Sports are funny in many ways. No matter how different the sports are, it seems like storylines from various different areas of athletics can be eerily similar. While the X’s and O’s are different, the thematic principles that govern why we’re intrigued and talk about sports remain the same.
This is where I bring up Scott Shafer.
Cast your mind back to the tail part of the 2015 Syracuse Orange football season. There was a discussion that needed to be made about the Orange’s head coach with his contract coming to an end in 2016. Either extend him or release him and find a new coach. After following up the Texas Bowl win in 2013 with two disappointing seasons, SU decided to not give Shafer a new contract and move on. They hired Dino Babers with the intent on defining the future of the program — one way or another.
In a similar way, and on an exponentially larger scale, the Syracuse men’s lacrosse program finds itself in a situation with some similarities, though obviously a lot more success to precede it. John Desko’s contract with the Orange isn’t running out any time soon, but this offseason is important to defining the trajectory of the legendary team for years to come.
When Desko took over as the fourth-ever Syracuse men’s lacrosse coach in 1999, the Orange saw early success, largely built on the previous success of the past regime (a lot like Shafer taking over a growing program built by Doug Marrone). Desko led SU to five national championships and nine Final Fours in his first 11 years as head coach.
However, as the calendar flipped to the 2010s, Syracuse has not lived up to the postseason expectations that a program as successful as the Orange have been are used to. SU has only been to one Final Four in the last 12 years under Desko, and that was back in 2013. As I pointed out earlier last week, Syracuse hasn’t been back to championship weekend for eight years.
And now that the Orange’s troublesome 2021 campaign is over with a troubling loss to Georgetown, the question has to be asked. Is it time to finally satisfy the internet memes and #FireDesko? Syracuse is in the middle of its longest championship drought, and the Orange have failed to win a NCAA tournament game for the past three postseasons.
It seems like now is the time to move on from Desko, but this brings up the Shafer situation. If the Orange don’t fire Desko, the Orange are essentially committing to him for quite a long time. Keep in mind that I’m not saying that Shafer would’ve have been Syracuse football’s head coach for 10 more years if he was retained. What I’m guessing is that he wouldn’t have been fired if he suffered another disappointing season in 2016.
If Syracuse decides to keep Desko, there is almost zero chance that he is fired next year or any time in the near future. This is about as low as it can get for the Orange men’s lacrosse program, and if a coaching change isn’t made, it would take a catastrophically worse season than 2021 for Desko to be fired within the next few seasons.
Keep in mind that we also have to take into consideration the other side of the coin. What happens if Syracuse does decide to fire Desko? To state the obvious, a new coach needs to be found. However, much easier is said than done, to an extreme degree in this case.
This is where we compare different sports again, and where I bring up Jim Boeheim.
Syracuse basketball fans have been preparing for the day that Boeheim finally decides to step away from the sideline for a while. The good news is that there appears to be options when that day comes. The most convenient solution is to promote Adrian Autry or Gerry McNamara to the head coaching role. The Orange could also attempt to lure Mike Hopkins back to the program, which might be the ideal scenario.
Compare that to the situation that faces men’s lacrosse. If Syracuse decides to fire Desko, who is his successor? It won’t be Lelan Rogers, especially after the disaster the defense went through this season. Pat March would be a nice option, especially given the offensive prowess and potential that his system holds. But that would bring another whole set of issues.
With Syracuse men’s lacrosse being such a historic program, you’d think that the administration and the powerful alumni base would want an Orange alumni and an established Orange name to run the program. Not only has March not been with Syracuse for long, he isn’t an SU alum.
That above criteria might suggest that Syracuse would want to turn to Gary Gait, but even that hiring has its whole host of issues. Would SU want to move Gait away from women’s lacrosse, especially given the recent success of that program? Gait also hasn’t coached men’s lacrosse in quite some time, and never at the collegiate level. The game has massively evolved in recent times, so would he be the right decision still?
No matter what happens, a decision has to come this offseason about whether to fire Desko or not. If the Orange keep him, SU commits to their head coach for a much longer time, almost to the level of Jim Boeheim given his service to the men’s lacrosse program. If Syracuse fires Desko, the Orange have an equally tough decision to decide the fifth-ever SU men’s lacrosse head coach.
It’s an important time in Syracuse men’s lacrosse history. And this offseason could define the program for years to come.