“You know, I think Syracuse will eventually be fine if it loses Babers.”
That’s how I probably should have responded, but when someone asked me about the future of Syracuse’s head coach, I went 180 degrees the other way.
“Oh, man, it’s over. I think that could be a death blow if he goes somewhere else.”
Now, before I go any further, let me make it clear: I know you’re probably sick of hearing and talking and reading about what Syracuse Orange head coach Dino Babers might do next, be it stay or leave. Plus, Sean Keeley, the guy who created this wonderful website and who will definitely respond when called “Troy,” has already knocked this topic out of the park two times. The first column revolving around how Orange fans should just get used to Babers’ name being on the list of a lot football programs looking to hire a new coach. Good coaches at non-big boy schools get noticed. Then, this week, Sean advised everyone to prepare for 2019 and how, with more success, Babers will likely be the coach on every school’s short list to replace an ousted coach.
A very calculated, rational on-the-fly take. Compared to in-the-moment Matt saying something like “if Dino leaves, I think Syracuse is dead. D-E-A-D.”
The reason I’m even thinking about any of this right now is because a small part of me is preparing for Babers’ departure. It’s his choice and really his reward to reap for putting in all of the work. Whatever happens, in a very short period of time, I’ve gone from checking in on Twitter for the usual stuff (snark) to hitting refresh waiting for the first whiff of some other school finalizing details with Syracuse’s head coach.
In my heart of hearts, I believe Sean is 100-percent correct. Any “blue blood” worth its salt and holding an unlimited bank account is probably looking for just a bit more out of Babers. Yet, here we are, with Babers clearly in the mix, in the game. It only takes one school and then everything changes. A potentially terrifying thought for fans who have finally allowed themselves to start believing in Syracuse football again.
The most jarring part about Syracuse football right now is that it’s not what it used to be. That’s a major credit to Babers, who has brought in an offensive philosophy designed brilliantly around playing inside the Carrier Dome. “#OrangeIsTheNewFast” wasn’t just a motto or a marketing ploy, it helped completely change the program by giving it an identity. Other coaches mentioned something about taking advantage of the controlled climate here, but Babers and his defined style made it the reality.
Which is kind of funny, because former director of athletics DOCTOR Daryl Gross seemed singularly focused on #BRANDing Syracuse during his time at the school. The athletic programs collectively became “New York’s College Team.” SU and NYC. NYC and SU. Gross wanted powerhouse teams bathing in the national spotlight glow by performing on the big stages, even if they weren’t ready to be powerhouses... or beat those elite foes.
But, in terms of football, Syracuse didn’t need a promoter, or a master of ceremonies, it needed a backbone. It has that in spades right now. And it doesn’t hurt that its leader not only wins games, he is also one hell of a pitchman.
That right there — the spirit exuded by Babers — might be the hardest part to swallow if he does in fact leave. Through his speeches, Babers isn’t just preaching to his players, he is holding court for all of Orange Nation and potential fans and players down the road. From the “They Didn’t Know” sermon to the “Whose House” chants, Babers is letting the college football world know about Syracuse, and telling fans that it’s safe to come out of hiding. That Syracuse isn’t going to hurt them in the same way again.
Wooo boy. That’s a lot to take in.
So, you might ask, why would the program be okay if the curator of this new culture were to bolt for greener pastures?
Hold on, it’ll come to me.
No, no, I really do think everything could be fine, eventually.
A blueprint of sorts has been laid out, hasn’t it? Should Dino leave at some point, Syracuse could easily target someone who has a similar methodology as does Babers. That doesn’t mean playing as fast as Syracuse does right now, but finding a new leader who goes no-huddle and who values volume in plays and who can recruit specific players to fit certain positions. All of it would go a long way. The next head coach, if needed, wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel because the wheels don’t have to totally fall off. Some sort of speed on the football field doesn’t have to kill but it’s proven it can help Syracuse win.
Also, and let’s not kid ourselves here, the school’s rearranging its non-conference scheduling is also a factor in this renaissance. Prior to John Wildhack’s taking over as director of athletics, Syracuse was set on playing marquee out-of-conference opponents. That meant games against the likes of USC, LSU and Penn State, and other “known” schools. Yes, Notre Dame was on the ‘18 slate, but it was accompanied by Connecticut, Western Michigan and Wagner. Next year? At Maryland will be the most difficult test outside of ACC play. Having winnable match-ups has finally become a no-brainer (John cries tears of joy).
It wasn’t just the football head coach who changed the football program. The administration deserves credit in for its role too.
There’s another big part of the puzzle, though, if Babers leaves. It’s an easy one to identify but one difficult to pull off. If Syracuse is going to enter into a coaching search yet again, it needs to make damn sure it finds the right person.
Doug Marrone back in 2009 was pretty much a home run from minute one (albeit after everyone did their Google searching) in replacing the fired GERG Greg Robinson. The Syracuse grad came in with a knowledge of the area, an understanding of the inner workings of the program, and the experience to help create real change. An alpha who had the right combo of skill and stubbornness.
Babers, who was highly coveted by several other schools when he took over for the ousted Scott Shafer, was just the same. An experienced football lifer who was steadfast in his plans. Marrone was probably more of a jack of all trades, someone who had to try a little bit of this and a touch of that in reviving Syracuse. Babers, meanwhile, is certainly a master of offense.
Prior to both of those situations, back to 2004, Gross shot for the moon and took a chance on Robinson, a West Coast-er who had Super Bowl rings and, as time would tell, little else to offer. For so many reasons, he wasn’t the right person. Then in ‘12, still stinging from the Robinson debacle, Gross and SU as a whole played it as safe as safe can go in hiring Scott Shafer — a great defensive coordinator who lacked the head-coaching gene. It’s unlikely Syracuse would be anywhere near its current status if Shafer wasn’t let go.
Too many mistakes were made and they are a major reason why Syracuse cratered so emphatically. If you’re into a sadomasochist history lesson: Paul Pasqualoni might have been allowed to stay on too long. Then again, maybe Coach P was fired too abruptly and at the wrong time altogether? Robinson was obviously a bad choice, and giving the gig to Shafer was probably too uninspired.
Finding the right coach is not an exact science, nor is it an easy process. As Syracuse has proven time and time again. But it can be done. As Syracuse has proven two times in just the last nine years.
The question that first needs to be answered is: will it have to be done in the first place? Is Babers going to leave this year or next (he has already stuck around longer than his previous two head-coaching gigs)? It might not happen for a variety of reasons. Maybe Syracuse will meet certain requests. Maybe Babers is truly looking to plant his flag.
Who knows? This is all getting too far ahead of ourselves. I mean, Babers might only be thinking about the bowl game and about 2019. But if a move is made, well, you have every right to freak out. To be reactionary. To worry about what might be lost. Remember, though if Babers leaves, it won’t have to spell the end of Syracuse. I mean, at least I think that I think it won’t.