Orange Watch: Syracuse, ACC lead the way with the most NFL head coaches

Item: Impressively, with the NFL’s 95th season in full swing, no other school or league has produced more of the on-field leaders of the league’s 32 teams than SU and its two year old conference home.

When Dick MacPherson shocked Orange Nation in January 1991 by accepting the New England Patriots head coaching job after his 10 seasons resurrecting the Syracuse program from also-ran to 1987 national championship contender and annual bowl game participant, he had a very simple reason for taking on the ultimate challenge in a then-33 year career as a college and NFL assistant, and head coach at Massachusetts and SU.

“It’s one of only 28 jobs (at the time) at the top of our profession,” he explained. “And the salary and benefits aren’t too bad either.”

marrone

Marrone is among two Syracuse alums coaching in the NFL

Unfortunately for Coach Mac, his NFL head coaching career came to an abrupt halt after just two seasons. The first was an impressive 6-10 record coming off the Patriots 1990 disaster of going 1-15, the worst record in team history, and the turnaround even warranted some coach of the year talk. His second year was marred by missing the final eight games due to illness and ended up 2-14, and with new ownership that off-season he was replaced by Bill Parcells, retiring with a nice payout and beginning an ambassadorship to Syracuse football which continues today.

» Related: Syracuse win over Villanova makes case for pre-season matchup

One of Mac’s former ‘Cuse players and SU head coaching successors is in a similar boat this NFL season. Not only did Doug Marrone (1991 graduate) also go 6-10 in his rookie campaign with the Buffalo Bills, he faces an ownership change as well with the league owners expected to approve Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula’s purchase of the franchise at their October meetings.

Following an up-and-down preseason, including reports of tension between Marrone and the team’s front office, year two got off to a great start with Sunday’s 23-20 OT win at Chicago, and sets up a big game this week hosting Miami, as both teams along with the New York Jets got off to 1-0 starts in the competitive AFC East.

The other alum leading a NFL team making Syracuse the only school with two head coaches, could face a potential make-or-break year heading into the New York Giants Monday night game at Detroit.

Tom Coughlin (1968 graduate) has earned Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement with two Super Bowl victories with the Giants, and as the original architect (1995-2002) of the now-20 year old Jacksonville Jaguars, but the Giants missed the playoffs the last two seasons following their triumph in Super Bowl XLVI, and a third straight year of no postseason play may signal a change in direction for the franchise after Coughlin’s 11 year run.

Besides the two Syracuse coaches in the NFL, the other ACC alums coaching in the league giving it six of the 32 jobs, are Arizona’s Bruce Ariens (Virginia Tech), Cleveland’s Mike Pettine (Virginia), Tennessee’s Ken Whisenhunt (Georgia Tech), and Washington’s Jay Gruden (Louisville).

For the ACC, heavily promoting the fact during televised games early this season that it became the first conference to boast the national champion, Heisman, Doak Walker, Davey O’Brien, Outland, Lombardi, Bednarik, Nagurski, and Groza award winners in the same 2013 campaign, adding the most NFL head coaching alums is another remarkable distinction to a college football conference not named the SEC.

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Brad Bierman

About Brad Bierman

Now in his fifth decade of covering SU sports, Brad was sports director of WSYR radio for eight years into the early 1990s, then wrote the Orange Watch column for The Big Orange/The Juice print publication for 18 years. A Syracuse University graduate, Brad currently runs his own media consulting business in the Philadelphia suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @BradBierman.
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