Doug Marrone is the New Man for the Buffalo Bills
The Buffalo Bills have moved on to their fifth head coach since Wade Phillips was dismissed following the 2000 season (not counting 2009 interim Perry Fewell), and for the first time in franchise history they dipped into the college ranks, hiring Doug Marrone away from Syracuse.
Marrone has spent the last four years turning Syracuse from an abysmal program (10-37 in four years under Greg Robinson, and never better than 4-8) into a merely mediocre one, going 2-25 in his four years on the hill, a record that includes two Pinstripe Bowl wins (including this season's 38-14 romp over a West Virginia team that came into the season with national championship aspirations).
The track record of college coaches in the NFL is spotty at best. On one side are the likes of Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer, the only two coaches to win both a Super Bowl and an NCAA title. Bill Walsh also had a relatively successful college career before taking over the 49ers dynasty in the 1980's. On the other side are the likes of Steve Spurrier, Lou Holtz, and Nick Saban, all very successful college coaches who foundered when making the move to the pros.
It's hard to say where Doug Marrone will fall in the spectrum. Unlike most coaches who have made the jump, he hasn't been hugely successful in the college ranks. Even Greg Schiano, who left Rutgers with a 68-67 record after 11 years, spent some time in the AP Top 25.
Schiano is actually a good place to start when considering how Marrone might fare. His Buccaneers team started off 6-4 this past season before dropping five straight, finally closing with a win at top-seeded Atlanta (which did not rest its starters) to finish at 7-9. The team drastically improved on both offense (27th in scoring in 2011, 13th in 2012) and defense (last in scoring in 2011, 23rd in 2012).
Their point differential in 2011 was -207; in 2012, it was -5. Quarterback Josh Freeman's completion percentage took an eight-point tumble, but he topped 4,000 yards and improved his touchdown-to-interception ratio from 16-22 in 2011 to 27-17 this season. Doug Martin made a strong case for Offensive Rookie of the Year under Schiano, rushing for 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns, both fifth in the NFL.
Marrone will be working somewhat in reverse from that. He comes into a situation with the dynamic and extremely versatile C.J. Spiller, who averaged 6.8 yards-per-touch in a 2012 season where no other 1,000-yard rusher (including Adrian Peterson) even managed a clean six. The closest thing Marrone had to Spiller in Syracuse was Antwon Bailey, who was a strong presence in the passing game and finished his NCAA career with 5.2 yards-per-touch. Utilizing Spiller in the same method will be Marrone's most pressing task in Buffalo.