ACC: Daryl Gross

Evaluating Syracuse after ACC move

February, 18, 2014
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Last week, we caught up with Pittsburgh athletic director Steve Pederson to get his take on how he felt Year 1 in the ACC went for the Panthers football team.

Now, it's Syracuse's turn.

The Orange surprised many with their third-place finish in the Atlantic Division and victory over Minnesota in the Texas Bowl to cap their first season in the ACC at 7-6. First-year coach Scott Shafer deserves plenty of credit for keeping his team together throughout the course of a season that had its share of adversity and challenges. So what does the future hold?

I had a chance to catch up with Syracuse athletic director Daryl Gross to get his thoughts on the season that just ended and what it will take to start truly competing with the upper echelon of the league. Here is a little of what he had to say:

[+] EnlargeSyracuse
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsGoing 7-6 with a Texas Bowl win over Minnesota was a positive way for Syracuse to introduce itself to the ACC.
How do you feel Year 1 turned out?

DG: We’ve been prepared for this for a long time. We started off with a bang with men’s cross country winning the ACC championship right off the bat. I talk about that because it was a symbolic signal that, "Yup, this is what we thought. We’re ready to compete in this conference." So it gave us some self-esteem early. Going into football season, we’d been battling and we thought we could get better, even though we had a transition. When you lose a coach to the NFL, it’s a nice compliment but there was transition associated with that. And then the quarterback (Ryan Nassib) got drafted by the Giants, and the left tackle (Justin Pugh) got drafted by the Giants. We lose most of the staff to the Buffalo Bills, so there were a lot of questions, and Scott Shafer did a fabulous job. I thought if we could get to a bowl game that would be a real, real positive for this year. To get to the bowl game and beat a good Big Ten team was mission accomplished.

To finish third in our division behind Florida State and Clemson, who we’re looking up to, that’s not a bad start. I was really excited for Scott Shafer. I thought he handled it like a veteran. He’s a coach I think should have been a head coach a long time ago. He comes off with that kind of maturity and he’s only going to get better. He’s got a lot of special qualities, some of which I liken to another coach I had, Pete Carroll. Both are such great communicators. They both set up cultures where the players really trust that head coach. I think that’s going to bode well going into the future. We weren’t just preparing to go into the ACC, though. Now, how do we win championships? Our mindset was to get after it for the future in order to win championships. We got off to a great start.

Does finishing third behind the two best teams in the ACC add confidence to the program?

DG: For us to be able to pull off what we did and handle some adversity along the way, too, speaks volumes. We had a couple losses where the question was, can this team respond? Scott Shafer was so good with these student-athletes. In the locker room, very rarely have I seen the type of communication, win or lose, the way that Coach Shafer did it. Really with the student-athletes buying into it, we always recovered or came back with the win, so that was cool to see that given all the transformational variables that were in play last year.

He feels really good about the class he just signed. Coach Shafer got the kind of players he wanted, and it fits his team, it fits what they do well. We don’t go by a lot of rankings. We go by what’s going to fit this team to make it better than it was before. So, yes, there’s a higher self-esteem around here at the complex, and people are excited about it.

You mentioned tough losses. Two came to Florida State and Clemson. How far away is this program from competing with those two teams?

DG: It’s one step at a time. It’s one of those things where last year you win the bowl game and you feel good about it, you felt you left a couple games on the table you should have won. Now it’s more of, can you take what could have been a 9-4 type of season and turn that into something better than that? Obviously, Florida State is very talented and one of the best teams I’ve ever seen and I was at USC when we won a couple national titles in a row and one season was 13-0. So to see Florida State live twice, they were the real deal. That’s a pretty lofty goal to jump up there and try to jump over that high jump. That’s just a great team. I would never come out and try to say, "Next year we’re going to get better and we’re looking forward to beating Florida State." That’s just part of the process, you have to play your game and game plan and try to get after them the best you can and see what happens. That’s what we’re trying to gear up toward.

I think things tend to regress toward the mean. If you have a team like Florida State and everyone knows the standard of excellence, everyone’s trying to simulate that by using your schemata to emulate that type of high bar, so I think [Shafer is] looking to see some significant improvement. There are a couple games he wishes he had back last year that seemed winnable. Everybody has that. But when you’re talking about the potential and the margin of how much better you can be, that’s part of the discussion.

ACC mailblog

January, 17, 2014
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Step into my (unusually chilly) office ...

James Hanson in Tallahassee, Fla., writes: Does Auburn stealing FSU's signals change the way we view the BCS championship game? When comparing the scores of before the towels went up to after ... there is a huge difference. Maybe this team was much better than thought.

Andrea Adelson: It doesn't change my view. Florida State should have probably predicted Auburn would try and do something like this with former assistant Dameyune Craig on the Tigers' sideline. I give credit to Auburn for doing what it had to do to try and win the game.

[+] EnlargeLouisville's Bobby Petrino
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesOnly time will tell if Louisville coach Bobby Petrino has truly changed.
Luke in Louisville writes: Hey Andrea, Nice to be back in the same mailbag as you. I was wondering if you could try a not wholly pessimistic review of the Petrino hire? Perhaps you could, instead of portraying him as a cartoon villain, single-dimensional and unchanging, characterize him as a multi-dimensional human being capable of both making mistakes and correcting them? Or is it basically the ESPN line? I noticed that Mark Schlabach and the Grantland writer have also written essentially the same piece. And note: I'm not dissing you -- your piece as usual was solid; I'm just curious if anyone's given any consideration to the possibility of change.

Adelson writes: Nice to see you again, Luke. If you are implying that ESPN has dispersed an email giving us talking points about the Petrino hire, I have to laugh. My thoughts are mine alone, same goes for Schlabach and everybody else who has written on this subject. I would love to believe every single thing Petrino said during his press conference. If he stays for 10 years and retires a Cardinal, that would be a great time to praise him for truly being a changed man who recognized his terrible mistakes and went about fixing them not just for himself, but for his family and his players first and foremost. Until then, I have to remain skeptical about a coach who has left behind a long trail of deceit. I do wish him luck, and I do hope he has changed. If he has, then I look forward to being proven wrong.

Matt in Winston-Salem writes: AA, looking at some of the Commissioner's comments about scheduling led me to believe that A) FSU is griping that the Atlantic is disproportionately tough, and B) that the conference is going to do whatever it can to protect FSU as we move into the playoff era. The schedules were just done! How else can you explain this sudden shift in thinking? Please don't refer me to that commish-speak, either. I have a simple solution for Mr. Swofford ... if he wants flexibility, add a conference game.

Adelson: I don't think this has much at all to do with Florida State, actually. How would it protect Florida State to potentially make the ACC championship game more difficult with, say, a rematch against Clemson? I think this has more to do with griping from a lot of teams about going so long between playing games against cross-divisional opponents. Syracuse athletic director Daryl Gross made very candid comments to Swofford and the league's athletic directors in an email to that end, and suggested going back to the idea of adding a ninth league game and eliminating mandated rivalry games. I am not sure abolishing divisions will solve all the problems, but there are major scheduling problems this league will face moving forward that should be discussed.

Carla in Houston writes: Just curious: How do you think the ACC will be viewed going into next year? Will the committee be impressed by a team doing well in-conference, or is the ACC still thought to be weak? On one hand we have Florida State, THE national champion! Boy it feels good to say that! The Seminoles were unstoppable this year and have a Heisman winner to prove it. Not to forget Clemson, who finally seemed to break its big-game curse! But the rest of the conference worries me. Virginia Tech underperforming yet again? Miami face-planting? Georgia Tech being unable to move the national radar for another year? We have Louisville coming in so that will be a plus, but even that might not be enough. I am worried the ACC will start being viewed as a top-heavy conference, where beating Florida State and Clemson is the *only* way a team can get respect. Thoughts?

Adelson: You bring up an excellent point, Carla. The ACC already is viewed as a top heavy conference, one reinforced by the way the 2013 season ended. I wonder whether Florida State winning the national championship gives extra brownie points, though. Remember midway through this past season, Alabama and Oregon were thought to be better than Florida State when the three were unbeaten. Would that be different in 2014, with the Seminoles as defending champs? I think it would be different. But at the same time, the overall conference schedule will not be viewed as more difficult than the SEC or the Pac-12 based on the reasons you mentioned above. As Heather wrote Thursday, it is absolutely critical for the ACC moving forward to have at least four Top 25 teams WITH a “traditional” power like Miami and Virginia Tech in that group. I think an unbeaten ACC team would be in the top four for a playoff, but I can't make guarantees about the seeding. The ACC does remain behind the SEC, Pac-12 and Big 12 in overall conference strength, even with BCS wins from Florida State and Clemson.

Ricky in Tallahassee, Fla., writes: Good Morning Andrea, FSU season ticket holder here. Please clarify for me the following regarding the new college football playoff. If the Seminoles go the distance and make it to the NC game again next year, will I now have to pay to travel to TWO bowl locations to see them play?! Sure, the distance to even the furthest assumed semifinal location (Orange Bowl) is "driveable" (6-8 hours from Tallahassee), but there's still gas, hotel, ticket, and incidentals to pay for. Then I'd have to turn around and do it again to see the NC game??? The trip to Pasadena this year was costly enough (roughly $2,000). I don't think the average fan or students can afford to do that twice in one season. Am I missing something or does it seem like the fans are getting the short end of the stick?

Adelson: You forgot travel for the ACC championship game, Ricky. Sorry if this depresses you further. But if you are a fan who wants to see your team advance all the way in person, it will cost you more. Next season, semifinals will be held at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., and the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans on Jan. 1. The national championship game is set for Arlington, Texas, on Jan. 12. Better start saving those pennies now if you want to hit the league title game-semifinal-national championship game trifecta. But I think tough decisions are going to await a lot of students and fans who simply cannot afford to go to all these games.

Tom in Santa Monica, Calif., writes: As a Miami fan, I commend your recent piece on Coach Al Golden. The last two years have fielded the worst defensive units in the program's history. The numbers are horrific. ... The bloom is most definitely off the rose with this guy. He's made some notable improvements in terms of recruiting, strength & conditioning, and some aspects of the culture (though that has understandably dampened with all of the losing), but his game day woes continue and show no sign of abating. While at Miami, Golden is 0-9 against Top 25* teams (*teams that have ended the year ranked in the Top 25). And those contests haven't even been close -- we're losing them on an average of nearly 3 TDs a game. Outcoached and outplayed in every facet. His ShamWow infomercial talk has almost exhausted itself. He'll reel in a great class in February, and he'll continue to get a lot of mileage out of the NCAA situation (the "cloud" that wiped out his "time table"), but for those willing to look closer, as you have done with your article, Al Golden is looking more and more to be the wrong guy to return Miami to any place of actual relevance. Keep up the good work.

Adelson writes: Thanks for your note, Tom. I am not writing Golden off yet. The defense has been abysmal, and I think staff changes were warranted. But he did get this team to nine wins this year, which should count as progress. At the same time, he needs to definitively prove he is closing the gap on Florida State and can deliver more than nine wins. He's on the clock.

ACC's lunchtime links

December, 10, 2013
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Two ACC Heisman finalists. How about that?

ACC's lunchtime links

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
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Better a little late than never ...

What to watch in the ACC: Week 11

November, 7, 2013
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Clemson and Georgia Tech have the weekend off. The other 12 ACC teams take the field for Week 11, which includes two nonconference contests, with one serving just slightly bigger than the other.

Here is what to keep an eye on as we enter the home stretch in the ACC:

1. FSU looks to avoid letdown: The Seminoles have a lot to lose the rest of the way, starting Saturday in Winston-Salem, N.C., where they lost two years ago. It is telling, in a good way, that the word "adversity" has been thrown around so much in regard to Florida State's most recent contest. It was a 41-14 win against a previously undefeated and seventh-ranked Miami team. And its quarterback, despite whatever criticisms were lobbied his way, finished with an adjusted total QBR of 94.6, sixth best in the nation for the week. If this team ever got its act together …

2. Wake adjusts to life without Campanaro: Wake Forest is without all-time leading receiver Michael Campanaro, probably for the season, after the redshirt senior broke his collarbone in a loss at Syracuse. Coach Jim Grobe was honest about how difficult things now are offensively without Campanaro, who, despite missing the first game of the season, had 67 catches -- or 52 more than Jonathan Williams and Sherman Ragland III, the Demon Deacons' next-highest catchers, with 15 apiece.

[+] EnlargeMarquise Williams
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesCan Marquise Williams lead North Carolina to a bowl game?
3. Marquise Williams' time at UNC: Bryn Renner's North Carolina career is over because of a detached labrum and fracture in his non-throwing shoulder suffered in a win over NC State. He had split plenty of time lately with Williams, who started the Virginia Tech game, but now it is the redshirt sophomore's chance to carry the Tar Heels to the postseason. They can inch a step closer toward with a win over Virginia that would make them 4-5. Williams has completed better than 60 percent of his passes this season for 537 yards with six touchdowns and three picks, adding 201 yards and a score on the ground.

4. C.J. Brown's return: Maryland is on the brink of its first bowl berth under third-year coach Randy Edsall, and the expected return of its quarterback should provide a big boost against Syracuse. Caleb Rowe has been so-so in Brown's place as starter, going 1-2. Brown's return after a concussion and then a "trunk injury" cannot come at a better time for a Terrapins team that has dropped three of four, though he will have to adjust to a receiving corps that has been decimated by season-ending injuries to Stefon Diggs and Deon Long.

5. Terps honor former Cuse halfback: Kudos to Maryland, which will pay tribute Saturday to Wilmeth Sidat-Singh, who was barred from the Syracuse-Maryland 1937 game because he was black. Orange players will wear No. 19 decals on their helmets in memory of Sidat-Singh, whose family will join both schools' athletic directors and Maryland pioneer Darryl Hill between the first and second quarters for an on-field tribute. Sidat-Singh had joined the Army after Pearl Harbor and was in the first graduating class of the group later known as Tuskegee Airmen. He was killed on a training flight in 1943 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

6. Duke looks to finish strong: Whether it is fair to criticize the Blue Devils' late-season slide last season, the fact remains that they went winless after clinching bowl eligibility in 2012. Things are different this time around, especially with a defense playing night and day from earlier this season and with the Coastal Division potentially up for grabs. Duke will need to keep its foot on the pedal as it comes off a historic win and a bye week to face a desperate NC State team that has dropped four straight and remains winless in ACC play.

7. Logan Thomas looks to rebound: Virginia Tech's redshirt senior quarterback was unusually defiant this week when speaking to reporters in Blacksburg, Va., about criticism that has come his way. Thomas had appeared to turn a corner midseason but his turnovers woes have bubbled to the surface these last two weeks, as he threw four picks in a loss to Duke and threw two more, and lost two fumbles, in a loss at Boston College. Still, a strong performance at a Miami team coming off its first loss of the season could play the Hokies right back into the thick of things in the Coastal Division race.

8. Crawford, Miami look to rebound: It's Dallas Crawford's time to step up, as the Hurricanes will turn to the redshirt sophomore first after losing Duke Johnson for the season. In looking to rebound from its loss No. 1 and maintain control of the Coastal Division, coach Al Golden said all three backs will probably see time in the first quarter Saturday against Virginia Tech. Crawford is expected to get the bulk of the carries after rushing for 294 yards and nine touchdowns so far this season.

9. ND-Pitt theatrics: Will it be like the four-overtime game from 2008? The ugly 15-12 contest from 2011, a game that, fittingly, featured 666 total yards of offense? Or last year's triple-overtime near upset? When the Irish and Panthers take the field, craziness ensues, and who knows what awaits a prime-time audience at Heinz Field in a game featuring two banged-up teams.

10. Pitt's offense looks to get it together: The Panthers defended the option well in recent weeks, holding Navy and Georgia Tech to 24 and 21 points, respectively. But the offense simply has to score points after breaking the 21-point plateau just once in its past five games, against Old Dominion (35). The run game in particular has struggled, tallying minus-5 yards last week against the Yellow Jackets, but the passing game could use some big plays as well.
Syracuse received a transformational gift of $1 million from Board of Trustees Chairman Dick Thompson and his wife, Jean, to advance the athletic department and celebrate the move to the ACC.

The gift will be used to enhance the overall student-athlete experience, the school announced in a news release.

"We are overwhelmed with unbelievable gratitude and joy for the very thoughtful gift from Dick and Jean Thompson," athletic director Daryl Gross said in a statement. "They have been extremely supportive of Syracuse athletics for many years and have given us the confidence to truly believe we can succeed in the future, especially as we enter the ACC. It's this kind of commitment which makes Syracuse university so great and intimate. Today we toast the Thompson family as they have helped ensure the continued success of our athletic program."

The gift is the largest of the "I'm In" campaign for athletics, a new push asking all Syracuse fans to help provide the resources necessary to be competitive in its new league home.
Head coaching salaries have been on the rise for years. So have assistant coach salaries, sparking a further separation between the programs that can pay and the programs that cannot.

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that athletic directors have seen their salaries grow as well.

USA Today, which annually compiles head coaching salaries, recently found FBS athletic directors make an average of $515,000. That is an increase of more than 14 percent since USA Today last reported on AD salaries in 2011.

The ACC beats that average. Of the available salaries compiled by USA Today, ACC athletic directors were set to make an average of $602,829 in 2013. All but two made more than $500,000 -- Kevin Anderson at Maryland ($499,490), and Randy Spetman at Florida State ($350,00).

That doesn't count incoming Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich, who makes a cool $1.4 million -- the highest paid athletic director at a public school. Only nine athletic directors make $1 million or more. The next highest paid public school AD is Dan Radakovich at Clemson, checking in at $725,000.

Boston College and Miami, two private schools, did not disclose figures.

While Spetman's salary has remained the same for the past several years, it still surprises me that the athletic director at one of the most high-profile football programs in the nation is the lowest paid in his league. And one of the lowest paid in the entire state of Florida. Florida AD Jeremy Foley makes more than $1 million; USF AD Doug Woolard makes nearly $500,000; Todd Stansbury at UCF makes just a smidge more ($375,000); and FIU AD Pete Garcia makes $441,832.

I know Spetman has faced his share of criticism, and the Noles have fought through some financial problems. They do pay Jimbo Fisher $2.75 million -- the highest paid coach in the ACC. But something seems off when the ADs at FIU, UCF and USF make more than the guy at Florida State.

Here are is the complete list of AD salaries in the ACC, thanks to USA Today.
  • Tom Jurich, Louisville: $1.4 million*
  • Kevin White, Duke, $906,536
  • Dan Radakovich, Clemson: $725,000
  • Ron Wellman, Wake Forest: $688,000
  • Mike Bobinski, Georgia Tech: $625,000
  • Jim Weaver, Virginia Tech: $621,529
  • Steve Pederson, Pitt: $596,595
  • Craig Littlepage, Virginia: $586,750
  • Daryl Gross, Syracuse: $570,057
  • Bubba Cunningham, North Carolina: $565,000
  • Debbie Yow, NC State: $500,000
  • Kevin Anderson, Maryland: $499,490**
  • Randy Spetman, Florida State: $350,000
  • Brad Bates, Boston College: NA
  • Blake James, Miami: NA

*Louisville expected to join ACC in 2014

** Maryland will depart ACC in 2014
AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. -- Pitt and Syracuse are caught in a bit of no man's land right now. With one foot out of the Big East door and one foot in the ACC door, the two schools had their representatives at the ACC spring meetings this week.

It may seem strange or awkward, but the programs are persona non grata at the Big East, after announcing their defections last September. They will not be at the Big East spring meetings next week, and are trying to move forward with their eyes to the ACC future.

But when that future will begin remains up in the air. Though former Big East commissioner John Marinatto said previously he was hopeful a resolution could be reached to allow Pitt and Syracuse to leave the Big East a year early and join the ACC for the 2013 season, nothing has been determined.

[+] EnlargePaul Chryst
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar Paul Chryst said his focus is on coaching football, not when Pitt is allowed to start playing in the ACC.
Pitt has grown frustrated with efforts to negotiate, and filed suit against the Big East last week in Pennsylvania in order to be allowed to leave a year earlier than the required 27-month waiting period. Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson declined further comment on the suit while at the ACC meetings.

Syracuse, on the other hand, has not taken any legal action. Athletic director Daryl Gross said Tuesday that he remained hopeful a deal could be arranged without resorting to a lawsuit.

"We’re obviously going to keep all our options open, but I’m still confident that there’s a lot of bright people, sophisticated people that can get together and solve this in a quick fashion," Gross said.

He recently had talks with Marinatto about getting out of the Big East after this season, now that the league has reconstituted itself. But Marinatto has since resigned, and Joe Bailey has been hired as interim commissioner.

"We’ve been collegial throughout this process," Gross said. "It seems they’ve gotten to a point where they have their teams solidified and now it’s time for us to move out of the way. One, they need to move on with their life and set up whatever TV contracts and rights. Two, we need to move on with our life as an institution as well. We still believe we can sit down and negotiate and talk about a graceful departure."

Does he have a timetable for a resolution before taking another step? "I’m confident we can work things out and then we’ll go from there."

Was he surprised Pitt went the legal route: "I’m not surprised because I think there’s an urgency. I think folks have shown patience and we’re getting to a point where we really need to move forward. There should be some urgency with this because folks have been patient. I understand."

For their parts, Syracuse coach Doug Marrone and Pitt coach Paul Chryst have stayed above the fray. When asked about his feelings about being at the ACC meetings, despite having a Big East schedule to play this year, Marrone said, "For us it’s a standpoint of excitement. It’s a great introduction and looking forward to what the future holds for us. My focus is to make sure that our football team, we need to win football games. It just changes, you put yourself in that mode but it’s very exciting to see where we’re going."

Chryst is attending his first spring meetings as a head coach, so this all was a new experience and conference affiliation hardly mattered. He doesn't have an opinion one way or the other about when Pitt should start ACC play.

"Not that you don’t care about it, but really, they’re not asking me," he said. "I have no problem taking what’s in front of you and focusing on those things."

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