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Syracuse football: John Wildhack emphasizes that coaching change is “not a total reboot”

SU’s Director of Athletics said an ideal candidate will have Northeast ties.

NCAA Football: Western Michigan at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Syracuse Orange football is transitioning out of the Dino Babers era, as the search for a new head coach is underway. John Wildhack held a press conference Monday morning in place of the usual one from Babers, where he laid out what the program is looking for in its next leader.

Wildhack began the conference by thanking Dino for his time in Syracuse, calling him “a class act and a class person.” However, he also stated that the reasoning for firing the 8th-year Syracuse coach was twofold.

First, it gives SU a head start with their search for his replacement, as well as time to reaffirm their relationships with incoming recruits.

Second, Wildhack and Babers established a benchmark record of 7-5 prior to the season. That goal became impossible after the Orange lost to Georgia Tech Saturday night. Wildhack said he offered Babers the chance to coach against Wake Forest - and potentially a bowl game - before stepping away, but Dino refused.

“I told him it’s his decision, and I didn’t try to sway him one way or the other,” Wildhack said.

That loss was part of a trend that continued this year: late-season collapses. Wildhack pointed out the constant struggles of Babers-led teams in November, and how the past three seasons have all featured promising starts but very poor finishes. For reference:

  • 2021 - Started 5-4, lost last three
  • 2022 - Started 6-0, lost six of last seven
  • 2023 - Started 4-0, lost six of seven

“Look at November,” Wildhack said. “We haven’t had success. Boston College was a very winnable game; didn’t win it. Saturday night was a very winnable game; didn’t win it. You win those two, we’re not here today, having this conversation.”

Tight Ends coach Nunzio Campanile was chosen to lead in the interim due to his experience in the same position with Rutgers, and his connections in New Jersey, which Wildhack called “a really important recruiting ground for us.”

Looking towards the future, Wildhack wants his next hire to have a strong focus on the New England and Mid-Atlantic states.

“We’re in a good recruiting area, maybe not within a 50-mile radius, but within a four-and-a-half-hour radius,” Wildhack said.

He clarified that having a connection to the Northeast does not necessarily mean they have to come from a Syracuse or CNY background, but those factors will still be considered.

Preferable candidates will have previous Power 5 experience - whether that be as a coach, coordinator, or other assistant role. Wildhack hinted that he’s already had one-on-one conversations with some coaches.

Above all else, the Director of Athletics said several times that the changing of the guard is “not a total reboot” and that next year’s team is expected to compete.

“When you start a season, your goal is to play that 13th game,” he said. “We can be a winning program. We’re not that far away.”

Wildhack also took some time to discuss keeping players from entering the transfer portal - highlighting how some big names like Duce Chestnut faltered once leaving for larger programs. Those comments tie back to the decision to cut Dino loose a week early: SU wants to have a clear vision for 2024 and beyond soon to help retain as much talent as possible.

There’s not a “definitive date” to announce the choice for head coach, though Wildhack said he’s mindful of the December 4th transfer window.

“I will do everything I can to hire the right coach who will lead us to the success that we all covet,” Wildhack said.