Frank Victores-US PRESSWIRE
Some four years ago I argued that Syracuse University didn't need to look to a "Syracuse guy" to lead its football program. Watching another coaching carousel play out this off-season, I now know, I was wrong.
Wisconsin, Texas Tech, and Oregon*. Just some of the college football programs in search of a new coach.
Boston College,Tennessee and Auburn. Just some of the college football programs who have already found their new coach.
It's the "silly season" in college football -- the time before the bowls kickoff and the time when college's hire and fire like they're restaurants looking for new servers. And while we all wait to see which coach is next to go, either onwards and upwards or outwards to the curb, I wanted to take a moment to praise Doug Marrone. To thank Daryl Gross, PHD. To appreciate, nay, embrace, one of Marrone's main attributes before he was hired: The "Syracuse Man" phenomenon.
When Greg Robinson was told he would no longer be allowed to try and coach football on the Syracuse campus I, like everyone who follows the Orange program, started to daydream about who would come in and be the football team's new coach. Big names were out there, big sure-fire assistants were out there, but it didn't take long before Marrone's name surfaced. His coming from the NFL assistants rank, assistant coaching in college, and general knowledge of the game were pointed to as why Marrone would work as coach. But most importantly, his having played at Syracuse was the biggest chip Marrone supporters had to play.
Marrone's never been a head coach? Yeah, but he graduated from Syracuse!
Marrone's been out of the college game for a few years? Yeah, but he played for Coach Mac!
Marrone's going to have a big learning curve, can the program afford that right now? Yeah, but he was captain, he was a starter on the line, he helped beat Nebraska! Nebraska!
I heard it all when it came to why Marrone would fit in as Syracuse football leader. But I was very skeptical. It wasn't that I didn't think the man could coach, or that he couldn't find himself at SU. I just didn't see the same connection in Marrone others did. As in, look at the basketball program -- Jim Boeheim is a Syracuse guy and now he is a legend and the program is elite. Look at the lacrosse program -- John Desko graduated from the university, Roy Simmons Jr. was SU lacrosse through and through.
The general argument was Syracuse needed to find the right guy, but it would be a perfect scenario to find the right guy who was also a "Syracuse guy." Find the right Syracuse guy for the job and the rest is history, right?
While I saw merit in the debate, I held out hope SU wouldn't pick Marrone on the kicker that he has Syracuse blood. In the end, Gross and his panel (Something I picture as: An empty room, a big table, 8 chairs with cardboard cutouts of Gross folded to make the cutouts look they are sitting, listening to the Doctor.) picked Marrone for a variety of reasons. But I don't doubt Marrone's history with the school, program, and area, was one big deciding factor.
Four years later, two bowl appearances later, Marrone sure as hell seems to be working out. His past isn't really the reason why. Obviously, Marrone has proven he can coach, he can assemble the right team, and, especially recently, he has proven he can recruit. All of that isn't necessarily connected to him being a "Syracuse guy."
Where Marrone's "Syracuse guy-ness" does matter, however, actually hit me the other day. I was fascinated with the Charlie Strong to Tennessee drama. Strong, someone I think is a fantastic coach who will probably be on an NFL sideline soon enough, turned down a few Tennessee offers to be the Volunteers head football coach. Saying no to the SEC, a program with amazing history and facilities and fan base, and to millions and millions of dollars. Louisville won the lottery by keeping Strong, even if will take winning the lottery to pay him.
But the thing is, Strong is likely going to leave, eventually. His dream job, while he toiled in the assistant ranks, showed his chops as defensive coordinator at Florida, was not to be coaching somewhere in Kentucky. Strong doesn't have any ties to the area that weren't formed just a few years ago. I really like Strong as a coach and from what I've seen in interviews. I think he loves it in Louisville. But, ultimately, Strong will want to move onwards and upwards. He'll need to move onwards and upwards, like so many good coaches often do.
Marrone will likely face that dilemma, too. If he continues pushing Syracuse football, which was a dumpster full of tires covered in grease on fire before he showed up again in Central New York, forward into the national spotlight, schools and maybe even NFL teams will come calling. Obviously, 7-5 isn't exactly 10-2 or better, but renovating and rebuilding like this takes time.
But still, the difference between what Cardinals fans just went through and what Orange fans may go through someday is Marrone's next job, if it ever comes, will have to be SPECIAL for him to leave Syracuse.
From day one, Marrone has called coaching his alma mater a "dream job." So if a decent Big 12 school, or Big 10 or even SEC school, were to ask Marrone to lead its football program, I don't think anyone who bleeds Syracuse Orange would need to worry much. Marrone's not leaving his dream job for just anything. Louisville avoided disaster this time, but what about next year, and the next year, and the next year? Schools, no matter what Strong's contract is now and no matter any buy-out, will keep courting Strong -- and eventually one will be good enough for him to move on.
But good enough won't be good enough for Marrone. It's just a hunch, I guess. But, even as we hear rumors Marrone's name is on NFL management lips, I am confident Marrone is going to remain at the helm of Syracuse football for years to come. Other schools, this year and far beyond, will go through the coaching carousel, either looking to replace a coach or hoping they don't have to replace a coach. But Syracuse is set.
Marrone's past didn't guarantee he would be a good coach. Marrone's past didn't even guarantee he would ever be better than Greg Robinson -- although having a pulse and being able to tell the difference between offense and defense pretty much assured us Marrone would be better.
No, it's Marrone's abilities, his work ethic, and his skills that have made him a good coach. But Marrone's past, one built of knowing, understanding, and loving Syracuse football, has made for a pretty bright and a secure future. Something increasingly rare in college football. Something I didn't take into account four years ago. Finding the right "Syracuse guy" was just as important as finding the right guy. Because, in the end, around here it's all one in the same.