Doug Marrone brings toughness to Alabama football as offensive line coach, former players say

Brett Hudson
The Tuscaloosa News

Antwon Bailey was starting to carve out a role for himself at Syracuse as a freshman running back when a coaching change was made, bringing in then-New Orleans Saints offensive coordinator Doug Marrone as new head coach. Although things had been working out for him, the Orange was 5-19 in its final two years under Greg Robinson, and Bailey joined his teammates in looking for some change.

With Marrone, that change was primarily manifested in toughness.

“He was a tough coach and he expected us to be a tough team, especially in the run game,” Bailey said. “The offensive line really took on his personality.”

Now, Marrone is only responsible for the offensive line for Alabama. Hired to replace Kyle Flood as UA’s offensive line coach, Marrone is returning to his natural position after six of the last eight seasons as a NFL head coach, two with the Buffalo Bills and four with the Jacksonville Jaguars. His former Syracuse players see him getting back into his natural element.

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“You can tell we’re of his ilk,” said Zack Chibane, who played offensive line for Syracuse under Marrone. “When we’re in the offensive line room and he comes in, whether we’re watching film or just saying hello you know he’s got a special place in his heart for O-linemen. He’d come in all the time and sometimes run a film session with us.

“He’s pretty hands-on, he likes to demonstrate technique. Like any great teacher, he’s got a message for how he introduces concepts, hand-to-hand technique for an individual lineman or a broader scheme. He’d be teaching things and we’d go through a linear progression. He really is a master teacher, in my opinion, he knew how to lay things out in a clear, concise way.”

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Chibane thought Marrone excelled as a talent evaluator among offensive linemen, which came to fruition immediately at Syracuse. Chibane was part of Marrone’s introductory recruiting class at the school, along with another offensive lineman who would be Chibane’s college roommate: Justin Pugh, who went on to be a first-round pick and is still active in the NFL after eight seasons.

“We didn’t know that we had any talent because so many schools passed on us and we were two-star recruits,” Chibane said. “You could just see there was this immense, untapped potential: his movement skills, his feet, his ability to get off the ball and mirror a middle linebacker.”

Once Marrone found the talent, he took a personal interest in grooming it. Chibane said he did not get off to a great start in the classroom at Syracuse, and Marrone would ask him how he’s doing down to specific classes he was taking, a somewhat small detail for a head coach to remember about a freshman offensive lineman.

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“I was a two-star recruit, so you can only imagine how plugged in he’ll be with the five-star guys at Alabama,” Chibane said.

Marrone’s impact on young offensive linemen will be paramount in his first years on the job at UA, given he arrives after UA’s impressive haul of the top two tackles (Tommy Brockermeyer and JC Latham), top center (James Brockermeyer) and No. 2 guard (Terrence Ferguson) in the 2021 recruiting class.

“He identified talent and pushed that talent, in a good way, to see how high they could go,” Chibane said. “He’s not afraid, he’s willing to take a shot, give someone a chance with the 1’s and see if they can do the work.”

Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson