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What we talk about when we talk about Dino Babers

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Dino is on his first head coaching shortlist. It won’t be his last.

Connecticut v Syracuse Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images

Syracuse Is Back!™

With a national ranking, 6-2 record, and a pretty decent shot at winning at least eight games before going bowling, the Syracuse Orange find themselves dealing with a curious malady: Success. Because for Syracuse football fans, success means more people take notice. And when more people take notice, that means other schools take notice. And when other schools take notice, football programs with more money than us take notice of the guy behind it all.

As the old Irish saying goes, “may you be in heaven a full half-hour before a Big 12 school knows you’re 8-4.”

Everyone here is a Syracuse fan and, as such, values this school and this program highly. But we’re all also adults so let’s speak as adults. The cold, hard truth is that college football is a cruel, unfair wasteland where the meek and mediocre fight over tablescraps leftover by a powerful few. Every so often someone is able to jump their status thanks to a combination of sustained success and the backing of a billionaire sneaker mogul, but for the most part you are who you are and then you die.

Syracuse is in the meek & mediocre class. We’d call them mediocre. A lot of other people would call us meek. We’ll all just have to agree to disagree. But there’s a simple truth that we can all agree on. When the meek or mediocre find success, the powerful swoop in to take that power for themselves. There are rare exceptions to this rule, but there’s a reason Scott Frost is at Nebraska, Chris Peterson is at Washington, and Matt Rhule is at Baylor. Hell, it’s why Dino Babers is at Syracuse. He was coaching at one level and moved to the next level. It’s the way of college football and, really, the way of the world.

So naturally, now that Babers is making good on the promises he made three years ago, everyone is noticing. And as they notice, they also understand how this works. Babers will leave Syracuse for a “better” job. That’s the assumption that 9 out of 10 generic college football fans are making right now. That’s the assumption you’d make if you rooted for any other football program. It’s just logical based on everything you know.

So when DJ Durkin got the boot this week (and what a shitshow that was/is), it was obvious that Babers was going to be on peoples’ shortlist for his replacement. As soon as that list dropped, Syracuse fans went into their usual red alert. I tweeted this out as my own personal attempt to inject some critical thinking into the matter.

From there, I saw a bunch of responses that missed the point, even if they were also correct.

The one response I got, and one that I’ve seen talked about a lot on social media, is the explanation as to why Dino should not take the Maryland job. They made plenty of good points. Going to Maryland, it could be argued, is a lateral move to a program in a tougher position to compete in its division than Syracuse is (even UM folks see this). The university leadership is a mess and their reputation is mud right now. Plus, dude, you’re 57. How much longer can you keep criss-crossing the country for the next job every 3-4 years? Put some roots down and make a legacy!

All salient points. And all completely beside the point.

Because the point isn’t that he’s up for the Maryland job. The point is that he’s going to be up for EVERY job. The Maryland job is simply the first one to open up. If you’ve followed college football for even just a few years, you know the avalanche that’s coming.

Lovie Smith is gonna get fired at Illinois. Larry Fedora might be get fired at UNC. Bobby Petrino is gonna get booted at Louisville and they’re gonna hire Jeff Brohm, opening up the Purdue job. Lincoln Riley might end up bolting to take the Browns job, which opens up the coveted Oklahoma spot. Depending on who gets hired for that job that could open up a different high-profile position. It’s possible there could be openings at Rutgers, USC, Kansas, Auburn, and Georgia Tech. And then there’s the very real possibility Urban Meyer leaves Ohio State and just think about all the dominoes that will fall from that...

The point is, if you’re putting your time and energy into convincing everyone why Dino Babers shouldn’t leave Syracuse for Maryland, you are spinning your wheels and missing the memo. This story hasn’t even started yet. And even if we make it through the 2019 offseason and Babers remains here, he’s going to be even higher on everyone’s list again next year.

Once this drumbeat starts, it very rarely ever stops. It usually only gets louder.

And I’m not saying it’s fait accompli that Dino Babers is leaving Syracuse after this or next season. It is very reasonable to think John Wildhack can muster enough pocket change from the Melo Center couch cushions to extend Dino’s contract and get him an acceptable raise. And it is very much possible that Dino really sees the longterm benefit to settling down and riding this Carrier Dome thing for as long as he can. “Nothing is impossible” - Michael Jordan (- Michael Scott).

But please remember Syracuse’s status. We are not among the powerful. And the powerful take what they want. So Syracuse can do everything right and Dino Babers can do everything right and an SEC or Big 12 school can come in and say “we’ll give you $5 million a year, a $40 million buyout, and facilities that Syracuse couldn’t match in 25 years,” and there isn’t a person on Earth who can blame him when he says yes.

It’s just that simple. If someone wants him bad enough, there’s nothing Syracuse can do about it. All the rationializations, all the arguments, all the justifications. Completely moot from the start.

A fatalist view of things? Absolutely. But how have you been a Syracuse football fan this long and not turned into a fatalist?

It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t root for Dino to succeed. Of course you should. Dino’s success is Syracuse’s success. We’ve put up with so much suck so that we could appreciate seasons like this. So that we could dream about the potential of next season. But if the price of this success is that we lose Dino to someone with bigger pockets, well, so be it. And if he stays a while, so much the better.

So the next time Dino shows up on a head coaching shortlist, because it’s going to happen again (and again), try to just let it slide and enjoy the ride. The simple fact is that other “better” schools want what we have. May we be in that situation more often from now on.