Syracuse Orange running backs coach Mike Hart left for the Indiana Hoosiers this past week -- a blow to the SU staff, which relied on the rising young assistant quite a bit in Midwest-area recruiting.
Hart is the second departure for Dino Babers's staff since he arrived at Syracuse. though it's the first since the end of the 2016 season. As you may recall, Chris Beatty left SU for Maryland after just a couple weeks during the 2015-16 offseason.
Babers would eventually fill the Beatty vacancy with another D.C.-Maryland-Virginia-area assistant, tight ends coach Reno Ferri. Now how does he fill Hart's spot?
It's highly likely that Babers's candidate pool is larger than this, and the coach he hires is none of these names at all. But if we're trying to make some educated guesses at who might come aboard the Orange staff for 2017, it might be worth starting at these names.
Former Babers associates
Matt Mattox, offensive line coach, USF
Mattox was on Babers's Eastern Illinois staff in 2013, and at Bowling Green in 2014, so the two are familiar with one another (and Mattox is familiar with many of the other assistants on the current Orange staff already). In 2015, he headed to Tulsa to coach under Phillip Montgomery, and then he went to Texas with Sterlin Gilbert as part of the 2016 Texas coaching staff. Mattox joined Gilbert (and Charlie Strong) at USF this offseason.
If you're looking for stability, perhaps Mattox isn't the guy. He's had a different job every year since 2012. And for all we know USF is paying him more than we can. But he's familiar with what Babers wants to do, and would be able to ramp up quickly. That puts him on the board.
Jim Svoboda, head coach, Central Missouri
Babers and Svoboda served on the same offensive staff at UCLA for three years, and while the latter has been out of the FBS coaching ranks since 2007, he's still found himself success at DII Central Missouri. He's won at least eight games in five of his seven seasons there, and they're a high-scoring group. Svoboda wouldn't have Babers's system down, but he'd be an easy sell on the concept.
Shaun King, running backs coach, USF
King's also on the staff with Mattox right now, after sticking around from the previous regime (he was a quarterbacks coach under Willie Taggert last season). As you may remember, King was a star quarterback for Tulane, and had the Tampa Bay Buccaneers within a game of the Super Bowl in 2001. He's a Tampa-area native, so that adds a positive recruiting dimension. He also fills the "recent player" role that made Hart an asset. He was relatable and recognizable to prospects. To some extent, King could function similarly.
Justin Hill, running backs coach, Tulsa
Hill played at Rice from 2007-10, then headed to the Iowa State staff as a grad assistant. From there, he went to Baylor for three years in a non-assistant role. He's been at Tulsa since 2014. While Hill's involvement in the Baylor staff was minimal, he was still on the staff during the seasons currently being investigated. So even if he had nothing to do with what happened there, who knows if Babers or SU would want to create another link to Baylor if they could avoid it.
Mike Bloesch, offensive line coach, Tulsa
Bloesch played at Houston, then headed to the high school coaching ranks before returning to his alma mater as a football analyst in 2014. Phillip Montgomery (the common thread with these Tulsa guys) brought him on as tight ends coach, then promoted him to offensive line coach in late 2015. Bloesch gets the offense, could potentially help move recruiting into Texas, and is on the younger side (like much of the current Orange staff) too. He wasn't at Baylor, so that's a positive.
Midwest offensive assistants
Eric Evans, assistant/running backs coach, Western Michigan
Hart was brought over from WMU, so why not just dip right into that same well? Evans was at Dayton before joining the Broncos, and he has experience at Northwestern, UAB and Albany -- the final school there at least shows he understands the territory in the state. Dayton's passing game flourished while he was there. Even if he's coaching running backs at Syracuse, that type of experience lends itself to helping the Orange out as well. Plus, you've seen Tim Lester's offense. Evans probably has too. SU might be the better alternative for him.
Jay Peterson, assistant/running backs coach, Eastern Michigan
Peterson's not as young as a lot of these other names, but he brings a long career of experience coaching on both sides of the ball, largely in the Midwest area. Along with EMU (several times), he's coached at his alma mater Miami (OH), Northwestern and the Chicago Bears. Eastern Michigan had one of the country's most exciting (on a plays-per-game) basis last year. He could help bring some of that energy to the lackluster Orange run game.
Ryan Held, running backs coach, UCF
He's not at a Midwest school right now, clearly. But Held's a Kansas City (Mo.) native who attended both Nebraska and Tennessee. Held's coached at Nebraska, Tennessee, Penn State and a whole bunch of smaller colleges before he joined Scott Frost's staff at UCF. The Golden Knights' run game wasn't great last year (just 3.48 yards per game), but the overall attack was much improved. Along with his Midwest ties, he likely has some Florida recruiting experience too. That can only be a good thing.
Jeff Beckles, running backs coach, Middle Tennessee
Beckles played at Florida State in the late 80s, and since then, he's bounced between the South and Midwest. The Jacksonville, Fla. native has coached at Central Michigan, Troy, Georgia Southern, South Florida, Georgia, Samford and others over the course of his career. Since arriving in his current role at MTSU, the Blue Raiders' run game hasn't looked half bad (top 50 in 2016). Plus, given SU's tricky week two contest against his current team, it might not be a bad idea to get the inside scoop in advance.
Damien Rhodes, The Orange Zone commentator
The former Orange running back left coaching in 2015 (he was at Fayetteville-Manlius High School), but he remains involved with SU football on the media side. There are no guarantees he'd be interested in jumping back into this sort of role -- he left two years ago due to other career pursuits -- but if he joined the staff, it would be a huge coup for Syracuse. Rhodes would bring NFL experience (and success), a first-person knowledge of playing for and attending SU, and a local tie that could speak to the community around the program too.
Lanear Sampson, offensive graduate assistant
Sampson's on the current staff as a grad assistant, and admittedly, he might be hard-pressed to finish his master's before the 2017 season starts (he only began pursuing it at Syracuse last year). But like several names above, he knows the system, is a former player that could relate to recruits, and best of all, he's already on this staff. His Baylor ties are obvious (he played for Babers there), but largely before the time that investigations focus in on, and his name has never been mentioned. If the Orange opt for cost-effectiveness, Sampson's name could get the call-up.
Again, this is far from the full list, that Babers is likely evaluating. But it's a start for us to frame the conversation around who and what we'd want in our next running backs coach.
Have any other ideas? Share your own candidates below.