Earlier this week, ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg wrote about college football’s coaching job tiers. It’s an Insider piece, so sorry in advance. But we can talk about the Syracuse Orange aspects of it before moving forward with our own, offshoot idea.
As you may have guessed, Syracuse was listed in the bottom tier — tier 5 — along with numerous peer programs, the likes of which probably won’t surprise much either. Without revealing the full list, I’ll note we play two of them (Boston College and Wake Forest) every year, and face another (Rutgers) this fall. The rest are teams I usually push to schedule, plus ACC Coastal school Duke.
I don’t have any real argument with the tiers, or SU’s placement in the last one. It’s also no reflection on current coach Dino Babers or the job he’s done since arriving. Rather, it’s just an honest assessment of the challenges coaching the Orange comes with.
These challenges are not insurmountable, though. It just may take awhile. Babers won 10 games in year three, and now we’re waiting to see what can happen consistently. Syracuse has also been a consistent winner before (even if not 10 wins a year), so it’s certainly not impossible to imagine a world where they can move up a tier in the future. And that’s what we’re focused on here: How CAN SU move up as it relates to a coaching job?
Rittenberg describes tier 5 jobs like this:
“Limited recruiting reach that requires a developmental approach; decent and functional facilities; some administrative and booster support with realistic expectations; a job where bowl eligibility is still typically celebrated, and the occasional 10-win season, division title or major bowl appearance is a big deal.”
Quickly looking through the qualifications, I’d say it’s spot-on — though 2018’s 10-win campaign may have removed that “realistic expectations” note for some. Now here’s what the tier 4 description entails:
“Recruiting or resource restrictions that make player development a focal point; strong facilities but average overall infrastructure in their conferences; limitations with administrative/fan support; a consistent bowl team that competes for division titles, league titles and New Year’s Six bowls a few times per decade.”
Still bringing in recruiting classes around 50th to 60th, Syracuse has some ways to go to get to the point where player development is A focal point, rather than THE focal point. Consistently landing four or five blue-chip players will help fix that over time, but we’re far from there just yet.
“Strong facilities” seem like a major hurdle for Syracuse given how far behind we were on an indoor practice facility, and the obvious limitations of the Dome. Having average infrastructure relative to the ACC actually seems more attainable given the other schools in the league. And while I think there’s solid administrative support for athletics and football, fan support is fickle at times (apple picking, after all) and men’s basketball remains the top draw.
Even acknowledging where we currently fall short on the notes above, many of those items appear attainable over time, save the venue, which is likely a lot further out. Even if we can check those boxes, though, can we hit the final qualifiers?
...a consistent bowl team that competes for division titles, league titles and New Year’s Six bowls a few times per decade.
Yes, we were pretty close to winning the Atlantic in 2018, but that’s the only time we’ve competed for a division title since joining the ACC. SU’s qualified for the postseason just twice since switching conferences, and hasn’t made a New Year’s Six bowl in over two decades — though sure, we would’ve been Orange Bowl-bound in 2018 if not for how the bowl rotation fell. That fact alone doesn’t put you close to elevating a program or a job on these tiers, though.
I asked if we can realize those final qualifiers, and I think sure, anyone can... eventually. But let’s focus on more attainable marks first, so SU becomes a job that allows coaches to reach them quicker, and it doesn’t become a herculean ask for the coach that succeeds Babers.
Personally, I think Rittenberg’s listed these marks in order of how they need to be checked off, so consider them as a pyramid (sort of like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs). If Syracuse can do part one, part two is more attainable. If you succeed at part two, part three’s now in the cards.
So the Orange improving recruiting over a given period means there’s more talent in the door to start with. That makes coaching a simpler task, since they’re developing players as a good portion of what they’re tasked with — but not the all-encompassing goal of the program.
Once you do that, you’re likely winning more consistently, so it’s easier to ask fans and administrators for the resources to improve facilities and infrastructure. Their more willing investment of dollars removes limitations on how they’ll support the team in other ways (including but not limited to attending games). All of that leads to building a program that not only finds itself in the top 25 and bigger bowl games more frequently. It also means it’s easier for a coach to step in and do that in the future.
That makes a job better and more appealing for a coach. And that’s how you move up from tier 5 to tier 4.
Babers inherited a reclamation project back in 2016, and it was no rush job, and it still isn’t. But he’s managed to move the ball forward a bit already and improved the standing of this job relative to other P5 programs. Doing those things — bring in top talent, winning big games, winning more games overall, playing in major bowls — more often only helps to elevate things further.
The quicker we start seeing them with consistency, the sooner you’ll see Syracuse football look more like the jobs at the top of tier 5 (like Arizona) and the more attainable tier 4 jobs (Northwestern, Pitt, West Virginia). It’s not impossible, even if it may look like given the current landscape.