DOCTOR Darly Gross did a lot of good things while Syracuse University athletic director. But one thing he was never able to do was connect with the Syracuse Orange fanbase on a human level. He was too packaged, too media-focused, too BRAND-conscious.
The kind of guy who seemed more concerned with getting in the photo op than connecting with the common fan.
The kind of guy who, even after he "resigned," went on a media tour to explain how this is exactly what he wanted and everything was great.
For the life of me I can't think of a time Gross was seen down at a local bar hanging out with Orange fans. Or a time Gross was out on the quad interacting with the marching band. Or handing out pizzas to Otto's Army while they camped on the Dome steps in snow. That's just not who he was.
After ten years, Syracuse fans are desperate for a person in a position of power at Syracuse Athletics who seems human. They don't want to be condescended to. They want to know someone is paying attention, listening to their concerns and considering the hundreds of thousands of people who live near Syracuse, NY when they make decisions. Not someone who is more concerned with what the millions of disinterested people of New York City might like.
Apparently, Mark Coyle is that person. Chris Carlson spoke with Syracuse long snapper Sam Rodgers, who was also the student-athlete representative on Syracuse's AD search committee, about one of the core criteria that they considered when hiring the new AD.
"It was something that we were looking for," Rodgers acknowledged. "One of the parts of the job is connecting with the community. A lot of the people on the committee were from the Syracuse area. I never saw it myself, but there was a feeling we could do that better. Anywhere you are, you want someone that's going to fit in. You want them to be able to connect with the people that they are dealing with. I think he's a great fit."
"From what I heard there was a little (disconnect)," Rodgers said. "I didn't necessarily notice it. I was trying to worry about what I had to do. But he was from (California). I have a sister who lives in California. It's different out there."
"They've never even heard of salt potatoes out there," he added, I assume.
As Carlson notes, Coyle is the kind of leader who goes out and shovels snow to help clear the stadium before a game. He's a straight-shooter who actually sounds like he's trying to connect with his fellow humans.
When it came to how Coyle convinced him he was the guy, it was his straight-forward way of answering questions:
"It wasn't necessarily anything specific he said he'd do," Rodgers said. "It was just the general feeling. I asked all the candidates a question about student-athlete welfare. He came across as someone who genuinely cared about how we were doing."'
Rodgers also told Carlson that opinion on Gross's tenure was "mixed," with some championing his olympic program success (as they should) and others bemoaning the lack of football success (as they should).
"(A) successful track record at big-time programs," Rodgers said of Coyle’s exploits via text. "Dedication to the student athletes. Also like a good fit to the upstate New York culture."
Coyle is the shiny new thing right now and he's going to get a lot of leeway for the time being. But soon enough, he'll have to start making important decisions that will determine just how quickly we go through this process again. The merit of his decisions is only part of what we have high hopes for. We're also excited to see how he'll deliver the message.
UPDATE: And in case you need proof that Coyle is going to being An Era of Transparency & Good Feelings, here's one tale from a Boise fan.