If you haven’t heard by now, there’s a head coaching vacancy in Central New York. John Wildhack had seen enough of Dino Babers after Syracuse’s 31-22 loss to Georgia Tech on Saturday night. There was more pressure than ever on him this season, and he simply didn’t live up to expectations. But it isn’t just what’s happened in 2023 that’s contributed to his firing. There have been multiple noteworthy moments that have had us scratching our head over the last few years, all of which played a part in his eventual firing. Here are the five most noteworthy of them.
Honorable Mentions: Rex Culpepper’s fake spike, accepting the penalty against Wake Forest in 2021, forcing Andre Szmyt to attempt a long field goal against Clemson in 2021, forcing Brady Denaburg to attempt multiple long field goals in 2023
#5: THE MARYLAND MASSACRE
Entering 2019, Syracuse was coming off a 10-win campaign that ultimately proved to be easily the best of Babers’ tenure. The Orange traveled to College Park in week 2, with rumors swirling that College Gameday was headed to the hill the next week for a big time showdown with Clemson. But after a 63-20 Terrapin beatdown, the season (and Babers’ tenure took a turn for the worst). That game was the first of three 30+ point losses for Syracuse that season, which turned out to be a major 5-7 disappointment.
#4: DEPTH IS GONE 1.0
There’s isn’t one particular game or play to point two, rather the last three games of the 2021 season. Syracuse was 5-4 and had a bye week ahead of its last three contests. The Orange completely wasted them with non-competitive losses to Louisville, NC State, and Pitt to close out the season, marking a third straight year of bowl ineligibility. Many were calling for Babers’ job after that year due to this collapse.
#3: THE SEASON-ALTERING PENALTY
Even though it’s number three, this might be the most head-scratching of them all. No. 14 Syracuse, at 6-0, held a double-digit lead on the road against No. 5 Clemson midway through the third quarter, with a program-altering victory within reach. But a late hit from Elijah Fuentes-Cundiff on Cade Klubnik gifted the Tigers a free first down when they were nowhere close to one, and it speared them to a 27-21 victory over the Orange. It does not matter that it came against Clemson, being undisciplined like that is unacceptable, and a large piece of that falls in the Head Coach.
#2: BIG GAME BLUNDER AGAINST NOTRE DAME
Babers had an opportunity to wash that Clemson game off instantly in a big home clash with arguably the weakest Notre Dame team in the 20+ years since we Fizzers were born. You wouldn’t have been able to tell that by how the game unfolded. Garrett Shrader threw a pick-six on the first play of the game, setting the tone for an uncomfortably bad offensive showing. The defense was fine, but it was set up for failure by the offense’s ineptitude (in large part due to Shrader’s health, shocker shocker) and Babers’ inability to have his team prepared. That spurred the Orange to what would eventually be five straight losses.
#1: ALL OF 2-5 COME INTO PLAY IN 2023
There have been ugly blowouts, a worsening team over the course of the season, undisciplined play, and failures to show up in big games in 2023. North Carolina, Florida State, and Virginia Tech beat SU by a combined 119-20 in one three game stretch. Syracuse has lost six of seven after a 4-0 start. Penalties have been a theme once again- just Saturday night, a touchdown run was called back due to a holding AND an unsportsmanlike conduct call on the same play. And when SU had a chance for a season-altering win over Clemson, it forgot the game started at noon. Babers had every opportunity in the world to correct each and every one of his past miscues this year, and none of them were.
While what the future may hold is anything but predictable, Dino Babers’ firing was certainly because of these moments and more. We’ll restate it. He’s a great guy, but the time was right.