The quality of ‘winningness’ in the NFL may be immeasurable, but it’s also invaluable. Just ask any Buffalo Bills fan. The Chan Gailey/Ryan Fitzpatrick experiment came to a screeching halt this offseason when the Bills’ latest ‘franchise QB’ and head coach were let go after an unusually disappointing season in Buffalo. It was unusual not because the Bills finished with a typically mediocre 6-10 record, but because the team was stocked with more all-around talent than any time in recent memory and still managed to suck.
Bills fans were quick to blame injuries, Fitzpatrick’s lack of arm-strength, or the misuse of CJ Spiller for another lost season, but one problem in particular has remained a constant over the course of Buffalo’s NFL-leading 13 year playoff drought – there hasn’t been a winning culture. A team can have all the raw talent in the world, but unless they are mentally tough and conditioned to win football games, they don’t have a chance at long term success. The new Bills head coach Doug Marrone and heir apparent quarterback EJ Manuel already represent a huge step in the right direction for the win-starved franchise.
Marrone is known throughout Central New York as the man responsible for turning around an unwatchable Syracuse football program. A combined 25-25 record as a college head coach may not sound all that impressive, but considering where the program was before Marrone arrived, in addition to his two pinstripe bowls in four years, we start to get a picture of who he really is as a coach.
Manuel has a similar winning pedigree. As a starter for Florida State, he went 25-6, including just the third 12-win season in Seminoles history. He also won Florida State its first BCS bowl since 2000. Despite all the well publicized knocks on Manuel’s game, it can’t be questioned that the kid is a winner.
Even more important than their win-loss records is the approach and attitude that Marrone and Manuel take to the game. Since his arrival in Buffalo, Marrone has put a heavy emphasis on competition while highlighting the team’s storied past. There are now four large banners hanging up in the Buffalo field house, representing each of the team’s Super Bowl appearances. They are joined by some even larger banners depicting the Vince Lombardi trophy as well as some that read “Don’t confuse effort with results.” Manuel, on the other hand, has looked and acted the part of a franchise QB since day one, showing poise, charisma and all of the other ‘intangibles’ necessary to lead and inspire a team. Prior to the team’s rookie mini-camp, Manuel spoke constantly of earning the respect of his teammates. Now that OTAs have begun, he hasn’t changed his tune. Speaking to the media on Tuesday, Manuel said: “The biggest thing is leading by example.”
Of course, football games are won on the field and not in the locker room. They are won by making plays, not by making a name for yourself. But when a team’s killer instinct starts at the top with the quarterback and head coach, they tend to still be playing games in January.