On Friday, former Syracuse Orange offensive coordinator Tim Lester was named the head coach for the Western Michigan Broncos.
It came as a surprise to Orange fans (and others), but also made a lot of sense for WMU given how late in the game they were in terms of hiring. After leading the Broncos to the Cotton Bowl this year, P.J. Fleck left for Minnesota in early January — a good month or so past the typical hiring season. Lester, who served as quarterbacks coach at Purdue last season, was available and is also an alum.
It’s debatable if his alumni status (he played QB there from 1996-99) was the only reason Lester got the job. Though the SU offense was 119th in 2015, Purdue’s passing game ranked 21st in 2016, something he played at least a hand in. Still, it’s a meteoric rise for the 39-year old with just six years of FBS coaching under his belt.
Just a day earlier, former Syracuse linebackers coach Clark Lea was named to the same position at Notre Dame. Lea was in charge of linebackers for three years at SU, then moved on to Wake Forest for a one-year stint in 2016. He’d done impressive work with the Orange linebackers, despite the defense’s overall struggles. At Wake, he continued that same trend. Senior Marquel Lee was one of the ACC’s top linebackers, while the team also got high-quality production out of Thomas Brown and Jaboree Williams. The position group was a key part of the Deacs’ resurgence on the defensive side of the football.
When Scott Shafer’s tenure as Orange head coach ended, one of the bigger issues we identified was his insistence on hiring friends to fill roles they may not have been cut out for. That remains true, but maybe the more accurate point is that he’d put together a bunch of independent parts and just expected them to become a whole.
One of the biggest draw’s of Dino Babers’s arrival is that he’d been a head coach already, and brought most of his previous staff along with him. They knew how to work and succeed together. Shafer may have actually brought in several quality individual coaches. They just weren’t in the right atmosphere to succeed at Syracuse.
On top of Lea and Lester (who both did pretty well in 2016), others found themselves in better spots as well. Chuck Bullough and Fred Reed wound up part of an Eastern Michigan program playing in its first bowl in 30 years. DeAndre Smith may not have gotten a lot out of Purdue’s running backs in his one year there, but he did land a Power Five job in the aftermath at SU. The list goes on...
None of these coaches are guaranteed anything. That’s how the profession works. But early indicators do seem to show that maybe they’re all better off for parting ways with Syracuse (and same goes for the SU program). They were individual parts forced to be a whole, but in reality, they were holding each other back. Now, every member of that staff -- Scott Shafer included -- has a real opportunity to carve out their own career. I’d say many of them are already off to a pretty nice start.