For months now, we've been previewing the Syracuse Orange football season like it's just around the corner. Well... now it sort of is. As we've done in years' past, we'll preview a different SU position group each week. Today, we lead off with people that aren't a position group at all:
Coaching Staff Preview
Obviously this group is starting fresh in its first year on the job. Expectations are measured, per Dino Babers's own direction. But there are already some pieces in place to see how his vision for the program could come into fruition in two or three years' time. Despite the athletic director turnover, it's clear the school's giving them enough ramp to turn this thing around. Clearly, that's a good thing.
Dino Babers, Head Coach
Babers has been an assistant coach at a lot of different stops, but the one everyone focuses in on is his time at Baylor from 2008-2011. It's there he really adopted the spread as his own system, and it's what got him up to Eastern Illinois to take over a middling program there. In two years at EIU, he won two conference titles, finished fourth in the FCS polls in 2013, and got Jimmy Garoppolo drafted. At Bowling Green, his Falcons played for two MAC championships (winning last year). His offenses have been prolific all four seasons as a head coach. We know that side of the ball will work at Syracuse too. SU's bounce back will really just depend on how long it takes that offense to come around.
Kim McCloud, Assistant Head Coach/Wide Receivers
A long-time defensive coach, McCloud transitioned to the offensive side of the ball last year at Bowling Green, where he'll stay too at Syracuse. The "assistant head coach" title is one that seems to put him on a level slightly above the rest of the staff under Babers (same, if you look at the way Cuse.com lists out the coaches). So while he's certainly Babers's right-hand man on staff, we'll see what his impact is on gameday. Honestly, there may not be one. But if he's recruiting well and helping Babers manage the program day-to-day, that's completely fine.
Brian Ward, Defensive Coordinator
Ward comes in facing a host of challenges in year one. He'll be installing a new system, the Tampa-2. He needs to completely change the defense's emphasis on blitzing into an emphasis on sound tackling and coverage. And he needs to figure out how to get past the program's serious depth issues on the defensive line and in the secondary. Like the offense, it's a a process that may take a year or two in order to become fully operational. Taking over a defense that ranked 99th in yards allowed, however, means results can't really get much worse. Teams will be able to move the ball against SU solely based on the number of possessions they'll be allotted. So it's up to Ward and the Orange D to prevent every game from becoming a 50-point shootout.
Sean Lewis, Co-Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks
In year one, Lewis will likely be judged by how well Eric Dungey looks acclimated to the offense. Dungey improved over time last season making quick reads, and now he'll need to do even more of it in an up-tempo offense. He'll still be afforded the opportunity to run, I'm sure. But chances are we see more of a mobile pocket passer than a runner this year. Lewis and the staff are likely working with Dungey to make sure he quickly goes through progressions to find a receiving target, not a running lane, first and foremost. We'll see how much that pays off early. In the meantime, Drake gifs.
Mike Lynch, Co-Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line
Lynch probably picked a good year to be starting from scratch at SU, as the team returns one of the least-experienced offensive lines in the country. That would sound like he's in for a rough year one, but it could actually be to his benefit. While Syracuse doesn't have experience, they do have a lot of depth on the line, bringing in two stronger classes in 2015 and 2016. We wondered during the spring if the heralded 2015 kids would get their time. They still might. But Lynch having this many options can only be seen as a plus while the team continues to work on conditioning (especially for these linemen).
Tom Kaufman, Special Teams Coordinator/Linebackers
Finally, a dedicated special teams coach! A position largely absent under Scott Shafer gets addressed by a full-time staffer in 2016. And Kaufman has some pieces to play with. While he'll be hard-pressed to immediately replace Riley Dixon at punter, Brisly Estime's a very good return man, and Cole Murphy's an experienced kicker with some distance. His biggest challenge will be improving upon punt/kick coverage, which has been a problem for years. At the linebacker spots, he has it easier than nearly any incoming coach. SU has experience and depth there; they just need to be re-taught the position to play in coverage. If we see improvement there right away, Kaufman will quickly be in everyone's good graces.
Reno Ferri, Tight Ends Coach
Babers's offense doesn't use tight ends a ton in a receiving capacity, so it's likely Ferri's staff position is more based on his familiarity with the Maryland-D.C.-Virginia recruiting corridor than anything else. Still, at least based on this year's personnel, it will be interesting to see how he's able to help the team's experienced returning group get involved. Kendall Moore's clearly the best blocker, and if he can stay healthy, that could be a valuable commodity. The question is if Ferri can get similar blocking production from the other tight ends.
Mike Hart, Running Backs Coach
The Syracuse-area native and former Michigan great is equal parts recruiting tool and positional expert. In his time at Western Michigan, he was able to get a lot out of a varied group of running backs, and coincidentally, he'll get the same chance with the Orange now. Jordan Fredericks, Dontae Strickland, George Morris and Moe Neal all represent very different skillsets, but ones that Hart should be able to utilize well within this offense. Babers's system is a passing one, but it's predicated on a solid run game (last year's Bowling Green team scored 34 rushing TDs). Hart's group will be a fun one to watch develop this fall.
Nick Monroe, Secondary Coach
Monroe's first order of business will be to make sure this never happens again. Syracuse's pass defense was ranked 101st in the country last year, and that's largely because of a secondary that was too focused on "big plays" to make basic stops. The Orange return a lot of those players, which means a whole lot of reconditioning now in the Tampa-2. If there's one unit you can nearly guarantee is a year away from improvement in the new system, it's this one. In the meantime, Monroe will continue doing great work in Florida on the recruiting trail.
Vinson Reynolds, Defensive Line Coach
Reynolds has been a major part of the program's shift into Michigan recruiting (he comes to us from WMU), and from a positional standpoint, he'll have his hands full this fall with the team's thinnest group. By way of a couple positional switches, the Orange should have a two-deep depth chart's worth of players on the line, but that's sort of where the help ends. His biggest task this year, other than hoping for a bit of injury luck, is to refocus the line on run-stopping and staying at home over a constant blitz scheme.
Since we hadn't really done an extensive coaching staff overview since everyone got hired, consider this your formal introduction to them as a group. Babers has assembled a nice mix of coaches here, many of whom have worked together as a staff before, which at least helps them jump in right away with set processes. Eyes won't be on wins and losses in 2016, but rather where the team shows clear improvement in comparison to last year. Barring a disaster, you should get used to seeing these names for the next two years at least.