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Brandon sticks up for his coach

Ever since the Bills made the ill-advised decision to play one home game a season in Toronto, I felt it was a deterrent to attracting top head coaching candidates to Buffalo. What self-respecting coach would take a head NFL job, knowing he would be playing only seven games in his home stadium? The answer, of course, was a coach who was desperate to get one of the 32 NFL jobs and had no other options.

Doug Marrone would never admit it. He had to toe the company line on the Toronto venture, even if it meant giving away the home advantage in one of his eight home games. Chan Gailey never complained, either. The only player who ever had the guts to rip the series was Eric Wood, though he backed off last year after signing a long-term extension.

But there was never a doubt in my mind that Marrone hated playing a game in Toronto. The Bills remained competitive through all sorts of adversity in his first season as head coach. They were still on the fringes of contention in the AFC when they played the Falcons in Toronto. When they lost to a staggering Atlanta team, the folly of playing a home game in Canada was more evident than ever.

Russ Brandon was beside himself after that game. It was clear that he felt the players had been put in a compromising position by playing a game away from the Ralph. Soon after the loss, Brandon went public with his determination to re-evaulate the Toronto series and do what was in the competitive interests of the team.

I suspect that Marrone gave Brandon an earful after that loss to the Falcons. The players said it was a highly emotional scene in the locker room afterward. Part of the emotion had to be the knowledge that the organization had put profit over the team's fortunes on the field. Brandon must have told himself he would never do that to his team again.

The Bills have left open the possibility of playing games in Toronto in the future. Brandon has found a politically comfortable way to move away from the series. But it's a good sign that Brandon is exercising the full power of his position -- as he promised to do when he assumed "total" control of the organization on New Year's Day of 2013.

It's interesting that this news would come so soon after Tim Graham's story about a power struggle in the Bills organization between the entrenched money men and the new football people. Brandon needed to make it clear that he stands with the young, progressive football men who are now responsible for the product on the field, and not the money counters.

This was a great way to do it, whether Brandon intended it that way or not. You can't claim to be on the side of your football guys while selling off their precious home-field advantage. Brandon has clearly sided with Marrone, who had to believe the Toronto series made the franchise look small-time.

I don't see how they could take a regular-season game back to Toronto now, especially if the Bills became a more legitimate contender and needed every edge to get back in the playoffs. Marrone's star will rise if the team continues to improve. Going back to Toronto at this point would be a slap to his face.




Bills, NFL
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