Orange Crushed: the Fall of Syracuse Football

Dan BooneSenior Analyst IJune 12, 2008

It's been over 20 years since Donnie McPherson connected with speedy Rob Moore to score on the first play of the game against hated rival Penn State.  Syracuse football then went on a decade-plus run of Bowl success, and the program looked like it was on a permanent upswing.

Despite immensely popular head coach Dick MacPherson's ill-fated venture to the New England Patriots, it looked like the program was headed for elite status.

MacPherson's Patriot career was a bitter experience, and his brief professional coaching career was quickly forgotten in the wake of the Patriots landing the Big Tuna, Bill Parcells.

Coach Mac never coached again. His archrival Joe Paterno still patrols the Penn State sidelines as he brings the Nittany Lions back to the Carrier Dome in September.

But the Syracuse football program he faces is a demoralized shell of its former self. Mismanaged by a pair of incompetent coaches and athletic directors, it seems ready to crash and burn into the Division II ranks. Not only has it firmly sunk into the basement of the Big East, but it has become a boring team to watch.

The thrill is gone. The recruits aren't coming. This team is worse than Temple.

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The seemingly always angry Paul Pasqualoni inherited a program on the upswing. A team that routinely contended for the Big East title and placed players in the NFL ranks.

Recruiting was strong. Coach Mac had left an excellent base of talent, one ready to step up and contend for the national title. The fans were fervent and frothing.

Pasqualoni had a run of semi-success with stars like Donovan McNabb, Marvin Harrison, and Dwight Freeney. But something key was missing from Coach P. Some spark of imagination.

Perhaps he lacked the ability to win big games. Perhaps recruits didn't respond to his personality. A vague sense of decline filtered through the program and slowly picked up steam until one felt it was a program in not vague but serious, severe decline.

Recruits dried up. The aura of McNabb and MacPherson dissipated. Wins disappeared. Jim Brown and Ernie Davis were distant memories. The team was dismal. Despair plagued the program.

Every big game was a Syracuse loss. Fans came to expect the annual early-season rout. The play calling became painfully predictable. Pasqualoni became a public relations nightmare. Short with the press, disliked by the fans, and ignored by star recruits, he sent the program into a free fall.

Coach P. was finally fired. His years of poor recruiting, and a once-proud program in tatters, would be his legacy.

New Athletic Director Daryl Gross hired pro assistant Greg Robinson. Fans were optimistic—things couldn't get worse, could they? They forgot Murphy's Law...things can always get worse. And they did.

The program plummeted. Flat lined. Robinson has been rated the worst coach in the nation by several media outlets. The Gold Sheet (a gambling sheet which rates college coaches impartially) has consistently rated Robinson the worst. Still, he retains his job.

The Syracuse football team has looked disorganized. The basics, tackling and blocking, are consistently poor. The play calling predictable. The team bad and boring. The Big East basement has become the Orangemen's bastion.

The West Virginia Mountaineers have risen to national prominence.

The Scarlet Knights of Rutgers are roaring along with an excellent head coach and a program with national aspirations.

The exciting Louisville Cardinals are on the upswing, placing players in the pro ranks routinely and pushing themselves onto the national stage.

The Cincinnati Bearcats have promise and have been bowling.

The Connecticut Huskies have excitement, a galvanized fan base, and the aura of a team on the rise.

Pitt, at least, has a pulse.

All good things for the bright future of Big East football.

The Orangemen, though, just stumble sadly on, retaining a coach whose record would merit dismissal at any level. A program cursed with incompetence from the AD to the head coach. Trapped in an endless cycle of losing. Sunk in a long,  never-ending football nightmare.

The football program seems doomed. No players were taken in the NFL Draft this year. Also, the Cuse had yet another poor recruiting run.

Their best offensive player, wide receiver Mike Williams, has been suspended from an already pitiful offense. A losing, lame duck coach dedicated to establishing a boring style of play for disillusioned fans to watch in a half-empty, silent Dome seems to be the future.

And the present...

Its last great stars, McNabb and Marvin Harrison, wind down long NFL careers. No Orange alumni stand ready to replace them on the rosters of the pros. Syracuse football slowly sinks from the pro ranks. The college cupboard has been bare a long time.  

Somewhere Dome Eddie sighs, and then cries.

With little fan support and another guaranteed losing season, perhaps it's time to consider dropping Division I football altogether. Retiring not only 44, but every number.

Like how hated Georgetown became a basketball school.

Thanks Coach P. and Coach GRobb. Job well done.

Perhaps at least the Ernie Davis summer movie might be good. His old program won't be. Likely ever again.

A program killed by incompetence. A program that leaves fans feeling like they have been flattened by Larry Czonka. Over and over again. A Bill Murray ground hog day of despair.

Why did you leave, Coach Mac? A team, a town, turns its lonely, lost eyes toward you...

Shame Coach Mac's not staring across the sidelines, growling at old Joe Paterno one last time.

Grumpy Old Men. Together again. But never again.

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