METAIRIE, La. — Doug Marrone would like to say just how much he learned from Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis when he served as the Saints’ offensive coordinator from 2006 to ’08.
He just can’t. There’s no way, he said.
But it’s not for the reason you might think.
“There’s really so many things that if you did try to pinpoint a couple things, it really probably wouldn’t serve justice to how fortunate I’ve been to be around them,” Marrone said.
In his first year as the Buffalo Bills’ head coach, Marrone will once again be on the sidelines in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. This time, though, he’ll obviously be on the opposite sideline, coaching against the home-standing Saints in a noon game.
No matter what happens, Marrone will always have fond memories of his time in New Orleans with Payton.
Check that. He’ll always have fond memories of all of his time in New Orleans, including as a player under Jim Mora in 1989, a time in which he also worked for the Times-Picayune.
“When they brought me back for the last four games of the year, when I was done I was going to stay down there,” Marrone recalled. “Obviously you can only do football so much, so I wanted to make sure I worked.”
But nearly 25 years later, Marrone, who professed that at the time wanted to work his way up the newspaper chain until he was the editor of the paper, is at the top of another profession.
Though 3-4, the Bills could just as easily be two games better. They lost the season opener by two points to New England and then fell by an overtime field goal to Cincinnati.
“I think he’s done a good job as far as taking expectations and putting them out there to the guys and not being ashamed of them,” Buffalo defensive lineman Kyle Williams said. “Saying, ‘These are our goals; this is my expectations for not just our team, but individually. Here are my expectations for you Kyle or you Mario (Williams) or whoever it may be.’ Really kind of holding you to the standard and living up to them and pushing you to get there.”
Marrone isn’t new to trying to turn around a program. In the three years prior to his turn as head coach at Syracuse, his alma mater, the Orange went 9-27. In his four years at the helm, Syracuse went 25-25 and won two bowl games. The Orange won six of their final seven games under Marrone.
Not that this surprises Payton, who hired Marrone away from the Jets.
“I had a chance to interview him and felt really, really comfortable with his expertise and his ability to teach,” the Saints coach said.
It was under Marrone, in fact, that the Saints foundation on the offensive line was set for the Super Bowl run of 2009. He was instrumental in getting Jonathan Goodwin to New Orleans from New York. He helped guide Jahri Evans, a rookie from Bloomsburg in 2006, into becoming the player he is now.
Though he wasn’t with New Orleans by then, having been released from his contract late in the 2008 season to take over at Syracuse, those who were on the championship team said Marrone undoubtedly had a role.
“I hope he knows this, but he was a big part of that,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. “Our entire offensive line were guys that he helped develop. Carl Nicks, (Jermon) Bushrod as well as Goody (Jonathan Goodwin), Jon Stinchcomb, (Zach) Strief, all the guys that were a part of that front that year, he helped develop, so even though he wasn’t actively here, he was at Syracuse, he was a part of that.”
And in a way, he’s still a part of the lives of those who came to New Orleans that year after Hurricane Katrina. Brees still keeps in touch with him. Payton spoke with him before he took over in Buffalo. He still keeps tabs on what Curtis Johnson, then a receivers coach with the Saints, is doing with Tulane.
“The friendship and the experience – and I say this all the time, this is not the first time – having gone down there post-Katrina and having really been a part of something that special is always going to be a special part in my life and in my family’s life,” Marrone said. “What everyone did and the resiliency of the people to build back a region, and I tell that to people all the time, was just an unbelievable incredible experience. I was fortunate enough to be there.”