EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –** When Ryan Nassib and Justin Pugh look to the opposing sideline in the Hall of Fame Game Sunday night, they might think they traveled back in time.
Marrone didn't travel down the New York Thruway alone. Eight members of his staff – Nathanial Hackett (offensive coordinator), Tyrone Wheatley (running backs coach), Rob Moore (wide receivers), Greg Adkins (tight ends), John Anselmo (special teams assistant), Stephen Brown (assistant to the head coach), Hal Luther (assistant strength and conditioning) and Jason Rebrovich (defensive line assistant) - were at Syracuse with the current Giants players.
"It's going to be fun going against those guys, because I haven't seen them really since I left Syracuse," said Pugh, the Giants' starting right tackle. "I saw Marrone in New York during Super Bowl week. It was the first time I saw him. But it will be fun to go out there and play against those guys and be able to look over at their sideline. It will look basically like what our sideline looked like at Syracuse."
"It's fun and yet a little weird," Nassib said. "I spent so much time with those coaches for a big part of my life. It's going to be a little different playing against them than with them. It happens all the time. At the end of the day, I'm more focused on the job at hand than whether I'm beating my old coach. When the time comes, it will just be another opponent."
Both head coaches in the Hall of Fame Game played for and graduated from Syracuse. Tom Coughlin was a wingback at the school from 1965-67, when he played in a backfield with Pro Football Hall of Famers Larry Csonka and Floyd Little. He graduated in 1968 with a bachelor's degree in education and earned a master's degree in the same discipline a year later.
Marrone was an offensive lineman at Syracuse from 1983-85 and returned in 1991 to get a degree in liberal arts. He arrived at his alma mater in 2009, when Nassib was a redshirt freshman and Pugh was in his redshirt year. Both players became starters in 2010 and stayed in the lineup for three seasons. The players thrived under Marrone. Nassib set numerous school passing records (including career attempts, completions and yards) and Pugh was a three-time All-Big East honoree and the first All-America Syracuse offensive lineman since 1990.
The Orange finished 8-5 and won the New Era Pinstripe Bowl in two of those three seasons, including the final year for Marrone, Nassib and Pugh.
"We had a good relationship," Nassib said of his time with Marrone. "He took care of me and the rest of the guys through our time there. He was an offensive guy, so we spent a little more time with him as an offensive unit. It was nice to have your head coach be an offensive guy."
"It was great for me," Pugh said. "I love Syracuse, I love my teammates. It was a great time getting the program back to where we're going in the right direction. That was something that was our goal from the beginning and I think we achieved that."
Pugh was a first-round draft choice in 2013 and started all 16 games last season, the first Giants' first-round draft choice to do so since Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor in 1981.
Nassib was selected in the fourth round of the draft. There was much pre-draft speculation that Marrone would bring him to Buffalo, perhaps as a first-round selection, but the Bills chose Florida State's E.J. Manuel with the 16th overall pick.
"I totally understand," Nassib said. "It was a business decision. I'm extremely happy where I ended up with the unbelievable opportunity with the Giants. I always thought that God has a plan for me. He wanted me to be here."
Nassib was inactive as the third quarterback for all 16 games last year. But he has been the No. 2 quarterback behind Eli Manning in the spring practices and training camp. Sunday will be his first chance to solidify that position in a game.
"It's just a big game for me because it's the next game," said Nassib, who clearly has been listening to Coughlin's messages. "I'm extremely excited for Sunday to get out there and show what we've been working on and the potential that this offense has, and show my ability to be able to operate the system efficiently."
Before and during the game, Nassib and Pugh will be all business, but they look forward to renewing acquaintances with their former coaches afterward.
"I'm going to go say 'what's up' to all of those guys." Pugh said. "Coach Marrone, when he's in head coach mode - we'll see. I'll probably just say what's up and that's about it."
"Even though we're opponents," Nassib said, "we'll say our hellos and our goodbyes."
Now, that will seem very familiar.