I purposely avoided adding any input yesterday after the news broke because I didn't know what to think, and still really don't. I'm not particularly thrilled with the hire, but I will say, it's a much better choice than some of the other options (Whiz, McCoy....) to me. There are a number of question marks with HCDM, but there definitely are some things to like about him. I was critical of him the other day when talking about him, but much of that has to do with his game day coaching. Much of the rest of what he brings to the table is positive.
First things first, his 25-25 record isn't quite irrelevant to me, but it might as well be. That means nothing to me with this hire. I know many of you have talked about it either being a red flag or a major positive. I lean towards it being a positive because of where my alma mater was under Greg Robinson. The program was decimated and teetering on the brink of full on "point of no return". Heck, some SU fans were talking about whether the program would eventually fade to FCS level along the likes of Villanova, Colgate, etc. Marrone wasn't necessarily the top choice for AD Daryl Gross, but he ended up being the right choice. Most SU fans had no clue who he was other than him being a former OL in the 80's. The school needed to hire a tireless, prepared and well intended coach with an actual plan. Marrone was that guy. He had been putting together a binder of notes, plays, recruiting info and contacts, daily itinerary, etc to bring along on his interview and to help him hit the ground running if he were to get the job of his dreams. It was a smart move and worked. I'm guessing he's been doing similar work in preparation for NFL interviews.
Back to 25-25, while it's not exactly sparkly or overly impressive on paper, it's extremely impressive when breaking it down. Syracuse was the worst. I hated watching them, I hated losing interest in college football and I hate being associated with such an embarrassing program. It was tough to watch it crumble in the years before HCDM. The first year wasn't much better, but you could see progress being made. He instituted conditioning programs for his OL and wanted to turn the entire roster into more finely tuned athletes that wouldn't wear down in games. He accomplished that. He took fat blobs with little muscle tone and turned them into useful players. I mean look at these fat pumpkins during the Robinson era. I expect Marrone to work further on conditioning at the next level now too. Cordy Glenn, your weight is likely to go down. He will want to push these guys to be the best they can be and make them four quarter players. I look for him to push guys like Mario Williams even further, as well. This is something Marrone has excelled at and should bring to the Bills.
As I mentioned, Marrone will be tireless in working to restore the Bills. The players will respect him, especially because he's been an NFL guy as a player and coach. They should (I hope) respect his ability to turn absolute garbage into something respectable. He's a very good man, a very proud man and someone that has respect for those around him. He will be open to all ideas (Brandon probably loves that) and will do whatever it takes to find a way. I hope he chooses the right coordinators and style of offense, even if it's different than his SU philosophy. I kind of hope it is different on the offense end, as I'll get into. He's not necessarily an in-your-face type coach, but he can be when needed. He will get on officials. His ability to adapt will be huge. The Bills need someone who isn't such a staunch follower of one way and will be willing to change when needed.
I think Marrone is going to be a nice hire for the practice setting, offseason work and even during game week. He's a well prepared coach that has seen success at this level. He understands what it takes and how to get there. There will be changes in the offseason program. There will be conditioning aspects to fix. There will be scheme changes and upgrades. There is a lot of work to be done, and Marrone is a solid guy to initiate that.
BUT he has warts that are kind of alarming. I don't think he's a particularly good game day coach. Far too often in his SU tenure, he was overly conservative, struggled with 3rd/4th down plays and made me want to pull my hair out with his punting decisions. I don't think any of that will change. I also think he has gotten outcoached far more than he should. Prior to SU's nice finish to the season, Marrone was on many fans' hotseats. The team looked brutal in many games. Playcalling improved over the second half of this season, and much of that was OC Nathaniel Hackett basically learning on the job, but much of it was Marrone directed. Luckily, he pushed to make some changes. They went more spread this year and then tinkered with that to highlight the running game. There were some monster rushing games in the second half of this season and that's key to his success and him getting this job. He did make some changes that worked, but it took 3+ years to get that consistent success. I don't know if he learned or got lucky. I don't know if he can institute necessary change in Buffalo. In game coaching will prove his worth and his evolution as a HC. His SU teams also made far too many mental mistakes from key turnovers to costly penalties. There were a lot of dead ball fouls. That has to change at this level. Chalk up some of that to college kids being dumb, but Marrone has to end it now for the Bills. If Marrone is anything but the coach SU fans saw over the second half of the season, it's going to be tough to watch at times. I hope he has evolved completely into a fine HC, but I'm extremely skeptical. I think he's still a few years away from being at his best to handle this position, but that's irrelevant now. He's got to get to work now and figure out how to fix this mess like he did at SU. He needs to be a better game day coach and he needs to help make decisions to get the best out of each and every Buffalo Bill.
As for his coordinators, I really don't know where he goes. Scott Shafer, SU's DC, has done a fine job and coaches an aggressive style that forces the offense to adjust and beat them. But he coaches a D that brings a lot of pressure/blitzes and relies on his secondary to play a lot of one on one. If he were to join Marrone (which I'm guessing probably doesn't happen, gut call), we'd have to hope Stephon Gilmore continues improving and the rest of the CB stable steps up. Shafer's defenses have also struggled mightily at times. If they can't get the pressure, they get chewed up in the passing game. Numerous backup QB's found success against them. I'm not sure his style will work at the next level. I also don't know if Nathaniel Hackett is ready to be an NFL OC. He was downright awful as a playcaller for some time, but did improve. Maybe at Marrone's urging, maybe as a result of his own improvement. His offense was faster paced and relied an quick passing. There were a ton of timing passes from Ryan Nassib, either slants, quick seams or flag patterns. The RB's also saw a lot of draws, spread read option runs (like RG3 has run) and screens/dumpoffs. He utilizes those guys well. Spiller would be happy. BUT again, I'm not sure he's ready or even willing to go pro. Both of these guys could be Marrone's replacement at SU.
I'm guessing Marrone adds a lot of NFL guys to his staff. Is Pete Carmichael available? I think the OL will continue finding success under Marrone, so that'll be key to his offense. He should also be able to get the most of his skill players with Spiller, Stevie and Nelson all candidates for big seasons. BUT again, they need more help, starting with QB....
That leads me to Ryan Nassib and many Bills' fans' expectations that he will be the pick at 8. I honestly hope not. I really don't want him to be the next (first in some time?) Bills franchise QB. I don't think he's good enough. Nassib is a VERY, VERY good college quarterback, but Marrone/Hackett tailored the offense to his strengths and weaknesses, and I'm not sure that could continue in the pros. As I said, there were a lot of quick, timing passes, a lot of short passes and some rollouts. Yes, we'll see that with whoever the next QB is. Nassib struggles with the deep ball. It's a rainbow that routinely hangs up too long and ends up underthrown. It's not terribly accurate. But the biggest issue with Nassib is how he handles pressure. He has happy feet and has really struggled when pressured. That's why there were so many quick passes, so many quick seams to the tight end and slot receiver. That would have to change in the NFL and I'm not sure he's capable of making that big of a jump. He will be a solid backup somewhere, but as a top end signal caller I have serious doubts. And I wouldn't want nepotism to be a factor either. Marrone loves Nassib and loves the player/man he's become. If they drafted him and he struggled, would Marrone stick with him for far too long? Would he rest his legacy on his college QB's ability to transition to the pros? I don't think he will and I would hope Marrone sees that Nassib's issues are going to be tough to overcome, and their relationship could be an issue (or a positive, yes).
I will say Nassib does have some positives. He's got a good arm, he throws a good fast ball and he's overall pretty accurate. His mechanics are different and I'm not sure they'd be a major issue. His throwing motion is different, but effective. His footwork could probably use some work, especially on the deep ball where he gets on his toes too much. Nassib is EXTREMELY intelligent (summer finance internship, for example) with plenty of experience and would be able to handle any NFL playbook. He's a leader and a very good person. He's got plenty of positives, but much to work on. I see his as a Jake Locker type QB with a somewhat limited ceiling. I don't think he's an NFL starter or franchise QB. He's a legit prospect that needs work. Maybe he can develop further and become a guy somewhere. I just hope it's not Buffalo.
There are definitely some SU players that are also worth looking at. Safety Shamarko Thomas is an absolute monster, especially in the run game. That kid will hit anything moving, which is good and bad. He has gotten a number of personal foul calls, but has also delivered some jarring, game changers. He's fantastic against the run and would look good alongside Jairus Byrd, or at least as a specialist. He brings an attitude that fans would LOVE.
WR Alec Lemon developed into a fantastic college player. He has good hands, decent enough speed, and just gets open. He left as SU's all-time leading receiver and really developed into Nassib's favorite receiver by far. He really reminds me of Lance Moore, able to make some great grabs and is just a consistent option underneath. I think he has a good future in the NFL.
Justin Pugh is a nice OT prospect, but is undersized (sub 300 lbs). He needs some bulk and to stay healthy, but looks like a second rounder at worst. I don't think the Bills will be interested, with bigger fish to fry.
I expect to see some SU guys go through Bills camp over the next couple of years. Maybe some will stick, maybe not. But for the first time in a while, the Bills will see some SU players, so that's cool again.
Overall, I remain skeptical about Marrone's hiring. He just makes me nervous because of what I've seen of him on game day. The rest of what he brings is all a-ok to me, but that's possibly the biggest issue a HC needs to excel in. His tireless, hard-nosed attitude will be refreshing to see in Buffalo. Maybe I'm so skeptical because if this doesn't work out, then both my teams are screwed! I hate see my alma mater suffer as a result, and really, really, really hope HCDM can get it done in Buffalo, just like he was doing at SU. I'm happy to see the Bills try something different this time around, I just hope Marrone is the right option.