Jun 16, 2015; Buffalo, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan watches his team during minicamp at Ralph Wilson Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports Timothy T. Ludwig USA TODAY Sports
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) In retrospect, cornerback Stephon Gilmore believes Doug Marrone's decision to abruptly step down as the Bills head coach worked out for the best in Buffalo.
''He left, so I feel like we upgraded,'' Gilmore told The Associated Press, noting the Bills replaced Marrone by hiring Rex Ryan. ''We're happy that it happened.''
Gilmore went further, questioning Marrone's loyalty for leaving after a 9-7 season - Buffalo's best finish in a decade - and with two years remaining on his contract.
''When coaches come in, they always say `being loyal.' And he left unexpectedly,'' Gilmore said. ''It was kind of a shock. I don't know what the reason was for, but we're happy we got Rex. He's a loyal coach.''
Gilmore was one of a number of Bills players who last week discussed Marrone's departure before Buffalo (3-3) left for London to play Jacksonville (1-5) on Sunday. It's a game in which Marrone will be on the other sideline as the Jaguars' assistant head coach and offensive line coach.
Center Eric Wood said he doesn't hold anything personally against Marrone, but can understand why other Bills players would.
''I'd say there's going to be some hard feelings in this locker room toward him in the manner he left,'' Wood said. ''I think a lot of people thought we had a good thing going and had a lot to build on. And it said a lot about what he thought about our situation moving forward that he left.''
Marrone was not made available to reporters in Jacksonville this week before the Jaguars left for England on Thursday.
He has previously said he had ''two outstanding years in Buffalo,'' and praised the organization for being ''outstanding.'' Marrone also called his decision to leave a difficult one, and something he doesn't want to look back upon.
Marrone stepped down on Dec. 31 after a three-day, end-of-season opt-out clause in his contract kicked in once the Bills were sold in October by former owner Ralph Wilson's estate to Terry and Kim Pegula.
The decision caught many off guard, especially after the Bills took a step forward a year after a 6-10 finish. Marrone also announced he wasn't going anywhere - ''You're stuck with me fortunately or unfortunately,'' he said - following a 26-24 loss at Oakland on Dec. 21.
Marrone received a multi-million-dollar buyout in leaving Buffalo. He interviewed for several head-coaching jobs before eventually taking a demotion on Gus Bradley's staff in Jacksonville.
In Buffalo, Marrone was the subject of criticism.
Safety Aaron Williams posted a comment on Twitter saying, ''Lost all respect!''
Other players took offense to Marrone informing them of his departure in a mass text message.
Terry Pegula said he was ''shocked.''
And without mentioning Marrone by name, Ryan took a veiled swipe during his inaugural news conference by saying Bills fans ''deserve a loyal coach.''
On Thursday, Ryan said he hasn't mentioned Marrone to his players this week - ''It's just another opponent,'' he said.
Unlike Ryan's brash, outspoken approach, Marrone was mercurial.
Marrone occasionally provided terse, one-word answers following victories. He erupted with a profanity-laced tirade at defensive end Jerry Hughes on the final day of training camp last year. Two weeks before the start of last season, Marrone had a heated exchange along the sideline during practice with team president Russ Brandon.
In Jacksonville, Bradley credited Marrone for motivating his players.
The Jaguars gave Marrone two new starters - right tackle Jeremy Parnell and center Stefan Wisniewski - and the line has played somewhat better this season. They've been solid in pass protection, with Blake Bortles getting sacked 17 times in six games, but have struggled with run-blocking.
Jacksonville is the only NFL team without a touchdown rushing, and its running backs are averaging 3.2 yards a carry.
''Our guys are doing a decent job,'' Bradley said. ''We just expect more.''
Bills quarterback EJ Manuel, who was benched by Marrone a month into last season, said he had no hard feelings toward his former coach. By coincidence, Manuel will make his second consecutive start on Sunday in place of Tyrod Taylor, who's out with a sprained left knee.
''I think in this business, sometimes you have to do what's best for yourself,'' Manuel said last week. ''That's what I can say about it.''
AP Sports Writers Mark Long in Jacksonville, Florida, and Chris Lehourites in Watford, England, contributed to this report.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL