Dec 19, 2008 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
More than two decades ago, a young man from the Bronx came upstate, to Syracuse, and played vital role in revitalizing the Orange football program.
Now Doug Marrone is charged with that exact same task as the new SU head football coach, the first alum in 60 years to assume this high-pressure position.
Following weeks of speculation and the pursuit of big names that had already proven themselves as college head coaches, athletic director Daryl Gross chose Marrone, whose latest job had been as offensive coordinator of the New Orleans Saints.
At his introductory news conference last Friday, Marrone, who reportedly got a five-year, $6.5-million contract, made clear that the failures of the four-year Greg Robinson regime were something he would not tolerate.
“The players understand that we are not in a rebuilding process,” he said. “We are not in a rebuilding process. We are in the process of rejuvenating this program. I don’t have any options. I cannot fail. My only option is to win, and that’s what I’m here to do.”
As with Robinson, Marrone had not served any time as a head coach before coming to Syracuse, but that’s where the similarities end. He is younger (44), more energetic, and carries the crucial asset of being a one-time SU player with the full blessing of past teammates and other Orange alumni.
After Robinson was fired early in November, Gross put together a panel that included SU trustees, former coach Dick MacPherson and ex-players like Floyd Little, Art Monk and Tim Green to pick a successor.
Initially, the focus was on Randy Edsall, the Connecticut head coach who, like Marrone, played under MacPherson in the 1980s at SU. But Edsall would not budge from Storrs, despite repeated attempts to go after him.
Not long after that, two other favorites emerged — Skip Holtz, who led East Carolina to the Conference USA championship, and Turner Gill, who engineered the turnaround of Buffalo into Mid-American Conference champions.
Holtz was reportedly given a lucrative contract offer, but he turned it down. Gill was interviewed on two different occasions, but Monk later said that it just wasn’t the right fit.
All the while, Marrone was on the radar, having run of the NFL’s most potent offenses in New Orleans. He wanted the SU job, badly, and his desire and energy won over Gross and the selection committee.
Marrone played at Syracuse from 1983 to 1985 as an offensive lineman, eventually becoming a team captain and impressing strong personalities like Green and Don McPherson before he graduated.
A brief pro career followed, with stops in Miami and New Orleans and even London in the now-defunct World League before Marrone retired in 1991 and headed to the coaching ranks.
Coming back to Central New York, Marrone got his first coaching experience in 1992 mentoring the tight ends at SUNY-Cortland before going to the Coast Guard Academy and Northeastern University in the ensuing two years.
By far, Marrone’s longest stint in a single place was the five years spent at Georgia Tech from 1995 to ’99, where he worked under one-time SU assistant George O’Leary as the Yellow Jackets enjoyed consistent winning seasons.
In 2001, Marrone went back to the NFL, spending a year with the Tennessee Titans and four years under Herm Edwards with the New York Jets before, in 2006, joining Sean Payton’s staff in New Orleans as offensive coordinator.
In his first year there, directing an offense that included Drew Brees, Reggie Bush and Deuce McCallister, Marrone saw the Saints go to the NFC Championship Game for the first time in franchise history.
When Marrone took the SU job, he was originally going to finish out the season with the Saints, but the team allowed him to resign so he could immediately hit the recruiting trail.
Since 2002, the Orange have gone 24-59, as attendance as dwindled at the Carrier Dome and fan impatience has grown. It is up to Marrone to bring SU back to prominence, a task he knows about quite well.