SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) - If Doug Marrone ever wants to moonlight at something besides his day-and-night job as head football coach at Syracuse, he might want to try magic. He seems to be pretty darn good at it.
In less than two years at the helm of his alma matter, the Bronx-born Marrone has transformed a laid-back team that had become a national laughingstock into a group of smiling winners who fear no one and are respected by whatever team lines up on the other side of the ball.
Syracuse, a proud program that ranks 15th all-time with 684 victories, averaged eight wins from 1986-2004 with such stars as quarterbacks Don McPherson and Donovan McNabb and defensive end Dwight Freeney. The school played in 13 bowl games, then fell to the depths of despair.
Marrone inherited a team that ranked 97th in the final 2008 computer rankings. In four seasons under California-born Greg Robinson, a former NFL assistant with two Super Bowl rings and no ties to upstate New York, the Orange went 10-37 with only three conference wins.
Heading into the final regular-season game against Boston College on Saturday, Syracuse boasts the sixth-best defense in the country (293.2 yards per game), has won five road games (including 4-0 in the Big East, a first), and is guaranteed of its first winning season since 2001 and first bowl game in six years.
“It’s like night and day,” said redshirt senior defensive tackle Andrew Lewis, who was recruited by Paul Pasqualoni’s staff and endured the Robinson era, the worst four-year stretch of Syracuse football. “I can’t really put my finger on just one thing. The biggest thing that stands out is the collectiveness of the team. We all come together as one. That’s different from years past.”
And the entire university has taken notice.
“He has been masterful. He’s changed the culture,” said Dr. Daryl Gross, director of athletics. “Football is the hardest turf. Football takes time when you’re changing the entire culture. Doug Marrone is rare. You don’t find a lot of coaches like him. This is just the tip of the iceberg.”
The 6-foot-5 Marrone started for Syracuse at right tackle from 1983-85 under coach Dick MacPherson and fell in love with the university. He began plotting his return the day he took his first coaching job at Division III Cortland State, just 30 miles south of Syracuse. His sojourn also included college stops at Coast Guard, Northeastern, Georgia Tech, Georgia, Tennessee and in the NFL with the New York Jets and New Orleans Saints, where he was offensive coordinator under Sean Payton (2006-08).
When Robinson was fired with one year left on his contract, Marrone landed the only job he ever wanted.
How has he accomplished such a rapid about-face?
One of the first things he did was to rouse the players early one morning and have them clean their own locker room so they could take pride in where they spend a lot of their time. He’s also taught them about the school’s glorious past, which includes a string of great running backs _ Jim Brown, Ernie Davis, who led the undefeated 1959 national championship team and two years later became the first black player to win the Heisman Trophy, Jim Nance, Floyd Little, Larry Csonka, Joe Morris _ and receivers Art Monk and Marvin Harrison, among others.
“What he’s done is rebuilt the foundation and the tradition this program’s been built on,” said Chris Gedney, an All-American tight end at Syracuse in the early 1990s and now an analyst on football broadcasts. “He’s just done a remarkable job of educating them on the history of the program. If there’s a better plan, you have to show it to me because I have no idea what it would be.”
That Marrone has been able to connect so strongly with his players in today’s environment is impressive. Coaches are recruiting kids who have grown up with the Internet. History is an afterthought for most.View Entire Story
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