JACKSONVILLE – This was what Doug Marrone wanted. Absolutely and enthusiastically.
Once he got into the process, once he met with Gus Bradley and others around the Jaguars, Marrone said there was no doubt.
Marrone made headlines and raised eyebrows in late December by resigning unexpectedly as the Buffalo Bills' head coach. On Thursday, he spoke publicly for the first time since becoming the Jaguars' assistant head coach-offense/offensive line.
The recent past was a topic. Of course.
Still, if there was a theme for Marrone Thursday it wasn't the past, but the present and the future. Why the Jaguars? Why Jacksonville? Many reasons, all centering on one reason.
He believed in Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley.
He believed in General Manager David Caldwell. He believed in Owner Shad Khan.
Overall, he just believed in what's going on in Jacksonville.
"It's really a whole vision and a whole culture," Marrone said Thursday. "People who haven't been in those positions to try to develop that don't realize how hard that is. There's a great foundation for us now to work on improvement and getting better, which is exciting."
The Jaguars and Bradley believe in Marrone, too, and believe his experience and toughness can help a line that struggled at times last season and that must improve – and quickly. But the topic of what went on in Buffalo, of the reasoning behind Marrone's departure?
That didn't come up much when Bradley and Marrone spoke.
It wasn't that Bradley didn't know about Marrone leaving the Bills. It was just that in the context of their relationship – and in the context of what Marrone can and should bring to the Jaguars – Bradley said it didn't much matter.
"When he first came down here it was more, 'Let's talk philosophy, let's talk culture, how do you develop your culture' – and just conversations like that," Bradley said. "I never even really went there."
Added Bradley, "I just went more on me and my time that I spent with him."
Not that Marrone on Thursday completely ignored the events around his departure. He spoke of two outstanding years in Buffalo and spoke highly of Bills ownership and people in the organization.
"We're not looking back and we're moving forward – really, that's as simple as it is," he said, and added that he got only a few questions from colleagues and other coaches about his decision.
"Everyone understood the situation," he said.
While Marrone was mentioned with head coaching jobs with the New York Jets, Denver and Chicago, he said he assumed nothing when leaving Buffalo.
"I didn't have that going in," he said. "I knew it was all open."
What Marrone talked mostly about on Thursday was the Jaguars. When his conversations with Bradley began, he was still being mentioned for more high-profile positons. Bradley on Thursday spoke of coming to a realization that Marrone as assistant head coach in charge of offensive line was a good fit. Marrone, for his part, spoke of the realness and the genuine nature of the culture that has been established by Bradley, Khan and Caldwell.
But while that's what drew Marrone to Jacksonville, such things mean little to Jaguars followers. What means a lot is the task that lies ahead, and that task is big. Very big.
Marrone's hiring in a real sense is as critical as that of offensive coordinator Greg Olson, perhaps more so. An assistant coach can't change everything, but if Marrone can have a hand in improving the Jaguars' offensive line, he can have a hand in reshaping this team's fortunes.
It was perhaps unfair to blame the line for all 71 sacks last season. Some were on rookie quarterback Blake Bortles and some were on blitz pickup. Some just happened, as some sacks do. And it's unfair, too, to blame the entire offensive struggles on the offensive line. The Jaguars struggled enough and were young enough that there were many, many reasons.
But it's not unfair to say the line must improve.
It's also not unfair to say that to many that task seems very, very daunting.
Marrone on Thursday said he likes challenges. When you arrive at a place with multiple Pro Bowlers, he said, you put things on autopilot and he implied Thursday that's not a lot of fun.
Marrone's task is a long, long way from autopilot, and to hear him tell it Thursday, that's OK.
"The bigger the challenge, the better it is," Marrone said.
If it's a challenge he wanted, Marrone has one, but after Thursday there was just as little doubt that he will face it in exactly the place he wanted.
And how he and his players perform there?
Well, that may go a long way to defining the offense—and the franchise – for a long, long time.