ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — It’s official: Doug Marrone is the Buffalo Bills’ new coach.
The franchise released the announcement via text message on Monday, and a news conference at the team’s facility followed.
Hired after going 25-25 in four seasons at Syracuse, Marrone agreed to the contract Sunday. The 48-year-old from the Bronx takes over a week after Chan Gailey was fired following three consecutive losing seasons.
Marrone becomes the Bills’ fifth coach in 12 years, and inherits a franchise that newly promoted team president Russ Brandon described as having a “tarnished” reputation.
“We went through an exhaustive and exhilarating search in hiring the right man to build the future and culture of a winning franchise,” Brandon said, noting that the Bills and Marrone met as many as five times over the past week. “And we believe we just did that.”
Buffalo’s 13-season playoff drought is the NFL’s longest active streak, and the team has not had a winning record since 2004, when it finished 9-7.
Marrone, who also interviewed with the Cleveland Browns last week, said his first choice was Buffalo in noting the numerous ties he’s had to New York. Aside from coaching the Orange, Marrone was an offensive lineman at Syracuse in the 1980s.
“I had said that the Syracuse job was my dream job, and I meant what I said, and having had the opportunity to restore the great tradition of Syracuse football a reality,” Marrone said. “Today, I’m experiencing another dream come true. … I’ve chosen to be here. I can’t tell you how excited I am.”
Marrone is described as a no-nonsense disciplinarian. He has seven seasons of NFL coaching experience as an assistant. That includes serving as the New Orleans Saints offensive coordinator from 2006-08. He also spent 2002-05 as the New York Jets offensive line coach.
In New Orleans, Marrone’s arrival coincided with the Saints signing star quarterback Drew Brees. Though coach Sean Payton called the play, Marrone helped oversee an offense that led the NFL in yards in 2006 and `08. In 2007, the Saints set a league record with 440 completions.
At Syracuse, Marrone enjoyed two 8-5 seasons — this year and in 2010 — and won two Pinstripe Bowls, including last month’s 38-14 victory over West Virginia. Behind Marrone’s newly installed up-tempo offense, the Orange closed last season by winning six of their final seven games.
Marrone has an offensive-minded background, and his first challenge in Buffalo will be addressing the team’s needs at quarterback. It’s a position that’s lacked stability in Buffalo since Hall of Famer Jim Kelly retired following the 1996 season.
The team has since gone through nine quarterbacks who have started at least eight games. That includes current starter Ryan Fitzpatrick, who’s future is uncertain after going 20-33 in four seasons in Buffalo.
General manager Buddy Nix has already said he intends to improve the position in the draft and potentially in free agency. Fitzpatrick is also due a $3 million bonus in March from the six-year, $59 million contract extension he signed in October 2011.
There’s work to do to improve a high-priced but underachieving defense that was one of the NFL’s worst during Gailey’s three seasons. And that includes last year, when the Bills allowed 435 points — the second-most in team history.
That was despite the offseason addition of defensive end Mario Williams, who signed a six-year, $100 million contract in March in becoming the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player.
Brandon is open to being second-guessed in making his first major decision since being given full day-to-day operational control of the team after owner Ralph Wilson promoted him to president on Jan. 1. Brandon had vowed the coaching search would be “exhaustive” and that he “would leave no stone unturned.”
That search lasted less than a week, during which Brandon and front-office executives interviewed only five candidates before settling on Marrone on Saturday. The team also interviewed former Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith, former Arizona Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt, Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton and Oregon coach Chip Kelly.
The Bills were scheduled to meet with Mike McCoy in Denver on Saturday, but the Broncos offensive coordinator postponed the interview. The Bills also had an opportunity to wait until this week, when they could have had the opportunity to interview other highly considered candidates, including Cincinnati Bengals coordinators Jay Gruden (offense) and Mike Zimmer (defense).
Those two are now free to interview for jobs after the Bengals were knocked from the playoffs Saturday following a 19-13 loss at Houston.