No shame in punting
I appreciate what Doug Marrone did for the Bills. For 14 seasons, you could hear the same things muttered by the Buffalo faithful every Sunday. "This team doesn't want it." "They look lost out there." "No heart." My disagreements with his in-game management aside, (and more recently) I couldn't say anything about this team's heart or will to win this season. Monday through Saturday, he got this team that, on paper, looked medicore and turned them into contenders. No matter how many three-and-outs you'd see for the first three quarters, you'd keep watching, because the defense could make things happen.
He was almost the guy. And a lot of Buffalonians, so desperate for a return to the glory years of the early 90's, probably don't understand why I'm calling this the best possible thing that could have happened to this team at this time, but it is.
Finding the head coach that comes to define your franchise for an extended run (your Belichicks, your Cowhers) is rare. But when you've got him, you know it. You know it, because when you watch your team, regardless of the opponent, you know your guy is just smarter than the coach on the opposite sideline. When the talent on the field is a draw, your guy is going to know when to gamble, how to use his timeouts, and when not to punt. Marrone failed in every one of those areas, week after week. And this team was never good enough on the field to overcome it. He brought them into every Sunday believing they could win, and their play reflected it. But we need that extra step. We need a coach who knows that late in a game, down two scores, that he can't punt on 4th and 1 when he's past the 50. That doing so is a disservice to a team that, for the first time in a long time, can get you that extra yard. Ask Fred Jackson to get you that yard, and time after time, he gets you two. Two more 2014 regular season wins, and this article is probably about me being on cloud nine traveling to my first NFL playoff game in 15 years. I watched him cost us those two wins (and at least 2 more).
And so, when faced with the option to opt out, to punt, career-wise, to hope that the defense can get you another shot and your reputation can get you another gig, Marrone did. And he'll get another job, probably as a head coach. Because there a lot of teams that are still ok with punting on every literal and metaphorical 4th and 1.
But we can do better, Buffalo. We deserve better. Without getting too sappy about it or attaching too much meaning to the Head Coach position, we deserve a coach that reflects what this city has done over the past decade. This city is proud. When everyone ws writing it off, and young graduates were moving away in droves, others stepped up and are transforming downtown Buffalo into someplace you want to go, instead of someplace you need to go to when you have traffic court or someone at work gave you Sabres' tickets. We're overdue for a coach that can turn a silo into a climbing gym or an old warehouse into a brewery. I don't know if Jim Schwartz is that guy, or if he's lurking somewhere in a DIII school, but I hope the Pegulas or Doug Whaley or whoever leads the search can find him.