Syracuse Football: The Irving Avenue Freeze Out?

Rich Barnes-US PRESSWIRE

Did Doug Marrone freeze out former Orange men during his time on the Hill? It certainly seems to be the case.

We don't know the specifics, but we do know Syracuse football alumni weren't exactly welcomed back at their Alma mater over the past few years.

We're not talking Jim Brown or Floyd Little alumni, legends that Daryl Gross, PHD, has rightfully brought back into the fold as much as possible. No, we're talking players from the 1990's, coming home but never really feeling at home. Keith Bullock and Troy Nunes have expressed as much through Twitter.

Nunes later recanted, but the point had been made: Former Orange players were being frozen out. A little Tenth Avenue come to Irving Avenue.

A message driven home by one Donovan McNabb:

"I think we got away from that for a couple years where the door wasn't open for the alums to come in and try to help these young guys out."

When the best quarterback in program history, a player who will have jersey retired this fall, someone who led the program to its last great heights, says THAT, there's something wrong here. Who wouldn't want alumni back to visit, to teach the new generation, to be a part of their school?

The McNabbs and Bullocks of the Syracuse world all played in a time where Syracuse football still had some cache. A time when the Orangemen were routinely in bowls; ranked among the nation's top twenty-five. These guys are the last real link to what the program, running at close to full-steam, could be.

So, who was the one giving the cold shoulder to the SU alums? Well, it seems likely to be one of two suspects.

Daryl Gross, PHD - The guy has been the face Syracuse athletics for nearly a decade (hard to believe, right?). He's never met a camera he didn't like and he's always quick to any available microphone. I mean, who could ever forget this image of Gross? Or this one? And this?

He's someone who likes to be seen and someone who likes things done his way. Days after taking over the reigns as athletic director he fired the football coach -- even though the timing could not have been worse. Not only did it mean Syracuse would have to conduct a coaching search after most available coaches had already committed to other schools, the firing came just weeks after Gross' predecessor said the school wouldn't fire the coach. None of that mattered to Gross though.

So is he the man behind the "freeze out"? Is he trying to associate himself with legends -- Brown, Little, etc -- but disassociate himself with players of a time right before he came to Syracuse?

Doubtful. There's just too much evidence to show that Gross would do anything to promote himself, and thus promote Syracuse. While he's fairly controlling, I don't think Gross would risk the public relations nightmare of shunning alumni -- especially when some of those alums have deep pockets.

Doug Marrone - Honestly, Marrone is the only one that would have the real power to freeze out former players. He's the coach, the one in charge. And by all accounts, Marrone runs things a lot like Gross, in that everything goes through him first. So I don't think any assistants would have had the ability to shut out anyone out. Any type of order had to come from the top.

But maybe it wasn't an order. Maybe Marrone, someone who isn't exactly Mr. Bubbly, just didn't have the personality to kiss up to former Orange players. Maybe Marrone wasn't purposely pushing anyone away, maybe he was just hyper-focused on his tasks at hand and didn't have time to mingle or stop practices to allow the old guys to give speeches.

That's a little tough to swallow though. Marrone is a former player, someone who knows what it is like to go through years of playing, the bond that forms for every player on a team, and for every graduate of a school. He may not be the most sensitive guy, but Marrone should be able, more than most coaches, to understand how important it is for everyone involved to include the past with the present.

Which makes all of this even more troubling. He had to be the one behind it and yet he should have just known better, right? Putting your stamp on a program is one thing, but pushing ex-players out is another.

Of course, Marrone is off trying to put his stamp on an NFL franchise. The Orange football program is now in the hands of That Damn Scott Shafer. And from the sounds of it, Shafer is rolling out the red carpet for the former players. In fact, McNabb, making the radio rounds Tuesday, said Shafer will employ an "open door" policy. Quite the culture shift from one regime to the next.

An altogether different tune. The Irving Avenue Freeze Out is over. Music to former Orange players ears.

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