In 2009, Doug Marrone took over a Syracuse football program that had gone 10-37 in its previous four seasons, including a 3-25 mark in the Big East. Marrone needed a quarterback for his first season, and got a one-year rental with graduate student and former star Duke basketball player Greg Paulus. The Orange went 4-8 that year, but it got things started for Syracuse to get back on track. Marrone went 25-25 in four seasons, and has now returned to the NFL as head coach of the Bills.
Marrone faces a similar situation, just at the pro level. Buffalo holds the NFL’s longest playoff drought and has not won more than six games since 2008. He also has to answer a question at quarterback: Will Ryan Fitzpatrick start in Week One, or will a rookie, possibly Marrone’s QB at Syracuse, Ryan Nassib, or a free agent like Alex Smith?
In ’09, as Marrone’s first quarterback at Syracuse, Paulus completed 67.7 percent of his passes and threw 13 touchdowns. He got a glimpse of what Bills players will see in the coming months.
“From the first time I met (Marrone) to today, everything he has done has been first class,” Paulus told PFW. “After you meet him and spend time with him, you want to run through a wall for him.”
Paulus had a tryout with the Saints after college, and then began his current career path as a basketball coach. He is the video coordinator for Ohio State’s men’s basketball team. Paulus described the philosophies Marrone brought to Syracuse.
“Discipline and accountability,” he said. “He brought toughness elements, work ethic and his experience — coming from the NFL and developing great players in the NFL.
“He had to change a culture, and he did a phenomenal job of that in his first year. Each year the talent level got better. His ability to make players better and his ability to change the culture with toughness, that’s what he wanted to do, and that’s what he did.”
It’s one thing to bring that type of culture to a college campus, but another to an NFL locker room with multi-millionaires — but even though the Bills are not known as a team that necessarily needs its discipline to get better, it’s part of Marrone’s style.
“If you didn’t go to class, there was a consequence,” Paulus said. “Once he was able to put in what he wanted to do and build that culture, like wearing suits and ties to games, it made everybody better and it helped turn the program around. … Once (the players) saw the discipline would help us and be a good thing for the long-term, everyone was buying in. There was no question he was our leader.”
Marrone’s offensive experience sets him apart, and all eyes will be focused on how he handles the quarterback position.
“He wanted his offense to be aggressive and for us to learn the game and see it the way he saw it, coming from the Saints,” said Paulus. “He expects a lot from that position and understands it’s the key and trigger point for the offense.”
The NFL is a different animal, but Bills management clearly respected what Marrone was able to accomplish at Syracuse, and hope he can have a similar turnaround in Buffalo.
“With his background, to come (to Buffalo) and put his stamp on it, that will be very exciting for the Buffalo Bills,” Paulus said.