Newly hired Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone wasted little time filling the top two positions on his staff.
The offensive-minded Marrone went with NFL experience in hiring Mike Pettine to be the Bills defensive coordinator on Thursday. And Marrone, the former Syracuse head coach, went with familiarity in having Orange assistant Nathaniel Hackett follow him to Buffalo to run the offense.
The moves were announced three days after Marrone took over in Buffalo, replacing Chan Gailey who was fired after three consecutive losing seasons.
Pettine has 12 seasons of NFL experience, and spent the past four years at the same position with the Jets. Pettine was available after turning down New York’s offer to extend his contract last season.
Under Pettine, New York’s defense has not ranked lower than eighth in the NFL in yards allowed. And that includes a top ranking in 2009. He’s known for having an aggressive approach in applying pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
It’ll be now on him to provide a semblance of identity to a high-priced but underachieving defense that was among the NFL’s worst last season. The Bills finished 22nd in the NFL in yards allowed, while giving up 435 points – the second most in team history.
That’s well below the preseason expectation of what was supposed to be a new and improved defense that included the offseason addition of defensive end Mario Williams, who signed a six-year, $100 million contract in free agency.
Buffalo’s coming off its second consecutive 6-10 finish, has not enjoyed a winning season since going 9-7 in 2004, and has not made the playoffs in 13 seasons – the league’s longest active drought.
Hackett will be responsible for running Marrone’s offense, which will include play-calling duties. That’s a familiar position for Hackett, who has worked under Marrone for the past three years, including the last two as Syracuse’s offensive coordinator.
The Orange offense set numerous school records in leading the team to an 8-5 finish, including a 38-14 win over West Virginia in the Pinstripe Bowl last month. The offense set records for yards per game (476), yards passing (3,757), first downs (328) and touchdowns passing (26).
Hackett is familiar with the Bills. He previously served as the team’s offensive quality control coach from 2008-09, with his final year in Buffalo coinciding with the arrival of starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Hackett inherits an offense that sputtered last season. Buffalo finished 19th in yards gained and 21st in points.
The unit’s production dropped as the season progressed. After the offense combined for 15 touchdowns in Buffalo’s first four games of the season, it managed just 21 over the final 12.
Fitzpatrick’s future is uncertain in Buffalo, and he’s due a $3 million roster bonus in March. General manager Buddy Nix has already said he plans to select a quarterback in the draft in April. He also hasn’t ruled out the possibility of acquiring one in free agency or through a trade.
One draft candidate could be former Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib, who is projected to be a second- or third-round pick.