This one is brutal. Syracuse defensive coordinator Tony White is reportedly leaving SU to join Matt Rhule’s new staff at Nebraska.
White joined the Orange in 2019, taking over a defense that gave 464 yards per game, second worst in the ACC, and 30.7 points per game, 11th out of 14 teams in the conference.
He brought in his 3-3-5 system going into the 2020 season, which proved to be poor timing. Because of the pandemic, in-person activities, and especially practices, were limited, which made it difficult for White to implement his scheme. It was a total overhaul of the defense in a limited amount of time, and it showed on the field. Syracuse improved to 11th in total defense, but dropped to last in scoring defense among ACC teams.
Then it took off in 2021. SU rocketed all the way up to 2nd in total defense and 6th in scoring defense. It was more of the same in 2022-5th in total and scoring-despite dealing with injuries to key players like Stefon Thompson, Garrett Williams, Terry Lockett, Mikel Jones towards the end of the year and others along the way.
White’s implementation of the 3-3-5, while not immediate, has proved to be highly successful, and even attracted transfers like Alijah Clark and Isaiah Johnson, who ended up playing big roles this years.
Rumors have been swirling around White for a while. When the Arizona State head coaching job became vacant early in the season, White’s name was thrown around. He served as ASU’s defensive coordinator in 2019. While those rumors never went anywhere, the fact that his name was in that conversation told you everything you need to know about how highly touted White is. There were even thoughts among fans that he could be an eventual successor to Dino Babers.
It’s brutal to lose a football mind like that. White has been nothing but spectacular in his three seasons at SU. He was the epitome of a home run hire by Babers. He brought in a scheme that works and a mindset to the defense that created “The Mob.” Players wanted to play for him, which is maybe the biggest compliment you can give a coach.
It’s also disheartening to see him leave in a lateral move. White will hold the same position at Nebraska as he did at Syracuse. It’s impossible to blame him though. Rhule has a track record of rescuing suffering programs, he did just that at Temple and Baylor before not panning out with the Panthers in the NFL.
Success with the Cornhuskers could be a springboard for White to take the next step and become a head coach, and, surely, the paycheck isn’t bad either. It’s impossible to blame White for the choice he made, but it hurts all the same for Syracuse fans.