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Bills rookie coach Marrone sees promise amid rebuilding

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The Canadian Press
9/7/2013 9:40:23 AM
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Doug Marrone rolls his eyes whenever someone mentions the importance of continuity.

That's a crutch the Buffalo Bills' rookie head coach refuses to lean on when it comes to assembling an offensive line or most anything else for that matter.

"I'm not as sold as much on the continuity factor than what other people may be," said Marrone, a former offensive lineman. "When I hear a coach talk about continuity, the first thing I think of is: 'Excuse."'

He'll even use a profanity to get his point across for emphasis.

Marrone's not big on excuses of any kind in the face of adversity.

That's something that has been evident in the full-speed-ahead demeanour he has projected since being hired in January. In replacing Chan Gailey, Marrone became the latest in a long line of head coaches tasked with the responsibility of turning around a franchise that has spent much of the past 13 years lacking relevance.

Adversity, Marrone understands, comes with the territory, and something he's encountered in previous jobs.

He was an assistant under Sean Payton in New Orleans, where the Saints went from "Ain'ts" to contenders. Marrone spent the past four seasons at his alma mater in Syracuse, where he went 25-25 in returning pride to a program that had become a perennial loser.

"Every place is different. But what's not different is how hard it's going to be, and the many challenges you're going to have," Marrone said. "You know there's going to be challenges. And you know there's going to be probably more than you think when you come in."

He wasn't kidding.

The Bills have already endured their share of setbacks in preparing to open the season against New England on Sunday.

They've had a revolving door at quarterback because of injuries. Veteran free-agent addition Kevin Kolb is out because of a season-ending concussion. And rookie first-round draft pick EJ Manuel missed two weeks of practice with a left knee injury before being cleared to start this week.

The Bills are already missing starting cornerback Stephon Gilmore (broken hand). Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd might not be ready for the season because of a sore foot and the time he's lost due to a contract squabble. If that's not enough, Marrone had to scramble to sign kicker Dan Carpenter after rookie Dustin Hopkins hurt his groin Monday.

Marrone has remained unfazed.

"I'd rather be hit with adversity and find out who's in and who's out," he said.

The Bills are a major work in progress after going through a near top-to-bottom off-season transformation.

It began on Jan. 1, when Russ Brandon was promoted to team president, gaining authority over the franchise's daily operations. Doug Whaley took over as general manager after Buddy Nix stepped down in May. And then there's been host of roster changes, topped by the selection of Manuel with the 16th pick in the draft to address a position that's been unsettled since Hall of Famer Jim Kelly retired following the 1996 season.

The changes are part of a concerted effort by Brandon, who opened the year by saying he will leave no stone unturned to repair what he called the Bills' "tarnished relevancy."

Buffalo's 13-season playoff drought is the NFL's longest active streak. And the Bills have gone eight straight years without a winning record.

"We can't change the past," Brandon said. "I've been here, and I share (fans') frustrations. But our focus is on the future, moving forward and getting this right."

It won't be easy.

"It's not going to come without tough times and adversity," Brandon added. "But I have all the confidence in the world in the group that we've assembled here."

Hiring Marrone was the first step, and one the Bills approached carefully.

Too often in the past, the Bills have hired a coach and then built the team around that person's philosophy.

This time, Brandon helped established a vision of what type of team the Bills should be, and then hired the coach to fit that approach.

"I wanted a coach that was in lockstep with our thought process, rather than continually fit round holes into square pegs," Brandon said. "Coach Marrone, when we spoke to him numerous times, everything flowed exactly into what we were attempting to accomplish."

Marrone won over the Bills' brass in outlining a plan to introduce an aggressive, up-tempo and attacking style on both offence and defence.

By starting anew and breaking from the past, Brandon believes the Bills can rebuild by having everyone working toward the same goal.

"We're going to build this altogether and stick through it," Brandon said. "When times are tough, we'll be shoulder to shoulder."

Former Bills general manager Bill Polian likes what he's seen.

"I think Doug Marrone is a great coach. I think he proved that at Syracuse. I know he's got a plan for how to proceed," said Polian, now a TV analyst.

And he's pleased the Bills finally began addressing the quarterback position by drafting Manuel.

"He's got some growing to do, so fans need to be patient with that," Polian said. "But I do think that the future's bright, and some good pieces are in place."

Marrone wasn't aware what qualities the Bills were looking for in a coach when he interviewed for the job.

He simply stuck to what he knew and who he was.

"The worst thing you can do is try to fit what they're looking for," Marrone said. "Because eventually in this profession with all the adversity and difficult challenges of the job, you can't function. You become dysfunctional."

There's been enough of that in Buffalo.

Doug Marrone (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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