Orange Watch: For Syracuse football coach Dino Babers, it’s about ‘growing’ Orange program

Syracuse needs an improvement in football in 2016
It’s time to do more teaching, recruiting, and mingling with fans as Dino Babers prepares to usher in a “New Era for ‘Cuse Football”

Item: Dino Babers’s tenure is almost five months in the books as the 30th football coach in school history. From a Pearl Harbor Day introductory press conference, a recruiting blitz across the NLOI day finish line in early February, an expansive spring practice period spread out over parts of three separate months, a quick trip to Chicago to watch the basketball team earn a Final Four bid, ongoing recruiting for the 2017 class, and to an upcoming multi-day meet and greet “No Huddle Tour” next month across upstate New York, there’s been very little down time while working to resurrect the program, and compete for a spot to play in a bowl game for the time since 2013.

Like most college football coaches, Dino Babers can be engaging, personable, preacher-like, a story teller, and honest to a point but reluctant to share many details about his program during his interactions with the media, especially now that he’s gained the experience of embarking on his third head coaching term in a span of just five years, quickly ascending from the FCS ranks to the MAC to the Power 5 ACC, in what has been a 32 year football coaching odyssey from Hawai’i to now Syracuse.

From day one Babers got everyone in Orange Nation thoroughly energized with his proclamation (in sermon-like fashion) about the never-before-seen-in-these-parts, fast-paced offense he was bringing to his new indoor home field, and he’s had only 15 spring practices in an indoor setting to gauge the athletes he inherited and recruited to run it.

But those three decades plus of coaching, even learning alongside esteemed offensive-minded mentors such as Homer Smith, Dick Tomey and Art Briles, has reinforced to Babers the other components to winning football besides an offensive engine that always has the pedal to the metal attempting to race up and down the field scoring points.

» Related: Three takeaways from Syracuse football’s spring scrimmage

“Any time you go to a major Power 5 conference there’s going to be more of an emphasis of what kind of defense you play, how you play in special teams, how your guys match up,” Babers said last week taking part in the ACC coaches media digital conference call after all the league programs (plus Notre Dame) finished spring drills.

“I think everyone leads with their offense, and we’re extremely proud of some of the things that we’ve been able to do in the past. That doesn’t mean we’re going to be capable of doing it in the ACC. We’d like to think we have an opportunity to do that kind of stuff (run a high powered offense moving forward).”

It starts with the quarterback and the excitement over the position’s potential with Babers having recently worked with Jimmy Garoppolo at Eastern Illinois in 2012-13 (and the apparent starter for the NFL’s New England Patriots this September during a Tom Brady four game suspension), and Bowling Green’s Matt Johnson who was second in the nation in passing yards last season (a whopping 4946 yards in the air compared to SU’s 1881 team total with four QBs), just ahead of California’s Jared Goff the likely first player to be selected in Thursday night’s 2016 NFL Draft.

Eric Dungey appears at the top of the ‘Cuse quarterback depth chart heading into the summer, but it’s certainly too early for Babers to get into any sort of specifics about the position.

“They’re (the current four quarterbacks) getting a lot of stuff thrown at them, they’ve never been asked to do the things we’re asking them to do,” Babers said last week. “I think the biggest part of who really has the handle on the job is going to happen in development from now all the way until August.”

The same could be said for the Orange program as a whole, after all in the last month the athletic department has promoted both the good will “No Huddle Tour” making stops in Buffalo, Rochester, Binghamton, and at a Syracuse Chiefs game in the month of May, and declaring a “New Era of ‘Cuse Football” kicking off with the season opener Sept. 2 against Colgate.

With Syracuse the second time Babers has taken over a program that had a losing record the season before he arrived, there’s no shortcuts in establishing the culture he’s building.

“I thought the entire spring period was a rebirth, trying to teach new offenses, new defenses to these young men,” Babers summarized last week. “We’ve got a lot of growth that we need to move forward with with this football team, and I’m sure over this open period over the summer that they (the players) will continue to grow.”

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About Brad Bierman 848 Articles
Now in his sixth 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.