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Is it Time for Syracuse to Move On from John Desko?

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Syracuse Lacrosse disappointed. There’s a laundry list of reasons why. However, just like with every college sport, the buck has to stop with the head coach. In his 23rd season as the leader of SU, John Desko failed to take one of the most talented teams in Orange history past the first round of the NCAA Tournament, making it the fourth season in a row Syracuse has bowed out in the first round of bracket play.

SU had a ton of talent on offense this season. Offensive Coordinator Pat Marsh had a fantastic debut season in 2020, and only lost second-line midfielder David Lipka to Notre Dame. Sixth-year attacker Stephen Rehfuss was joined by top-two recruit Owen Hiltz and the wearer of 22, Chase Scanlan (we’ll get to him later). All three first-line midfielders, Jamie Trimboli, Brendan Curry and Tucker Dordevic, were on the Tewaaraton Watch List heading into the start of the year. The second-line remained strong with returners Lucas Quinn and Jacob Buttermore and the additions of Owen Seebold and Griffin Cook.

Unfortunately, the offense went cold when SU needed it the most. As the season progressed, when the going got tough, the offense was stagnant. There were too many times when Rehfuss or Dordevic or Trimboli tried to play one-on-one lacrosse instead of moving the ball around. There wasn’t enough cutting off-ball. Most importantly, Syracuse didn’t have an offensive identity. Some games, the Orange tried to run everything from behind the cage. Other times, the offense started from the point (about 25 yards from the goal) and isolation play ensued. Whatever Marsh and Desko were running last season certainly worked, but adjustments either weren’t made or they just weren’t well executed. Defenses, on the other hand, scoured film and scouted the Orange, and locked them down.

The attack and midfield got out of sync without possession, but part of the blame can be placed on Syracuse’s faceoff men. The Orange lost the battle at the “X” in four of six conference games. Jakob Phaup and Danny Varello had no answers for the other ACC FOGOs, and there’s not much a coach can really do to solve that.

As a result, the defense got peppered. Constantly. Breakdown after breakdown, penalty after penalty, missed slide after missed slide. Defensive Coordinator Lelan Rogers’s group struggled terribly in 2021, so badly that there isn’t just one thing to point out. The unit looked far too passive as a whole, and when forced to assert themselves, they forgot principles. SU’s defense was the most penalized in the ACC, spending almost double the amount of time its opponents did in the box. With a group that started a junior and two fifth-year seniors at close defense, it doesn’t make any sense. Was it the loss of number one cover man Nick Mellen to the pros that shook the defense? Were they just not talented enough? Or is Rogers out of touch? There’s no definite answer. Yes, ACC offenses were the most talented they’ve ever been in 2021, but SU could barely stop Robert Morris and Vermont. Woof.

Overall, in terms of on-the-field results, there’s a common thread here. Both sides of the ball (and the faceoff “X”) were underprepared schematically. That falls squarely on Desko’s shoulders. It’s not something anyone expected in his 23rd year, but with the off-the-field distractions, the head man dealt with a ton this season.

Coach Desko was put under a microscope because of Chase Scanlan. Scanlan’s suspension, reinstatement, and then arrest were part of a wild two weeks for SU, while Desko faced question after question from reporters he could not answer. ESPN’s Anish Shroff explained the reinstatement:

Desko was forced to put Scanlan back on the team by the University and federal bylaws. There were rumors the Scanlan family would’ve sued if Chase had been immediately dismissed. SU’s head coach faced unfair criticism for a situation that was way out of his control. The way his team responded, however, showed Syracuse has a quality group of young men representing the school, even though their on-field results weren’t promising.

To answer the overarching question, no. It isn’t time for John Desko to leave just yet. But it’s time for him to step up his game.

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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