Saturday, June 27th, 2020

Digging In

Neil Reynolds

Digging In

Neil Reynolds NFL

I first met Doug Marrone as a nervous and starstruck 19-year-old in the summer of 1991. He was the very first professional athlete I ever interviewed and there was far too much fan boy in me at that time as I pulled together content for my A-Level Radio and Journalism course.

Marrone was the starting centre on the London Monarchs team that would go on to lift the World Bowl trophy at the old Wembley Stadium a few weeks later. As we chatted in the team’s training ground locker room in Hertfordshire, I could barely stop the microphone from shaking.

He was your classic journeyman offensive lineman with just five career appearances in the NFL to his name. Marrone had been cut six times en route to becoming a London Monarch, yet I could not have been more excited or terrified if I had been chatting to the great Vince Lombardi.

Over the ensuing years, Marrone has worked his way from the ground up to become head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. After playing for the Monarchs in 1991 and 1992, the native New Yorker began his coaching career at small Division III schools such as Cortland State and The Coast Guard (yes, they do indeed have a football programme).

Such work ethic might give the impression that Marrone is a meat-and-potatoes, no-nonsense coach. That may very well be true, but I would also say that he is one of the most thoughtful and insightful team leaders I have had the privilege to meet over my many years covering this great sport.

Marrone and I have chatted many times since that memorable (for me, at least) first meeting in 1991. I would like to think my interview technique has improved during the passing of the years. But you can be the judge of that!

When you look back on your playing days with the London Monarchs, I know you had a blast. What do you think about the city of London where, of course, the Jacksonville Jaguars now play every year?

It was a great experience. I loved it and I still love it. I’m born and raised in the Bronx in New York City and I have to tell you that London has always been my second-favourite city. And it’s only second because I wasn’t born there.

I was brought up in the New York transit system and that was how we travelled – trains and buses. When I went to London for the first time, I saw the Tube and the map with all the different colours and I was like, ‘Oh my god, this is the greatest transportation system ever.’

My love of London came from my background. I fell in love with the city. I loved hanging out in Hyde Park and, obviously, I love to drink beer. So I was perfect for all the pubs. And the people are so friendly. You get in there, you open up, drink a pint together and you play some darts. Every day was like a different adventure for me.

I have nothing but admiration for the people in London. I really hope everything settles down soon so we can come over there and play those two games in the 2020 season. I’m really looking forward to that.

When you come so close to reaching the Super Bowl in 2017, is it one of those things that will still pop into your mind in the middle of the night or when you’re walking along a beach? Or is it a case of instantly turning the page as a coach and you don’t have time to look back?

The way I handle things is that I am constantly moving on and looking forward. The only time you look back is when you ask, ‘What could I have done better?’ I really haven’t looked back and I’m not personally very good at celebrating any success.

I’m always pushing forward. I never really look back at the success we had in New Orleans, the Bowl games we went to at Syracuse, the first winning season in Buffalo in 10 years, or that 2017 season. Everyone wants to hang on to a great moment, whatever that might be. If you’re hanging onto that and not working towards creating another moment for yourself, I think that can get you in trouble.

When I’m done coaching and I’m retired, I think I will be able to go back and really live through those moments better than I have while I’m working.

All the pundits looking at the 2020 NFL Draft talked about how the Jaguars selected players who really loved the game. With that in mind, how important is chemistry when you’re putting together a roster?

When you talking about team sports, I think it is the most important thing. How do you that? It is hard to put a finger on it because every player is so different in terms of how they were brought up and their backgrounds.

We talked about this quite a bit with our scouts and coaches. Obviously, they need to have some kind of talent level to be able to perform but then you need to know if these individuals are team-first people. In other words, what you do for the team is more important than what you do for yourself, knowing that if the team succeeds, you will succeed. That’s the type of mentality we’re looking for.

We’re also looking for the type of player where if one guy is getting a lot of attention because of the way he’s playing, are they happy for that teammate or do they become jealous? Or this person has got this endorsement, or this guy’s picture is on the stadium… When you start getting involved in little things like that, your level of play is not going to be the same – it’s going to diminish. Your locker room is not going to be as strong.

You’re looking for chemistry where players respect each other. They don’t have to love each other, but they can communicate and they are team-oriented in terms of their goals. That doesn’t guarantee you victories, but it gives you an opportunity. If your locker room isn’t right, you don’t have a chance even before you step on the field. Us coaches are talking about this more and more.

For the full interview with Doug Marrone, check out episode four of The Neil Reynolds Podcast – streaming now

This article originally appeared in Issue 4 of the new Gridiron Weekly digital magazine – to subscribe click HERE

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