New Year's Eve was abruptly interrupted for Syracuse fans when word leaked out that head coach and savior Doug Marrone would be interviewing with the NFL's Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns, for those teams' respective head coaching vacancies. Obviously, none of us want him to leave. How could we after he dragged Syracuse -- his alma mater and "dream job" -- back from the depths of
But let's face facts. Doug Marrone could very well be gone this offseason. And if he chooses to leave, Syracuse must move quickly in order to stabilize the program from a perception and recruiting standpoint. So who do we turn to if we hope to continue our upward climb back to college football relevance? There's been plenty of discussion in the comments already, and what's emerged is a dissonance between the fan base. Portions of the Orange faithful want to see the job transferred to someone else in-house, while others want the team to make a big splash and hire a big name. Regardless of which route the school would hypothetically take though, what are our options?
Scott Shafer, Defensive Coordinator, Syracuse University
Since joining the staff in 2009, Shafer's led a group that's ranked 37th, 7th, 64th and 45th in total defense, and produced a certifiable NFL star in now-Patriot Chandler Jones. He's a dedicated member of Marrone's staff -- so much so that he may be invited to join Doug in the NFL if not offered the Syracuse head-coaching position. Personally, I question whether he's ready for the head job, since this is the longest period of relative success he's experienced as a coordinator with one school. But I can understand why he's favored by many. A coach already with the Syracuse program shows stability for recruits, and grinds the carousel to a quick halt.
Nathaniel Hackett, Offensive Coordinator, Syracuse
Hackett's been on staff since 2010, and can be considered one of them men primarily responsible for Ryan Nassib's growth as a quarterback. In his first year as offensive coordinator (2011), 'Cuse ranked 90th in total offense, and here at TNIAAM, we regularly derided Hackett's decision-making. In 2012, it was a completely different story, however. With a hastily installed hurry-up attack, Hackett's offense was ranked 19th in the country in total yards per game, while scoring 30 points per game. Only in the college coaching game since 2003 though, the concern with him is experience. Not enough time at a top coordinator position and oh, he also has ties to the Buffalo Bills, could be enough to eliminate him from consideration.
David Cutcliffe, Head Coach, Duke University
Cutcliffe, like Marrone, has experience remaking a downtrodden major conference team into a winner, and has also bred some of the NFL's best passers in Eli and Peyton Manning while serving as offensive coordinator for both Ole Miss and Tennessee. He has just signed an extension through 2019, and recently refused any interest in the Tennessee head-coaching vacancy, so would he come to Syracuse? I say yes. To be honest, Duke's going to fall back a bit next season after his highly-touted crop of seniors leave. While he wasn't interested in SEC jobs, wouldn't another ACC position be precisely his speed. Expectations are higher at SU, but not enormously so. Still, it's a new challenge and something he may be interested in embracing.
Mario Cristobal, Former Head Coach, Florida International University
Cristobal was recently fired at FIU, when the school briefly forgot who they were, and thought they could do better. And while his overall record there (27-47) doesn't scream success, he's largely credited with putting that program on the map after back-to-back winning seasons in 2010 and 2011. If you'll also remember, Cristobal turned down the Rutgers job to stick around FIU, and he served on the Scarlet Knights' staff from 2001 to 2003. Cristobal understands how to get more out of less on the recruiting front, and unlike most coaches, he has experience on the trail in the northeast. He also has a great deal of experience recruiting Miami -- something that Syracuse can surely put to good use.
Bob Diaco, Defensive Coordinator, University of Notre Dame
As you probably know, Notre Dame has one of the country's best defenses this season, largely in part to the job Diaco's done in implementing an SEC-style scheme up in South Bend. At first, I thought Diaco could be a bit of a stretch, and maybe you do too, but hear me out. Boston College, currently in their own severe football rut, interviewed him just a month back. While some Eagles' fans were very much in favor of bringing the defensive guru on board, others were vehemently against. There's a theory that Diaco's flown too quickly through the assistant coaching ranks (he's only served as a defensive coordinator since 2009), but I'm willing to look past that. He's the top assistant in college football, regardless of years of experience, and that sounds like a guy we'd like to have on our sidelines.
In my opinion, you go with an outside option. Syracuse is not necessarily viewed as a go-to coaching opportunity, and won't be as long as Doug Marrone -- or any succeeding coach -- is among the lowest paid in the BCS leagues. Shafer certainly doesn't deserve to be paid $2M-plus, but I'd happily fork over $800K or more if he'd stick around under a coach making that $2M number. Look at the resurgence future division rival Clemson has experienced under head coach Dabo Swinney. He was a highly sought-after assistant when he was promoted to the job in 2009. And since then, he's received pay-raises which he's mostly redistributed to assistants. Clemson's shown they're willing to make an investment in Swinney and the program, and in return, he's shown his own commitment to his staff (offensive coordinator Chad Morris makes $1.3M, most in the FBS). Syracuse doesn't have that kind of money to throw around just yet, but it's time to take the steps to get there. I hope Marrone doesn't leave. But if he does, we've got to up our game if we hope to keep building on the program he's revitalized.