As we’ve mentioned quite a few times in the lead-up, ACC Football Kickoff (media days) started today. The Atlantic Division went first because of alphabetical order, so that meant hearing from the Syracuse Orange on day one, and then largely ignoring whatever happens on day two.
The assembled media (which had sort of cl,eared out, unfortunately) heard from Orange coach Dino Babers for a bit and while there were no movie references, he still entertained as he usually does. Some of the key quotes from his time at the podium are below:
On jack-of-all-trades Moe Neal:
“Moe is just such a versatile player... He has the ability to play numerous positions. We're so young in the development of our football family and what we're trying to get done at Syracuse, that he has the ability to help us in numerous areas. And because of that, you know, we need to move him around and make sure that he's in the best spot for us. As the team develops, he may be -- one year he may be able to help us more as a running back, and another year he may be able to help us more as a wide receiver as we get more and more weapons around him and in the institution.
He's a very versatile guy, and we're lucky to have him.”
It’s funny that Neal, a guy that Scott Shafer largely recruited to Syracuse, could end up being the most important piece of the offensive puzzle for the Orange. And if you were hoping for clarity on the constant position switches for the sophomore, there you go.
Talking about transfers...
“I'm not going to talk about guys that haven't played for us yet. But when you look back last year and what Amba Etta-Tawo did for our wide receiving corps transferring from the University of Maryland -- where I believe he had like, I don't know, 40 career catches -- and he goes almost over 100 catches, third-team All-American for us in one year, we're looking for impacts like that.
But we're not going to talk about those young men who are part of our family now who just started to work with us until we see what they do on the football field.”
Long-standing practice here for Dino. Going into last season, he wouldn’t talk about anyone since he hadn’t seen them in-game yet.
Bringing back a boatload of returning starters:
“Well, first of all, we have 20 starters coming back, but some of that had to do with injuries. We had major injuries last year with our seniors, and a lot of those guys had to play a little bit earlier than what they should have played. Now, that's a negative and that's also a positive with them coming back.
One of the things that we noticed last year that we were playing so many freshmen, that when you're playing in the ACC, physically they weren't really ready to play, although they gained a lot of experience. With the experience that they gained and going back in with the strength and conditioning program that we've got going on, they've gotten bigger.
Some of the guys have added 10, 15, 20, 24, 30 pounds of muscle, not fat. I mean, these guys are walking around as 19-year olds and they're looking like they're 21 and 22 and that's going to help us.
... Right now, our guys are just 19-year-olds and no one is going to cry about that, but we're going to go out there, we`re going to play every game and hopefully, we'll have an opportunity to play and win every one that we play. But we understand that we have a long row to hoe.”
“Year two, game four”
“... Second year, game 4, everywhere I've been -- this is my third stop -- that's when the lightbulbs go on. I don't know why. It's somewhere around there, plus or minus two. But somewhere in the second year, somewhere around the middle of the season, they get it. What it is, I don't know, but that normally is what happens, and the team and everything starts to change. I'm all for that thing happening this year, second year, somewhere around game 4.”
/Looks up game four, sees it’s LSU, has so many conflicting emotions.
Zaire Franklin’s a far more confident guy than we realized.
“Let me talk about Zaire since he's already stepped out of the room. I don't like talking nice about him when he's around. Before I met him, someone came up to me and said ‘hey, who's going to be your captains?’ and I said, ‘I don't know yet. And the individual said ‘Zaire is going to be your captain.’ I said ‘I didn't know who Zaire was.’ I'm like, ‘okay, great.’
And then I met Zaire, and I told him ‘somebody said you were going to be my captain,’ and he says, ‘yeah, I will be.’ I said, ‘wait a minute, now, we'll see about that.’ After about five practices, he was.
Zaire is very, very unique... If he plays and has the type of season that he's supposed to have, he'll be, I think, the second three-time captain in the history of Syracuse football, and our history goes way back. Way back. And it's just -- it's a testament to the type of young man that Zaire Franklin really is, and he really, really is an amazing individual.”
Dino pisses off some potential sponsors
“When you talk about Eric Dungey, Eric Dungey is the quarterback of an up-tempo, fast, NFL-style offense. It is not a Ford Pinto. It is a racing car, okay. Don't get Ford mad at me. I know Ford doesn't make the Pinto anymore.
When I was in high school, I drove a Ford Pinto, hatchback, baby blue in color. But he`s not driving a Pinto; he`s driving a racing car. And when we go around corners, the tires need to sing, and that's the way we handle our offense. He's an extension of the coaching staff, and if you're not ready for that responsibility, then you probably need to go play quarterback somewhere else. Because it's a big-time job for a big-time individual, and if you can handle it, good things will happen to you. Just ask the people before him.”
That list, as he alludes to, includes new quality control coach Matt Johnson and New England Patriots backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (and perhaps he’s subtly nodding to the guys at Baylor too).
Hey officials, get out of the way
“The pace? Well, let me answer this a different way. I know we're having an issue with football games being too long, and we're talking about shortening the halftime, kicking the ball off when it hits 0:00 to make sure that the game shortens. I know another way they could speed up the game, if the official just marks the ball and gets the heck out of the way, I think we can speed the game up and make the game a whole lot shorter.”
Never accuse Dino of wearing sneakers if he, in fact, is not.
“I'm not wearing sneakers. These are expensive shoes. They're not sneakers, but they do feel like sneakers. You know, we just really believe that -- we want to play basketball on turf. We want to play basketball on grass. When you think about the Los Angeles Lakers and Showtime and what the Golden State Warriors do, we want to spread out the football field. We want you to defend the entire football field, and we want to play as fast as humanly possible. Based off of that speed and based off of that tempo, we want to make calls.
I think it's a fun way to watch the game, and I definitely think it's an equalizer when you don't have some of the advantages that some of the more traditional schools have in the top 10 or in the top 20 part of rankings in the UPI and stuff like that. We like it. We think it's a niche. We think we have a little bit of an advantage with it. Obviously it didn't work out (down in) South Carolina last year, but you know, we'll see this year.”
The official transcript reads “versus” South Carolina. for the bold quote above. I listened live, and I’m pretty sure that’s what he said too. I wouldn’t put it past Dino to deploy some first-class shade there, invoking Clemson’s biggest rival.
Ask Dino Babers about patience, and he’ll consider it a fantastic question.
“You know, patience is a virtue, and one of the things that we -- even though we play fast, I don't want people to think that we play reckless. When I say, ‘hey, you're driving a racing car and the tires are supposed to sing when you come out of the curve,’ if you've ever gone to a racing track, those guys are great drivers. The cars are fantastic cars, kept in top-notch shape, and every time you make a turn, the tires sing because that's what they're supposed to do.
Our players are extremely patient. They're not reckless. And when we're attacking defenses at tempo, we're very calculated in how we do that. It's not just a situation of calling something as fast as you can and hoping that you have good luck. There's a lot more structure to that, and it's a lot more complicated than that.”
Dino followed up on this by exclaiming, “That's a fantastic question. Thank you for asking.” As someone who’s interviewed Babers myself, that’s not an easy reaction to get from him.