I don't know if Doug Marrone will win in Buffalo. No one does. He probably needs a new quarterback. He has to figure out why a defense that should have been top 10 in the NFL this year let everyone down and finished 22nd in yards allowed and a mind-boggling 26th in points allowed.
But I'll tell you why I think he was a good hire:
? He's tough. He's not going to take the same old excuses about not winning, and he's not going to blindly stick up for his players if they're not playing well or not performing. That's a core principle he has, and something he's learned from people like Sean Payton along the way. There's a certain amount of ruthlessness a head coach has to have, and I believe he will have it in Buffalo.
? He's been with losing programs in desperate straits, so he's not afraid of the Bills' history of futility. Check out his last two jobs. He went to New Orleans in 2006 as line coach and offensive coordinator, five months after Katrina, when no one wanted to sign or play with New Orleans, and he saw what an impact a well-built team (with a quarterback) could do to a region. He went to his alma mater, Syracuse, in 2009, and took over a team that had won 10 games in four years. And he won 25 in his four years there.
? He'll find a smart guy, like Mike Pettine (my strong recommendation) to run his defense. And he'll commit to a quarterback (maybe a draftee, like his own Ryan Nassib from Syracuse) and center his offense around a player the entire team will trust, and he'll run the ball because he believes you've got to a have a strong running game too, especially in the northeast. It doesn't hurt to have Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller carrying it 400 times for you, either.
"I love challenges,'' he said from Bills' offices Monday. "Look where I've been. I played at Syracuse when that program was down, and we helped turn it around then. I coached at Georgia Tech when that program was down, and the staff helped turn it around. The Saints, then Syracuse. How is success judged? You've got to look at it a little bit different at a place like Alabama than at a place like Syracuse. But I'm happy the way I was brought up in football, and the men who have influenced me. I am a very, very competitive person, and I like the situation we're in right now. I don't like the people I've met here; I love the people I've met and will be working with. Smart. Good football people. I am fired up right now.''
And the Patriots, I asked; what about chasing the Patriots? This was the 12th straight year the Bills finished behind New England in the standings. So many men have failed to scale Mount Belichick. A concern?
"Are you trying to get something started between us?'' he said with a laugh. "I have great respect for the sport at every level. I have great respect for coaches, and teams, that can excel for a long time. But I don't feel like, 'I want to be like them.' I want to be me. I want this team to be our team, not someone else's. I'm concerned about us, about building the best possible team we can be. I have not looked at any tape of our team yet, but my priority now is building the best team we can and get our team in the best position to play everyone once the season starts."
Interesting. He never used "Patriots'' or "Bill Belichick." It's a little corny, and maybe he didn't mean it, but I like the fact he's not going to come in fawning over a team he knows will have everything to do with his success or failure. Game on.
BURKE: MARRONE HAS ONE CHALLENGE ABOVE ALL OTHERS
Now for your email:
HOW DO YOU KNOW THEY AREN'T? Why aren't teams pursuing Bill Cowher, John Gruden, or Brian Billick? Aside from the comical discussion of Gruden to University of Tennessee, I never heard their names mentioned this carousel season. All three are available, and all three are proven winners.
-- From Jim Collier, Memphis
Jim, I believe teams this postseason have felt out both Cowher and Gruden about their jobs -- but in this climate, no one is going to admit reaching out to those men, and those men aren't going to admit to having been wooed. It's a strange dance. If you're, for instance, Cleveland owner Jimmy Haslam, aren't you going to find out whether Gruden and/or Cowher has any interest in returning to coach your team? That's not to say he's offering them a job, or asking them to do a formal interview. It's simply doing the logical fact-finding that an owner would do. And it happens.
I ACTUALLY LIKE THIS IDEA A LOT. I think that every sane football fan would agree that, in general, adding more teams to the playoffs would be a bad idea. But what do you think about this idea: adding one conditional team per conference. This means that a seventh playoff team per conference will be added if, and only if, the seventh seed finishes with a better record than the worst division winner.
For example, last year the Broncos made the playoffs by winning their division at 8-8, but the Titans missed out even though they finished a game better at 9-7. Under this system, the Titans would have been added as a seventh seed. This way, there wouldn't be a problem of adding a lousy team to the playoffs, because the added team would, by definition, not be the worst team in the postseason. It would also add intrigue to the playoff race, and give teams much more incentive to winning the number one seed, since that's the only seed guaranteed to get a first round bye. What do you think?
-- From Alex, Bergenfield, N.J.
Ahhh, Bergenfield -- site of so many games when coaching my old 10-and-under girls softball team. Alex, this sounds great, with only one caveat: It creates uncertainty in TV programming. Suppose one year there is such a seventh-seed qualifier, and the next year there isn't, and the next year there are two. There's the matter, on one week's notice, of a TV network televising the game and selling the ad inventory and creating the space on the program grid by pre-empting four hours of shows to do it. So I like it, because it's fair and just ... but in today's NFL, I doubt it ever happens.
ON RAY LEWIS. For the absolute life of me, I cannot understand the near-canonization of Ray Lewis. Is he a great player? Of course, there's no question about that. But, how can no one in the media (other than Deadspin, for cripes sake) mention a single word about the fact that he and his cronies beat and stabbed two people to death in Atlanta in 2000? Mike Vick is synonymous with dog fighting; OJ Simpson with his various troubles. Virtually nothing is written about either of those players without a mention of their legal problems (and yes, there are others - too many to name - I just chose, arguably, the two most popular).
Is it simply because Lewis now portrays himself as a "nice guy" and talks to the media like they're his buddy? Maybe you can explain it to me. Two people are dead at least in part due to his actions. I'm all for second chances, it's a main tenet of the North American legal system, but to straight up NOT mention it? Seems wrong to me.
-- From Andrew, Toronto
I mentioned it in my column Monday, but in a minor way. I understand your thinking. I have heard a lot of it, particularly on Twitter. There's no question that, in the life story of Ray Lewis, it deserves a good airing. But I'm not sure that the fact that Lewis was found guilty of a misdemeanor obstruction-of-justice charge in connection with an unsolved double murder case 13 years ago deserves to be mentioned every time we talk about Ray Lewis' great career as a linebacker. As far as his canonization, a city loves the man, apparently. And we wouldn't be doing our jobs in ignoring that fact. I can only control what I write and say. And I say he's one of the three best linebackers of all time, without passing judgment on his life off the field.
WHY THE FULLBACK? Why does the All-Pro team still consist of a running back and a fullback, rather than two running backs? I would guess there aren't more than a handful of teams that use a fullback on 50 percent of offensive snaps. The Patriots don't even have one on their roster. I assume your reason for voting for Michael Robinson is because he paved the way for Marshawn Lynch's great season. Isn't it more valid to recognize Lynch himself? (By the way, a "fullback" is a specific type of running back, like "split end" and "flanker" are wide receivers. We don't separate those positions, so why separate them for running backs?)
-- From Josh, La Crosse, Wis.
Good question. The Associated Press asks us to vote for two running backs and a fullback, which I don't do. If you're not going to vote for three wide receivers, why should you vote for two running backs? So I vote for only one running back. I understand the fullback is an antiquated position, and if it were my team, I'd vote for one back and three receivers -- one of them a slot guy. I may do that next season.
PIOLO DESERVES THE SCORN. Was Scott Pioli treated harshly in exiting? Perhaps, although that's partly why they get paid big-boy money. More importantly though, he built up exactly ZERO goodwill here in his time in KC. He played Patriot-type stonewall with the media. He said virtually nothing publicly during the last two horrible seasons. It appears he made few close associations at One Arrowhead Drive. So in a case like that, when the spit hits the fan, it's hardly unexpected to see what occurs. Sometimes, for better or worse, you reap what you sow. And in Pioli's case here in KC, he unfortunately didn't seem to sow much in the way of relationships or people to support him through tough times.
-- From Tim Goodheart, Kansas City
All good points. He should have been more transparent with such a trusted public treasure. And he failed to move the franchise ahead, which you would have expected with a guy who was considered the best GM prospect in football four years ago. As I said yesterday, you'll get no argument from me about the failure of the three big decisions he made as GM. What I'm talking about when I defended Pioli yesterday is the level of personal attacks and vitriol that filled my Twitter timeline were -- and I'm not exaggerating -- as if people were talking about a hardened criminal, not a general manager who failed to deliver the consistent winner the community was hoping for. That's what I don't get.
I HATE THE FALCONS, THIS GEORGIAN THINKS. So the team with the best record in the NFL has no players good enough for your All-Pro team? Let the Atlanta Falcon bashing continue.
-- From Bryan, Athens, Ga.
Just call 'em the way I see 'em. Tony Gonzalez was closest, but I just felt Jason Witten was a little better this year. Next was John Abraham, but I thought J.J. Watt and Cameron Wake were more impactful. I don't find choosing Jason Witten over Tony Gonzalez because he had 17 more catches and 109 more receiving yards "bashing,'' but it's a free country.
FEDEX FIELD WAS A PIT SUNDAY. Peter, the NFL/Teams must start being culpable for injuries that occur on poor playing surfaces. It is no different than slipping on a wet floor or being injured at work due to faulty equipment or an unsafe environment. Now I realize the oxymoron of referencing an unsafe environment when discussing the NFL. However, players should not being blowing out knees because field turf is in poor condition. Clemons torn ACL reminds me of Wes Welker's knee giving out in Houston on poor turf. If you ever watched how they place sections of grass for each game, it is unreal that they could actually play a high-speed game with constant cutting on that surface.
Disclaimer: it was not raining and weather conditions did not affect the field. In the work place, organizations like OSHA inspect places of employment for safe work conditions. We realize that playing conditions may change from day to day, but it may be time to mandate new artificial turf for a measure of consistency while trying to protect players. The game is dangerous enough without worrying about the playing surface possibly contributing to injuries.
-- From Ivy, Dana Point, Calif.
I hope Daniel Snyder reads your email, Ivy.
MORE PIOLI RANCOR. Your claim that Scot Pioli was treated unfairly in Kansas City just doesn't wash. Sure, the three major decisions you noted (Matt Cassell, Todd Haley and Romeo Crennel) were all terrible, but they don't come close to explaining the fan's vitriol toward the man. He used first round draft choices on Tyson Jackson and Jonathan Baldwin. He never brought in a credible backup to Cassel, let alone a legimate contender for the job. Why do you think Kyle Orton had no interest in staying in KC and instead took a backup job in Dallas? He let Brandon Carr go to Dallas and replaced him with Stanford Routt. He created a culture of secrecy and suspicion in the Chiefs organization. The reason people thought Todd Haley's claims were credible was because they were entirely consistent with the culture Scot Pioli created. The Chiefs were generally tens of millions under the salary cap after local taxpayers paid over $200 million for stadium renovations (the Miami Marlins were crucified in the national media for essentially operating the same way). Oh, and they finished 2-14, the same record that got his predecessor fired four years earlier. Pioli's record as a personnel man may be pretty good, his record as a GM is indefensible.
-- From Glenn, Wichita, Kans.
My point, Glenn: I'm good with booing. I'm good with angry letters to the editor. I'm fine with a plane flying overhead urging Clark Hunt to fire Pioli. Bags over the head? Okay with me. All's fair in love and football. But what does it say about us as a people that when Pioli walked on the field before a game this year with his daughter, a cascade of F-bombs and lewd catcalls from fans greeted him so loudly that players nearby were embarrassed?