(Ed. note: you may recall Sean’s steps to save Syracuse football back in 2014 — this revisits a similar idea, two years later)
For the last 10 years Syracuse football has lived in a realm of mediocrity. The Doug Marrone era showed flashes of potential, recording two eight-win seasons in 2010 and 2012. But the lack of consistency in coaching personnel, recruiting, and program integrity has left this football team utterly desecrated, constantly rebuilding itself, and searching for an identity.
With the hiring of Dino Babers, Syracuse University seems to have finally found a coach to build with. Boasting a niche for offensive firepower, good-natured, strong-willed leadership, and the visionary wit to establish core moral and worthwhile standards for the young men apart the team and the program as a whole, I believe Coach Babers instills befitting optimism in the Orange’s future. But there is work to be done. Nothing happens over night, however if Syracuse finally gets serious about resurrecting its football program, these steps must be taken.
1. Stick With Your Head Coach
There’s proof that patience pays off when you stick with your head coach. Michigan State hired Mark Dantonio in 2007 and despite an average 22-17 record over his first three seasons, Dantonio went on to establish himself as one of the best coaches in the Big Ten, winning 11 games in 5 of his last 6 seasons. Pat Fitzgerald of Northwestern took on the head coaching job for the Wildcats in 2006, going 4-8 and 6-6 in his first two seasons, but followed that 2007 season with five consecutive bowl appearances, turning Northwestern into a respectable program again.
Syracuse hasn’t had the same head coach for longer than four years since Paul Pasqualoni and that absolutely stunts a football program’s growth. Coaching changes not only mean changes in recruiting tactics, but also change in player technique. When players are trying to learn new technique and break old habits over and over again, they’re stunting their growth as athletes.
Syracuse’s offensive line has had four different position coaches in as many years but a position that technical, needs stability. When players can be planted and raised in a system the outcome is better, leading to more confident athletes who then become leaders and help raise the youth. In college football this is so essential, especially for a middling program like Syracuse, because it creates an ingrained form of consistency. Consistency in development leads to consistency in performance, consistency in performance leads to consistency in winning. Simple.
2. Establish A Set of Core Beliefs Within Your Program
Every program in college football has some sort coaching propaganda plastered all over it’s institutional walls that coaches hope their players buy into. “Fight the good fight!” and “Control the controllables!” are some of my favorites. And sometimes they do carry moral weight in real life situations. But usually they end up being hollow aphorisms between players outside of the facilities. Not just at Syracuse but all over. However, the best core values are instilled early and lived out by coaches and players, typically more so leaders.
At Alabama, Nick Saban has coined “The Process,” a simple core belief founded in the willingness to prepare in a methodical, daily basis as the key to success. It’s perfect because it’s just vague enough to be applied to whatever goal you’re trying to achieve. I’m sure Coach Babers has his jargon, but it needs to be legitimate and something players and coaches buy into. As a program, when you have a strong code that everybody abides by, it’s much easier to overcome adversity in an athletic setting because you trust your teammates more, you trust your coaches more, and that mutual level of respect leads to comfort. Comfort leads players to be more willing to regroup and accept challenges together. That’s when great things are accomplished as a team.
3. Establish An Identity
When you match up with an opponent, generally you gain a good sense of who they are through film study — 65-percent pass, 35-percent run, yada yada... the boring x’s and o’s of football. This point though, is emphasizing more so the brand of a football program.
Long-standing and classic teams, like USC, Alabama, and Notre Dame have timeless uniforms and a well-established brand of football. Recruits want to play for it, fans want to be apart of it, and alumni want to invest in it. Factors that play into it are obvious things like history-- past players, rivalry games, big time moments, but that’s not everything, Modern college football powerhouses like Oregon, Louisville and Clemson have implemented several resources to revamp their program and establish a national identity. Oregon most notably through their uniforms an relationship with Nike, but all three teams utilized an up-tempo spread offense that can put up points.
Fueled by star players, these teams have each taken off and sprung onto the national spotlight. Syracuse is on the right track with the new uniforms and improved combinations, and players like Eric Dungey and Amba Etta-Tawo are pioneering in a new era of talent that may be headed to Central New York. In just year one, Coach Babers’s new offense has broken numerous records and highlighted so much talent. Given time, if Coach can properly structure this offense and defense with his personnel, I think Syracuse may be a real force in the near future.
4. Proper Scheduling
(Ed. Note: #ONEOFUS)
Strength of schedule is only a significant factor for teams competing for the College Football Playoff. At this stage, Syracuse football is simply trying to attain consistent bowl eligibility as it works towards winning eight, nine and 10 games per season on a regular basis. Whoever has been scheduling USC, Notre Dame, LSU, and all of these other games against national powers may need to be relieved of their duties (if they haven’t been already).
Syracuse has regularly taken on a tough strength of schedule and it hasn’t helped recruiting, it does nothing for exposure and has only hurt Syracuse’s win percentage. Furthermore, it turns fans away from the program. Conference play is tough as it is with regular matchups against Louisville, Clemson and Florida State. If you look, you’ll notice a trend of middling Power Five Teams putting together more manageable schedules, in an effort to pile wins and attain bowl eligibility.
In 2014, Duke played Elon, Troy, Kansas and Tulane on their non-conference schedule. Just this year, Maryland has scheduled Howard, FIU and UCF. There’s an obvious trend and clear pattern Syracuse needs to pick up on. Whoever is calling the shots at the front office needs to start putting the well-being of this program first so it can get back to its winning roots.
Any other ideas on what Syracuse can do right now to build on Coach Babers’s tenure to get back to respectability? Share below.