It’s been a busy 10 days for the Buffalo Bills, cleaning house by firing Chan Gailey and his staff, and hiring Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone. Today they announced that Mike Pettine would take over the defense, and Nate Hackett will join coach Marrone from Syracuse as his offensive play caller. While both are young, especially Hackett (33), they bring a wealth of football knowledge, and an aggressive mindset.
Doug Marrone has a storied history, going back to the mid 80’s when he played as an offensive lineman at Syracuse University. He had a brief stint in the NFL, experiencing Don Shula’s two a days, giving him credibility to any NFL player. He coached in a few colleges as an assistant, before catching on in the NFL as the offensive line coach of the New York Jets, working under legendary Herm Edwards. He then moved on to New Orleans to serve as Sean Payton’s offensive coordinator, working with Drew Brees. He left the Saints to take is dream job as head coach at Syracuse. He was there for four years, where he turned around the worse program in Division I football. He led them to two bowl victories in the final three years he coached, and in his final season led a team that shattered 11 school records. Many big names in the NFL are praising the Bills for their hire, and in fact no one has said anything bad about him. His past players love him, Sean Payton describes him as “ready” to be a Head Coach at the NFL level, and he has won the majority of the fan base over in a matter of days.
Hackett, the son of former Pitt Panthers and USC head coach Paul Hackett, called the shots for a Syracuse offense that broke 11 school records in 2012, including Donovan McNabb’s passing yards in a season record. He was a part of developing quarterback Ryan Nassib, a top college prospect in this years draft. His Father coached for over 40 years, and Nate credits him as his mentor, and describes him as “always there to answer questions”. He is a familiar face to the Bills, as he served as offensive quality control coach from 2008-2009. While there, he worked with Alex VanPelt, and was handed the 1994 “K-Gun” offense playbook by Jim Kelly himself. Elements of that offense can be seen in Syracuse’s no huddle up-tempo offense they used often this season. Heading that offense was Ryan Nassib, who had a 62.4% completion rate, threw for 3749 yards (in just 12 games), and had 26 TD’s versus only 10 interceptions.
Pettine worked under Rex Ryan for 9 years, and his start in the NFL came under Brian Billick. He started as an assistant in Baltimore in 2001, and followed Rex to New York where he was the Jets Defensive Coordinator for the last 4 years. In that time he shared play calling duties With Rex, but led the defense in practices. He was a part of developing a Jets defense that never finished worse than 8th overall in his time with them. He declined a contract extension offer from the Jets, and decided to head to Buffalo to get out of Rex Ryan’s rather large shadow. He brings a very aggressive attitude and style, something that is more than welcome among fans. Having already put to rest the speculation of what the Bills base defense will be, Pettine said the identity will reflect the talent on the roster. He will evaluate each players talents, and find ways to use them, instead of applying any one scheme to his players. This is the exact opposite of what Dave W. did last year.
The buzz is surprisingly good on Buffalo’s hires, all the way around. Almost all analysts and media are taking a “wait and see” approach, but all three coaches are drawing high praise from major names around the NFL, anyone that has worked with any of the new coaches has nothing but great things to say. Rex Ryan even said in his interview how great a coach Pettine is, and how he hoped he wouldn’t go to Buffalo (sorry to disappoint Rexy).
The Bills did the opposite of what they have done for years. They hired a coach out of college, a club first. Marrone was employed, while the majority of past coaches (including our own beloved Marv Levy) were fired coaches elsewhere before we hired them. None of the coaches from the 13 year drought has been a head coach since being fired or leaving Buffalo, with Mularkey recently being fired by the Jaguars, a testament to the failure of the front office to assemble a winning staff. With Ralph Wilson handing over control to Russ Brandon, this is truly a new beginning for the Bills. Marrone was Brandon’s hire, and would never have been hired if Buddy and Ralph were still in control. They would have gone the retread route, likely hiring Ken Whisenhunt, who the Bills were rumored to be in contract negotiations with before going with Marrone. Buffalo got the jump on Cleveland, who had reportedly interviewed him and were interested, but held out for Chip Kelly, only to get left at the altar. Philadelphia and San Diego were also interested in him. The Bills identified their man, and wasted no time getting the deal inked. They also wasted no time in finding capable coordinators as well, unlike Chan Gailey, who took until mid February to make his hire at defensive coordinator three years ago.
In my opinion, the Bills made some extremely bold decisions, and I love it. They bailed on the safe pick, and made a bold and aggressive one. They got the jump on other teams, and stole an employed man from a place he loved, and loved him. Marrone has never been fired, unlike all of our past coaches. His youth and passion for the game, as well as his love for the region, has rejuvenated the franchise overnight. He made swift decisions, got young coaches that want to be here, and that are truly hungry for success. I, for one, got exactly what I have been asking for, and that is something different. As much as I would hate to be sitting here in three years talking about a 16 year playoff drought, I would still support this hire. This is a sink or swim move, and one that will look like one of the smartest moves in franchise history if it pays off. If it doesn’t many will call it one of the dumbest. I for one will view it as a bold move to change the face of a franchise, something that has been needed for years. To many old worn out faces have come through the doors here, and for once, we have exuberant men standing at the podium, happy to be taking questions, instead of looking annoyed and confused. Hackett’s own four year old son is an avid Bills fan, as described by his own father. These coaches will bleed red white and blue along with it’s fans, and will hold themselves and the players accountable. No team is better at selling hope than the Buffalo Bills, and once again, I’m buying all in. GO BILLS!