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At Least We Still Have Otto, the Dancing Orange
August 7, 2008 - John Whittaker
"It's been working for four years. I'm serious. This has been in the makings for a long time. Thatás what people donát realize."
-- Greg Robinson, Syracuse football coach, at the Big East Media Day, according to www.syracuse.com.
I couldn't think of a way to start this post -- until I stumbled onto Greg Robinson's thoughts on his team during the 2008 Big East Media Day.
After his team was picked to finish last -- by a wide margin -- by media members covering the league, Robinson basically said this season has been in the making since he was hired in 2005. It's taken three seasons and a 7-28 record to build his fourth team -- the one with all the kids he's recruited -- into a last-place team in a watered-down Big East.
Not only is the team not winning games, there are issues with player discipline. Mike Williams, a wide received and arguably the best player on the team, was kicked off the team for academic issues. He had a chance to go to summer school
He Said It
Introducing, today, a new game on The Whitless Wonder -- He Said It. We'll reserve He Said It for the things some blog subjects have actually said. I swear none of this is made up.
Without further ado, here are some real beauts uttered recently by Greg Robinson -- whose name should be amended to be "The Embattled Greg Robinson."
1. After the third day of fall practice, Robinson said, about kids who have been playing football for YEARS -- "It's a matter of kind of getting used to them (the shoulder pads), moving around in them, banging around in them."
2. Robinson, on his program's direction (keep in mind the 7-28 record) --
"We've been building a culture, I think for, really, for three and a half years. I just think that I see it. I see it. I see what, I see what the vision I had for our program and what it was about."
3. Robinson on the dismissal of Mike Williams, the best player on the team. It's bad to have a receiver you throw to a lot because he can catch the ball --
"What Mike was becoming last year was really, the go-to guy," Robinson said. "That can be a real plus or sometimes, work against you where you lean towards that, depend on that."
and be eligible for the fall, but didn't enroll in classes at SUNY Morrisville. Recruiting isn't exactly a bright spot, either. Darrick Scott, the best recruit in the 2009 recruiting class that wasn't rated favorably by the guys who rate recruiting classes, uncommitted from Syracuse to attend Central Michigan University. Rather than play at a university that has sent dozens of players to the NFL, Scott thinks he will have a better chance at future stardom playing at Central Michigan, a MAC, cough cough, powerhouse that has sent 11 players to the NFL but might be better known for alumni Jim Myers, known to you as George "The Animal" Steele.
Sports Illustrated ranks the Orange 93rd out of 119 Division 1 teams. Analysts are wondering if Syracuse will win one game this season.
That's right. Syracuse might not beat the University at Buffalo.
To make matters worse, analysts say teams beating Syracuse could be hurt in rankings because they're so terrible. We've become the 1962 Mets of college football. The lovable, horrible Orange (is part of the team's problem the neutered name? Would going back to Orangemen make us better?).
What in the name of Don McPherson, Rob Moore and Kirby Dar-Dar is going on here?
With Paul Pasqualoni coaching my beloved Syracuse football team, I never had reason to worry. The team was always in the top 35 in the country, usually finished the season ranked in the top 25 and went to a decent bowl game.
How, you might ask, does a formerly proud program slip so far in less than five years?
Here are the top 5 (on a list of about 1,812,375.5) things Syracuse has done to go from a respected football program to national laughingstock.
5. Rutgers and South Florida. While Robinson was struggling to put his team together in his own image, there was no honeymoon because Rutgers,
one of the worst teams in the Big East, suddenly got good. And, South Florida, a newcomer not only to the Big East but, Division 1 football as well, has been above .500 the last two years behind quarterback Matt Grothe and a plethora of players who are making their way into the NFL. While former Big East lightweights are winning games and challenging for New Year's Day bowls, Robinson's Orange are winning three games a year.
4. Lack of institutional control. Just this week, Robinson was forced to dismiss John Barker, a backup kicker, from the team for violating team rules. Earlier in the summer, Brandon Gilbeaux, a defensive end, was kicked off the team and transferred to Deleware, from where Joe Flacco became a first-round draft pick by the Baltimore Ravens. Three incoming freshmen in the 2007 recruiting class couldn't meet entrance standards to get into Syracuse. Mike Williams gets kicked out of school because he can't keep his grades up. Who knows if the incoming freshmen last year, or Gilbeaux and Barker would have been good players for the Orange, but it's embarassing and doesn’t look good for Robinson. And, when you have a ton of talent, like Georgia, which recently suspended nine players for games this season, you can get away with these issues. When you're Syracuse, you can't.
3. The West Coast Offense. Robinson's marriage to a West Coast offense probably makes sense in the long run. It's the wave of the future. Even Nebraska is running a form of the venerable West Coast offense now, and I never thought the 'Huskers would go away from the wishbone/option offense. Here's the problem with Robinson's move to a passing offense in Syracuse, though -- he never had the talent for it. Paul Pasqualoni had recruited for his offense, a multiple formation offense that featured tons of pre-snap shifts to maximize mismatches (which you do when you don't have mismatches across the field) and which requires a different type of offensive line than a passing offense. The Orange used to mix in some option, complete with option passes, and ran the ball between the tackles while still stretching the field with the deep ball. The kids Robinson inherited were woefully inadequate for the West Coast offense. By the way, should you really be trying to run a "West Coast" offense at a college in the middle of the bloody SNOW BELT!
2. Hiring Greg Robinson. He seems like a nice enough guy. But, I wondered about his hiring when it was announced in 2005. His defense at Texas in 2004 was solid - but it was anchored by several players now in the NFL, including middle linebacker Derrick Johnson. It's easier to win games when you have top-flight talent, and he wasn't responsible for it at Texas. Mack Brown recruited those players. His best defense in Kansas City in the NFL ranked 19th in points allowed (2003) and 23rd in the league in yards allowed (2001). He did have some good defenses in Denver between 1995 and 2000, though his last Broncos' defense was 23rd in points allowed and 24th in yards allowed. Basically, Syracuse hired a defensive guru who hadn't coached what most people would call a good defense since 1999 and had never handled an offense.
This was not a recipe for success.
1. Hiring Daryl Gross as athletic director. In December 2004, the university's chancellor announced Paul Pasqualoni would return for another season despite a 37-point loss in the team's bowl game. Two weeks after that announcement, however, Gross was hired and showed Pasqualoni the door. For his bad karma, Gross and his hire as head coach, Greg Robinson, have been rewarded with a 7-28 record. Syracuse basketball has missed the last two NCAA tournaments. The lacrosse team - a beacon of consistency for the last 20 years, missed an NCAA tournament before rebounding to win a national championship this year. Issues with player conduct are rampant in the program. The only thing that's left is for the NCAA to put Syracuse on some sort of sanction for a recruiting/cheating scandal to make the Daryl Gross era complete.
With that said, what are the high points for 'Cuse fans? Here's a few, in descending order.
3. Play the "Can Andrew Robinson Remain Upright" game. This is a hit on college campuses. For every time Andrew Robinson gets decked, take a drink. For every time Robinson gets sacked, take two drinks. By the third quarter, you won't remember what game you're watching. (Not that the Whitless Wonder condones binge drinking. Always drink responsibly, if you feel the need).
2. The Match Game. Once the game is out of hand -- in most weeks this year, it will be sometime early in the second quarter -- try turning back the clock in your head and think of former great Syracuse players who used to wear the numbers on the field. For example, if Marcus Sales is on the field, you can get warm fuzzies thinking about Donovan McNabb or Marvin Graves. Or, when Averin Collier is in the game, think back to another running back who wore number 28 -- Kyle McIntosh. Or, when Randy McKinnon is on the field, try to envision Donovan Darius making plays at safety (If you dont' know the number I'm writing about, you're not a real Syracuse fan). Did Dan Sheeran just drop a pass? Don't worry - you can still think back to when Art Monk wore Sheeran's number 81.
1. Otto! When the action on the field stinks, you can always enjoy the antics of Otto the Orange, one of the top 5 mascots ever and the most awesome piece of orange fur you've ever seen. And, with pretty much no one in the stadium, fans in the Carrier Dome and on TV will have a great view of Otto in pretty much every game.
On the plus side, this blog just gave me a great idea for the 2008 Syracuse Football slogan -- Syracuse football - at least the mascot's still good. Buy your tickets now!
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"See that gate over there, that's where you can pack the boxes from your office after they fire us for this debacle." Daryl Gross and Greg Robinson are pictured at a recent Syracuse football practice. AP photo