After Sterlin Gilbert was let go this weekend, the Syracuse Orange football team is in need of an offensive coordinator yet again. Since the last couple (current running backs coach Mike Lynch and now, Gilbert) haven’t fared so well, it’s pretty crucial for Dino Babers to get this hire right — and immediately if he hopes to stay in charge of Syracuse past 2022.
Up front, we’ll say that there are some longshot names worth calling, but ultimately, this gig is going to be a tougher sell than normal. It’s public knowledge that Dino’s on the hot seat, and John Wildhack’s Monday remarks seem to indicate there’s a heightened demand on getting to six wins next year. So with that in mind, you’re looking at candidates that we can either pay handsomely or are alright with what could end up being a one-year stopover if things go poorly.
While this isn’t an exhaustive list, we wanted to ID some folks who could be among Babers’s phone calls to fill the role.
Andrew Sowder, offensive coordinator, Kent State
Sowder was one of the handful of Bowling Green coaches that didn’t join Babers in Syracuse back in 2016, and since then, he’s fared pretty well. His Kent State offenses have been top 10 in the country for the last two years, and he’s been a huge part of Sean Lewis turning around the Golden Flashes of late. Sowder also works with QBs and tight ends — something SU could use help with. He has to be the first phone call.
Matt Mumme, offensive coordinator/QBs, Nevada
Now to some extent, Mumme’s not a great fit because Nevada didn’t run the ball much this year (just 885 yards on the ground) and the rushing attack will remain a big part of what Syracuse does given the personnel. However, he’s helped turn Carson Strong into a dynamic QB and there’s a link between Babers and air raid pioneer Hal Mumme, since Dino’s an extended branch of his coaching tree.
Barry Lunney Jr., associate head coach/offensive coordinator/QBs, UTSA
Lunney isn’t too far removed from serving as interim head coach at Arkansas, and his offense at UTSA and shown balance and scoring ability for the past two seasons. Sure there’s a chance that he’s looking to get back into the head coaching job mix, but that’s probably not what happens this offseaosn. A successful stint as Syracuse’s OC could help there, though.
Zach Kittley, co-offensive coordinator/QBs, Western Kentucky
With WKU seemingly getting left out of the realignment merry-go-round — or at least, with the Hilltoppers becoming a last resort for the MAC at best — assistants could be looking for lifeboats. Kittley’s not a local guy, with roots in Texas (primarily Texas Tech since he’s from Lubbock and went to school at TTU), but doesn’t seem opposed to new places. Really, bringing in a coordinator from Texas could help bring in the sort of talent needed to run this offense, and he’s had clear success doing so. The Hilltoppers have thrown for more yards than any team in the country (5,073) in 2021.
Bryan Ellis, co-offensive coordinator/WRs, Western Kentucky
Ellis has been the other key part of this offensive resurgence for WKU, and the other ideas above apply to him as well. He’s also worked with QBs both here and at USC, so he can slot into that role as well with Syracuse. As is the case with Kittley as well, Syracuse would be a step up in terms of job and financial outlay.
Tim Cramsey, offensive coordinator/QBs, Marshall
Marshall was a top-15 passing attack this season under Cramsey in his fourth season with the Thundering Herd — though the results in previous seasons weren’t nearly as good. That’s a potential concern if you’re Syracuse, though also makes it more likely he could take the job. Cramsey’s not a young up-and-comer as much as someone who’s gradually worked his way through spots like New Hampshire, Montana State and Nevada (and now Marshall). He’s been an offensive coordinator for nine straight seasons now.
Anthony Tucker, offensive coordinator/QBs, Utah State
In just one season leading Utah State’s offense, Tucker has the Aggies ranked among the top 15 passing attacks in the FBS, and comes from a coaching up balanced offenses at previous spots like UCF (2018-20), Maryland (2016-17) and Arkansas State (2013-15). Tucker’s a former NFL player and has experience in the right places to make recruiting inroads, even if he doesn’t have a ton of time under his belt calling plays. Success here could be a springboard elsewhere if he puts together an effective offense in 2022.
Kevin Johns, offensive coordinator/QBs, Memphis
Johns will likely be a hot commodity this offseason given his success at Memphis and elsewhere, but am curious if Syracuse could make this happen (honestly, we might be at parity with Memphis on spend, and if so, it’s a clear no-go). But Johns has led an effective Tigers offense since 2019, and has stops at Texas Tech, WMU, Indiana, Northwestern and Richmond. There’s clearly a desire to keep going to the best spot available to him. He’s also been involved in the passing game or coordinator duties since 2008 with NU.
Dan Mullen, former head coach, Florida
Maybe getting canned at UF means Mullen would take less for a short-term gig before jumping back into being a head coach soon. And while that almost certainly would not be at Syracuse, there’s at least some ties that make his name worth mentioning. Mullen is from New Hampshire (but born in PA) and has a degree from Wagner, plus he was a grad assistant on Coach P’s Orangemen staff in 1998. Again, this isn’t a long-term solution. Would just be something that provides mutual benefit for Babers (potentially helps him stay past 2022) and Mullen (gets him a stepping stone to a head job again). Perhaps we don’t want this solution, though.
This is really just an initial look at some names that could come up, but certainly there are many more that folks will throw around. If you have an impassioned argument for someone not included above — that’s actually realistic for Syracuse to hire — by all means, make your case below.