By Tim Graham
When Doug Marrone became the New York Jets' offensive line coach in 2002, center Kevin Mawae had gone to three straight Pro Bowls and had been voted All-Pro twice.
What more could Marrone teach him that celebrated O-line coaches Howard Mudd and Bill Muir hadn't already?
Plenty, it would turn out.
Mawae later had Hall of Fame lineman and future head coach Mike Munchak as a position coach, but Marrone stands alongside all of them in Mawae's mind.
"Buffalo's lucky to have him," Mawae told me Monday.
Mawae finished his career as a three-time All-Pro and eight-time Pro Bowler. He played 16 seasons with the Seattle Seahawks, Jets and Tennessee Titans and served as president of the NFL Players Association.
Marrone was his Jets position coach from 2002 through 2005. Their unit helped future Hall of Fame running back Curtis Martin lead the NFL in rushing with 1,697 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2004.
Mawae noted Marrone's gifts were sharpening technique and helping players understand not only what to do, but also why they were doing it.
"He did a great job of teaching concepts," Mawae said. "As a young player, a lot of times you worry just about your assignment and who's in front of you. But Doug taught us concepts of, 'We're doing this slide protection because it's going to complement the running game in this way. We're going to run this protection and show this kind of front so we can get the defensive backfield to react certain ways.'
"And he would be able to teach it to you in a way where you understood it, where it wasn't complicated physics.
"He coached tight ends and he knows the passing game. When we would talk X's and O's about pass-protection schemes, he would be able to teach you about coverages, Cover 2, rolling coverages, what to expect. He opened the game up for a lot of the guys on the offensive line beyond the [line of scrimmage]."
Mawae said Marrone made strategies easy to understand by explaining how and why they originated.
"He knew the history behind the game," Mawae said. "When he talked about running a certain blocking scheme, he would tell us, 'This started because of Coach So-and-So back in the 1970s.' He had perspective on the evolution of the game. I enjoyed that."
Mawae, the 36th overall draft choice in 1994, was entering his ninth season when Jets head coach Herm Edwards hired Marrone. Mawae claimed he got better because of Marrone's presence.
"It was a simple thing like taking one step off the ball or changing an angle to accomplish what you want to do," Mawae said. "He's a great technician and teacher of technique.
"People don't understand that about offensive linemen. It's not just about taking off and hitting somebody. It's six inches here or proper placement of your hands or your footwork. He had great ideas on how to do that."
Marrone played tackle for Syracuse. He was a captain his senior season. The Los Angeles Raiders drafted Marrone in the sixth round in 1986. He played a few games for the Miami Dolphins and New Orleans Saints.
"The one thing I always appreciated about Doug is he played the game," Mawae said. "He played in college at a high level, played in the NFL. That gave him a perspective that a lot of times coaches don't have. Players appreciate that."