Football

Iseman: Marrone’s departure for NFL understandable after accomplishing goals at Syracuse

Doug Marrone arrived at Syracuse with a mission.

He wanted to resurrect the once-proud program from the doldrums of college football. Syracuse had fallen so far and lost so much respectability that his dream to restore the Orange’s pride seemed like a pipedream.

Four years and two bowl victories later, Marrone can leave Syracuse knowing he accomplished what he set out to do.

Marrone had his “dream job” for four seasons. In that time, the Orange suffered incredible lows like the collapse in 2011, but also hit plenty of highs, like winning a share of the Big East this past season. Coming off a 38-14 win over West Virginia in the Pinstripe Bowl, Syracuse is heading in the right direction and Marrone is heading west on Interstate-90 to Buffalo, prepared to take on a new challenge and restore pride in a different team.

“We’re going to be proud of this organization,” Marrone said of the Buffalo Bills at his introductory press conference Monday.

When Marrone took the job at Syracuse in 2009, after three seasons as the offensive coordinator for the New Orleans Saints, he said everything he did in his career up to that point was done with the goal of becoming the head coach at Syracuse. So when he returned to his alma mater, which was desperately seeking a path back to relevancy, he took on a challenge that seemed like it would take years to meet.

But after a rough 2009 season with point-guard-turned-quarterback Greg Paulus, Marrone handed the keys of the offense to Ryan Nassib the next year and ended up with a Pinstripe Bowl win over Kansas State. Nassib developed into a quarterback who’s likely going to be drafted within the first three rounds of the NFL Draft.

And in the last four years, Marrone restored the recruiting foothold Syracuse had on the New York City area. Now SU has to make sure the next head coach can maintain it.

But whoever that next head coach is, he’ll be picking up where Marrone left off, and that’s in a pretty good spot. Marrone got the program moving in the right direction, and right now, it has momentum moving into the Atlantic Coast Conference.

“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,” SU Athletic Director Daryl Gross said in a statement.

There was no minimum amount of years Marrone needed to stay in Syracuse. After one season, he fulfilled his dream of coaching the Orange. He closed the dream after four years and moved on to fulfill what was another dream of being an NFL head coach.

There are 32 head coaching positions in the NFL. Four teams – the Bills, Cleveland Browns, Philadelphia Eagles and San Diego Chargers – expressed interest in Marrone. It was his chance to take over a team at the highest level. When Buffalo extended an offer, he accepted it, and rightly so.

He played in the NFL, coached in the NFL, and now continues the progression to becoming an NFL head coach.

“I’ve gone through this. I was a player in this league myself,” Marrone said at his press conference. “I was a coach in this league for seven years. I’m excited to be here.”

Marrone wasn’t disloyal by leaving Syracuse for the NFL. He was smart to do it now.

The Orange is heading to the ACC, which is full of good football teams. Syracuse fans were going to expect a lot from Marrone and the Orange, despite the fact that the team would have a new quarterback and two new wide receivers. Not to mention SU is losing its leading tackler in strong safety Shamarko Thomas.

If Marrone went with Syracuse to the ACC and the Orange had a down year, his NFL stock decreases, and who knows how long it would take for him to build it back up? Seven NFL coaches were fired this year. There were plenty of openings. That might not happen again for a while.

Everything aligned for Marrone to go to the NFL now. Seven teams had vacancies. Four had interest in Marrone. He was coming off of an 8-5 season and a bowl victory. He oversaw a transformation of Syracuse’s offense.

He leaves the Orange for the NFL. And he leaves knowing he accomplished his mission.

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