It was only a matter of time before another team decided it needed Doug Marrone’s help. Eight days after leading the Syracuse football team to its second bowl victory in three years, Marrone accepted the head coaching position at the Buffalo Bills.
"I had said that the Syracuse job was my dream job, and I meant what I said, and having had the opportunity to restore the great tradition of Syracuse football a reality," Marrone said at a Bills press conference Monday. "Today, I'm experiencing another dream come true.”
Regardless of what people think of Marrone’s decision to leave the Orange, his four years of service have left a lasting impression on a program seemingly fading out of the spotlight. After a dismal three years of Greg Robinson that ended with a 10-37 record, Marrone was hired to rejuvenate the program.
Before coming to Syracuse on Dec. 8, 2008, Marrone coached on offensive side of the ball for the New York Jets from 2002-2005 and then for the New Orleans Saints from 2006-2008. As the Saints offensive coordinator, Marrone helped create the NFL’s number one offense.
But it wasn’t just his offensive-style that brought Marrone and Syracuse together; it was Marrone’s collegiate connection. A three-year starter on the offensive line for the Orange from 1983-1985, Marrone was already knowledgeable about the SU football program.
"We've hired a guy that is a Syracuse graduate, who bleeds orange, who brings in tremendous, tremendous knowledge of football from his college and especially his pro experience," said SU athletic director Dr. Daryl Gross back in 2008. "He's someone that we can look forward to exciting offenses, seeing a lot of snaps per game. Better than that, he's somebody that brings leadership, who comes from the Bronx. When you talk about New York's College team, he fits the profile perfectly. He will be a tremendous recruiter in the Northeast, who knows the coaches. He's somebody that we believe will win at Syracuse."
Luckily for Syracuse, Marrone did just that in his four seasons.
Picking up the pieces from Greg Robinson, Marrone and the Orange had a sub-par 2009 campaign. His 4-8 season was not the kind of start SU fans were hoping for, but Marrone did give them something to cheer about. Many statistical rankings increased significantly- all on the defensive side- most likely due to the hiring of defensive coordinator Scott Shafer in 2009. Shafer, who will reportedly replace Marrone in 2013, instilled a defense that consistently tried to put pressure on the quarterback.
It was not until Marrone’s second season that Syracuse saw the switch from a BCS bottom-feeder to a bowl-contender, as the Orange finished with a 7-5 record. Syracuse also played in its first bowl game since 2004 against Kansas State in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. SU won the game by a score of 36-24, its first bowl victory since 2001.
Two seasons in, and Marrone had already constructed a winning program. 2011 looked just as promising, with Syracuse winning five of its first seven games, including a 49-23 upset of No. 15 West Virginia. However, complacency seemed to set in, as the Orange finished Marrone’s third season with a six-game losing streak, finishing with a 5-8 record.
2012 was the complete opposite of 2011 for Marrone and the Orange. Syracuse began the season with a 2-4 record, but ended with a 7-5 record and another New Era Pinstripe Bowl birth, this time against former Big East rival West Virginia. Syracuse defeated the Mountaineers 38-14 for Marrone’s second bowl victory in three years.
Unfortunately, that’s where the story ends for Marrone with the Orange. The Buffalo Bills interviewed Marrone on Jan. 4 and he was hired the next day and signed a contract on Jan. 7.
"Doug has restored Syracuse football to its rightful place and we are appreciative of the foundation he has laid on and off the field for the future success of the program,” Gross said in a statement released by university on Monday. “We wish him the absolute best in his opportunity in the NFL.”
Syracuse University Chairman of the Board of Trustees Richard Thompson and Chancellor and President Nancy Cantor also released a statement, congratulating Marrone and praising his work over the past four years.
"We congratulate Coach Marrone on having this opportunity to become a head coach at the highest level. Under his leadership, we have restored the rich, winning football tradition at Syracuse, and we wish him continued success as he moves to the National Football League.”
Marrone did exactly what he was brought in to do: build a program that could compete at a high level. He has multiple victories over top-25 teams, a couple of bowl wins, and changed the landscape of Syracuse football by instilling an idea of winning. He's coached players who moved on to the NFL level, including Mike Williams, Delone Carter and Chandler Jones, and it appears quarterback Ryan Nassib and offensive lineman Justin Pugh may also be heading to some NFL team as well.
Moving forward, it appears that Scott Shafer-hired by Marrone in 2009- will replace his former boss for the 2013 season, although no statements by the university have been made yet.