Balance of Power: Team Chemistry Includes Coaching Staff

It’s been stated that the individuals who one chooses to surround themselves with says a great deal about themselves. When Doug Marrone became the Bills head coach, the first thing he did was hop on a plane with the Bills brass and immediately set out to lure Mike Pettine to become Defensive Coordinator.

(Photo by Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)
(Photo by Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

Mike Pettine is not exactly the type of man one would describe as a shrinking violet. Pettine’s strong personality and coaching pedigree is a clear indicator that Coach Marrone is a man who is not afraid to bring in someone who could have easily been hired for the job he now holds as head coach of the Buffalo Bills.

Mixing strong personalities does not always work well if one party is insecure about themselves, or a control freak to such an extent that the lines between their respective roles are not clearly defined, and implicitly as well as explicitly agreed upon in advance.

The Bills have had a recent run of head coaches who turned out to be glorified coordinators. They seemed to have difficulty relinquishing control over their own area of expertise. The most recent example is how Chan Gailey ran the offense to such an extent that most fans hardly knew that he even had an offensive coordinator in Curt Modkins last season.

It’s also fairly obvious that Gailey ran the Bills offense to such an extent that he virtually avoided being involved in making decisions about anything related to the defensive side of the ball. It was remarkable how many times Gailey would defer media questions on defense to either George Edwards or Dave Wannstedt.

Gailey never seemed to step into that leadership role over the entire team in a manner that suggested he was comfortable managing the entire team, not just the offense. He was doomed by his inability to find the right chemistry with coordinators. This type of fragmentation in leadership promotes a more “us versus them” mentality among players on offense and defense.

It also underscores the importance of finding the right balance of power between the head coach and coordinators. Getting that personal chemistry right between coach and coordinators is often overlooked as a critical factor in development of overall team chemistry.

It’s clear that Marrone has an acute understanding of the importance of truly being a head coach, and not a coordinator who happened to be promoted to the role. It will be interesting to see the difference on the sideline this season compared to last in this regard.

For example, many fans criticized Chan Gailey’s lack of clock management skills. It was easy to see that glaring issue on game day because it became too much for him to call plays and manage the clock at the same time. There was a clear lack of coordination between himself and his staff in that regard.

So while Gailey arguably deferred too much control and virtually ignored the defensive side of the ball, he spent too much time trying to control how the offense was run. Bills fans know only too well that games were lost because of Gailey’s inability to multi-task, and that was directly a result of poor management skills as a head coach.

Fast forward to the newly minted Marrone regime. Watching Doug Marrone on the sidelines during the preseason was eye-opening in this regard. Nathaniel Hackett is up in the press box calling plays. Pettine is on the field working with his defense.

Marrone is the communicator who keeps tabs on both sides of the ball and manages to oversee the entire implementation of the game plan. This isn’t an accident that it worked out this way. Marrone seems to possess that natural ability to lead with strong communication skills that enhance a coordinator’s job, not detract from it.

Furthermore, Marrone has brought together a team of coordinators and position coaches who seem to enjoy their clearly defined roles and different personality styles. Nathaniel Hackett enjoys coaching by relating to players as much as a psychologist as a coach. He is a cheerleader and understands how to motivate his players through a much more “hands on” approach than Pettine.

Pettine appears to project a much more intimidating style. He’s not the kind of guy who is going to run down the field and hug players after a good play. He’s not a screamer, but a demanding guy who expects his players to suck it up, play hard and make no excuses for mistakes. There’s very little “touchy-feely” in Pettine, that’s for sure.

Marrone has stated that his own personal style is much more like Pettine than Hackett. However, Marrone must have recognized the importance of bringing different personalities on board as Hackett has been his guy on offense for a long time, despite their differences in personality styles.

Marrone not only sees the differences in personality for what they are, but embraces the need to bring diversity in personal style to his staff. He encourages his coaching staff to be themselves. This should not be taken lightly regarding how effective a coaching staff can become when they enhance each other’s differences.

Players sense this chemistry between coaches just like children do their parents when it comes to understanding how to “work” this balance of power. When there is a sense that parents work together despite their differences in parenting style, children quickly become tuned into the fact that they are less likely to be able to use those differences to manipulate one against the other.

A football team has many of the same psychodynamics as a family in this regard. When players sense that coaches respect one another despite disparate personalities, they become more functional as a unit, and thus as a team. When they sense that “we are all in this together” feeling, it facilitates team chemistry among players.

As we move forward into the Marrone era, keep an eye on how much this coaching staff contributes to team chemistry through example. Effective leadership starts at the top. When coaching chemistry is recognized as being as important as the chemistry between players on the field, it may translate to a difference between winning and losing. Let’s hope so for the sake of our emotionally drained fan base.

About Robyn Mundy

Robyn Mundy is Editor-in-Chief of the BillsMafia blog at She's a retired oncology nurse & psychotherapist who loves to write about her life-long passion for the Buffalo Bills, and occasionally something of clinical or social relevance. Robyn lives with her husband Gary and their dogs in the foothills of the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming. Robyn is also a proud founding sponsor. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynMundyWYO.