These days, being the head coach of a Division I college football team for six seasons is a serious accomplishment. Dino Babers has been lead man at Syracuse since 2016. Not many other coaches hired that year are still around with their same teams. Given his longevity, Babers has presided over a distinct period of SU football – but now, he finds himself as one of the last men standing of the era.
When Tommy DeVito announced his intention to transfer out of the program this Sunday, it felt like the latest entry in a sad chapter for a team that has never quite realized its once lofty-looking potential. We were all once sold on a high-powered DeVito-led OITNF offense. We can all turn the lights out on that idealized dream for good.
DeVito entered the program as a freshman in 2018 after finishing high school as a 4-star recruit and as the No. 7 overall talent in New Jersey. He competed in the Elite 11 competition in 2016 alongside future pros Mac Jones, Tua Tagovailoa, and Davis Mills. He was supposed to ride the wave alongside Dino Babers to new heights at Syracuse, but his 28 touchdown to 12 interception career ratio at ‘Cuse belies a tenure marked by lack of comfort and consistency behind a shaky offensive line and within Babers’ complex offense. DeVito’s departure is just the latest thing to change around Babers, whose program has suffered through a disappointing lack of stability.
Through the years, Babers’ coaches have changed around him at a fair clip. Co-offensive coordinator Sean Lewis departed after 2017 for Kent State, while the man he shared the job with (Mike Lynch) left after the 2019 season. Current defensive coordinator Tony White is the third the team has had in three seasons if you count interim fill-in Steve Stanard’s short stint in 2019. If you want to blame coaching for ‘Cuse’s struggles, there’s only one guy who has been through it all: Dino himself.
On the talent side, DeVito is the latest loss, though his reasoning is understandable. Wideout Taj Harris’ sudden choice to vacate this year likely hurts even more. Both guys are two marquee names you think of when picturing Babers’ offense in motion. However, it’s not hard to understand a player fretting about roles when Babers’ system has morphed yet again from a veer-and-shoot attack into a ground-and-pound outfit.
None of this even takes losing into account. SU has now played more three-point games (four) than it has in 40 years, and they’ve lost three straight field-goal games. Coaching has more responsibility for that than any one player. With five games remaining against teams that are ranked, dangerous, or both, Syracuse should be in a better position than 3-4. Instead, a surprise bowl season now feels like a long-gone mirage.
Through it all, Babers is still here. He’s weathered storms of criticism and smiled through it all. However, the time is now for Babers to start taking the direct praise or blame for what his team does. The temperature on his seat needs to rise or fall accordingly. Dino has cycled through different assistants and players while trying to get his system and vision off the ground. As the last man standing of this era of Syracuse football, the onus now falls on Babers for results more than ever before.