The rumors surrounding Chip Kelly’s seemingly imminent departure from Oregon to the NFL dominated the sports world Friday night. Saturday morning, I saw a report that Doug Marrone was leaving Syracuse to become the head coach of the Buffalo Bills. I woke my wife up; she’s an Oregon alumnus and a huge Ducks fan. I told her, I feel your pain, Syracuse just lost their coach. Her response: “Who cares? Syracuse football sucks.” Then she rolled over and went back to sleep. Her curt indifference to the Marrone news, was in stark contrast to the emotions most Syracuse fans were suddenly experiencing, many of whom were feeling angry at and betrayed by Doug Marrone.
As a Syracuse fan, I feel sad, disappointed, and apprehensive about the program’s future, but I can’t for the life of me understand those that took the Marrone news personally. I’ve heard many folks say, “I thought Syracuse was his ‘dream job’?!” their voices full of sarcasm and disgust. They go on to talk about how he didn’t finish what he started and complain that he’s left the program high and dry. And they couldn’t be more wrong.
Four years ago, Doug Marrone took over a Syracuse program that was as wretched as the communal troughs inside the Carrier Dome’s men’s bathrooms. A once respected program, one that had won a national championship, produced a Heisman trophy winner, consistently developed NFL players, and routinely found itself in the Top 25 rankings, had become one of the worst teams in all of college football. In the four previous years under Greg Robinson, the team had gone 10-37, with a total of just three Big East victories. Marrone was hired to right the ship and that’s exactly what he did.
In four short years, Marrone won 25 games, was victorious in two bowl appearances, earned a share of the Big East Championship, revitalized recruiting, and brought the team back to respectability. Is the program where it was during the hey-day of Dick McPherson? Of course not. But the very fact that Syracuse football, in spite of their outdated facilities and without a sudden influx of cash, was relevant once again, is nothing short of remarkable. Marrone leaves the program on substantially more solid ground than when he took over.
And yet many folks are still furious with him. They assumed he’d be here for life and that whenever he did decide to move on, the program would be in amazing shape, with a slew of coaching candidates eager to take over or perhaps a coach-in-waiting already on the staff being groomed for the job. That sentiment, perhaps fueled by the loyalty and success of Jim Boeheim and his 37 years at the helm of Syracuse basketball, is simply unrealistic. The Jim Boeheim’s of this world are few and far between these days and the fact that Marrone isn’t a Syracuse lifer like his basketball counterpart, shouldn’t cause anger amongst fans, but rather further our appreciation for Jim Boeheim.
But this was supposed to be Doug Marrone’s “dream job,” right? For him to go somewhere else must’ve meant that he was lying to us when he said that, right? Wrong. I won’t get into any conspiracy theories about the frustrations Marrone may have experienced with the Syracuse administration regarding the best direction to take the program in, but I will say that sometimes reality doesn’t come close to resembling one’s fantasy, and what may have once seemed like a “dream job,” may not have turned out to be one.
Marrone’s departure isn’t a betrayal, it’s not as if he left the school to go coach at Boston College. And my sense is that it’s not about money, although money may have contributed. He left to be the head coach of an NFL football team, albeit the Buffalo Bills, but still… There are only 32 NFL coaches in the world and Marrone is now one of them. That’s quite an honor and quite an opportunity, one that no should blame him for embracing.
On Saturday, as I continued to read reactions to Marrone’s departure, my wife, less callous after having had her morning cup of coffee, reconsidered her initial assessment of the situation. She shrugged, “I guess this does kind of suck, you guys were actually sort of decent this year. What’s going to happen now?” I paused and considered what she had said. It does suck. And we were more than kind of decent. And I don’t know what’s going to happen to Syracuse football now. But I have hope for the future. And that’s thanks to Doug Marrone.