Syracuse coaching candidates to replace Dino Babers: Sean Lewis, Jason Candle and more

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Sunday’s news that Syracuse fired head coach Dino Babers wasn’t a shock. There had been rumblings that Syracuse was ready to move on from Babers since the offseason. Babers was a dynamic leader and had some big moments in eight years at the helm, but he never established lasting roots in the Northeast recruiting base where the Orange had enjoyed so much success. Whether this program can get back to the local connection it had a generation ago under Dick MacPherson and then Paul Pasqualoni is a big question. There are several options with those ties who could be in play in this search.

Toledo head coach Jason Candle continues to be one of the better coaches in the Group of 5. His Rockets are 10-1 this year and undefeated in the MAC, and he’s 64-33 in almost a decade there. Candle is a good offensive coach who has gotten a lot of consideration for Power 5 jobs the past few years. The 44-year-old Ohio native figures to get a long look.

James Madison head coach Curt Cignetti,  a 62-year-old Pittsburgh native, has the Dukes rolling, with a 51-9 record there since arriving after successful runs at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Elon. He has also coached in the ACC, as the offensive coordinator at NC State from 2000 to ’06.

Notre Dame defensive coordinator Al Golden is a New Jersey native who played at Penn State and knows all about what made Syracuse a regional power. The 54-year-old Golden did a good job elevating Temple from the dustbin, winning 17 games in his final two seasons. He left for Miami but was fired after five mediocre seasons. He would probably be a much better fit in Central New York.

Saints offensive line coach Doug Marrone, 59, played and coached at Syracuse. Marrone was the Orange head coach from 2009 to ’12 and did pretty well, twice posting eight-win seasons before leaving to become the Bills’ head coach. He was 25-25 at Syracuse and knows what it takes to win there. He’s also not that far removed from coaching in college, having spent the 2021 season as Alabama’s offensive line coach.

Colorado assistant coach Sean Lewis spent time at Syracuse under Babers. The 37-year-old former Wisconsin tight end did have some good moments as Colorado’s offensive coordinator this year in spite of an overmatched offensive line before Deion Sanders shook up his staff and elevated Pat Shurmur to a co-OC role. Prior to coming to Boulder, Lewis did well at Kent State, a really tough MAC head coaching job, going 18-10 in conference play over his last four seasons.

Holy Cross head coach Bob Chesney, a 46-year-old from Pennsylvania, has been a big winner at the FCS level and is a three-time Patriot League Coach of the Year. He’s 29-8 over the previous three seasons.

Wisconsin offensive coordinator Phil Longo is a New Jersey native who spent a lot of time around the Syracuse program as a high school coach in New Jersey. The 55-year-old was very close to longtime assistant coach George DeLeone and has similar roots and understanding of the place. Longo has created some explosive offenses as he has moved up from being a small-school coach to his current role as North Carolina’s offensive coordinator. His first season at Wisconsin under Luke Fickell hasn’t been great as the Badgers overhaul their offensive style, but his work prior to overseeing the transition Madison has been quite impressive, and he does have the deep recruiting ties in the Northeast.

Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien is a New England native who might merit a look. The 54-year-old took over Penn State in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal and did an excellent job dealing with all sorts of issues. He won the Bear Bryant Award in 2012 and went 15-9 in two seasons before leaving to become the Houston Texans’ head coach. He reached the playoffs four times and left Houston with a 52-48 record. We’re not sure he’d want this job, but given his track record and his ties to the region, it’s probably worth Syracuse making that call to find out.

Florida State defensive coordinator Adam Fuller is a Northeast native who played at Sacred Heart in Connecticut and spent six seasons at Wagner College in Staten Island. Fuller has done very well as FSU’s defensive coordinator, producing the ACC’s No. 2 defense in yards per play allowed. He should be in the mix for some college head coaching job. He does have some head coaching experiences, but it came back in 2008 when he went 1-8 in one season at Assumption College in Worcester, Mass.

Kentucky offensive coordinator Liam Coen is another New England native. The 38-year-old played quarterback at UMass and coached in the region for almost a decade before being hired by the Rams. In 2021, Mark Stoops hired him as Kentucky’s offensive coordinator and he provided a big spark there before returning to the NFL for the 2022 season. The Wildcats’ offense fell off dramatically. Coen returned to Lexington this year and has improved the Kentucky offense from last in the SEC in yards per play and third-down offense to eighth and seventh in those categories, respectively. Don’t be surprised if he gets some consideration for this vacancy.

Nebraska defensive coordinator Tony White did a really good job under Babers for three seasons before moving on to Nebraska. The 44-year-old White, a Rocky Long protege at San Diego State, grew up in New York City before playing college football at UCLA and has had a strong first season in Lincoln, turning what had been the Big Ten’s No. 13 run defense into the No. 2 unit this season. The Huskers have gone from 10th in the league in sacks to third.

There are two other NFL guys with deep Syracuse ties, wish-list candidates for the old guard of the Paul Pasqualoni era who seem like more Hail Mary shots.

Philadelphia Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland is beloved by the Syracuse football community. He’s also beloved by his players in Philly and regarded by many as the best line coach in football. The 61-year-old Staten Island native started his coaching career at Syracuse and knows exactly what made the program thrive back in the day. Whether he would want to jump back into the college football world after leaving it over a decade ago (he last worked in college on Nick Saban’s Alabama staff in 2012) seems very questionable. Another complication is whether this Syracuse leadership group would want to wait out the Eagles’ playoff run, which could keep Stoutland tied up well into February.

Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo is similarly regarded. He has worked his way up the professional ranks and seems close to getting an NFL head coaching job. Would he jump at this now if he can get it? We’re skeptical, but one of the former Syracuse coaches we spoke to thought Anarumo would at least consider it. The Bengals’ playoff hopes took a big hit earlier this week with the news that Joe Burrow is done for the season. Like Stoutland, the 57-year-old Anarumo developed as a coach at Syracuse in the early ’90s.

(Photo of Jason Candle: Mike Mulholland / Getty Images)

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