Friedlander: Dino Babers did everything right at Syracuse ... except win enough
Dino Babers is a nice guy. A standup guy who in the words of Syracuse athletic director John Wildhack does things the right way.
The one thing he didn’t do was win enough.
Not that he didn’t have ample opportunities. Eight years is a lot more time than most coaches get to build a program, especially those with only 2 winning seasons to their credit.
Theoretically a 3rd was still a mathematical possibility. It would have taken a win at Wake Forest next week to get bowl eligible and another victory in the postseason for it to happen. Even that would have been a long shot with a tight end playing quarterback and no passing game to speak of.
But there were no more reprieves.
Only 1 11th-hour call from the governor per customer.
Babers got his last year when he appeared to have saved his job by going 6-0 to start the season and getting the Orange as high as No. 12 in the national polls. Turns out, that was only a temporary stay.
The hammer finally came down Sunday, less than 24 hours after a 31-22 loss at Georgia Tech that dropped Syracuse to 5-6, 1-6 in the ACC.
Official statement from Syracuse Athletics on Dino Babers’ firing: pic.twitter.com/Q2c3spyWCH
— emily leiker (@emleiker) November 19, 2023
Babers’ firing came 1 game before the end of a season that got off to a fast start with the 1st perfect nonconference schedule in school history, but devolved quickly and never regained the lost momentum.
It’s a pattern that mimicked his entire tenure with the Orange. The early promise that peaked with a 10-win season in 2018, Babers’ 3rd at Syracuse, cratered just 2 years later and sputtered the rest of the way to an unhappy finish. His final record stands at 41-55, 20-45 against conference competition, with losing streaks of 5 or more games in each of the past 2 seasons.
In at least one sense, Babers’ program is a silent victim of the COVID pandemic.
Playing in an empty Dome with an alarming number of opt-outs along the offensive line and at running back, the Orange stumbled to a 1-10 record in 2020 that escalated their downward spiral.
Whether that lost season had a negative effect on Syracuse’s recruiting is a matter for interpretation. Regardless of the reason, Syracuse has lagged behind a majority of its ACC counterparts in the quality and quantity of its talent.
Babers and his staff didn’t have a single offensive player drafted into the NFL, including Sean Tucker, the ACC’s leading rusher 2 seasons ago.
The dearth of playmakers was exaggerated by a rash of injuries to key players this season.
All-ACC tight end Oronde Gadsden went down in Week 2, forcing quarterback Garrett Shrader to become Atlas carrying the weight of his team’s running and passing attack on his shoulders until they gave out just past the midway point in the schedule.
Shrader has continued to play. But unable to throw because of his physical condition, he’s become little more than a decoy doing backflips – literally – while lined up as a wide receiver. With Shrader’s backup Carlos Del Rio-Wilson also sidelined, Syracuse has been reduced to using converted tight end Dan Villari to take direct snaps and hope for the best.
While the injuries provide the Orange’s now-former coach with a convenient excuse to explain his demise, should he choose to use it, Babers has no one to blame but himself. There’s simply no reasonable excuse for being caught with only 2 quarterbacks in his program capable of running a conventional offense.
Deepening the talent pool, whether through recruiting or the transfer portal, will be Job 1 for whoever is hired to replace Babers.
It won’t be easy. But it’s not impossible.
Despite a much less desirable climate than those enjoyed by conference rivals Miami, Florida State, Clemson and others, Syracuse – both the city and the university – has a lot going for it. There’s a large, passionate fan base, a strong academic reputation and a rich football history that includes the likes of Hall of Famer Jim Brown.
There’s also an on-campus Dome currently in the process of undergoing $44.7 million in renovations to help recruits warm to the idea of playing at a cold-weather school.
That puts the ball squarely in Wildhack’s court.
The patience he showed in sticking with Babers for as long as he did should serve to attract an abundance of qualified candidates for the job. Now all he has to do is find the one capable of being the one thing Babers wasn’t.
A standup guy who does everything the right way. Especially winning more consistently.