Syracuse needs a new head coach. Dino Babers was fired on Sunday after a loss to Georgia Tech dropped the Orange to 5-6.
Babers went 41-55 in eight seasons. The high point was a 10-3 record and top-15 finish in 2018. But the Orange made just one bowl game in the other seven years. The past several seasons have been defined by hot starts and disastrous finishes.
The 2021 team started 3-1 but finished 5-7. The 2022 team started 6-0 but finished 7-6. The 2023 team started 4-0 but sits at 5-6.
This has proven to be a difficult job, and Syracuse has trailed behind its peers in investment. Can it turn things around? The next coach will have a lot of work to do.
So how good is the Syracuse job? Which names could get in the mix? Here are some factors to keep in mind.
What is realistically possible here?
Syracuse has played in two bowl games over the last decade. It has one 10-win season since 2002. The Orange were once a great program in the 1980s and 1990s, at the forefront of offensive football in many ways. But that was a long time ago. It has been unable to reclaim the glory.
“Syracuse is never gonna out-resource people,” former Syracuse graduate assistant and current Bowl Season executive director Nick Carparelli told The Athletic earlier this year. “They didn’t back then and they don’t now, and I don’t see that happening the future, but that’s OK. You can still be successful there, and I saw it happen firsthand.”
Is this a team that should regularly reach bowl games? That seems realistic. But competing for ACC championships has eluded this program ever since it joined the league in 2013. Syracuse is going to need a coach who can do more with less.
The program is behind in NIL and other financials
It’s very well-known how far back the Orange are in the name, image and likeness battle. High-profile donor Adam Weitsman said in April that he was done providing NIL deals for athletes because the school didn’t like the high-profile nature of what he was doing, including bringing celebrities to games.
In September, the school rolled out a new collective called Orange United. Athletic director John Wildhack said he felt Syracuse was on par with about 80 percent of its peers. But Babers in October was open and honest with Syracuse’s depth issues after losing players to the transfer portal while seeing Florida State rebuild itself in part thanks to the portal.
“It’s the same old thing, depth is gone,” Babers told reporters. “Our depth is in the transfer portal. You know how many guys we lost. You know what schools they play at. Schools like us, we’re not gonna have a lot of depth because it gets bought away.”
The facilities are improving
The football team famously shares the JMA Wireless Dome with the basketball team, but it does have an indoor practice facility, and the school in May announced plans for a new football operations center to replace the current Iocolano-Petty Football Wing.
The future is now.
Following approval from the Syracuse University Board of Trustees, construction will commence on our new home.
📰 – https://t.co/9fiBKTbPan pic.twitter.com/zEJjTpM8cq
— Syracuse Football (@CuseFootball) May 22, 2023
Where does Syracuse rank among open jobs?
The quality of a candidate pool often comes down what else is open. Right now, most of the open jobs are down south and out west. There may be no other ACC firings, but what happens if Duke opens? Michigan State is open. Indiana could open.
It’s debatable how good of a job Syracuse is competed to San Diego State and Boise State, two of the top Group of 5 programs but jobs that likely cannot pay as much.
Among the Power 5 jobs that open, this one will be low on the hierarchy.
So what names could get in the mix?
Based on conversations with industry sources, here are some names to keep in mind.
Colorado offensive coordinator Sean Lewis was on Babers’ first two Syracuse staffs before taking the Kent State job. He may be looking for a new job after losing play-calling duties, despite the Buffs scoring more than 30 points per game. Before Colorado, Lewis had a pretty good run at Kent State. While he was 24-31 overall, that included annual nonconference schedules full of Power 5 opponents. He went 18-10 in MAC play in his last four years, won a division title and took Kent State to two bowls and three consecutive non-losing seasons for the first time since 1972-74. That’s winning at a place behind in resources.
Florida State offensive coordinator Alex Atkins continues to rise and has played an integral role in FSU’s turnaround and 11-0 start this season. Atkins inherited one of the worst offensive lines in the Power 5 at FSU and turned it into a very good group, and he added coordinator duties in 2022. Before FSU, he was Charlotte’s offensive coordinator in 2019, the only bowl season in program history.
Toledo head coach Jason Candle has the Rockets 10-1 this season and 19-6 over the last two seasons as he aims for a second consecutive MAC title and New Year’s Six bowl contention. The 44-year-old has spent his entire career in Ohio at Toledo and Mount Union and is believed to be a candidate at Michigan State. After the Babers experience, does Syracuse want to go away from MAC coaches this time around?
Holy Cross head coach Bob Chesney continues to win in the Northeast, with five consecutive Patriot League championships and a 19-8 record over the last three seasons. That included a win over FBS Buffalo in 2022 and a close call against Boston College this year.
Miami (Ohio) head coach Chuck Martin has the RedHawks 9-2 this season and will play for his second MAC championship. Martin has a sub-.500 record over 10 seasons, but that’s largely because of the nonconference schedule; he is 43-31 in MAC play. He previously spent four years as a Notre Dame assistant and went 74-7 as Division II Grand Valley State head coach from 2004 to ’09, winning two national titles.
Western Kentucky head coach Tyson Helton has won nine games three times in five years at WKU, frequently replacing assistant coaches hired to other jobs. This season’s 6-5 record is below expectations, but only because he set them high again. It will still be his fifth consecutive bowl game.
New Mexico State head coach Jerry Kill is the turnaround magician, doing it once again at one of the least-resourced programs in the FBS. The Aggies are 9-3 this year and just beat Auburn 31-10. It’s the second-most wins in program history, and Kill will take NMSU to consecutive bowls for the first time since 1959-60. Kill previously turned around Minnesota, Northern Illinois and Southern Illinois. But Kill is 62 years old and still dealing with some health issues that have caused him to periodically step away this year.
Notre Dame defensive coordinator Al Golden is a New Jersey native who took Temple two seasons of eight-plus wins in the late 2000s after decades of losing. He’s a nominee this year for the Broyles Award, given to the nation’s top assistant coach, and the Irish defense ranks fifth nationally in yards per play allowed. He went 32-25 as Miami (Fla.) head coach before six seasons as an NFL assistant. He has head coaching experience, he won at a place with less and he knows the area.
Army head coach Jeff Monken has been close to Power 5 jobs in the past. He has brought the Black Knights their most success in decades, with five seasons of at least eight wins over the last eight years. That included 10 wins in 2017 and 11 wins in 2018. The program had one winning season in the 17 years before he arrived. Things have dipped a little in the last two years, with an 11-12 record.
Florida State defensive coordinator Adam Fuller played at Sacred Heart in Connecticut and spent one year as the head coach of Assumption in Massachusetts. He has turned FSU’s defense into one of the most talented in the country, helping turn Albany transfer defensive end Jared Verse into a likely first-round pick. FSU has produced six NFL Draft picks since Mike Norvell and Adam Fuller arrived. All six were on defense.
New England Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien has looked to get back into college head coaching jobs. He’s a Northeast guy who did an admirable job taking Penn State to two winning seasons amid the Jerry Sandusky scandal from 2012 to ’13.
Would New Orleans Saints offensive line coach Doug Marrone be interested in a return? The former Syracuse player went 25-25 as Orange head coach from 2009 to ’12, winning a Big East co-championship in his final season before leaving for the Buffalo Bills’ head coaching job. As Jacksonville Jaguars head coach, Marrone took the Jags to the AFC championship game in 2017. He knows Syracuse. But he has only spent one year in college football over the last decade, as Alabama offensive line coach in 2021.
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