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Bills in 'better situation' after Doug Marrone quietly bolted in 2014

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Doug Marrone has promised, when he turns 65, to reveal over beers why he quit the Buffalo Bills after the 2014 season. Chances are, those beers will not be with his former players in Buffalo.

When Marrone exercised an opt-out clause in his contract to bolt the Bills on New Year's Eve three years ago, he left town with little known communication with the players who had just completed the franchise's second winning season (9-7) since its most recent playoff appearance in 1999.

Led by first-year coach Sean McDermott, the Bills are back in the playoffs and will travel Sunday to play Marrone's upstart Jacksonville Jaguars.

For some Bills fans, the game is an opportunity to prove the Bills are better off without Marrone. However, institutional memory of Marrone's tenure has diminished in Buffalo, where the coaching staff has turned over twice and the front office has been rebuilt since Marrone quit.

Only one coach -- special-teams coordinator Danny Crossman, coincidentally Marrone's friend from the London Monarchs (1991-92) and Coast Guard Academy (1993) -- remains with the Bills from when Marrone was coach.

Only seven players -- wide receiver Deonte Thompson, offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson, center Eric Wood, defensive end Jerry Hughes, defensive tackle Kyle Williams, linebacker Preston Brown and punter Colton Schmidt -- are left on the active roster from Marrone's two years (2013 and 2014) in Buffalo.

"I don't think we need any extra incentive this week," Wood told WGR 550 on Monday. "The passion will come regardless of the circumstances. So many of the guys on our team have no affiliation to Doug Marrone. There are only a few of us.

"So where maybe the year after he left, there would have been a ton of carryover and, 'Let's get back at him for leaving us' or thinking we're not very good or whatever the reason was. I don't think that will be as big of a storyline this week just given how much time has lapsed."

Shortly after the Bills defeated the New England Patriots in the 2014 regular-season finale, it was reported Marrone had a three-day window after the season to opt out of his contract triggered by the franchise's ownership change earlier that year.

Wood was having dinner at the home of his former Louisville and Bills teammate, Brian Brohm, when he received a text message from a Bills staffer alerting him of Marrone's decision to leave. Within minutes, Wood saw the news break on television.

"It definitely caught me off guard," Wood told ESPN last week. "I thought we had something going with him. But, hey, he had to make the best decision for him. I think we're in a better situation with what we have now. And you move on."

Brown and Henderson also learned of Marrone's decision not from their coach, but by watching television.

"It was weird, you just turn on the TV and found out that coach left," Brown said last week. "It was surprising. We thought we were building something; 9-7, thought we had some momentum going into the next season. But he decided he had greener pastures down there, and now he's a head coach [again], so everything worked out for him."

Brown related Marrone's departure to that of former Louisville coach Charlie Strong, who left for Texas in January 2014 not long after Brown completed his final season for the Cardinals.

"[Marrone] was a college coach [at Syracuse]," Brown said. "They kind of just disappear. When I was in college, [Strong], you didn't know he was leaving until you saw him hooking horns in Texas. That's just how it is. It wasn't really surprising. They're kind of just not there one day."

Marrone's decision came after most Bills players had departed the region for the offseason.

"He could have reached out through a group text message or something," Wood said. "But I mean, we weren't in the building. I've been part of coaches leaving before -- college, whatnot. But pros, that doesn't often happen.

"I try not to waste any time or energy thinking about all that."

Henderson, who started 16 games as a rookie in 2014 before his career was knocked off track by surgery for Crohn's disease and two substance-abuse suspensions, lamented losing Marrone, who had a background in coaching offensive lines.

"I had a good relationship with coach Marrone," he said last week. "He's an offensive line guy. When I came here, he actually helped me through my technique. Like, really take time during practice with me and Cordy [Glenn] and really teach us techniques and stuff. Help us with our game.

"Coach Marrone was a good guy, and I liked working with him. I thought he was a good head coach, also."