and, well, that's what you're supposed to do. Lose and we hate you and want you gone. Look how quickly Syracuse fans have turned on Scott Shafer. The guy took SU to a bowl game one year ago and now there is a solid chunk of Orange fans who want him fired. That's part of the gig.
So regardless of why Doug Marrone made the decision to opt-out of his contract, I can't fault him for doing it. At a macro-level, his reputation is solid in NFL circles. He was a wanted commodity when he took the Bills job over the Browns job and he'll be a wanted commodity now (assumedly by the New York Jets). It's such a rare thing to be a head football coach and have a positive reputation. That Marrone wants to set himself up for success as much as possible...I can't fault the guy for that.
Of course, he'll be called disloyal and a traitor and a scumbag and in the world of sports, he qualifies for all of those traits. Sports, existing in the weird bubble that it exists in, has different expectations than the real world. Because in the real world, Doug Marrone simply did what anyone reason this right now would do if presented with the same opportunity in their profession. If Doug Marrone were an accounting, he'd be considered a savvy businessman. If Doug Marrone were in insurance sales, he'd just be doing what's best for him and his family.
But Doug Marrone works in sports, and so he's a jerk. Oh well.
It's laughable that Bills safety Aaron Williams has "lost all respect" for Marrone. The presumption behind that is that Marrone should remain loyal to the Bills above all else. I wonder if Williams will still feel that way when Bills one day offer him a contract way below what he expects, or trades him for a draft pick, or just outright cuts him.
All of this isn't to say that Bills fans should be pissed, happy, jilted, relieved or whatever other emotion comes to them. Sports are emotional and it's part of the deal we make when we become fans. We trade reason and reality for delusional fandom. As much as I understood why Marrone left SU two years ago, I remember feeling personally wronged. You promised! You said it was your dream job! The job isn't over yet!
But, I got over it. Bills fans will get over it. Hopefully they'll find a coach that can build on 2014's success and keep the momentum going. While I'm not a Bills fan, I have felt myself rooting for them ever since Marrone went there. They're a great underdog story (inasmuch as a billion-dollor corporation can be considered an underdog) and I'm going to have a very hard time pulling for Marrone if he ends up coaching the Jets instead.
But I know that it's business. The day will probably come when Marrone has no say in whether or not he gets to be a head coach next season. Until that day comes, he's maintaining control over that decision. I think most anyone would do the same.