Quitting an NFL head coaching job isn’t usually a good career move.
Yet of the seven coaches who have departed the Buffalo Bills since Wade Phillips was fired after the 2000 season, only two now have head coaching jobs. And both quit the Bills after just two seasons – Mike Mularkey after the 2005 season and Doug Marrone after the 2014 season.
The two men will face each other as head coaches for the first time Sunday since they both quit Buffalo when the Jacksonville Jaguars host the Tennessee Titans.
Another interesting twist to this saga is that Mularkey, the Titans coach, was fired by the Jaguars after one season in 2012.
And even though it’s only the second game of the season, it’s an important game for both teams — the winner could be in good position to win the AFC South.
The other two teams in the division – Indianapolis and Houston – seem to be spinning their wheels and both teams could change quarterbacks this week.
So, despite the Texans’ 13-9 road win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday night, the division is there to be taken. Jacksonville got off to a better start than the Titans. The Jaguars crushed the Texans while the Titans lost to the Raiders.
A Jaguars victory would give them a 2-0 division record, while the other three teams could be a combined 1-5.
Mularkey comes into the game with a 27-48 record as an NFL head coach. He was 14-18 in his two years in Buffalo, 2-14 in his lone season in Jacksonville and 11-15 in a season and a half in Tennessee. He got the Titans job when he was named interim head coach of the Titans with nine games left after Ken Whisenhunt was fired in 2015. Despite a 2-7 mark (Whisenhunt was fired after a 1-6 start), Mularkey got the head job and went 9-7 last year.
Mularkey has never really explained why he quit the Bills. There is speculation that he was unhappy with the direction of the team after the general manager who hired him, Tom Donahoe, was fired and replaced by Marv Levy.
Marrone’s departure from the Bills is even murkier. He had a buyout clause in his contract that paid him $4 million if he quit after an ownership change. He had three days to make the decision.
Marrone was 15-17 as the Bills head coach and, like Mularkeym, had a 9-7 record, but he did it in his second year while Mularkey did it in his first season.
In an interview with ESPN last year, Marrone said when he’s 65, he would explain exactly why he left. He said his goal in the interview was to leave the impression that he wasn’t a bad guy, which seems to indicate he feels he’s been portrayed as a bad guy and that he’s thin-skinned about dealing with criticism.
There’s been speculation he thought he was going to get the New York Jets’ job, which he denied. He said he would never assume he was getting a job. It may not have helped that the New York Daily News described him as a control freak who belittled his staff when he surfaced as a Jets’ candidate. In any case, the Jets bypassed him for Todd Bowles.
There’s also speculation he quit because new Bills owner Terry Pegula denied his request for a contract extension.
Marrone was hired by the Jaguars as an offensive line coach and then was hired as an interim head coach when Gus Bradley was fired with two games left last year. He went 1-1 and got the head coaching job.
At the scouting combine earlier this year, Marrone said, “Obviously, I made mistakes (in Buffalo).’’
And said he said there are things he would have done differently.
“I think I’ve learned from that and it’s made me a better coach,’’ he said.
In Jacksonville, he’s working for Tom Coughlin, who certainly is a control freak but seems to have meshed with him.
Their philosophy is to build a physical team that can run the ball and play defense.
But their most puzzling move was to not only keep quarterback Blake Bortles, but not to bring in any competition for him.
They were not impressive in the preseason, and their offensive line – supposedly a Marrone specialty – was a mess.
But it all came together in the opener in Houston. Leonard Fournette, their first-round pick, rushed for 100 yards, and the Jaguars rang up a whopping 10 sacks. After one week, they are tops in the league in defense.
It remains to be seen if that is a sign they are turning the corner or whether Houston was that bad. Quarterback Tom Savage was pulled by coach Bill O’Brien after a half and reduced to a backup role to rookie Deshaun Watson against Cincinnati.
While Watson shows promise, Mularkey is the only coach in the division who has his quarterback of the future (Marcus Mariota) firmly in place until Andrew Luck gets healthy. Bortles is still not the long-term answer at quarterback for the Jaguars. They can only go so far with running the ball and playing defense.
Bortles was the 17th-ranked quarterback after one week, and that’s not usually a winning formula, although Mariota wasn’t much better at 14th.
Sunday’s game may go a long way in determining which one of the two former Bills coaches is headed for a successful season and possibly a successful future.
One thing is certain: Neither will quit their current jobs. Although Mularkey got a third shot, it’s probably the last chance for both of them as NFL head coaches.