Toward the end of last season, we’d periodically look at which of Dino Babers’s assistant coaches could be on the way out for the Syracuse Orange football program. Following the Wake Forest game, we’d settled on Steve Stanard, Mike Cavanaugh and Kirk Martin departing. Winds up we were right on two of those (Stanard and Martin). Results from 2020 show we probably should’ve been right on the other too...
But now that we’re evaluating what happened during a very rough season, how would we assess Syracuse football’s staff? Knowing that Babers is definitely back, we put his assistants into three buckets regarding job security. We’re also fully aware that no changes are likely prior to the early signing period next week.
Who’s definitely safe?
- Justin Lustig, Assistant Head Coach/Special Teams Coordinator/Outside Receivers
- Tony White, Defensive Coordinator
- Chris Achuff, Linebackers
- Nick Monroe, Safeties/Nickelbacks
- Chip West, Cornerbacks
While it may have been a slight step back for special teams this year, Lustig’s group still wound up performing pretty well and the unit remained a positive amid a sea of negative for Syracuse. I’d advise maybe the outside receivers fall under someone else’s purview perhaps. But that’s just nitpicking, really. Let’s hope he’s not hired away finally after years of other interested parties coming around.
As you know, White was a revelatory hire bringing in a 3-3-5 scheme and implementing it on the fly. Achuff had a tall order ahead of him as well with a very young group of linebackers, yet had them firing on all cylinders by the back half of the season. You’re already pretty familiar with Monroe’s great work both in the secondary and on the recruiting trail. West was also a great addition and likely contributed to the all-conference performances of both Ifeatu Melifonwu and Garrett Williams this year.
Who could be fine right now?
- Reno Ferri, Tight Ends/Inside Receivers
- Mike Lynch, Running Backs
- Vinson Reynolds, Defensive Line
Tight end misuse is likely a bigger product of the play-calling issues (we’ll get there), but the inside receivers have also struggled for real production for the past couple years now. Ferri has DMV ties, which Syracuse needs. But SU also doesn’t land a TON of players from the area and that footprint’s covered by West as well.
Lynch was demoted last season after a rough 2019 as OC, and it’s hard to argue this year went much better — though credit for coaching up Sean Tucker and Cooper Lutz given the challenges this season presented the backfield with this season. He’s probably safe since he is a factor on the recruiting trail as well.
Reynolds had to replace two NFL-caliber players on the line this year, but had experience and a key transfer to help navigate that. There were moments here and there where the line looked capable, but they’re not necessarily a group tailored for what the 3-3-5 requires. That’s not his fault. But we do need a better push up front. It wouldn’t surprise to see him stick around — especially if stepson Eric Coley returns to Syracuse after being injured this year.
Who may be leaving?
- Sterlin Gilbert, Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks
- Mike Cavanaugh, Offensive Line
- Bonus: Strength & Conditioning Staff
First, on Cavanaugh: Late-season improvements last year, some quality recruits and the ability to get Florida transfer Chris Bleich probably earned him 2020. But this year, the line was arguably worse, there was no depth due to a host of injuries up and down the depth chart, and whatever success he’s been having on the trail clearly hasn’t yet translated to on-field success for Syracuse. He has a great (for SU) O-line class coming in for 2021. I just don’t know if that’s enough to bring him back after one okay season (2018) and two miserable ones for his unit since he arrived. The risk of losing a guy or two in this class may be worth moving on.
In Gilbert, Dino was supposed to be bringing aboard a trusted disciple who could fix what ailed 2019’s offense. Instead, we got Babers’s worst offense as a head coach by a mile, questionable play-calling and little in the way of quarterback development either. Gilbert had challenges to deal with, of course. But even if taking those into account and noting some mild improvements from the start of the season to the end, this was still an unacceptable performance. The question will be whether Dino’s able to move on or not after just one year. I hope he is able to hit the eject button here, since failing to do so may go a long way toward dictating a much larger coaching staff change after 2021.
Also, while they’re not “assistants” in the way these other coaches are, it’s high time we move on from the strength and conditioning staff. Syracuse’s level of injuries this year was unbelievable, and it’s clear a change needs to be made to prevent something like this (and the various other injuries that have stacked up over the years) from continuing to occur.
Agree? Disagree? Have ideas for who you’d bring in as new members of Dino’s staff for 2021? Share your own thoughts below.