I'll Follow Doug Marrone Into The Dark

NEW YORK NY - DECEMBER 30: Syracuse Orange head coach Doug Marrone holds aloft the Pinstripe Bowl trophy after defeating the Kansas State Wildcats during the New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium on December 30 2010 in New York New York. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Greg Schiano went 12-34 in his first four seasons at Rutgers. That includes a 2-9 debut and a 1-11 craptacular in his second season.

In his fifth season, Greasy Greg turned the team into a winner (7-5) and in his sixth season, the Scarlet Knights put together the best season in the program's history, an 11-2 finish that ended in the Texas Bowl (/snickers).

I bring this up because if Greg Schiano were the head coach at any other program, he would have been fired before he ever had the chance to turn the Knights into a perennial bowl team. Even if it had been here at Syracuse (See: Greg Robinson).

Doug Marrone is about to enter his fourth season as head coach of the Syracuse Orange football team. He is 17-20 in three seasons, which include a surprise 8-5 2nd year that flipped the script and a disappointing 5-7 season that saw the team squander a 5-2 start.

Marrone's fourth season features what's likely his toughest schedule yet. The Orange will take on the likely preseason No. 1 USC Trojans in New Jersey, the SEC newbie Missouri Tigers in Columbia, a Big Ten road games against the Minnesota Golden Gophers, Big Ten home game against the Northwestern Wildcats and a bevy of Big East opponents coming off bowl seasons.

You can never really say how a football team will come together in the fall during spring practice but odds seem to be that the Orange are still working their way towards becoming a consistent winner, which means this could be another season of fighting for bowl consideration.

I don't think Doug Marrone is on the hot seat. I'm not even sure he's on the hot seat if the team goes 5-7 again. However, if the team regresses in term of overall record, there's a decent chance some folks will start to fan the flames.

Marrone already has plenty of detractors and in many cases he has earned them. His game management and late-game decisions have been questionable at times. He seems to have softened his initial my-way-or-the-highway approach but hardline stances work best when you can justify them with wins. And of course last season's five-straight losses to end the season rest squarely on his shoulders.

It's a critical year for Marrone and Syracuse football in general. For all intents and purposes, it's our final season in the Big East before heading to the ACC. It's a chance to go out with a bang and take some momentum with us into the new conference.

It's also the final year of The Ryan Nassib Project. If not for a Greg Paulus intervention, Nassib would have been Doug's quarterback for all four seasons. Even so, the two are intrinsically-linked and it will be a long time before the program has a quarterback with this much experience at the helm.

I don't know if Marrone will right the ship this season. On paper, it looks more likely that the team will under-perform. However, even if they do, I won't be calling for Doug Marrone's head at the end of the year (save for an 0-12 collapse, I suppose).

As far as I'm concerned, Marrone deserves the same treatment from Syracuse that Greg Schiano got from Rutgers. In other words, however much time Schiano needed until it becomes beyond clear that he could or could not do the job is exactly what I'm willing to give Doug.

I've been accused of being a Marrone Homer before and this column certainly isn't changing matters. However this isn't about me rooting for Marrone just because I think he's a good dude. It's so much bigger than that.

First off, for anyone who is already thinking about calling it a day on HCDM, I'm curious, who is this magical Candyman that you've got waiting in the wings to take the Syracuse football job and do better with it?

Of course, the next guy might in fact be the true man-God we've been waiting for, but odds are he's not. Know why? Because no one wants this job.

Seriously. Real talk, you guys.

A private school in prospect-starved New York State with facilities that barely measure up to other Big East programs, let alone ACC ones, and a national reputation for being a mediocre-at-best program? Where does one sign up!

There's a reason Skip Holtz turned down the 15th-winningest program in history and then one year later took the same job with a school that didn't even have a football team in 1996.

My point is not to denigrate my beloved Syracuse. Far from it. Rather, I'm just trying to show that Syracuse is not an "attractive" destination for the average college football coach looking to put down roots and make their mark.

It takes a special kind of coach to WANT to coach football at Syracuse. After Marrone leaves (one way or another), one gets the sense that Syracuse is destined to be coached by one of two types of men. First-time head coaches with possible ties to SU looking to make a name for themselves and mercenaries who want to "get rich quick." Greg Robinson was the latter, a guy who just wanted to be a head coach somewhere, ANYwhere.

To be fair, the mercenary often works as well (Brian Kelly at Cincinnati, Bobby Petrino at Louisville), but the downside to hiring a mercenary is that as soon as things get good, they're good as gone. You might say you're fine with that but I'm willing to bet it gets old real quick.

It's been said more times than I can remember but if you were to ask me to list the number of head coaches in America who, if given the option to coach at Syracuse, Ohio State, Florida, USC and Texas, would choose Syracuse, I can't imagine that list goes beyond one. Doug Marrone. The rarest of rare birds who not only spent his entire professional career dreaming of becoming a head coach but spent it dreaming of specifically becoming head coach at Syracuse.

That's kinda insane. And here at Syracuse we reward insanity, we do not punish it.

That alone isn't good enough, of course. Wins are and always will be the paramount tool for determining a coach's worth. Right now at Arkansas, that fanbase is working its way through quite the riddle. Do you fire your head coach due to the way he handled his scandal? Because if you do, you're firing the guy who has returned your football program to dominance without a safety net that the next guy will be able to replicate it. Morals vs. bowl money.

We've all read the dossier on Bobby Petrino. His career moves are the stuff of legend. The fact that he left the building minutes before the press conference in which he was placed on administrative leave, therefore once again evading public evisceration for his actions, confirmed everything we knew of his character.

On paper, he's the last guy you'd want to send your kid to play football for. And yet, he wins a lot more football games than he loses.

Doug Marrone doesn't have the win-loss record that Bobby Petrino can hold up (and which might just save his job). If this were Marrone, getting into a motorcycle accident with someone else's 25-year-old fiance while his wife and children were at home, he'd probably be fired.

But more than that, I expect that Doug Marrone would resign before it ever came to that.

And while you can never really know anyone, especially a public figure (ahemBernieFineahem), I just can't imagine Marrone ever doing anything remotely close to this. Not because I don't think he's a motorcycle guy, I can totally see him riding a chopper down 81.

I just don't think he'd ever put Syracuse University at risk like that.

All the time I see people holding up sportsmen as having "class" and "doing things the right way" or as "someone who just gets it" and other generic praises that are mostly hyperbole. While I don't like to label any one person over a single even a series of events (because you never, ever know ***ahemBernieFineahem***), I honestly believe Marrone is someone who fulfills all those criteria.

He is passionate about Syracuse University, to the point of, like, "slow down, slugger." He owns defeat and blame when you expect him to and even when you might not. He's candidly said on several occasions that he understands it's all about wins and that his job will cease to exist if he doesn't get more of them. He's a coach of tradition and integrity and respect and he seems to demand that of his players. Given that he often won't have the more athletic team on the field, those kind of things go a long way.

Again, I'll be the first to tell you that a classy coach who goes 2-10 is a classy coach looking for a new job, but when it comes to the intangibles, I don't know of many other viable coaching candidates out there that can match Marrone.

I had the chance to meet him before he ever coached a game for the Orange. What I remember about the event, which was a meet-and-greet with SU fans, was a group conversation that dominated the affair. About 10-12 of us, including Marrone, gathered in a circle and started talking about SU football, the history, favorite moments, favorite games and the players on the current team. Marrone was just as animated and just as excited to sit around talking Syracuse as everyone else. Perhaps even more so.

What are the keys to Marrone making the next step to consistency? He's going to need to keep improving the talent influx. The good news is that Greg Adkins, Tyrone Wheatley and the other assistants are recruiting their butts off. Adkins is invaluable and Marrone has to get as much as he can out of Greg before an SEC school snags him.

However Marrone's greatest asset remains Doug Marrone. He's a Syracuse man who played professionally before gaining years of NFL and SEC coaching experience who now oversees a program that is slowly-but-surely producing a solid amount of NFL talent every season again. He took a program at the lowest point of its 100+ years of existence and he's returned it to mediocrity (more impressive than it sounds) with the goal of returning to the prominence of a history that includes a National Title, a Heisman Trophy winner, BCS bowls and much more.

Doug Marrone may not go down as the greatest coach in the history of Syracuse football. Given what Ben Schwartzwalder, Dick MacPherson and Paul Pasqualoni did before him, it's an extremely tall order. That's not the point of the Doug Marrone Era, however.

Look at Greg Schiano. Schiano left Rutgers with an overall record of 68-67. In eleven seasons, he won one more game than he lost. And yet, he leaves as the most important coach they've ever had.

Doug Marrone's career at Syracuse will be measured in much the same way, I believe. On paper, it might not look amazing and it might not measure up to the likes of Schwartzwalder. However, if Marrone accomplishes what I think he can accomplish, he will be among the most important coaches in the history of the school. To revive this program in a time when coaches usually don't last past a few seasons unless they're pulling down 8-10 wins a year would be an impressive feat.

Maybe he'll fizzle out and be fired in two years. Maybe he'll middle along for 4-5 more mediocre seasons before cutting loose for greener NFL pastures. Maybe he'll turn us into a perennial bowl squad and nationally-ranked program like we used to be (and should be) for a decade-plus.

I don't know what Doug Marrone's legacy will ultimately look like. I just know what I think it could be. For that, I'm willing to let things play out until they simply can't. And I don't believe it will ever come to that.

(And I certainly don't care whether or not he opens spring practice to the public. What an irrelevant thing to complain about.)

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