Always a perilous endeavor to try and climb inside someone’s head and guess what they’re thinking. But much speculation has surrounded my sit-down with Doug Marrone at Big East Media Day yesterday. (Listen to the interview here) These feel-good events are usually wrapped in optimism and silver linings. Marrone was decidedly un-silver lining-ish. It was striking.
“I’m not happy.”
But Doug, everyone’s happy on Media Day! After noting how concerned he seemed about the upcoming season, I asked him what the bright spot was in ’12. He paused – thought about it – then finally cobbled together something about working harder. I asked him how much a move to the ACC helps with recruits. He downplayed it, saying parents just want to be able to go see their son play in person. This is clearly not a man jumping to put lipstick on a porcine collapse to last season.
“I haven’t won enough.”
Why? My estimation, the five-game losing streak still stings and embarrasses him. If he laid out his season-by-season goals when taking over the program 3+ years ago, my guess is being picked near last in the Big East was not an option in Year 4. It’s hard for me to believe he’s just bunkering down against the media, waging some type of snippy protest against critics of his team. While he did close off the the press and fans from spring practice, he has to realize the Syracuse football spotlight is relatively soft. It’s more of a warming glow. This is not exactly the blood-thirsty cauldron of the SEC or B1G.
Even after a non-bowl season, most fans believe the program is on the upswing, nobody would argue it’s far healthier than when he took over, and recruiting success is undoubtedly evident. There’s no columnist or sports talker calling for his job. You deliver Pinstripe Bowls and recruit well, you’ll be okay. That’s where our bar is.
I believe he’s sending a message about how critical a season this is for his team (and his own stability). With a daunting non-conference schedule, a 3-9 or 4-8 record would be devastating heading into the ACC. What happens if the first season in a new conference, taking on Clemson, Florida State, and Virginia Tech, renders the Orange again a four-win team? Then you’re talking about three straight non-bowl seasons – and I’m not sure Marrone would survive that.
“I did a poor job.”
I don’t think this is media jihad from Doug. He’s just setting the tone that being satisfied with meager success is a fool’s game. He fears complacency on the team. He wants the team to inherit an edge, an us against the world mentality. He doesn’t want the press and fans giving the players any leash, because he knows it can turn on a dime. We’re a fickle bunch. A terrible autumn, and we won’t be so forgiving next Media Day.
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Ask any psychology major at SU, and they’ll tell you the first step in solving a problem is admitting you have one. Doug Marrone is far beyond the point of recognizing the general ‘problem’ for Syracuse football last year, and he’s eager to turn things around. When D.A. sat down with Marrone yesterday, anyone could tell he was in less than a chipper mood. At first, this surprised me, because Marrone has always been a pretty laid-back guy in the press room. Considering what he feels he’s up against this year, it’s now obvious why any coach concerned with winning games would feel a serious chip on their shoulder.
“We lost at the end of last year, it was disappointing, and I did a poor job. I did a poor job. When we say we have to do better, that we have to win games, it starts with me. I’ve got to do a better job of coaching with the other coaches, and I have to do a better job with this team. I have to get the coaches better, and we will get the players better.”
Talk about personal responsibility. Marrone’s attitude is a statement about his character. He’s one of the guys who cannot stand losing. The type that gets sick when they can’t achieve greatness. Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Vince Lombardi were all that way. It isn’t about street cred or swagger, flashy uniforms or sick entrance songs: it was always about setting the bar higher than anyone else in the field of competition. That’s how a program earns its clout. The other stuff comes along as privileges of being the best.
Marrone’s irritated answers yesterday mean he’s hungry for his team to make waves in the standings. As a fan, how can you not be thrilled at that? During the interview, Marrone viciously shot down the first suggestion of complacency. Asked if he’s happy with his job as head coach so far, this was his response.
“I’m tired of looking back. I want to win football games, and in my opinion, I haven’t won enough. I’m not happy with that. For me to sit here and say I’m happy, no. I’m not.”
To the rest of the world, SU football facing a daunting schedule that could leave them near the bottom of a bad Big East. The media had its say when it ranked the Orange seventh in the preseason poll. Marrone is past the point of polls, rankings, or predictions. Things don’t appear bright to the outside world for SU football. Marrone’s response? Batton down the hatches, it’s time for battle. The Dougie is pissed off and ready to rumble – Northwestern, watch out. And as fans, Orange Nation should be stepping up next to him on the front line, preparing with him.
Posted: Jake Moskowitz