The 'Cuse Finally Has Hope After Program-Changing Week

Jameson FlemingSenior Writer INovember 22, 2008

Almost four years ago marked the last time a Syracuse football fan could legitimately have hope that the football team could possibly be good.

Orange football once stood proudly atop every conference the school ever participated in. For decades, it seemed nearly impossible for this football program to fall as far as the 'Cuse has in just four years.

The firing of Paul Pasqualoni four years ago ushered in a new era of Syracuse football that was supposed to be great. It was supposed to bring Big East Titles, BCS Bowl Games, and future Hall of Famers.

The man new athletic director Daryl Gross hired brought none of that. Greg Robinson couldn't bring greatness. He couldn't bring Big East Titles, and he certainly hasn't recruited any Hall of Famers.

But Greg Robinson has brought hope.

After four years of running the Orange into the ground, Robinson finally has begun to turn the Orange around, by losing his job.

Obviously, you're probably thinking, "Oh he lost his job, they are getting a new coach. That's where the hope is coming from."

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But that's only half the hope in the case of the 'Cuse.

Greg Robinson has continued to motivate his players and they have rallied around him. The players haven't packed it in under Robinson once this year. Robinson has done everything right...except win football games.

He forces his players to be good students, and he continues to bring in guest speakers to show his players a path to take in life since almost certainly only a fraction will ever have a shot at playing football professionally.

The players have responded to Robinson's effort to make each player a better man. Kicker Nico Rechul and lineman Mikhail Marinovich opened a business off campus.

Granted, it's a Hookah Bar, but it's a venture both should be proud of, as it has become an instant hit among students and a success for the pair of pigskin players.

On the field, the players do everything they can to win football games, but coaching ineptitude and just a pure lack of talent makes winning almost impossible.

But the firing of coach Robinson has the players even more motivated to win the final two games of their mentor's tenure at the school.

The Orange has rallied around Robinson and it clearly showed Saturday in South Bend for Notre Dame's Senior Day.

Despite awful penalties, terrible special teams, and a non-existent pass defense, the 'Cuse managed to pull things together in the fourth quarter for the first time all year and rally.

And what a rally it was. Little-used freshman running back Antwon Bailey scampered for first down after first down and eventually a score.

After stopping the Irish and forcing them into a long field goal that would be no good, the Orange had one last drive in them.

Again, run after run, short pass after short pass, and third down conversation after third down conversation, the 'Cuse marched their way down the field and finally into the end zone. Cam Dantley, whose dad Adrian Dantley was a hoops star in South Bend, threw the winning touchdown pass to Donte Davis.

Greg Robinson's team withstood one last Notre Dame drive and field goal attempt to escape 24-23 winners.

One moment after the game defined who Greg Robinson is as a person. In the middle of an interview on NBC, the players gathered around Robinson and chanted "G-Rob" in support of their lame duck coach.

Within about 30 seconds, Robinson heard the Notre Dame band begin its alma mater and immediately stopped the interview and hushed his players out of respect for the Irish.

The players quickly quieted and the interview was delayed for a minute, but in that minute, Greg Robinson showed a national audience the stand up man he truly is and how much respect he has for the game he struggles to succeed at.

Robinson said despite the firing he would continue to coach his players until his time on the Syracuse hill came to the end. His players continue to "fight the fight," show that "want-to," and the "flashes" that Robinson seems to always talk about.

Robinson's players showed the future Syracuse coach that they will play hard until the last down, which is an attribute that should help lure a top-name coach to the Salt City.

The key to turning around this once prestigious program is a coach that can get the top-flight talent that used to spurn top-name schools across the country to come to the 'Cuse.

Athletic Director Daryl Gross must hire a coach who can recruit. The new coach doesn't have to be a genius on the football field, but just a coach who can recruit. You cannot win consistently without talent.

That new coach shouldn't have a problem pitching Syracuse. Add up the tradition of every program in the Big East and see if it comes close to the legacy Syracuse has.

People in Central New York live and die with football. Players will want to come to this program despite its problems. Coach Robinson was able to pull in three of state's best players last offseason, wide receiver Marcus Sales, running-back Averin Collier, and guard Nick Lepak despite winning only two games. 

The severe recruiting problems the 'Cuse faces this year is because of the uncertainty of the coaching position, not the success of the program.

A good coach will make this team competitive in a few short years. Tangible improvements can and will be easily made. Winning four games next year will be a success.

A few more good recruits and the current group of good, young players can make this team a five or six-win team in two years, which could lead to bowl eligibility. And in three years, this team could be competing to win a Big East Title.

Just look at the rest of the conference. South Florida didn't exist just over a decade ago; the Bulls moved up to second in the rankings last year. UConn entered the FBS only a few years ago and shared the Big East Championship last year.

Cincinnati hasn't won a conference championship since it was a member of the Missouri Valley Conference four decades ago. The Bearcats jumped into the Big East a few years ago and is extremely close to qualifying for a BCS Bowl Game.

The Orange can win and win now.

The Big East as a whole is weak. The 'Cuse challenged Pitt and West Virginia for almost a full four quarters and was a drive away in each from winning. One or two more stud players and this team would be sitting at five wins.

Those stud players will come. The wins will come. The championships will come. Syracuse will once again become a national powerhouse.

This is only if a new coach can build off of the hope that Greg Robinson has given the Syracuse community because of a single win over one of the country's most storied programs.

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