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.
Now for your email:
HOW DO YOU KNOW THEY AREN'T?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
I hope Daniel Snyder reads your email, Ivy.
MORE PIOLI RANCOR.
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?