There are two questions that lets other Syracuse Orange fans know exactly where you stand. Exactly how committed you are. Exactly how much your blood would run orange if we cut you to find out.
1. How many Syracuse t-shirts do you own?
2. What are your feelings about Georgetown?
When asked the first question, incoming Syracuse athletic director John Wildhack says "a bunch and they're all coming on the truck to Syracuse." A very good sign.
When asked the second question, he chuckled and then deferred. "I look forward to seeing a packed Dome when they visit here."
A diplomatic answer, but we'll allow it because this life-long Syracuse fan is about to become the head of the entire athletic department where he'll oversee hundreds of student-athletes and interact with hundreds of athletic departments. As he's most certainly learned about 36 years at ESPN, you have to know when to put on your fan hat and when to take it off.
As it's been documented, Wildhack is indeed a Cuse lifer. He's an Upstate New Yorker who matriculated at Syracuse University and graduated in 1980. His appreciation of the Orange goes further back than that. When I asked him what his earliest Syracuse sports memory was, he said "either 1967 or 1968, UCLA in Archbold. The whole family drove down." I checked and it looks like it was the 1968 when the Orangemen defeated the UCLA Bruins 20-7. Not a bad way to start.
That lifelong love of SU could conflict at times now that he's the boss or co-worker to many of the notable Syracuse coaches and admins he's considered friends. What will help him separate his fandom from his job? "Passion." Wildhack says that his passion for Syracuse is easily-transferable between when he's rooting for the basketball team and when he's in the office working on contracts and negotiations. Everything is in service of his passion for SU.
When I had spoken to him, he had yet to tour Ensley Athletic Center and was about to take a detailed tour of the Carrier Dome, but even without knowing the ins and outs of SU's facilities, he understands the importance that SU make the most of them.
"The Carrier Dome is iconic. It's one of the great venues in college sports. Whenever I tell people I went to Syracuse they’re always like "Oh man, the Carrier Dome looks amazing, I wish I could go see that." It's about showing off this amazing facility we have. We're the only P5 program who plays inside a Dome so let's show them just how great it can be."
Within the Carrier Dome, Wildhack also understands how important it is for Syracuse to put out a good football product. Not only to re-energize the local fanbase but also because of what that does for everything else.
"It’s huge for the university and it affects everything else because it raises the profile of the university and the program."
Wildhack has high praise for Dino Babers and loves the fact that the new SU football coach comes in with a defined system on both sides. When I told him that I felt most Orange fans were excited about everything we've heard, he replied, "Because he's won, right? Look at what he's done...the experience he brings with him."
When it comes to the fanbase, the New York's College Team campaign was a mainstay of Daryl Gross's tenure, with a focus on the New York City media market. Mark Coyle seemed ready to back away and re-commit to the Central New York region. The way Wildhick sees it, why can't Syracuse do both?
"Syracuse should be New York’s College Team but that should reach to every corner of New York State," said Wildhack. "New York City is important, such a major media market. It's the epicenter of everything and it's just four hours away. I also want Syracuse fans to be excited across New York State. Binghamton and Ithaca and Buffalo and Rochester and Elmira and Utica and Albany. Let's be New York's College Team but that includes all of New York State."
An athletic director who is one of us, thinking about all of us. Syracuse fans could get used to that.