Project Orange: Tough Offseason Decisions for Syracuse’s Coaching Staff

Here are the options for SU to solve the major problems with assistants on Marrone’s staff.

This year’s Syracuse football team is painfully flawed. Painfully, because the talent and potential are palpable. The Orange is 2-4, but heck, it could be 4-2 – or even better. SU is legitimately no more than a handful of mistakes away from being a one-loss team.

Yet, in a results-based business, Doug Marrone’s record is much, much, farther away than that. With the season halfway over, an abrupt turnaround is possible, but it’s not soon to start drawing out an off-season plan.

Here’s an interesting question to ponder: Knowing what you know now about the performance of this group of coaches and players, what actions should be taken six games from now if the Orange can’t reverse its fortune?

Head Coach

Let’s work off the assumption that Marrone will remain head coach almost regardless of how the team finishes for three main reasons.
1) He took over a program stripped bare by Greg Robinson, and restored stability.
2) He has done absolutely everything the right way… except win. From attention to detail, recruiting, community outreach, to academics, Marrone has delivered the goods.
3) There is no viable candidate who currently serves as a better option, especially given that the program can hardly afford to start from square one again.

In a vacuum, perhaps Marrone is on the hot seat. But for this program, at this time, he will be kept around, as he should.


Syracuse has outgained its opponent in all but one game this season. Suspensions and attitude problems are virtually non-existent. The recruiting is as good as its been since the Pasqualoni Era. The only things holding the players back are untimely mistakes, namely inopportune turnovers and penalties. It’s impossible to overhaul a college roster quickly, but Syracuse doesn’t need an overhaul. It has the talent in place to be a winning program.

Assistant Coaches

Ahhhh. So the head coach is still the best man for the job, the athletes are high quality, yet the results aren’t there. This team has repeatedly failed to take advantage of its talent.

Therefore, if all else stays roughly the same, then Marrone must shuffle his assistant coaching deck following the season.

Marrone will face a tough decision on whether to keep his Offensive Coordinator. Nothing against Nate Hackett – he’s a well-liked, upbeat personality, and has respect in NFL coaching circles. But he’s extremely inexperienced, just in his second year as a coordinator at any level.

There have been curious decisions all season at key times (some of which may have been made by Marrone), notably in the red zone. The signature of the SU offense over the last couple years has been to gain a ton of empty yards before shooting itself in the foot to end drives.

The offense has gotten steadily worse from game-to-game this year. It tends to have one or two masterpiece performances per season, surrounded a whole lot of dud outings. Such an infuriating mix of talent with inconsistency is easy to trace back to a coordinator.

It’s impossible to determine how much Hackett is to blame. And the offense is on pace to gain 1,000 yards more than it racked up either of the past two seasons. But the inconsistency and the mistakes are getting out of hand.

Marrone is acting as his own special teams coach, and the special teams have been just as maddening. Syracuse giftwrapped Northwestern a victory through special teams mishaps. The blocked field goal returned for a touchdown by Rutgers was a ten-point swing in a contest decided by eight points. That’s 4-2 instead of 2-4 right there. Never mind the special teams blunders that set the Orange back against USC. There’s no question Marrone must hire a special teams coach following the season. The unit has been an utter disaster this year.

The Dilemma

Amending the coaching staff is the most reasonable offseason fix. But the problem is, Marrone’s options are more limited than many people are aware of.

NCAA rules permit one head coach, and nine assistants in a program (excluding a strength and conditioning coach).

Assuming that a team doubles up with its Tight Ends Coach and Quarterbacks Coach (as Syracuse is doing now with Hackett), nine assistants gives a program room for the standard one assistant per unit, in addition to two coordinators, and special teams coach.

Here’s how Marrone dishes out responsibility:
– Offensive Coordinator (plus TEs and QBs): Nate Hackett
– Running Backs: Tyrone Wheatley
– Wide Receivers: Rob Moore
– Offensive Line (and Recruiting Coordinator): Greg Adkins
– Defensive Coordinator: Scott Shafer
– Defensive Backs: Donnie Henderson
– Linebackers: Steve Morrison, John Anselmo
– Defensive Line: Tim Daoust
– Special Teams: Doug Marrone

The bolded text is the root of the problem. Truth be told, Anselmo isn’t the Linebackers Coach. He’s here to recruit New York, and he does a superb job. Back in ’09 and ’10, Anselmo was utilized as a recruiter, but was also the Secondary Coach. But Marrone realized that for all the good Anselmo does as a recruiter, he can’t coach a position group on his own. Otherwise, SU wouldn’t have to employ an extra defensive coach.

That extra defensive coach creates the conundrum. Syracuse needs to hire a special teams coach, yet it has no room for one.

Possible Ways to Make Room

Fire Anselmo
Unlikely, Anselmo is too valuable as a recruiter.

Fire Greg Adkins, make Marrone the Offensive Line Coach
With Marrone’s extensive O-Line background, this makes sense, except Adkins is by all accounts a quality coach, and his southern recruiting connections are way too important to lose with SU moving to the ACC.

Fire Hackett, make Marrone the Offensive Coordinator
Possible, but Marrone already tried calling his own plays once. Even though the Orange won the Pinstripe Bowl that year, the offensive was inconsistent, and Marrone relinquished the play-calling duties after the season. Running the offense might undermine his ability to oversee the entire program.

Fire Donnie Henderson, make Anselmo Defensive Backs Coach
The defensive backs were atrocious back when Anselmo coached them. Part of that could be a talent thing, but here’s doubting Marrone puts Anselmo back where he struggled in the past.

Have one of the current position coaches double up as a special teams coach
It frees Marrone up, but are any of the current assistants qualified to coach the special teams? And could they do so without compromising the quality of their own unit?

The wildcard option: Fire Marrone, make Scott Shafer the Head Coach
Obviously, Doc Gross would never fire a head coach to make room for a special teams coach. But if you like the general direction of the program, want the improved recruiting to continue, and think all that’s missing is game day execution, perhaps Shafer is the perfect man for the job. It’s a highly unlikely scenario, but he’s proven he can deliver the goods on game day. Marrone is an offensive coach, yet the Shafer-led defense has been the most consistent element of the program during Marrone’s tenure. Staying in house would allow the program to retain most of its assistants, avoid losing a large number of transfers, and maintain recruiting momentum.

The point is, Syracuse needs to fix up its coaching staff, but there are no obvious solutions. A new special teams coach is needed, and a new offensive coordinator might benefit the program.

Pulling the trigger on Hackett and creating room to fill the special teams vacancy could both prove difficult.

Posted: Andrew Kanell

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