Coaching speculation season has now begun for fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers thanks to an announcement on Thursday that the contracts of several members of the coaching staff will not be renewed and hat one other coach is retiring. One of those coaches not being brought back is Shaun Sarrett, who succeeded the great Mike Munchak two years ago when he left for the Denver Broncos. Short of getting Munchak to come back to the Steelers to coach the offensive line again, something I don’t believe will happen, the Steelers should consider hiring a coach for that position group that not only has NFL experience in doing so, but one that has a strong history of running success.
The list of experienced offensive line coach candidates the Steelers might consider will probably be short overall. One name that should or could be on that list is former Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone.
Marrone broke into the NFL coaching ranks in 2002 with the New York Jets as their offensive line coach. From 2002-05 the Jets made two postseason appearances (2002, 2004) with Marrone on the staff. In 2004, the Jets produced the NFL’s third-best rushing offense (149.3 avg.) and running back Curtis Martin led the NFL with 1,697 rushing yards.
In 2006, Marrone became the offensive coordinator of the New Orleans Saints. He also coached the Saints offensive line as well. In his first season with the Saints, Tackle Jammal Brown was voted to the All-Pro team and to the Pro Bowl, while guard Jahri Evans was a unanimous All-Rookie selection. The Saints also ranked fourth in the NFL in 2007 in total offense and set an NFL record for completions (440) and had franchise bests for passing first downs (222), attempts (652), touchdown passes (28) and completion percentage (67.5). In 2008, the Saints led the NFL in total offense while setting team records for points (463), total yards (6,571), net passing yards (4,977), TDS (57) and first downs (354).
After his time was up with the Saints, Marrone spent four seasons (2009-12) as the head coach of Syracuse, his alma mater. He then went back to the NFL in 2013 as the head coach of the Buffalo Bills. In 2013, the Bills offense led the AFC and finished second in the NFL in rushing (144.2 avg.), while also leading the league with a 95.5 pct. red zone efficiency mark.
From 2015 until just a few weeks ago, Marrone was with the Jaguars, first as their offensive line coach in 2016 and then as their head coach for four seasons. In 2016, the Jaguars offensive line allowed 34 sacks, 17 fewer than the previous season (51) and 37 fewer than in 2014 (71). The Jaguars finished the 2017 season with the top-ranked rushing offense (141.4 yards per game) as well.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin is well aware of Marrone’s history and coaching style as well. He spoke glowingly about the Jaguars now-former head coach ahead of the Steelers game against Jacksonville earlier in the season.
“Although Jay Gruden is the new [offensive] coordinator, there is a certain style of play that Coach [Doug] Marrone likes, and that’s nuts and bolts, run first and control the game and the time of possession and things of that nature,” Tomlin said this past November. “That’s have always kind of been Jacksonville Jaguars football since he has been there so that is what we are anticipating.”
Marrone already has a small link to the Steelers as well as he was in training camp with the team in 1991. That of course meant he spent time with legendary Steelers Hall of Fame head coach Chuck Noll. Several years ago, when Marrone was the head coach of the Buffalo Bills, he reflected on his brief time with the Steelers and particularly with Noll.
“I was always intrigued about how intelligent he [Noll] was about everything, not just the sport of football,” said Marrone. “Not being a very good football player and being on the look team, I’ll never forget Coach Noll used to jump in. I remember one practice he played the defensive end, and I was playing the defensive tackle giving our offense a look during a walkthrough. I remember him explaining to me about a TE twist and an ET twist and how it came about and how the names were Exit and Texas. I just remember him explaining that to me.
“I thought it was pretty cool for him to talk to a guy that probably wasn’t going to make the roster and give me a bit of a history lesson. I just remember that when we used to leave here and go play in Pittsburgh they’d say, ‘Better get up before Coach Noll because if you pass him on the highway, he’s going take down your plate and he’s going to get after you for speeding.’ Those are just some things I remember.”
Marrone also knows all about the Rooney family and Steelers tradition as well.
“They have a great culture,” Marrone said about the Steelers ahead of the Jaguars playing Pittsburgh this past season. “I think they’ve always continued to draft well the players that play. They’ve done a nice job. Like I said, I have a ton of respect for the Rooney family, I really do.”
As of right now, Marrone doesn’t seem to be a serious candidate to become a head coach with another NFL team this offseason. It’s also doubtful that he’ll now be hired to be an offensive coordinator as well.
In short and assuming Marrone wants to continue his NFL coaching career, he’ll likely need to go back to being an offensive line coach and one that can function as a run game coordinator as well. The Steelers could use someone like Marrone after moving on from Sarrett. Marrone isn’t Munchak, but he might be the next best thing.