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The Orange Side Of 2008

Syracuse.com posted their Top Ten Local Sports Stories of 2008.  Taking out the ones that aren't SU-related (and therefore mean NOTHING!), here's what they came up with:

  1. Greg Robinson is fired.
  2. Doug Marrone is hired.
  3. SU men's lax wins the National Championship
  4. Donte Greene leaves SU after one season.
  5. Jim Boeheim and Carmelo win the gold medal.
  6. Eric Devendorf is suspended.
  7. The Express premieres in Syracuse.

Not too shabby.  But here's mine...

#10 - The Hollywood Hookah Incident

From my post The Five Most Important Things SU Football Must Do In 2009:

All jokes aside, I have no problem with Mikhail Marinovich and Niko Rechul opening a hookah bar.  I think it's unfair that college football players and athletes in general have restrictions on the kind of jobs they are allowed to have and the money they have at their disposal, especially when I read about how much money the BCS and bowl games bring in to the universities.  I understand the roadblocks standing in the way of paying college athletes so as far as I'm concerned, if you can make some extra bucks doing something legit, why not?

All of that said, there is no reason whatsoever that anyone in the SU administration or on the SU coaching staff should have allowed two of its players...two freshman, no less...to open a tobacco-smoking establishment in the middle of the season.  A losing season, no less.

From the get-go this was absurd theater.  Either Greg Robinson and his staff had no idea two of their players were opening their own hash bar place of business or they knew about it, looked the other way and hoped it wouldn't come out in the press.  It did.  And it was a fantastic representation of the Greg Robinson Regime.  Sure, there's nothing inherently WRONG about what Mikhail and Nico did.  It was just....not the right thing to do.  And that someone in an advisory or coaching role didn't step in said more than anything else.

#9 - Jim Boeheim travels to China for the Olympics and keeps a running diary

Some excerpts from Jim's running diaries...

And you can't beat the food, either. We went to a restaurant called Made In China, and dinner was so good that I ate my green beans . . . and I hate green beans.

And

We're staying at the Ritz-Carlton - which, by the way, is another pretty nice hotel - and they have a "food room" for us there. They put out five or six different things to eat, which is impressive enough. But there are, probably, 15 people working in that room. Fifteen people to serve 20 of us. Again, it's mind-boggling.

And of course

The people here are amazing. They couldn't be nicer. They can't do enough for you. For example, the maids were in our room for an hour and a half cleaning it up. They fold your clothes. They straighten this and that. They do everything.

If only Jim did running diaries for every road trip.  Until then, we'll have to wonder what magic lies within the walls of the Tampa Sheraton...

#8 - The Eric Devendorf Saga

He punched her in the face.  Then he didn't.  Then he was suspended for the rest of the season.  Then he wasn't.  Then he wasn't supposed to come back until January.  But he came back in December.  Then he wore a hairnet and scrubbed some dishes...that part is still true.

The whole thing is over now, thankfully, but it was a sobering lesson in law, fame and hearsay.  Devo didn't punch Kimberly Smith in the face, that's now a fact.  But by the time that fact came out Devo was already guilty in the court of public opinion and also the eyes of the SU Judicial Board, which judges those who stand before it with the critical eye of gossipers at a nail salon.

The event was also a reminder to SU fans that there's something they can't put their finger on about the SU basketball program but it doesn't seem right.  Devo's suspension was just one of multiple legal issues that players found themselves in this season.  Thankfully for Jim Boeheim, his legacy and the University, none of the incidents caused major harm to the program.  But it doesn't mean they didn't happen or that a lack of control hasn't seeped into SU's crown jewel sports squad.

Was this the wake-up call the players needed to stay out of trouble in 2009?  I hope so. 

#7 - Mike Williams is kicked out of SU for allegedly cheating

It wasn't even arguable.  Mike Williams was the best player on the 2008 Syracuse football roster.  Until he wasn't...

In June, Williams was not only booted off the team but also out of the university "over an academic issue."  That issue later came to be known as cheating.  Williams had been seen with notes on his desk as he was about to take an exam and from there the situation snowballed into his suspension. 

The situation got even weirder when Williams didn't seem to be jumping through the appropriate hoops to get back on the team ASAP, leading to concerns that his days in an Orange uniform were over.

Eventually in December, Williams confirmed that he did indeed get the requirements he needed and would be returning to SU.  But even then, doubt lingered.

Do the 3-9 Orange go 6-6 instead if Mike Williams is on the roster?  Probably not.  Given the state of the passing game he probably doesn't end up having one-fourth as good a year as he had in 2007.  What the Williams' suspension represented was a hard reality check to SU fans, a slap in the face to remind them that this program was still broken and any hope you were holding onto for 2008 was futile at best. 

Hopefully Williams comes through on his word and returns to the team in 2009.  If he does, he's got a spread offense waiting for him.  He might not break all the records he was poised to before the suspension but he can still make-good on his potential and to set the Orange back in the right direction.

#6 - The Men's Basketball Team misses the NCAA Tourney again/Donte Greene leaves.

Pick an underachieving Syracuse basketball team from the last 30 years.  There's been a couple...most of them included Jason Hart.  You'll find that they failed to make good on certain expectations now and again.  But you will find none of them that missed the NCAA Tournament two years in a row.  Until you look at the 2007-2008 Orange.

How did a team with such promise fall short again?  Was it not one but two crushing ACL injuries?  Was it the lack of depth and experience?  Was it the stifling Big East schedule?  Was it the cheesesteaks?

All of the above, to be sure.

And then there's Donte Greene.  Never quite as good as advertised but then again could you blame him given that Carmelo guy we kept comparing him to?  We were so busy focusing on all the things he did wrong we didn't stop to see the potential he had for the future. But the NBA did and Donte left, eliciting scorn and mean-spirited Facebook posts in his wake.

Three NBA teams later, everything turned out fine for Donte...he was in a movie and got his own show for Chrissake!  As for the Orange, it seems to have turned out well also.  The Orange has lost his defensive liabilities and replaced his scoring while not having to worry about babysitting his ego anymore.  Win-win!

#5 - The Ernie Davis Statue

Could you think of a more-perfect metaphor for the state of Syracuse football?  Meant to be a shining testament to the greatness that once was and could be again, the Ernie Davis statue ended up being a beacon of bad judgment, mis-communication, and a stunning lack of detail attention.

Literally covered in Nike swooshes, which did not exist when Ernie Davis played, the statue turned what was supposed to be a great honor to Syracuse Universities finest ambassador into a national punchline. 

DOCTOR Gross tried to play it off as no big deal.  The sculptor laid the blame at the feet of SU officials.  They slyly did the same to him.  When the news really went wide, SU went mum. 

Eventually it came out that Bruno Lucchessi has been provided with uniforms and apparel from an inappropriate era.  Not being a college football fan, he was none the wiser and trusted that what he had received was correct.  When he delivered his finished product, no one at SU bothered to double-check and make sure it was correct until just before the unveiling and by then it was too late to do anything but try and spin-doctor their way around it.

The week it was unveiled was supposed to be about honoring Ernie Davis.  Between getting embarrassed on national TV by Penn State, the Nike-laden statue and the PR mess that followed, SU did anything but.

#4 - SU Men's Lacrosse wins the National Championship

In recent years, the men's lacrosse program had become a sobering representative of the state of SU sports.  Once a proud program that had become so accustom to elite levels of winning that anything less than a National Title was a disappointment, the team had not only lost it's streak of consecutive Final Four appearances but missed the postseason altogether for the first time in twenty-plus years. 

The 2008 season started with a strange feeling for the Orange.  Suddenly they were a program with something to prove.  And prove they did.  Not only returning to the NCAA Tournament but also marching to the Final Four and eventually defeating hated Johns Hopkins to win their tenth National Championship .  Here's what I wrote afterward:

Vindication? Is that the word I'm looking for? A year removed from their worst season in over twenty years, the Syracuse lacrosse program's return to glory was about as quick an ascension as we've ever seen. When was the last time a team won it's 4th national title in 8 seasons and it felt like an amazing feat? Shouldn't this be old hat? It felt like anything but...

Led by Tewaaraton Trophy winner Mike Leveille, the Orange returned to their rightful place atop the college lacrosse landscape.  More importantly though, they made Syracuse University a champion again.  It's nice to have a little swagger back in our step.  Next step...defending our crown.

#3 - The Express is released and premieres in Syracuse

There was a nationally-released movie about Syracuse football this year.  That's crazy.  But it happened.  And any Syracuse fan who saw the film loved seeing their school, their team and their heroes up on the screen, even if some of the details were a little suspect. 

The big news for Syracuse and SU was that the movie premiere was held in the city of Syracuse instead of Hollywood.  For one night at least, Syracuse was the entertainment capital of America.  Movie stars and paparazzi roamed the orange carpet.  Onlookers and fans screamed.  The whole community came together in a nice moment of pride and remembrance of Ernie Davis.

The reviews themselves were...so-so.  And unfortunately, there's no other way to put it then to say the theatrical release was an unmitigated disaster, not even making $10 million.  The rest of the country didn't care about Ernie Davis' story.  That's okay.  We know it and we'll keep telling it.  Someday they'll listen...

#2 - Doug Marrone is the new coach of Syracuse Football.

The Sexy-O-Meter was designed to take into account the day-to-day gossip, hearsay and rumors about the Syracuse coaching search and who was going to get the job.  Some days Skip Holtz was #1.  Other days it was Turner Gill.  But it was never Doug Marrone, the New Orleans Saints' offensive coordinator and SU alum.  He hovered around the middle, never falling out but never moving up too far.  At best, Marrone got as high as #3 but was never a favorite in the eyes of the media or SU fans.

So when Marrone was named the head coach a day after Skip Holtz publicly excused himself from the running, you can understand if many in the SU community were scratching their heads.  We wanted a guy with head coaching experience...this guy has none.  We wanted a name...no one's ever heard of this guy.  We wanted a college guy...he hasn't been in the college game for a few years.

But from the moment Doug Marrone was introduced, he did everything he could to put SU fans at ease.  He talked extensively about his recruiting in-roads.  He talked about tradition and bringing on a staff that understands what they means at Syracuse.  He talked about rejuvenating, not rebuilding. 

Marrone said and has done the right things so far.  The only question left is...can he win football games?  Then again, that's the only question that really matters anyway.

#1  - Greg Robinson is fired.

Could it have been anything else?  Bringing back Greg Robinson for a fourth season was the most controversial decision in DOCTOR Daryl Gross' tenure.  It turned out to be one of his worst as well.  The Orange were abysmal from the get-go, not only getting blown out by Northwestern to start the year but then losing at home to a MAC school.  A once unthinkable fate. 

That the Orange barely beat 1-AA Northeastern a few weeks later was barely a surprise to anyone.  The Orange seemed to be turning things around in the middle of the season with some decent performances against Pitt and West Virginia.  In both cases, the Orange couldn't close the deal.  A win over Louisville, which has become an annual tradition, was a brief respite from the pain.  But a few more blowouts later and Greggers was done

The time for talk was over.  Time told.  What was, was.

Greg's only saving grace was that he was a nice guy.  And that's what bought him enough goodwill so that when the Orange beat Notre Dame, it was a nice coda on an otherwise dreadful tenure. That the Orange couldn't harness that goodwill into a better showing against Cincinnati a week later was the perfect reason why Greg Robinson was not up to the job:

Some will say that the story ended out of order.  That Syracuse's win over Notre Dame should have been the way to end the season as Greg Robinson rode off into the sunset with his head held high.  I say that today's 30-10 loss to Cincinnati is EXACTLY how the Greg Robinson Era should have ended.  As a bleak experience devoid of excitement or fanfare and with a finality that was never really in doubt.  The Greg Robinson Era ended exactly how it was supposed to.

Greg leaves a lot of things behind.  Gregisms, for which we will be eternally grateful.  But he also leaves behind a program in far worse shape than when he received it.  SU football was down before Greg Robinson got here.  But it wasn't terrible.  Now it is. 

I once said I felt bad for Greg and I still do.  All Greg Robinson ever wanted to do was be a head coach for a bigtime football program.  He got his dream and he failed miserably.  He failed so miserably that his name will forever be synonymous with losing and elicit curses from Syracuse fans who dare not speak his name.  10-37 overall, 3-25 in the Big East...the numbers are jarring.  And it's too late for him to get another opportunity to make things right for his reputation.  His fate as a head football coach is sealed.  That's a bummer.

But he did say some pretty entertaining things.  Thanks for that, at least, Greg.