Is Syracuse University Racist?

a.k.a. Did SU choose Doug Marrone, a white guy, as their head coach and not Turner Gill, a black guy, because of race?

That's the charge levied by Gerald Ball over at Bleacher Report.  Well, he eventually levies the charge...like four pages into his diatribe that ultimately a defense of Auburn University's passing over of Gill for Gene Chizik.

Auburn did not refuse to hire Turner Gill because he was black or because he had a white wife. Quite the contrary: Auburn University badly wanted to hire the man. He was high on their list, one of the first persons that they interviewed, and they brought him in hoping to introduce him as their coach that very same day.

So what happened? Gill and Auburn had serious disagreements over how the program was to be run. In things ranging from hiring of assistants to general philosophy, Auburn wanted to run the program the Auburn way and Gill wanted to run it his way. Once Auburn discovered this, there was no point in continuing discussions.

It's a fairly eye-opening piece on what (apparently) really went on behind the scenes of this coaching hire as well as previous coaching situations at Auburn.  It's also an interesting discussion-starter about the way the race card is played in the North versus in the South and I'm with him on some of those points.

But at the top of Page 5, Gerald drops the bomb on SU, claiming that Syracuse is the real racist threat of The Turner Gill Debacle.

Gill runs the same West Coast pro style offense that Syracuse AD Daryl Gross wants to run. Gill has also proven that he can rebuild a program and win in New York state, with recruits like 6'3", 230-lb. Houston prep QB Darius Willis, who was recruited by Texas A&M and Oklahoma State.

Fair enough.  I think all SU fans will agree that it's damn impressive what Gill has done at Buffalo.  Arguably, the Bulls would have beaten the Orange had they played this year.

Syracuse first tried to get in on Lane Kiffin but was beaten to the punch by Tennessee. (Again, no media outrage over their failure to so much as interview Gill or Charlie Strong, because the media likes the Kiffin hire just as much as they liked the Neuheisel one. And the difference between Kiffin and Chizik is what precisely?) They then tried to hire Brian Kelly but were rebuffed. Then they begged and pleaded for at least a week for Skip Holtz to take the job before finally giving up.

Tried to hire Brian Kelly???  That's a new one.  I'd love to see some proof to that claim.

Now Syracuse had already interviewed Gill during all this time, but they bring him in again. Why? The first interview was fake, the sort of things that colleges do for show while they are going after the guys that they really want behind the scenes. With those three candidates (plus any number of others) having told Syracuse no, Gill was being brought back for an actual interview for the purposes of finally considering for the job.

That is, well, sort of. Syracuse made it known to Gill that he would only be hired if their second batch of candidates didn't work out. Now it is curious that another highly regarded black prospect who was linked to the Syracuse job, Mike Locksley, saw that he had no shot and took the New Mexico job.

See now the way I look at Mike Locksley going to New Mexico is much less a Syracuse-related issue and more of a general one.  This guy was a top candidate for a long time around the coaching ranks.  His name had been bandied about for quite some time.  Quite simply, had he really been good enough, he would have gotten a better job.  A BCS job.  But I bet he didn't wow any BCS schools, including Syracuse, and ended up taking what was available.  That he wasn't even on many other school's short list speaks more about it than anything SU did or did not do with Locksley. 

Ball goes on to explain that "SU really had no interest in Gill" which I think is obviously false.  We know for a fact that DOCTOR Gross called Gill at midnight the night before he announced Doug Marrone as the new coach in a last-ditch effort to see if there was still a chance of it working.  The bridge had indeed been burned.

Here's what I think happened (and I stress I THINK).  The Board of Trustees seemed to have loyalty and "being one of us" extremely high on their list.  After bringing in Greg Robinson, who was an out-of-town mercenary, they felt like SU needed a familiar face who could instantly connect with disheartened fans and who knew New York and especially Syracuse very well before even starting here.  Certainly being a great coach was important but it was evident from the way they spoke at Marrone's presser that loyalty was a HUGE factor.

DOCTOR Gross meanwhile, wanted to make a splash.  And that meant a guy with head-coaching experience and national cache.  That meant Lane Kiffin.  That meant Skip Holtz.  And to a lesser extent, that meant Turner Gill.  I think that his list was in exactly that order as well.  And while Gross liked what he saw from Gill, he was unfortunately located behind two higher-profile guys.  The fact that they were white is coincidental and unfortunate. 

Gill didn't seem to fit the Board's criteria for loyalty because, well, he had no reason to be.  Sure, Buffalo is close by, but what the hell does that mean as far as the Syracuse job is concerned?  Gill didn't owe SU anything and vice versa.  Gill saw opportunities in Auburn and other places and rightfully tried to find the best deal for himself.  And the Board knew this and didn't like it.  Fine.

I think the Board eventually caved to Gross and said "If you can get Holtz, we're in."  When Holtz backed off, they Board said they wanted Marrone but Gross still had Gill higher than Marrone on his list.  So while the Board readied their introduction of Dougie, Gross tried one last time to woo his guy and was rebuffed.  Doug Marrone was hired.

Is that how it went down?  I have absolutely no idea.  But I think that's a much more likely scenario than the SU Committee (which included African-Americans Daryl Gross, Floyd Little and Art Monk) sitting around twirling their mustaches trying to ensure that no black coach ever got a shot.

As for Marrone himself:

As Marrone, a longtime NFL assistant and currently an offensive coordinator with no play calling responsibility on a team that will miss the playoffs for the second year in a row, and who has been away from college football since 1994 with no college or NFL head coaching experience, is an even worse candidate than Gene Chizik, why the lack of invective at Syracuse that has been aimed at Auburn?

Gene Chizik has the stink of a loser on him.  Doug Marrone does not.  Plain and simple.  Yes, Chizik has head coaching experience but that head coaching experience is pitiful by most standards.  In this case, Marrone benefits from still being on the way up while Chizik suffers for his lack of success at a higher level.

Ball levies some very specific charges about fake interviews and intentions without providing any proof or back-up on those statements so it's hard to really take much of this seriously.  The problem with the entire argument is that it so vilifies Syracuse like they're some kind of evil empire while also completely vindicating Auburn and making them out to be the poor, hapless victim.  Again, life is about shades of grey and never is it so black and white, if you'll excuse the pun.

When it comes to African-American coaches, race isn't always the issue and race never isn't the issue, if that makes sense.  The truth is somewhere in the middle.  Did Ty Willingham get fired cause he's black?  No, he got fired cause he's terrible.  Did Mike Locksley get passed over because he's black?  Probably not.  Probably had more to do with lack of experience and lack of faith in him.  Sylvester Croom got fired cause he didn't win enough games, not because he didn't look like the Board of Trustees.  Just the same, Greg Robinson was fired for what happened on the field and nothing else.

The last page of the report reveals what Ball is really getting at.  The disparity between the way race is perceived between the North and South.  And I think that's a great argument.  But I don't think for a second that Syracuse's actions in it's coaching search were motivated by race.  If anything, I thought SU would have tried to hire a minority coach, given the African-American members in the upper echelons of the Athletics department.  But ultimately, SU made the decision they thought was best for the university and I'm fine for it.  For now, at least. 

Turner Gill will be just fine.  He'll do well again next year and then get a job in the Big 12.  All will be right.  We'll keep arguing about race.  And the Eath will continue spinning.

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