How Doug Marrone became 'The Man Who Left Buffalo'

October 27, 2015, 2:59 PM

— -- JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- An ivy-covered house in a gated Florida community is the perfect place to disappear. As Doug Marrone drags his trash cans off the curb, a neighbor in an Infiniti stops, not to badger him about clock management, but to ask about a recent family trip to Europe. When he walks into the gym to watch his daughter Maddie play volleyball, he's no longer followed by a hundred sets of eyes. Here, he is not The Man Who Left Buffalo, he's like just about every other coach and player in Jacksonville: anonymous.

Helen Marrone would prefer to keep it this way, which is why she didn't sleep the night before. It is mid-July, months removed from the day Marrone stunned the NFL and walked away from a head-coaching job on a winning team, and she cannot figure out why in the world he'd agree to an interview. Their kids have finally stopped crying themselves to sleep, and the venom toward a man who took a $4 million opt-out clause to leave Buffalo has slowed to a trickle. She slips into the room every so often to hear what he's saying. "You're panicking," Marrone tells his wife.

She knows he's not good at this stuff. And that's probably one of the reasons Marrone is where he is right now: an assistant coach for one of the NFL's worst teams, less than a year after he led the Bills to their best record in a decade. He is awkward around a microphone, and his demeanor comes across as gruff. He cuts an intimidating figure, an old lineman in a 6-foot-5, 270-ish pound body.

But on this summer day, he looks like a dad who's just come back from the beach, dressed in jeans, flip-flops and a salmon-colored button-down shirt. It isn't one of Marrone's favorite shirts, but Helen urged him to wear it. She wants him to make a good impression. Deep down, so does he. He grew up believing that good coaches needed to know players and football, not the secrets to scoring personality points, but here he sits, near the couch cushions he meticulously vacuumed a few hours earlier, trying to prove he's not a money-grubbing ogre.

"It's funny," Marrone said. "When we were sitting here, I said, 'You know what?' My goal in the interview -- you're going to write what you write, I can't control that -- by my deal was, I just hope when you leave here, you're like, 'F---, this guy's not a bad guy.'"

Marrone chats for hours, so relaxed that he occasionally talks with his mouth full of hummus and chips. He gives off the vibe of a man comfortable and at peace.

But later that night, Marrone calls. He says he wishes he'd never talked at all.