The Intangibles: Cranky Coaches And Players Breathe Life Into Moribund Buffalo Bills

This old fan was thrilled to see tempers flare as the Bills wrapped up training camp at St. John Fisher College on Wednesday and Thursday. Setting aside all the politically correct statements about how there is no place for fighting in the NFL, any kind of emotional intensity displayed at a Bills training camp is a pleasant sight for this fan to see.

(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Buffalo Bills Head Coach Doug Marrone wasn’t happy with players fighting at training camp, but showing emotion isn’t necessarily a bad thing. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

After attending three training camps since 2006 with three different head coaches, I was able to gain some perspective about how much the philosophy of each NFL head coach varies regarding the rigor (or lack thereof) of training camp practices. Some camps like Levy’s were known for their “Club Med” approach, while others like Dick Jauron ran training camp more like a glorified yoga class.

It is doubtful that many players would accuse Marrone of running a spa-like atmosphere at training camp. Over 20 days in pads seems like 18 days more than I saw Jauron or Gailey work players in pads at their respective camps.

Despite a more restrictive collective bargaining agreement regarding the number padded practices for players, the physical demands, the pace, even the loud music brings an “old school” feeling to a Marrone style training camp. Does this bring us to the old saying “familiarity breeds contempt?”

Understandably, after weeks of living in a dorm without much free time, nerves get frayed. Players on the bubble are irritable because they fear their dream of making it on an NFL roster may be slipping away.

Established veterans are often itching to go home to their families, as well as worrying about injuries when training camp is this long and physically demanding. Coaches are irritable because there are so many threats to the best plans they painstakingly laid out during the offseason.

Regardless of why it’s happening, Bills fans should rejoice that the head coach is considered “thin-skinned,” and works the players as hard as he’s allowed to do so. After a decade and a half of leisurely camps and laid back coaches, maybe this group of players will be better prepared to face the rigor of a long season.

It will be interesting to see how the players hold up during the season after a long and difficult Camp Marrone. Fortunately there were no serious injuries at camp this year, only Kiko’s season ending knee injury just before camp started.

If the Bills want to play in January, they will have to want it more than any other team in the NFL, and that means out-working every other team both mentally and physically. It will be interesting to see if they can pull it off this year in the increasingly competitive AFC East.

Teams have every opportunity to become successful with rules that promote parity in the NFL. Despite this structure, the Bills have managed to miss the playoffs for 14 years. It’s truly remarkable to think about how badly this team has performed for so long given the opportunities they had to improve along the way.

It takes a lot of effort to support this dynasty of stink. Fans are cranky, bitter, delusional, exasperated, despondent, and frustrated to the bone. It’s been made worse by a revolving door of head coaches who have all failed to inspire the team out of perpetual mediocrity.

What’s been most notable in the dark ages of Bills history since 2000 is that the head coaches were NOT hard driving, relentless perfectionists like the most successful coaches in NFL history. Richard Jauron was arguably the most frustrating coach to watch or listen to of all the coaches in the history of the Buffalo Bills.

Jauron was the most disengaged, monotonous, fear mongering coach whose philosophy emphasized playing not to lose instead of playing to win. His coaching style was the antithesis of exactly what makes a good head coach in the NFL. He was passive, fearful, and had the instincts of a rock. I’m not sure I’ll ever get over his playing the A-Train while letting Fred Jackson rot on the bench.

Listening to Jauron’s press conferences made me want to bang my head into a wall until he stopped talking. His sniveling and whining about how difficult it was to win a game in the NFL nearly drove me off the rails. His passive approach to the game was downright embarrassing.

While Chan Gailey was considered a players coach, he could get surly on occasion, surly with a southern drawl. He wasn’t as painful to listen to as Jauron, but he turned out to be another great offensive coordinator who was ineffective at the head coaching level.

Along comes the big guy with “thin skin” from the Bronx to take over the Bills. He yells at the players. He punishes them and makes them run. He is emotionally volatile and sarcastic when stressed. And, he’s got his back against the wall to produce the playoffs this season, or he may get the heave-ho by a new owner.

What’s not to like about this situation? That he might offend some veterans by making them work so hard at training camp? Injuries? Bills fans have witnessed many injuries when there was a lighter workload during training camps. There is also the argument to be made that working hard at camp may in fact physically prepare players better for the long season ahead.

This week Marrone really stepped up to the plate when he responded to Jerry Hughes chiding him after going ballistic at practice over the lack of discipline in terms of fighting. This gave fans a clue that he will not tolerate insubordination of any kind. Marrone’s screaming back “to the team” certainly let one player know he won’t be upstaged.

Last week I wrote about Marrone’s volatility, and how the stress of “second year syndrome” may be affecting him. We certainly saw this in full force this past week. If he fails to get this team over the playoff drought, it will not be because he hasn’t bled red, white, and blue all over the field, that’s for sure.

Of course there is risk that Marrone will “lose the team” if he completely alienates them. That’s a risk any head coach with a strong personality faces. However, head coaches like Jauron risked never having a team truly bond with him, which is exactly why we saw his teams unable to get over that proverbial “hump.”

Most people who grew up in Western New York appreciate and prefer brutal honesty to being sold a “BILL” of goods. We want our own version of Vince Lombardi to bring us an NFL Championship. However, Lombardi is probably turning over in his grave watching how the latest collective bargaining agreement has limited practices.

Today will be the first opportunity Bills fans will have to see what this tumultuous offseason has accomplished in terms of getting this team back into the playoffs. It won’t be easy, as every team in the AFC East has improved since last season, at least on paper. The Jets first string looked formidable on both sides of the ball last night against the Giants, though the Jets ultimately lost the game, 35-24.

The Bills have a great opportunity to get this team off perpetual life support this season. They are loaded with talent but that talent must translate to wins instead of the “what if,” or “if only” excuses that have plagued this team for what seems like an eternity.

The transition of ownership has put the moribund Buffalo Bills back in the national spotlight more than they have been in the last 15 years. Everyone from the front office to the fan base is cranky. Why should the head coach’s attitude be any different?

About Robyn Mundy

Robyn Mundy is Editor-in-Chief of the BillsMafia blog at BuffaloFAMbase.com. 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.