The Bills didn’t travel far to replace Chan Gailey, staying in-state as they tabbed Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone to take over in Buffalo. Marrone brought his offensive coordinator, Nathanial Hackett, with him on the short trip to help turn the Bills around. And while the release of Ryan Fitzpatrick could lead to the drafting of Ryan Nassib and a full-fledged Syracuse reunion in Buffalo, Marrone brings more to the table than just his relatively brief track record with the Orange.
Marrone is a former offensive lineman, drafted by the Raiders and a short-timer with the Dolphins and Saints before hanging up the cleats and turning to coaching. His early collegiate resume includes work with tight ends and offensive lines at schools ranging from Cortland State to Georgia Tech to the University of Georgia (working with future NFL linemen George Foster and John Stinchcomb) to the University of Tennessee, where he helped develop Jason Witten.
At that point Marrone jumped to the NFL. He coached the Jets’ offensive line from 2002 to 2005, overseeing Curtis Martin’s most productive season (2004), before joining Sean Payton in New Orleans as the Saints’ offensive coordinator. While Payton handled the bulk of the play-calling duties, Marrone certainly had a hand in the development of the Drew Brees-led offense; in fact, Nassib noted that the Syracuse playbook was essentially the same as what the Saints ran during Marrone’s time there.
The Saints’ offense ranked in the top five in all three of Marrone’s seasons with the team, finishing first twice; he also had a hand in upgrading New Orleans’ pass protection as sacks dropped from 23 to 16 to 13 during his tenure there.
At Syracuse Marrone took over a program that hadn’t had a winning season since 2001 and was 27 games under .500 in the four years prior to his arrival. By his final season with the Orange, Marrone’s offense had jumped from 94th to 18th and produced a 1,000-yard rusher (Jerome Smith), a 1,000-yard receiver (Alec Lemon), and a 3,000-yard passer (Nassib)—as well as a Pinstripe Bowl win.
As is all the range with this year’s class of coaching hires, Marrone is known for adapting his system to his players. To wit: his 2004 Jets ranked third in the NFL in rushing; his 2008 Saints led the league in passing. Another example: last season Marrone helped retool the Syracuse offense he brought with him from New Orleans, simplifying the attack and picking up the tempo while mixing some zone-read options into the game plan—with obvious success. Bills’ fans will also be intrigued by the inclusion of some “K-Gun” concepts, which Hackett picked up while working with Alex Van Pelt during a previous stint in Buffalo.
The Marrone/Hackett offense the Bills run will have its roots in that same Saints playbook, with the Syracuse adjustments of zone-read option and K-Gun tempo spicing things up. Comparisons have already been drawn between Reggie Bush’s role in the New Orleans offense and C.J. Spiller’s duties in the new scheme, though you have to believe Spiller will be more of a feature back than Bush ever was with the Saints. You could also see Spiller taking on some of the pass-catching duties that Darren Sproles has turned into fantasy gold.
The Buffalo passing game is still looking for more pieces, specifically a bigger target to complement Stevie Johnson and speedster T.J. Graham. But if this iteration of the Buffalo offense is striving for a passing attack that culls from Super Bowl-era Bills teams and the Brees-era Saints, they’re definitely heading in the right direction fantasy-wise.
Of course, the key question is who the Marrone/Hackett offense will have as its trigger man. With Fitzpatrick’s release, Tarvaris Jackson currently sits atop the Buffalo depth chart. But with the eighth overall pick and a high second-round selection as well, the Bills could be in the running for just about any signal-caller in this class: from Matt Barkley to Geno Smith (whom Marrone knows well after successfully game-planning for him three times while at Syracuse) in Round One to E.J. Manuel or the familiar Nassib in Round Two. And with two bright young football minds tailoring their offense for a new signal-caller and his supporting cast, the Bills could bring significantly more fantasy productivity to the table under their new regime.