By Mark Gaughan and Tim Graham
The Buffalo Bills didn't make the sexiest hire.
They went with the head coach they thought was the best fit to turn around an organization that has missed the playoffs 13 straight seasons.
In a move that will define Russ Brandon's buck-stops-with-me presidency, the Bills agreed in principle with Syracuse's Doug Marrone to be the team's next head coach.
Marrone took over a culture of losing at Syracuse and turned it around.
He will try to do the same thing with the Bills.
In picking Marrone, the Bills are going with an offensive-minded coach with a reputation for being a disciplinarian. Head-coaching experience was important to the Bills. They opted for a candidate with college experience over two other interviewees -- Ken Whisenhunt and Lovie Smith -- who took their teams to Super Bowls yet had been fired from the NFL.
Nevertheless, Marrone comes to Buffalo with an NFL pedigree.
He worked under New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton, one of the respected offensive gurus in the league, from 2006 to 2008. Marrone was Payton's offensive coordinator, but Payton called the plays on game day.
Before the Saints, Marrone was offensive line coach for the New York Jets for four years. He oversaw a rugged unit that paved the way for future Hall of Fame running back Curtis Martin.
But Syracuse is where Marrone showed his full abilities as a leader. He took over a program that had gone 10-37 the previous four years and had gone seven straight years without a winning season.
Marrone went 25-25 in four seasons with the Orange. He went 4-8 in 2009, improving by one win over the previous season. Syracuse then posted records of 8-5, 4-7 and 8-5. Syracuse won the Pinstripe Bowl over Kansas State in 2010 and over West Virginia last week.
Upon arriving at Syracuse, Marrone went to work right away at turning around a losing attitude. A couple dozen players wound up leaving the program over the next two seasons.
"He came in with rules, and the people who didn't want to follow the rules are gone, and those who did want to follow stayed," linebacker Derrell Smith told reporters in 2010.
Early in Marrone's first season, he gathered the players in the locker room one morning and had them clean the room so they could take more pride in where they spent their day. He required players to dress in a suit and tie instead of sweat suits on game days. He required they sing the Syracuse alma mater before leaving the field after a game. If players were late to class, he would have their photos put on TV monitors in the weight room.
On the field, Marrone ran the Saints offense, more or less, in Syracuse. It's a pro-style attack that has its roots in the West Coast offense. It relies on the quarterback getting the ball out of his hands quickly and hitting receivers in stride. It uses tight ends and a fullback effectively in situational roles.
In New Orleans, Marrone worked with one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, Drew Brees.
At Syracuse, he developed Ryan Nassib into a winner. Nassib will enter the NFL draft in April and could be a prime target of Marrone and the Bills.
Marrone grew up in the Bronx and started on the offensive line for three years for Syracuse. He was a team captain his senior year.
In addition to Whisenhunt and Smith, the Bills also confirmed interviews with Arizona Cardinals defensive cooridnator Ray Horton and Oregon Ducks head coach Chip Kelly.