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Syracuse’s Coaching Carousel: Lester Saves Wilson, Is McDonald a Coup?

In October, we asked how Syracuse football might tinker with its coaching staff following the season. The Orange was 2-4 at that point, and then went on a run, winning 6 of its final 7 games. A coaching staff that was then under fire subsequently regrouped, and led the team to a 38-14 thrashing of West Virginia in the Pinstripe Bowl.

Soon after, the staff was torn apart by Doug Marrone, who moved on to the NFL to coach the Bills. He took with him Offensive Coordinator Nate Hackett, Running Backs Coach Tyrone Wheatley, Offensive Line Coach and Recruiting Coordinator Greg Adkins, and Defensive Backs Coach Donnie Henderson.

The main dilemma The Fizz raised in October was what to do about the struggling Orange special teams early in the season. After the firing of Bob Casullo, the Orange coached its special teams by committee, until Marrone personally took over as the special teams coach this past season.

But this has evolved far past a special teams issue. New SU Head Coach Scott Shafer has to completely rebuild his staff following the defection of at least five coaches.

  • Defensive Coordinator Chuck Bullough coached in Shafer’s defense at Western Michigan. He’s since been with UCLA and the Cleveland Browns. Most importantly, he matches Shafer’s hard-nosed-ness.
  • Quarterbacks Coach Tim Lester left his head coaching post at a D-III school in Illinois to come to Central New York. He coached the QBs at Western Michigan when Shafer was there. He’s already paying dividends. QB recruit Austin Wilson tweeted, “Feel a lot better now that I finally got to talk with my new QB coach! We’re gonna do big things #believeit #cuse”
  • New Offensive Coordinator George McDonald is an absolute dynamite hire. He’s a considered one of the top recruiters in the nation and should bring the same youthful energy to the offense that Hackett did. McDonald, 36, is another former Western Michigan guy. But more recently, he served as the wide receivers coach at Miami, and has extensive experience recruiting down south, especially in Florida. That’s key as SU moves to the ACC. Shafer was able to pry McDonald away from Arkansas, where he just accepted an offer to become the receivers coach. To grab a hot, up and coming assistant from the SEC could be a huge coup for SU. The Orange needed a dynamic personality on the staff, someone to convince the offensive recruits they’d be in good hands. McDonald may just be that guy. This could be the best news from the carnage of Marrone gutting the staff. Quarterback John O’Korn was waiting to see who the OC hire was before making an official visit to SU. One has to imagine with a hire like this J.O’K will be coming to CNY.

So where do the new hires leave the Orange coaching staff? Let’s break it down. Remember, by rule, NCAA member programs are permitted one head coach, and nine assistants (excluding a strength and conditioning coach). Here is the current SU coaching staff, with the old crew in parentheses, and the new additions italicized.

Head Coach: Scott Shafer (Marrone)

Defensive Coordinator: 1) Chuck Bullough (Shafer)
Defensive Line: 2) Tim Daoust
Linebackers: 3) Steve Morrison
Defensive Backs: __________ (Henderson)
Special Teams: __________ (Marrone)
Offensive Line: 4) George McDonald (Hackett)
Quarterbacks: 5) Tim Lester (Hackett)
Offensive Line: __________ (Adkins)
Running Backs: __________ (Wheatley)
Wide Receivers: 6) Rob Moore
Assistant Head Coach: 7) John Anselmo?

Shafer’s Western Michigan buddies Daoust and Morrison are expected to stay aboard. Reports have indicated Moore will remain the wide receivers coach. No one really knows what Anselmo will do. He’s not attached to Marrone like Henderson or Adkins, but isn’t necessarily attached to Syracuse like Moore.

But then again, if not SU, where would Anselmo go? There are some who think he’s headed to Buffalo with Marrone. The Fizz established in October that Anselmo recruits the New York City area well, but may not be thought of very highly as an Xs and Os coach or a teacher around the nation. How many D-I schools are pining for a guy who recruits the Big Apple, but doesn’t provide much value otherwise? Does Anselmo want to stay, and would Shafer want to keep him? The answer to both of those questions could be yes, but we don’t yet know for sure.

If Anselmo stays, he could potentially assist on special teams and with the defensive backs, two areas he’s aided in the past. He’d likely have to be assigned to one of those areas if he remained on staff, because in that scenario Shafer could only hire two additional assistants.

Ideally, Shafer will hire both an offensive line coach and a running backs coach. There’s already a ton of continuity on defense, with Shafer returning, armed with more of his crew from Western Michigan. Another defensive assistant may not be necessary.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the top four offensive coaches from last year’s squad are gone, in Marrone, Hackett, Adkins, and Wheatley. Shafer will be a defensive-minded head coach, so it would make sense for him to go heavier with offensive assistants to help out his young offensive coordinator.

As for Shafer philosophy on a special teams coach:

“I’ve been around staffs where we divvied up the special teams and won a championship. I’ve been around other staffs where one guy did it and we had success. And I’ve been on a lot of staffs where it was kind of somewhere between those two extremes. We’ll figure out what fits best.”

If Anselmo leaves, perhaps Shafer can hire a full-time special teams coach. If Anselmo stays, the NCAA-mandated numbers game would probably force SU to split its special teams coaching duties between multiple coaches.

But if there’s one thing we’ve learned in recent weeks, all this could change in an instant.

Posted: Andrew Kanell

The Fizz is owned, edited and operated by Damon Amendolara. D.A. is an ’01 Syracuse graduate from the Newhouse School with a degree in Broadcast Journalism.

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