Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Doug Marrone's Most Important Year

A tremendous year for Doug Marrone means a new contract

The Syracuse football season kicks off in mere days when the Northwestern Wildcats come to the Dome to face the Orange. The last time Pat Fitzgerald's Wildcats came to town, Greg Paulus and company handed them a defeat that was sealed when current Eagles quarterback Mike Kafka was picked off late in the game. That game marked Doug Marrone's first win as the head coach of the Syracuse program.

So it seems fitting that as the 2012 season kicks off with Northwestern again coming to town, Doug Marrone enters his most important year as at the helm of the Syracuse program. The promise that was felt after that first thrilling 37-34 victory has given way to uncertainty that was fueled by a 5 game losing streak to end last year and a 6-15 overall record in the Big East conference.

Granted, Greg Robinson left a bigger mess to clean up than Hurricane Irene did, so it was unrealistic to expect an immediate turn around, but it's fair to say questions about Marrone's long-term viability linger.

Those questions are exacerbated by the fact that Marrone is now entering the fourth year of a five year contract. It goes without saying that every year is important for a coach,  however for Marrone, this is his contract year. No college coach goes into the last year of his contract without an extension for one simple reason -- recruiting is a dirtier game than playing spin the bottle with the cast of the Jersey Shore.

Recruiting the the cast of the Jersey Shore are more similar than you think

Any administration that sends its coach into contract year with uncertainty hanging over his status is inviting disaster. Opposing coaches use that uncertainty to fill prospective recruits with so much doubt over the direction of a program that Marrone wouldn't be able to convince his own kid to come play for him.

So, when this season is complete, the University will have to decide how much more time Doug Marrone has to complete his mission of resurrecting a once proud program. Most reasonable people would agree that unless there's a complete collapse on the field or Doug goes to Bobby Petrino motorcycle school, he isn't getting fired after this year.

The job was a complete rebuild and no matter how you cut it, and that takes time. We've seen demonstrable progress in a number of areas, and to borrow a phrase from politics, its clear SU football program is better off now than it was four years ago.

The question is how much better and what's the upside of the guy running the show? Is Marrone the guy that turns this progress into a consistent winner - or is he a guy in the Gary Kubiak/Norv Turner mold - guys who win just enough games to avoid getting fired?

Syracuse has to decide that and complicating the evaluation is the fact that the Orange have lined up one of its toughest schedules in years and only play five true home games. Getting a read on progress given that set of circumstances is going to be exponentially more difficult.

Of course, Marrone can erase all doubt by engineering a winning season, both overall and in conference, and a bowl berth. If he does that, there's no doubt Dr. Gross will be glad to hand him a long-term extension.

Where it gets murky is if the Orange do what the world expects them to do - and finishes in the 4-8 to 6-6 range. If that occurs, this idiot is speculating that a two year extension is the most likely outcome. That will give the coach three years left on his contract and two years full years in the ACC before we end up back at this point again.

That's not going to rebuild a depleted fan base that's spent the better part of a decade watching this team fail to achieve, but at the same time it will give a coach who truly wants to be here and has made progress to date a fair shot. If this team is 6-6 or 5-7 in year six, it's time to move on.

For Doug Marrone, the future is now. It should be fun to watch. Go Orange.

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