I'm eschewing my usual "How Syracuse Will Beat..." column this week. I had to, as there's no chance I could write about Syracuse v. Connecticut without exploring, in detail, the whole Paul Pasqualoni issue. It's just too emotional of a topic for me.
Actually, it's hard to believe, but it's been nearly eight full years since the man everyone referred to, and still does, as Coach P was associated with anything SU football. That's because he was dumped after 17 years at the university, 13 of those years spent as head coach of the Orangemen/Orange football program. Pasqualoni won bowl games with names like Fiesta and Gator in front of them, he coached Hill legends like Donovan McNabb and Dwight Freeney, he won a total of 107 games as leader of SU football. Read that again -- one-hundred-and-seven!
After being let go, Pasqualoni floated around the NFL before taking over the Connecticut Huskies last season. In fact, Coach P's Huskies beat Syracuse in East Hartford. So some of that, "Holy crap, Paul Pasqualoni is back coaching, in the Big East?" has worn off.
That changes this week. That changes because Pasqualoni is entering the Dome, likely for the first time since that December of 2004, as a visitor. Getting his team ready in the opposite locker room, standing on the opposite side line. And what do Orange fans make of it all? How does Joe Orange Fan react to seeing Pasqualoni as the "enemy?" Remember, Pasqualoni wanted nothing more than to be head coach at Syracuse -- how do you handle that as a fan?
Not to mention, do you remember how the guy was let go? First, a weird press conference where then-AD Jake Crouthamel says Pasqualoni isn't going anywhere. A weird press conference where Pasqualoni was cheered on by his wife, with the couple's twins in attendance. Then, after a blowout Champs Sports Bowl loss, Daryl Gross, PHD, holds another press conference -- and Orange Coach P is no more.
Those strange couple of weeks, along with almost eight long years, has changed the way most fans feel about Pasqualoni. It's still early in the week and I've already read columns and posts and tweets about how Coach P should be remembered, honored, for the good he did on the Hill, for the good guy he is, and because, well, maybe things weren't so bad with him as coach.
For those people thinking maybe they'd remember the good this week -- the comeback against Virginia Tech, the first win at Miami, that win over Colorado in the Fiesta -- I'm here to remind of the real Paul Pasqualoni legacy at Syracuse. Because, it's one thing to truly understand Pasqualoni for who he was and wasn't SU and be okay with it, but it's an entirely different thing to accept him back as one of Syracuse's own.
When did it all fall apart? When did the Syracuse Orange football program begin to crumble into what it is today?
A lot of people seem to think that SU football started to fall apart after McNabb graduated. That things went from great, to mediocre, to really bad after No. 5 took his talents to Philadelphia.
I disagree. I say we first learned that maybe Pasqualoni wasn't the man for the job in year three as head coach.
1993. A time when Zubaz pants were popular (they were damn it! -- wait, I just Googled it, and Zubaz is still freaking around! Embrace the Awesomeness indeed.), Crystal Pepsi wasn't exactly popular, and Syracuse football was in everyone's preseason top 10. In two years, Pasqualoni's program had gone a combined 20-4, winning the Hall of Fame Bowl and beating the Buffaloes in the Fiesta. Marvin Graves, Dwayne Joseph, Marvin Harrison, punter Pat O'Neill, and Kirby Dar Dar were were on on that team. Experience and talent and high hopes.
You know what happened next -- disaster. Syracuse went 6-4-1, missed a bowl game, starting a scary trend. The '94 team won one more game than the year before, but also missed a bowl game. One word summed up those two years, stagnant. Then, of course, Mr. McNabb, with the S on his shirt under the jersey, changed the offense, changed the expectation level, and changed the direction of Syracuse football.
He did have help, what with Rob Konrad, and Kevin Johnson, and a slew of decent backs like Kyle McIntosh, and defensive stars like Donovin Darius. The program wasn't just one man. But we all were there, we saw what we saw, and there is no denying what McNabb meant to SU football -- something that goes double for Pasqualoni.
Without No. 5, Syracuse likely doesn't open '95 on the road at ranked North Carolina with a win. It likely doesn't end up blowing out Clemson to close out the year, and it likely isn't a top 20 club for the next three years.
But after McNabb graduated things went back to where they were B5 (Before No. 5), when Pasqualoni's Orange couldn't even score against West Virginia. The program was stuck in the mud prior to McNabb and after his leaving, even with the "co-Big East Champ" tag in 2001, Syracuse was a program going nowhere. That's why a move was made to replace him. Was it a sloppy, Bad PR 101, move? Absolutely. But it was a necessary move that would have likely been made years before if not for a certain program changing QB.
And as we sit days from kickoff, days from seeing Paul Freakin' Pasqualoni back on the sidelines, let us remember the reason Syracuse football is still waiting for a "return to glory" (whatever the hell that will even be is beyond me).
Yes, Greg Robinson took SU football out back and shot it in the head, but he really just finished the job Pasqualoni started. I used to say this on my radio show all the time -- Pasqualoni was slowly killing the program, a lonely housewife poisoning the unsuspecting husband with one drop of antifreeze at a time. (And now Doug Marrone is left to try and remove the bullet and bring the program back to life -- a zombie-ish move done by the likes of Paul Johnson at Georgia Tech, Bill Snyder at Kansas State, Brady Hoke at Michigan, and Bill Snyder at Kansas State again, just to name a few.)
I do get the emotions though. Time has gone by, and the way SU football has been, we'd all take a guaranteed six wins, fairly regular finish under Pasqualoni over the mess we've all watched become of this program. I get the nostalgic feelings. But remember, Coach Pasqualoni was never the right man for the job in the first place.
This is the guy who took over what Dick MacPherson built, a program that just missed on the 1987 national title, and let it devolve into a team that routinely played down to its opponents, losing to bad teams it should have beaten. Even with McNabb, SU lost to the likes of North Carolina State and Minnesota.
After Mac left to coach the New England Patriots (over 20 years later and that's still so crazy) the school settled on its linebacker coach, Paul Pasqualoni. And for those that don't remember, the fan base could not have been more pissed off. Crouthamel gave the keys to the flashy sports car to the 16 year old parking lot attendant. The kid didn't crash right away as expected, but he slowly beat the car into the ground over time.
And that's why fans are still going through hell. There's no denying how bad Robinson was, something that still could lead to the demise of Gross as Orange AD, but there's also no denying that Pasqualoni, through incompetence, ignorance, or just plan lack of ability, let the program fall. On the field with blowout losses (remember game plans that called for practically no passes against top opponents, or his defiance to hire qualified assistants?) and off the field with a failure in recruiting (Outside of the very big get of Ray Rice, Coach P had nothing in the cupboard).
I'm not calling for fans to boo him or do things to the team bus, but I think I'll throw up in my mouth a little if I hear even the slightest cheer come from anywhere in the crowd. Coach P back in the Dome for a Syracuse football game will be...surreal. And yes, there may be an urge to remember him fondly. Especially since the program, although in decline under his direction, was better then than now. But that's why we all should be so mad in the first place. The very reason the team STILL struggles will be standing in enemy territory Friday night. We've accepted him as Coach P but I remember him as the one who took down SU football.