He came to Syracuse a little bit like Lyle Lanley came to Springfield. That's a pretty good comparison, the spotless Daryl Gross and the shinny Mr. Lanley.
Oh, you don't know of Lyle Lanley? (It's been 20 years since last we've heard from him, after all.) A televangelist who's church just so happened to be town halls. Lanley's religion, and to him it was faith, was sales through song. Converting monorail-atheists into full on high speed believers with a hook and a chorus. Hell, just look at the video evidence of this man's selling abilities.
Has there ever been a more appropriate line than Lanley's, "You know a town with money is a little like the mule with a spinning wheel. No-one knows how he got it and danged if he knows how to use it!"? Springfieldians were eating from the palm of his hand, even though he arrived as a smooth-talking stranger with no ties to anyone, all the while pitching something totally foreign.
Now of course, Gross didn't breakout into a choreographed song and dance number when he first officially took over at Syracuse. But he sure did have the feel of a salesman's salesman. Booting Paul Pasqualoni and bringing in the appropriately orange-glowing Greg Robinson -- a poor man's Lyle Lanley himself. But Robinson wasn't a slick salesman, he was more likely the Homer Simpson buffoon character cast incorrectly in the hero's lead role.
Robinson did, however, play a leading role in leading Syracuse football down. And certainly you can't just gloss over the hire of Robinson when it comes to discussing Gross. It was an eyebrow raising move at the time; Syracuse passing by established coaches with ties to the Northeast in favor of a Pete Carroll recommendation. And through hindsight it's kind of amazing Gross survived it all, really. 10 wins in four seasons? A fairly competitive program being reduced to...
Devastation similar to what happened in North Haverbrook.
Robinson turned out to be the monorail Lanley tried leaving behind in Springfield rather than a football savior. Yet, the man from Hollywood didn't run, rather he sold the fans on Doug Marrone, and followed him up with Shafer. And it'snot just football, Syracuse is probably more visible on the national landscape than ever before -- hell, Quentin Hillsman, an early hire by Gross, has the Orange women's basketball team in the top-25. Gross' other sales pitches, his general hard work, have actually become something of a lasting legacy.
And let's never forget how big of a move it was for Syracuse, led by Gross, to get out of the sinking Big East and into the still-upright ACC. Just look at Connecticut as an example of what could have happened had Gross not had the foresight to make sure Syracuse had a lifeboat waiting for it. The built-for-the-spotlight Los Angeles native has certainly done a lot of good for middle-of-nowhere Central New York, no?
Nevermore true than this past Sunday. The day all of the bowl assignments were officially handed out -- the antithesis of Selection Sunday in hoops. Instead of strength of schedule or RPI or conference affiliation, Bowl Sunday is all about who you know and how well you sell.
Seriously, you think 6 wins is the line of demarcation, right? Get to 6 and your team should be going bowling? Right. Just ask Western Kentucky, a team with 8 wins and a better strength of schedule than Rutgers, yet the Hilltoppers were left out in the cold while those Scarlet Knights get a Pinstripe Bowl bout against Notre Dame.
And for a few hours on Sunday it looked as though the Orange would also be on the outside looking in on bowl season. Even though Gross went on "Upon Further Review" in Syracuse and told everyone listening that Syracuse was a possibility for as many as six bowls, it was nearing 6 p.m. with no official announcement. That bold boast possibly coming back to bite the A.D. in the ass, especially as all those landing spots were filled with teams not named Syracuse.
Gross evidently didn't give up, probably burning through cell phone batteries like basketballs in Ron Patterson's hands.
The fruit of this labor turning into the Texas Bowl -- a fairly random game against a fairly random opponent in a city thousands of miles from home. But the fact a 6-6 Syracuse team is getting three extra weeks of practice, getting to play on national television again, is nothing short of a minor miracle. That's because Gross had to sell the bowl execs on what Syracuse Football is and on what Syracuse Football isn't -- it is a team on the rise with a made-for-press-conferences head coach and a lot of inexperienced talent ready to rip the roof off the Carrier Dome. It is not that program playing in front of more bleachers than fans in the Dome. It's not the three win program from a few years ago.
Not an easy pitch to people wearing cowboy boots and ten gallon hats who rank football somewhere close to God and family.
Honestly, the last week may have been Gross' toughest and at the same time most important sales pitch of his nine year career at Syracuse University. Syracuse was practically made for the Pinstripe bowl, 2010 and 2012 was an easy deal to reach. The Heart of Dallas? It said no to Gross about Syracuse. The same goes for bowls in Detroit and Florida and Louisiana. And I think the Texas Bowl executives tried looking elsewhere, but Gross eventually closed the deal and grabbed himself a cup of coffee. Ready for the next deal.
Which is where the fitting comparison between the Syracuse University athletic director and the renowned preaching con man ends. The old take on Daryl Gross was to be he'd use Central New York as an escalator, riding through town on his way back to L.A. On to something, somewhere, bigger and better. Instead, through all his dealings, the good and even the bad, Gross has stayed. Still selling Syracuse to anyone who will listen.