It pains me to say it because I do not care for the man, but the decision that Doug Marrone made on New Years Eve in 2014 set the Buffalo Bills back years. How many? Well, that remains to be scene. Two to three years, maybe, but possibly more. That decision started a domino effect that ultimately resulted in Sean McDermott’s hire one year ago. While nobody would argue that McDermott wasn’t the perfect hire, there is no doubting that Doug Marrone was the man who set everything in motion.
First, let me acknowledge the obvious rebuttals to this argument. Rebuttal 1: He is not the same coach he was in Buffalo. I agree with that, experience has made Doug Marrone a better coach. His past failures (which includes leaving the Bills) has made him better. So, did he need a failed relationship, so to speak, in Buffalo in order to help mold him into the coach he is today? Possibly. Rebuttal 2: The domino effect is not on Marrone, but rather the Pegulas. It was the Pegulas who decided to hire a coach who would dismantle the roster, schemes and overall makeup from the 2014 team that missed the playoffs by one game. While the Pegulas certainly have their hand in this, I can give them a pass for falling in love with the charming and swaggering Rex Ryan during their first go-around with hiring an NFL head coach.
My claim that the Bills were set back years mainly circulates around the defense. If Marrone had not left, Jim Schwartz would have remained on the staff and built on the 4th overall defense, fixing just the run defense which was shredded over the later part of the season (namely the must-win Oakland game). That 2014 unit ranked 1st in sacks (54), 1st in third down percentage (33%) and 3rd in takeaways (30). To compare to this year, the 2017 squad ranked 29th in sacks (27), 18th in third down percentage (38%) and 9th in takeaways (25). But yet, this year those stats were good enough for the Bills to earn a playoff berth. Isn’t the NFL wild sometimes?! We all knew that the 2014 Bills defense was elite. It was a Super Bowl level defense. 3 years later? Jim Schwartz is coaching an elite defense in the Super Bowl. I am not surprised by this at all. Rex Ryan did offer Schwartz a job on the defensive staff, but it is obvious that that was going to be nothing more than a sympathy position with little to no power over the scheme or personnel. Dennis Thurman, and later Rob Ryan, were coming in to “run” the defense along with Ryan, so Schwartz’s input would have been minimal. Three years later, half of that Pro-Bowl defensive line has been traded and/or cut, and the line backers and secondary has been turned over. Aside from quarterback, the Bills’ biggest needs are at defensive end and linebacker going into this offseason. There is no doubt that the Bills will once again have a formidable defense that causes quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers to have terrible days, but the reality is that it needs to be built again, despite having that in place 3 years ago.
On the offensive side of the ball is Nathaniel Hackett, who was not missed by Bills fans when Marrone skipped town. But again, the proof is in the pudding. Nathaniel Hackett was calling the plays for a team that held a 10 point lead in the 4th quarter of the AFC Championship game, while the Bills will be on offensive coordinator number 4 next year over the same two year span. In order to assess this correctly, I have to mention that Marrone did not have a QB at the time that he resigned. Kyle Orton retired days before Marrone quit, so that might have played a roll in his resignation. Not having a quarterback certainly left a huge hole on the offensive side of the roster, but any quarterback that they were going to get after Orton was going to be at least as good as Bortles was (prior to the statistical outlier of this year). I do not believe the Bills would have regressed offensively had Marrone/Hackett stayed with the team. They would have found a serviceable quarterback in one way or another, even without a first round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. Instead, here we are three years later still looking for the elusive franchise quarterback.
Maybe this is a big game of “what if’s”, but something felt wrong this past weekend watching the an entire old Bills coaching staff coaching in both conference championship games. I love Sean McDermott as much as anyone and I am happy to have ended the drought and to have a coach and GM that will stop at no end to find a franchise quarterback. I am not sure that the Jaguars are set up for “sustained success” in the words of our current head coach. We will get our day to play in conference championships, too. It just may be in 2-3 years, and although Doug Marrone may be the reason for that delay, it will make it all the more sweeter when that time comes under the Sean McDermott regime.
What do you think Bills fans? Agree? Disagree? Leave your comments below. Make sure to follow me on Twitter for all the latest from Buffalo Authority. Go Bills!