Syracuse begins the process of moving into the post-Doug Marrone Era as the Buffalo News reports he has been hired as the next Bills head coach. It’s surprising Buffalo hired Marrone when it had a slew of higher profile names available such as Lovie Smith, Ken Whisenhunt and Chip Kelly. The Bills also had Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton and Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy to choose from.
Will Marrone make a good NFL coach? Hard to say. He stands for thoroughness, discipline and doing things the right way. His blunt honesty is a rare commodity in a sports arena filled with buzz words and public relation campaigns. He has the ability to connect with each person, and embodies the persistence needed to believe when things are dark.
There’s plenty of that which fits the mold of what the Bills are looking for. He also has experience at the NFL level, and successful coaches in the pros (Sean Payton, Bill Parcells) whom he can lean on for advice. Marrone’s internal fortitude and belief in himself also makes it risky to doubt any endeavor he puts his mind to.
But from a Syracuse perspective, Marrone at this point feels best suited to be a college coach, and a very good one. Syracuse’s recruiting surged, building every year, since he took over. Spend 15 minutes talking with him, or listening to him speak, and he drips trustworthiness. You’d feel comfortable sending your player to him as a high school coach. You’d also feel secure giving him your son as a parent. You’d feel comfortable allowing him to make (most) decisions within a program as an athletic director or a fan. He seems to have a plan, and executes it.
Maybe his passion and personal history with SU made him a special, unique fit on the Hill. Had he moved on to Tennessee or Arizona or Texas Tech it’s possible he wouldn’t have been nearly the success. He had a genuine connection and love affair with Syracuse, New York City, and the type of kids that came out of there. If he walks into a living room in Wichita or a high school in Houston, is he able to convey that same emotion?
What does Syracuse do now? Promote Scott Shafer. There’s little doubt Laray Smith suddenly delayed his decision because of Marrone’s impending departure. I still believe Ebenezer Ogundeko was heading to Clemson even had the head coaching spot remained consistent at SU. But Smith represents the next issue with SU football. How to keep its commits through National Signing Day in a little less than a month, and not lose ground in its recruiting areas from the last four years. Shafer would help do that.
For every defensive commit, like CB Darius Kelly, DT Isaiah Johnson, and DT Wayne Williams, a continuity with Shafer will allow them the confidence the scheme and feel won’t change. He helped lead a defense that progressively got better this season, and concocted a way to shut down Geno Smith three straight years. He was the assistant head coach at Stanford, and Jim Harbaugh raved about him. He’s young enough (46) to still capture Marrone’s youthful energy. Assistants Tyrone “The Closer” Wheatley, and John Anselmo must stay on staff as well. They’ve done most of the heavy lifting in recruiting during SU’s ascension. They’re much more likely to do so when promoting from within, instead of hiring an outside name.
Orange Nation also knows you need to understand the unique Syracuse dynamic to succeed. Groobers had zero chance of winning, not only because he’s a terrible coach in every regard (just ask Chiefs and Wolverines fans), but because he was an outsider without instincts to bridge the gap. It’s a private school with a fan base that has the expectations of a public one. The basketball program has the glistening Melo Center, a legendary coach and plenty of national love. The football program needs to update its facilities. It’s a region of the country that’s difficult to recruit football talent from. You need to stay creative (mining the fields of New York City) and building pipelines to new areas (like the southern states), while working your ass off to keep the few elite in-state players home. You also have to pump optimism into a fan base that is used to coming up short, and starting over too much.
Marrone leaving for the Bills hurts. The entire program was starting to hum, cruising into the ACC with recruiting momentum and on the field success. But there are examples of successors that took programs higher than the original coach ever did. Just look at the hottest college coaching name in the nation: Chip Kelly went to two Rose Bowls, a Fiesta Bowl and the BCS Title Game in four years at Oregon. Mike Bellotti was there for three times as long and never took his team to Pasadena.
This is SU’s deal with the devil, however. Marrone getting an NFL job means he succeeded on the Hill. Syracuse must act swiftly. Last year we thought Rutgers recruiting class would fall apart in the wake of Crazy Eyes Schiano leaving. But they hired Kyle Flood immediately and limited the collateral damage. RU was also on the cusp of a BCS game with their first year coach. Now the pressure is on Daryl Gross to prove his worth as an AD. The state of a program depends on it.