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Syracuse football: Get to know interim head coach Nunzio Campanile

The ultimate wild card is actually very open-minded about where the Orange stand.

Syndication: NorthJersey
Ten years ago, Nunzio was coaching high school football in New Jersey. Now, he has the unique challenge of taking over a DI program right before a win-or-go-home game. file photo

When the Syracuse Orange take on Wake Forest inside the Dome tomorrow, there will be someone different wearing the headset on SU's sideline.

That man is Nunzio Campanile, who joined the Syracuse football staff this season as the Tight Ends Coach. Before that, Campanile spent five years as a positions coach with Rutgers and eight as the head coach of Bergen Catholic, a high school football factory in New Jersey.

John Wildhack named Campanile the interim head coach after Dino Babers was fired, creating a scenario few, if any, envisioned before the season - an assistant coach taking over with bowl eligibility still in play.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” Campanile said during Tuesday’s football preview show. “It’s a really great opportunity for our players. Obviously, they’ve been through a lot this weekend. We want to make sure we can help guide them and put them in the right position so we can finish strong.”

Nunzio served as the Scarlet Knights' interim head coach in 2019, when former Syracuse coaching prospect Chris Ash was fired four games into the season. Despite the program being deep in the gutter of the BIG 10, Campanile guided that team to a 44-34 victory over a 5-2 Liberty outfit, giving them at least one bright spot in very dark times.

Rutgers v Penn State Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

In this second stint as a temporary head coach, Nunzio is taking over much later into the season - and instead of acting as a placeholder during a season that didn’t have much hope to begin with, he has the chance to lead his new team to an important victory that would do wonders for the long-term health of the program.

“Our guys have a lot to play for right now. Between Senior Day and the opportunity to make it to a bowl game, those things are a great motivating factor for them.”

Wildhack said he chose Campanile because of his connections to New Jersey, a recruiting hot bed that SU has recently shifted focus back towards. The interim coach said that he and other coaches on Syracuse’s staff have already reached out to recruits to speak about the transition process, while also maintaining that ‘Cuse is invested in them individually.

“You always talk to kids about ‘you commit to a school, not a coach’ because they have to be comfortable spending four or five years of their life there and, fortunately or unfortunately, coaching staffs do change.”

That isn’t the only area where Nunzio was pleasantly transparent on Tuesday:

He openly discussed personnel decisions over the season and why they were made.

He credited Offensive Coordinator Jason Beck with implementing the ThunderCat offense, led by Dan Villari, that SU has run the past two games.

He spoke candidly about why Syracuse has struggled to use Tight Ends as receiving options, instead focusing more on having an extra blocker.

He even carefully treaded the line while discussing the impact of N.I.L. on Syracuse and college football as a whole.

All that put together is something that we just didn’t see under Babers. Information was a carefully guarded scarcity. There was always the ask of believing before seeing the results. Some promises ultimately went unfulfilled.

Syracuse still has an opportunity to build, as Campanile put it, “a really bright future.” We honestly don’t know what we’ll be getting from Nunzio tomorrow afternoon - this is his first legitimate chance to show he can be a head coach at the Division 1 level. But we do know that he’s sending the perfect message to the Orange players:

“Play really hard... sacrifice for the guys next to you, and good things are going to happen.”

Senior Day is all about the veterans who have done just that: sacrifice countless hours and plenty of physical and mental strain to make the team better. When ‘Cuse fans watch the Orange take the Dome turf for a final time in 2023, these players will be the focus.

But the man in the headset is someone you should root for too.