You know what's the biggest sign of a good coach? In a short amount of time he's able to put his imprint firmly on the program. To take a clump of clay and mold it into something, all the while, through tough times, never losing vision on the big picture.
You know what's the biggest sign of a bad coach (other than simply not winning games)? A team's lack of discipline. Usually, certainly not always, if a team commits a ton of stupid penalties, turnovers, and all around bone-headed mistakes, it's on the coach.
You know what's the most frustrating part about following the Syracuse Orange football program? Both of those qualities, the bad and the good, summarize head coach Doug Marrone.
In less than four seasons time Marrone has turned a doormat into, at the very least, a competitive team. Before his arrival you never knew if SU football would get beat by 10 or 50, but you knew, for the most part, it was going to lose. After his arrival, fans hold out hope for a win just about every time out.
Then there's the bad, the mistakes, the penalties, the games the Orange should have won but, for usually reasons of its own doing, it doesn't. Minnesota? Rutgers? Cincinnati? All games Syracuse probably would have won had it been able to get out of its own way, had it been able to avoid the basics, like not doing dumb things.
And the special teams errors, blocked field goal attempts, botched punts, giving up huge returns, are inexcusable. Especially given that Marrone is the special teams coach. I've put this out on Twitter before, but prior to the season I talked with two separate people with knowledge of Marrone's preseason camp, and both said they we're "shocked" at the lack of time spent on special teams. 8 games into the season, the most consistent of the inconsistent for Syracuse has been...the special teams.
Yikes, right? But then again, Marrone has built up so much credit it's always tough to blast him. I mean, I'm sure Orange fans are happier now than they were 4 or 5 years ago. It's almost a like love, it's better to have it and lost it than to never had it at all. Being in games, maddeningly disappointing and gut-wrenching games, is better than being blown out by 40, right?
It's clear, progress throughout the program, throughout this season, has been made. But at some point, Marrone has to get a little better grip on what's happening on the field. Saturday's loss was a perfect example of what's quickly become Marrone's calling card. Long drives resulting in a field goal attempt -- which is never a guarantee. A lot of big plays and big numbers signifying a lot of nothing.
So what to make of it all? A coach with major both good and bad qualities. Fans are starting to want answers. Certainly Marrone's not coaching for his job. Even if SU ends 4-8, he's got too much equity to get the axe in December. Plus, not many people around the program thought much more than 6 wins was attainable for 2012. Instead, we should all be watching those mistakes, those penalties, those bone-headed, palm-to-head plays.That's probably going to be the real gauge of success now.
If we reach the conclusion of game No. 12 and, ignoring the wins and losses for now, Syracuse football hasn't cut down on them, then we'll probably have a better idea of Marrone's future. The good of Marrone's doing needs to outweigh the bad.
It's really the same song different verse for the Orange. Syracuse snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. In 2010 it was the other way around, since then, it's been mostly rough going for this team. At some point soon, if SU doesn't start putting it all together, finishing drives, finishing games, then maybe, at some point in the next year or two, Marrone will be the one who is finished.
But for now, or until then, fans will have to put up with both the good and bad of having Doug Marrone lead their football team, always hoping the good will eventually, completely outweigh the bad.