Orange Watch: $25 million gift from Syracuse alum John Lally a game-changer

Western Michigan
Syracuse plays Western Michigan. Mandatory Credit: Initra Marilyn, The Juice Online.

Item: What was known to a select few since the summer was announced publicly in an “all-of-the-sudden” manner on the field between the first and second quarters of last Saturday’s eventual Syracuse 52-33 win over Western Michigan in the Dome. Orange football letter winner (1979-1981) along the offensive line, John Lally, and his wife Laura, were saluted by head coach Dino Babers from the sidelines as they accepted a commemorative football from Chancellor Kent Syverud and athletic director John Wildhack acknowledging with the utmost appreciation their astonishing gift.

The instant irony to us when learning of the transformational gift by the Lally family that will move the Syracuse football program trajectory exponentially into the 2020s and beyond by upgrading the football facilities and student-athlete housing, is that when Lally and others were being recruited at the end of the Archbold Stadium era under Frank Maloney in the mid-late 1970s, the coaching staff never wanted to show recruits their crumbling home stadium during official visits.

Lally was a member of the program beginning in 1977, and lettered on both the 1979 team that played “home” games in East Rutherford, Orchard Park and Ithaca, then the first two teams that called the Dome home.

He witnessed first-hand a 1970s to 1980s shift from Archbold to the Dome, and the expansion, albeit not on the pace of; let’s say a Penn State, of the football portion of Manley Field House as Jake Crouthamel brought Dick MacPherson aboard after the ’80 season to rebuild the program with facility upgrades paralleling the brand new Dome.

“For Syracuse University Athletics to become even more competitive in both the ACC and on the national stage, the program needs to have first-class facilities, operations and support,” John Lally said in the university’s release recognizing the gift.

» Related: Three things we learned from Syracuse’s win over Western Michigan

“Laura and I are committed to Syracuse University Athletics, and in particular positioning the University to attract, recruit and retain high-performing student-athletes who succeed on and off the field, inside and outside the classroom and in their communities.”

Translated, Lally, the former president and owner of PCB Piezotronics a sensor manufacturer in the Buffalo area, knows the football program needs its own nerve center as part of the Ensley Center complex, an upgrade in football player-specific housing, and a larger support staff to keep up in the recruiting race with Clemson and the other state schools in the ACC.

As he weighed his future before agreeing to a contract extension last December, Babers had his own checklist to mark off. He appreciates directing a Power 5 program that has a direct path to the College Football Playoff, and he knows the level (and depth) of talent that’s mandatory to compete for conference championships. He loves living minutes from his office, the size and scope of the Syracuse metro area, and now most importantly, the imperative financial support that is the oxygen of running a successful major college football program.

“That’s not pocket change is it?” Babers asked rhetorically in response to a question about the large Lally family gift commitment after the WMU win.

“We’re all together (the football program, athletic department and administration), we’re normally united on those type of things (how gift funds are disbursed),” Babers continued. “I’m sure whatever they (administration) decide is in the best interest of the university and the athletic department will be fine with us.”

That sounds like a content football coach who can continue on course with his program rebuild goal of consistent success.

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Brad Bierman
About Brad Bierman 614 Articles
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.