In the latest edition of a multi-part series, editorial staff of The Juice Online discuss various topics on Syracuse football. Today’s topic: The seat may be warming up on Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone’s job. Do you feel he is the right coach for SU?
Wesley Cheng: Jim, Syracuse is now 1-3 on the season, and has lost eight of its past nine games. There have been several stories hinting that Marrone is on the hot seat, and last week, Marrone took the blame for his team’s slow start. Knowing what you know as of this moment, do you think he’s the right man for the SU job?
Jim Stechschulte: It’s hard to say. As much as Marrone has difficulties on the field, he aces every off-field test. His overall record is 18-23 and his teams still have problems with mental errors and discipline, but he is a tremendous ambassador off the field (I have met him in past) and the administration. He loves the university perhaps even more than the football program, but at the same time, his job is to run a successful football program. Is the program in better shape than when he arrived? Undoubtedly. Is it successful overall? Not really. He’s made (and won) one bowl in his three full seasons, but last season ended with a thud and this season is headed down a similar path. I still don’t see him losing his job this season unless things completely spiral out of control.
WC: Jim, I couldn’t agree with you more. It was very frustrating watching Syracuse play Minnesota. The penalties and turnovers were excessive and undisciplined, and at the end of the day that comes back to the coach. On the other hand, I think Marrone is a victim of his own success. Let’s say that in his second season, the team goes 5-7, and then last year, his third season, the team goes 8-5 and makes a bowl game. Absolutely no one would be even thinking about putting him on the hot seat, even with the team’s slow start. But that’s not the case right now. He had a great (and unexpected) second season, and has raised the bar where the fan base is expecting to compete for a bowl game every year. You make another good point about him loving the University. This isn’t a guy who is using this job as a resume builder for the next step. SU was his dream job, and he wants to be here more than anything else. How many other coaching candidates out there can say the same thing? Here’s a question for you — define “spiraling out of control.”
JS: Well, in this case, things would have to be very ugly and, by that, I mean much worse than what we have already seen. SU put together a great comeback against Northwestern and hung in for much of the game against USC before putting in a flat effort against Minnesota last weekend. All that said, they have lost three games by a combined 21 points. A few years ago, this was a program that got penciled in for 21 point losses on a weekly basis (in the last season under the previous regime, the team suffered six losses of a minimum of 18 points). “Spiraling out of control” in this case would be continued losing caused by being overmatched on a weekly basis. Even though they are 1-3, they have not been overmatched in any game this year and “bad luck” is being mentioned as a reason for the record. If the team starts to “make their own luck”, things could turn around quickly. That said, backsliding to 2-10, and maybe 3-9, depending on how the games are actually played, puts Marrone’s job at risk, even with the move to the ACC coming up next year.
WC: Good timing that you mention the move to the ACC, because next year will be the final year of Marrone’s contract. If the struggles continue it would be difficult to give him an extension, but if you don’t, then that signals to potential recruits that Marrone is in a lame duck situation. It puts the University in a bad situation if Marrone truly is on the hot seat by the end of the season. Going off another point of yours, I think if they go 2-10 or 3-9, even if they are “competitive” in all of those games, his job should be in question (though in my opinion, he still shouldn’t be fired). But in fairness to Marrone, part of the rough start has to do with scheduling, and we knew that coming into the season that this would be a tough year for SU. If you took out USC and the two Big 10 teams and replaced them with weaker teams from the MAC or the Sun Belt, we’re not having this conversation right now.
JS: Yes, continuity is a big key for both the conference move and recruiting. I think the hope is that the University is not pushed into a situation where they are forced to even make a decision on Marrone’s status. That said, even going into the offseason with just one year left on his contract creates lame duck status for recruiting. This whole contract situation is so much more complex than just simple wins and losses. I think the ideal situation is that the team rebounds and gets to (at least) six wins with a bowl berth. That way, the University can take advantage of the positive vibe to extend Marrone right after the regular season ends for recruiting purposes. With the program seeming to point in the right direction in this scenario, Marrone gets job security for himself and also let future Orange players who will know who the coach at Syracuse will be when they are on campus.
As you mentioned, the schedule has been as difficult as advertised. At the same time, though, Marrone has preached “play anyone, anywhere, anytime” and “playing strong competition makes you better”. He could end up cut by his own sword. And on a related note, even though the team has played well at times this season, the inconsistency they have shown does not mean, to me, anyway, that they would be 4-0 if they were facing a lower caliber of Bowl Subdivision schools. Need anyone be reminded of last year’s Toledo and Tulane games?
WC: Yes, Toledo and Tulane were close calls, but SU still won, and they’re more talented this year. Anyway, at the end of the day, I hope coach Marrone is the long term solution for this program. He’s healed some of the recruiting avenues that He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named destroyed, he genuinely wants to be here, the team has progressed over time and he’s a likeable guy. In my opinion, he deserves at least six years to truly evaluate the type of job he has done (a la Don McPherson) regardless of what happens this season.
JS: I hope he is the long term solution, as well, at least because I don’t think there is ever going to be any issue with anything other than on-field performance. That said, he is still under contract for one more year and with the current on-field performance, there are little tangible results saying he should stay and certainly nothing saying he should be extended. That said, I think he has to be extended for one year due to recruiting and conference transition concerns, but with the caveat of a cheap buyout clause in the event next year is a complete bust. It puts faith in Marrone, eliminates some potential issues with the upcoming transition, and protects the university from making a large financial commitment if they need to move on.