• Marcell Dareus, who played under Marrone with the Bills, once said Marrone was ‘nervous’ and ‘treats his players like children.’ Reunited with Marrone in Jacksonville this season, Dareus sees a more open and approachable coach. The results are there for all to see
By Robert Klemko
January 18, 2018

Why Doug Marrone left the Bills in 2014 after a 9-7 season, Buffalo’s first winning record in a decade, is one of the great mysteries of the NFL’s recent history. Marrone, who was hired by Buffalo in 2013 after four seasons at Syracuse, won’t say, and neither will members of the Bills brass from 2014, including former general manager Doug Whaley. We can say with confidence there was no love lost between Marrone and many in the organization, with numerous Buffalo staffers and players going on and off the record to trash Marrone’s organizational chops on his way out the door.

One of the most vocal was Marcell Dareus, the longtime Bills defensive lineman who was traded to the Jaguars in midseason this year, rejoining, of all people, Jacksonville head coach Doug Marrone. In October 2015, Elizabeth Merrill of ESPN wrote what is probably the most thorough examination of Marrone’s decision to opt out of his contract with Buffalo and eventually join the Jaguars as an offensive line coach. In an interview with Merrill, Dareus didn’t hold back.

Merrill writes: “Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus … is open about being glad that Marrone is gone. He says his ex-coach is anal-retentive and treats his players like children.”

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“He was always like he was walking on eggshells,” Dareus told Merrill. “It seemed like he was nervous all the time. That just doesn’t go well with players, especially because we’re supposed to be following you.”

Fast-forward to 2017. Marrone had been elevated from offensive line coach to head coach in Jacksonville. Midway through the season he was looking for interior defensive line help, after the Jags gave up more than 160 rushing yards four weeks in a row. He found Dareus on the trade block, three seasons removed from a first-team All-Pro nod and two years removed from a six-year contract extension worth $60 million in guarantees. The Jaguars were 4-3 but ranked 30th in rushing yards allowed per game when they traded a conditional sixth-round draft pick to Buffalo for Dareus in late October. Dareus, 27, would bring a valuable rotational element to the defense on the way to Jacksonville’s first division title since 1999, and an AFC Championship Game clash with the Patriots this weekend.

In the process, Dareus says he observed a changed man in Marrone, who has the confidence of the locker room in ways that would have been unimaginable to Dareus just three years ago. 

“He listens,” Dareus told me this week. “There comes a point when you have to understand peoples’ needs and learning patterns, and he now has a good way of feeling out learning patterns and understanding who he’s dealing with, as opposed to being one way all the time. He’s more dialed in. He’s more open, up front. He always told it how it was, but it rubbed certain guys the wrong way.”

Dareus says he and Marrone hashed out any hard feelings and came to a “mutual understanding,” and Dareus began to realize how much the 53-year-old coach from the Bronx seemed to have changed.

“When I got here I saw the way guys were interacting with him, the way he was talking and handling himself around everyone,” Dareus says. “He was making decisions he felt was right, but at the same time listening and understanding and not kicking peoples’ opinions out the window. He seems like a more open person who’s easier to approach.”

Only Marrone and those closest to him can say for sure if his approach to the job changed drastically after the feedback he got from Buffalo. Dareus is the only player in the NFL in a position to say it has, having been around him during both of his most recent head-coaching gigs. If there were Bills players who believed Marrone was chronically edgy and dismissive of players, as Dareus said then, they’d have to admit that bringing in a player who had openly criticized him three years later invokes a certain air of confidence and accessibility that Marrone wasn’t getting credit for in 2014.

Marrone’s turnaround of the Jaguars (with the help of EVP Tom Coughlin, brought in this year) makes a fine case for retread coaches everywhere, especially those who took a hardline approach to their first job and were humbled by a poor record and a sour locker room. (See: McDaniels, Josh.) If a coach as seemingly unlikeable as Marrone in Buffalo can gain the confidence of a new franchise and make the AFC title game just three seasons later, what’s to stop another coach from doing the same?

Dareus, for his part, says he was less surprised about being brought to Jacksonville in light those explosive quotes than he was about being traded to a team having unexpected success. Jacksonville’s four wins at the time of the deal had already eclipsed its three wins in all of 2016. But the Dareus addition helped the Jags’ rushing defense from that 30th position in the first seven weeks of the season to eighth over the course of the final 10 weeks, a credit to Dareus’s football acumen, and to Marrone and his staff’s ability to integrate players on the fly and maximize the talent available.

Coaching-style makeovers only go so far; you have to be able to coach first.

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