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The Names: Who’s on Syracuse’s Wish List for the Head Coaching Vacancy?

What’s the candidate list Darryl Gross will be calling for the head coaching vacancy? You snooze, you lose in coaching searches. Now that Syracuse has lost Doug Marrone to the NFL, Gross has serious work to do. Steve Addazio might’ve been the frontrunner fromTemple entering the season, but he moved in the first wave of movement following the college season, so he and some other ascending head coaches aren’t available.

Many, like The Fizz, have talked about immediately promoting Scott Shafer, but there’s other options for SU as well. While  Shafer will be under consideration, exploring all of those options quickly and efficiently is the right move. Here are some of the other names on Gross’ to-do list.

  • Scott Shafer, Syracuse Defensive Coordinator

Resume: 20+ years of coaching, DC at Western Michigan, Stanford, Michigan and Syracuse. Was DC and Asst. Head Coach for 2007 Stanford team that upset #1 USC.

Pros: Shafer is the logical choice if the goal is continuity and keeping recruits, which might have already hurt SU. Shafer’s defensive mind is outstanding and if recruiting continues continues growing, that side of the ball will only get better. He played quarterback so he understands the offensive side too, although he’s never coached it.

Cons: He’s never been a head coach and doesn’t have the brand power even Marrone brought to SU. Marrone had been in the NFL while Shafer’s spent his whole career in college. The thought that hiring Shafer guarantees continued success is silly. Marrone’s personality had a lot to do with SU’s growth. If none of the outside candidates blow Gross away, Shafer is the safest pick.

  • Nathaniel Hackett, Syracuse Offensive Coordinator

Resume: Entering 10th Year as coach, NFL experience as quality control coach, OC since 2011.

Pros: Continuity and creativity are on Hackett’s side. He’s produced some very good individual talent on the college level and helped develop Ryan Nassib into a coveted NFL commodity. He also coached Nick Provo into one of the most productive tight ends in program history. Zach Allen has also spoken highly of him.

Cons: He’s very young, and has a less than stellar overall track record the past few seasons. The offense this year developed into a strength, but it was an inconsistent unit for the last few seasons. Hackett played a key role in designing and implementing these game plans, and SU finished hot once they got the hang of the offense. Shafer is the much stronger candidate.

  • Jim Tressel, Former Ohio State Head Coach

Resume: 35+ years of coaching, SU QB Coach 1981-82, 24 years of HC exerience (Ohio State, Youngstown State), 2002 National Champion (OSU), 4x NCAA 1-AA National Champion

Pros: Jim Tressel has proven he can win, and has more success than anyone else SU will look at. He boasts five national championships, and the sweater vest dominated the Big 10, winning 6 league titles in 9 years. He has the name value that would make a splash and a recruiting track record as well bringing in players from James Laurinaitis to Terrelle Pryor to Ted Ginn Jr. He also was an assistant for two years on the Hill.

Cons: They are long and complicated. First is the show-cause penalty he’d have to serve stemming from the incidents at Ohio State. Although it’s only a 5-game suspension, do you really want that going into a new conference? Tressel would also obliterate the idea of continuity. Would any of the players brought in by Marrone matter to Tressel? Would the repairing of horribly broken relationships with high school coaches in New York be undone? Would Tressel want to keep a guy like Shafer, or bring in his own staff?

There’s also no way Tressel will be invested for the long run. If Syracuse wasn’t truly a destination job for Marrone, than Tressel would likely use it to step back into the B1G or another power job. Someone will want him if he wins and keeps the program clean.

  • Bob Diaco, Notre Dame Defensive Coordinator

Resume: 15+ years of coaching, DC since ‘09 (Cincinnati, Notre Dame), 2012 Broyles Award (Top Assistant in Country)

Pros: Diaco is young and talented, and has coached both sides of the ball. He’s one of the brightest minds in college football and has worked under one of its best head coaches in Brian Kelly. It’s often said that former special teams coaches make great head coaches, but Diaco has done that as well. His Irish defense has been sensational and he’d be able to keep a lot of SU’s defensive recruits on board. He might even bring in some of the elite defensive talent SU has been losing to schools like ND.

Cons: Diaco’s never been a head coach. He’s also relatively young at only 39. Like Tressel, he’s also a risk to leave if successful since he’s a hot commodity. Could jump back to B1G where he played at Iowa.

  • Dan Mullen – Mississippi State Head Coach

Resume: 15+ years of coaching experience, HC since 2009 (Mississippi State), 29-22 Overall record, 2-1 Bowl Record, Grad Assistant at SU in 1998

Pros: Mullen’s name appeared on a list from CBS Sports which was surprising. Here’s the breakdown:

“While recent memory might have painted Mullen as an SEC man through and through, the Bulldogs coach is a Pennsylvania native with northeastern roots. Mullen, along with Greg Roman (listed below), are sharp, offensive guys who could be intriguing options for Syracuse. Mullen has led Mississippi State to 24 wins and three bowl appearances in the last three seasons but has yet to record a winning record in SEC play.”

Why would a coach leave the SEC for an unproven commodity in the ACC? Perhaps Mullen has had a reality check there’s no beating Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M in his own division. Syracuse is a chance to build something in a winnable conference and perhaps that intrigues Mullen. Or maybe he just really developed a passion for the Varsity when he was a GA at SU.

Mullen’s track record of developing talent is solid. Tim Tebow may be the greatest college player ever and Mullen was his OC at Florida. Mullen is also responsible as the QB coach for Alex Smith’s run to the #1 pick from Utah.

Cons: If successful, he’d likely jump ship maybe back to the SEC or another bigger program. Although if he’s willing to leave the SEC now, maybe he’d be happy at SU.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Greg Roman – 49ers Offensive Coordinator: CBS Sports writes “Roman’s name has been floated for several NFL and college coaching positions. The Ventnor, N.J., native might welcome the opportunity to return to the East Coast after four years on Jim Harbaugh’s staff – two at Stanford, the last two in San Francisco. His prior experience is mostly in the NFL, with the Carolina Panthers, Houston Texans and Baltimore Ravens. Though he has never been a head coach, his credentials are similar to Marrone’s when he accepted the job before the 2009 season.”
  • David Walker – Indianapolis Colts RB Coach, SU Alum: CBS Sports says “Walker served as the running backs coach at Syracuse from 1995-2004, coaching six running backs who went on to play in the NFL. He then joined Dave Wannstedt’s staff at Pittsburgh and has been the running backs coach for the Indianapolis Colts for the last two seasons. As a former Syracuse team captain, Walker would not need much time to win over the Orange fans. Walker ran for 2,643 yards in his career, leading the 1992 team to a 10-2 record with a Fiesta Bowl victory. Walker is a Rochester, N.Y., native and has been inducted into the Section V Hall of Fame for the New York State Public High School Athletic Association.”

Keep an eye on Walker, especially now that the Colts season is over. Outside of Shafer/Hackett, this seems like the most likely guy on this list to stay at SU for awhile because he’s an alum. He’s an RB coach, not a coordinator so it’s a leap. But for an alum who might stay a while, Gross may think it’s worth it.

Clearly Gross has options, but he’s often going to run into a recurring problem.  Now that SU is good, he might have to do this search every couple of years. Until SU proves it can be successful in the ACC, a stepping stone for ambitious and driven coaches might be the best we can ask for.

Posted: Craig Hoffman

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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