A Cold Winter Looming in Syracuse
Athletic Director Darryl Gross has finally made the announcement that everyone was expecting, and possibly even hoping for. Head coach Greg Robinson has been relieved of his duties, effective at the conclusion of this, his fourth season at the helm. In Gross' words, he "made the decision to move our football program in a new direction." It's really irrelevant, but the announcement comes following the Saturday loss to Connecticut on Senior Day, the last home game of the season. It's irrelevant because there was nothing noteworthy about that game in particular; it was just another poor performance in a long line of poor performances for this team. That latest loss puts Robinson's record at a laughable 9-36 in his three-plus years with the Orange, which actually sounds respectable when you consider the 3-24 record he has tallied in the Big East. I shudder when I see that he was also responsible for the only two 10-loss seasons in Syracuse history. That's since 1889, boys and girls.
To be fair to G-Rob, the collapse of the football program over the past decade is about 10% his fault. The lion's share of the blame has to go to former coach Paul Pasqualoni, who ran the once-proud program into the ground prior to his departure. At least A.D. Gross isn't making the same mistakes as his predecessor. The A.D. spot was long-held by the old codger, Jake Crouthamel, and it was his decision to leave Pasqualoni in power until 2005 -- about five years too long in the minds of the Orange nation. Let's go back there for a second, because the story of Coach P. is where this whole novel begins. When Pasqualoni first took office in 1991, he initially found good success, piggybacking on the respect and recruiting expertise of the legendary Dick MacPherson, whom he replaced. But once that recruiting cow had given all her milk, Pasqualoni had nothing left to fall back on, and we all watched as he spiraled our beloved team into misery. He was in tight with Crouthamel though, and even the outcry of fury from the fans wasn't enough to get Pasqualoni a pink slip until 2005, when Gross took over.
Enter Greg Robinson five years too late, and he inherited a coaching situation that was impossible to overcome. In the physical universe we occupy, there is no human being who could have come into the Dome and turned things around in five years post-Pasqualoni. And Robinson gave a hell of an effort. There were times -- rare times, but times -- when Syracuse has actually looked like a Division I football team this year. Try as they might though, they just have yet to escape the clutches of Pasqualoni Syndrome.
"We've been very fair to coach Robinson," Gross said. "Everyone wanted the guy's head last year. I said I didn't want Syracuse to become one of those three-years-and-out schools. I said, 'Let's calm down and we'll get the first pick of the draft (of coaching candidates) next year.' That's where we are."
When asked his thoughts on the comments, Robinson didn't mince words: "Quite frankly, there hasn't been the progress there needs to be."
The recent downturn in success has had a big impact on the University and the community as a whole. In his first 21 home games at the Dome, the building averaged more than 10,000 empty seats per game. In 2006, the football team lost money for the first time since 1995. Average attendance the following year fell to a 21-year low, punctuated by a measly crowd of less than 28,000 that turned up for the September 2007 contest with Pittsburgh -- the smallest Carrier Dome crowd since I was two years old.
Now more than ever, the Syracuse football program finds itself at a crossroads. When Robinson came in, he brought with him an offensive scheme that was unfamiliar to the players and fans. For as long as I can remember, the 'Cuse has run an option offense, anchored by mobile quarterbacks (Marvin Graves, Donovan McNabb), and strong-blocking, soft-handed fullbacks (Daryl Johnston, Rob Konrad). Robinson erased that scheme and installed a spread, west-coast style of offense. He recruited pocket passers and nifty running backs, and he looked to create a wide-open, quick striking attack. It was a noble idea that may have worked better if not for the state of the union when he took over.
Now it's back to the drawing board though, as the search is on for a candidate whose offensive scheme will mesh with both the traditions and the present state of Syracuse football. The three names that seem to be atop the list are Connecticut's Randy Edsall, East Carolina's Skip Holtz, and former Oakland Raiders top guy Lane Kiffen. Of those, Edsall seems to make the most sense. He is a graduate of Syracuse, where he played quarterback back in the glory days of the Orangemen. After he graduated, he was a long-time assistant coach under Dick MacPherson and Frank Maloney before him. Edsall says he is "very interested" in the opportunity to coach his alma mater, and my money says that he will be the next Syracuse football head coach. We can only hope that the next guy, whoever he is, understands the proud traditions of Orange football, and will find some success in restoring greatness to our once-lofty program.
There is a fantastic summation of Robinson's career in audio slideshow form here. And you can see his poorly-filmed press conference below, if you're still interested:
|SU head football coach Greg Robinson dismissal press conference|