After yesterday’s Big East Media Day, I’ve now had the chance to sit down and speak with Doug Marrone three or four times since he took over the program. It’s always an interesting feeling as an alum when I walk away.
“Damn, that guy GETS it.”
Maybe it’s because every morning for four dreadful, tedious, killing-me-softly years the coach empowered with guiding my college football team DIDN’T get it. In fact, Groobers was such an unmitigated disaster, I often felt trapped in some perverse alter-Hell where as Syracuse fans we were meant to repent for past sins for eternity (although what good luck could we have to apologize for?).
- Listen to FizzCast I: Doug Marrone & the SU Players
- Listen to FizzCast II: ESPN’s Joe Shad & Big East Preview
So in comparison, The Dougie seems like the shrewdest trader on the market, the savviest CEO in the industry. But not only because comparatively speaking Snooki looks like a Nobel Laureate next to Groobers. For one simple reason – it’s all sincere with Marrone. College football is filled with hucksters (Brian Kelly), carnival barkers (Skip Holtz) and car salesman (Lane Kiffin). Coaches held up as paragons of virtue say they’re walking away to spend time with their family and end up 48 hours later sitting on an ESPN set two time zones away from their wife and kids in Tucson (Urban Meyer).
- Read The Fizz’s Coverage from Big East Media Day
In a college athletics world where the job you have is only the platform to get the job you actually want, Marrone appears to be at the place he’s legitimately always craved. If Tennessee or Oklahoma or Penn State called him tomorrow, I can’t say he wouldn’t leave. But his effort, energy and passion for Syracuse right now is honest and directed in a productive way. His care for how his alma mater is received and perceived is real.
And that’s where I connect most with The Dougie. I don’t just want the Orange to win so that I can cheer more on Saturdays or buy a Fiesta Bowl t-shirt one day. I care about the place where I spent my college years not being a laughingstock. I care that fans and media nod their caps toward CNY. I care that the kids who walk on campus are good kids who also happen to be pretty good at football too.
I spoke with Marrone about taking pieces from Coach Mac’s philosophies, keeping his kids out of trouble, the stress of dealing with the Ashton Broyld situation publicly. He admitted SU’s recruiting base was “broken down pretty good” when he took over (which could also describe Orange Nation’s spirit at the time). You could see the struggle of the Gulley/Sales dramas pulling at him behind the scenes as he put on a brave face in front of microphones and notepads. He obviously takes pride in the Pinstripe Bowl win, but not nearly as much enjoyment as we do. His work is far from done and he knows it.
Whenever I speak with Doug Marrone, I never feel like he’s selling me anything – which is how I feel when I talk with almost any other college head coach. For Marrone, it’s what he believes, what he knows, what he cares about. Look, big picture is he’s still got a sub-.500 record as a head coach and the Orange played in a bowl game inside a baseball stadium. There’s no guarantees this will all work out with Syracuse holding its head high in football again.
But the effort is sincere and with a plan. Team Fizz sat and ate lunch with the SU players that were at Big East Media Day (Jones, Marinovich, Bailey, Nassib). Just us and them. While they were texting and joking like any college kids (poking fun mercilessly at Mikhail’s mustache), they were also bright and talkative and there was a spirit back in SU football. Marrone has hooked the Orange back up on the IV and juice is flowing through the program now. No guarantees. Except that Syracuse finally has the right man in charge of getting it there.