Item: Longtime Syracuse offensive coordinator George DeLeone, who spent 19 seasons (1985-1996, 1998-2004) on The Hill, and a total of 50-years in the coaching ranks, died Tuesday in Florida at age 73 after battling cancer. Best known for the development of the signature “Freeze Option” offense that was symbolic of Orange football in the 1980s and early 90s, his indefatigable work ethic was a crucial component to the success of head coaches Dick MacPherson and Paul Pasqualoni.
George DeLeone was the football equivalent of a “Nutty Professor” meant in the most endearing way. A coaching lifer who lived and breathed the sport beginning with his first job in 1970 in his native Connecticut, he was once close to being the Syracuse head coach.
When MacPherson shocked everyone by moving up to the pinnacle of the coaching ranks with the NFL’s New England Patriots on January 7, 1991, it left SU athletic director Jake Crouthamel scurrying to find a replacement with the national recruiting signing period only weeks away.
The day before the Patriots press conference announcing MacPherson’s hiring, Crouthamel flew to the annual postseason American Football Coaches National Convention, held that year in New Orleans, to interview the SU staff in attendance to search for Mac’s successor.
Crouthamel’s first choice for the job was associate head coach DeLeone, but when the two met at the convention attendee’s hotel DeLeone deferred, advising Crouthamel that “the man you want as the next Syracuse head football coach is down the hall,” indicating to his boss that fellow assistant coach Pasqualoni was the best candidate for the job.
It was an ironic twist because it was DeLeone, when he was the head coach at Southern Connecticut in 1976, who hired Pasqualoni to his first college coaching position.
The duo thrived on Syracuse teams that flourished offensively under quarterbacks such as Marvin Graves and Donovan McNabb going to eight bowl games and winning three Big East titles.
In 1997, DeLeone himself shocked the Syracuse football community by opting to try the NFL on for size joining the San Diego Chargers and first year head coach Kevin Gilbride, whom DeLeone had coached at Southern Connecticut.
But after just one season DeLeone was back with Coach P and helped the Orangemen land a berth in the 1998 Orange Bowl.
One of our favorite DeLeone memories, and one that was typical of his respect for the game of football and his humble demeanor despite his overwhelming professional success, occurred after Syracuse throttled Clemson 41-7 in the 1995 Gator Bowl in Jacksonville. It was a game that was so one-sided Clemson almost fired head coach Tommy West in the days afterward.
As the game concluded DeLeone made his way down from the coaching box sharing an elevator ride down to the field level with several members of the media.
“Congratulations, Coach DeLeone,” a media member uttered in the crowded space.
“Clemson’s a great football team,” DeLeone responded. “It just happened to be our day.”