One-on-One with Doug Marrone, Part II
Here's the conclusion of my conversation with new Syracuse football coach Doug Marrone:
The Carrier Dome seems perfectly suited for a high-scoring offense. Do you view it that way, and can you bring people back on board more quickly by scoring lots of points?
DM: I think that's the case. When you look around college football, I think obviously everyone's goal is to have balance. The one thing about the systems I've been in -- at Georgia Tech, at Tennessee and in the NFL -- we're always going to take those shots when the time's right, get the ball vertically down the field.
When you study teams that score most consistently, they aren't the teams that continually have 12- or 15-play drives. Consistently what happens with the teams that score well is, there's going to be a big play in there somewhere. You know, six plays, 80 yards. Four plays 55 yards. Somewhere along the line, you run ball once or twice, and then throw a 35-yard completion. We're just always looking for that opportunity when it presents itself and you go for those opportunities. And if it's not open, sometimes you've got to check the ball down to the back, and he has to turn up the field and get as much yardage as he can.
Every time I talk about things offensively, I always feel there's not a magical answer to what people are doing. Then it's just a matter of preparation, of getting the players ready. And the big thing we do is, we say, 'If they line up like this and this is what they're doing and this is what is called, then this needs to be a big play. We're counting on you to make the play. We've prepped you enough that you're ready for this, and we need to take advantage. We can't mishandle the ball or mishandle the snap or drop it or be off target.' We have those situations in the game and we have to be in tune. That's what we've done here and the players have executed.
You've called this a rejuvenation process, not a rebuilding one. In many ways this is an impossible question, but do you have a timeline in mind for how long it will take before Syracuse is back to going to bowls and competing for Big East titles?
DM: To be honest with you, and I'm not escaping the question, but in my mind I've always felt the job of the head coach or the assistant coach is to win football games. There will be goals on our football team that we'll sit down as a staff and players and create for ourselves. But one thing I never want to do is, I never want to limit a player's development. I've never liked it when a coach said a player can't handle this or that. I've never put a label on what a player could grasp, because when you start labeling, you put limitations on them. And then when they can't handle something, it's like a built-in excuse.
I'm looking to give the players as much information as possible and let them process that information and be the best player he can be. And I've had that attitude from the beginning, because you can hire someone to say, 'Hey, you need to run this route, you need to block someone this way, you need to defend this gap ...' But unless you're inspiring that player or motivating that player or developing skills for that player, I can hire anyone to do that. I need a special type of coach and that's what I'm looking for.
The rise of Rutgers and Connecticut has made the Syracuse job more difficult because they recruit the same areas. How do you combat that?
DM: Those schools have done a good job. We have to be out, we have to be noticeable working in the schools. It's fortunate enough for me that I'm a product of the lower part of the state and the New York City area and it's also fortunate that I was a part of the New York Jets in the Long Island area. It also helps that I coached at Cortland State, which is mostly a teachers' college, and a lot of those players have gone on to the high school level and are coaches in that area.
But at the end of the day, we have to make sure we understand that we need to be the ones to reach out to these high schools. We need to be the ones to help them. We're not going to just sit at our university expecting them to come to us. We're going to go out to them and ask what can we do for you, how can we help you? These are good coaches in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and all the other areas we're looking to get into. And when [you] can go in there and you're doing something well, offensively, defensively and on special teams, you're able to sit down with those coaches and share that information, help them with their program. Then that's where the relationship starts building.
You said you kept up those high school relationships even when you were in the NFL.
DM: I always had clinics when I was with the Jets to help New York City high school football. I was fortunate to be part of an organization that wanted to do that. I did it because they're good people and because those coaches mean something to me. And truthfully, I wanted to always keep that option open if I should go back to college someday. In the back of my mind, I was saying to myself, 'Someday this could be beneficial for me, these types of relationships.' So hopefully, we'll see how it goes. But at least those relationships are there.
Finally, what's your schedule like now that you've left the Saints?
DM: I gave everything I had to the New Orleans Saints, I really did. They asked me to resign and I said I wanted to finish the season. I wanted to finish the responsibility that I started. But they thought it was best that I get started at Syracuse, and they said they were proud of the job I've done here and they wanted me to be successful at Syracuse.
So I'll arrive Sunday in Syracuse and on Monday morning I'll be taking the recruiting test. Hopefully somewhere along the line on Monday I'll be on the phone and I'll be on the road recruiting.
I've always been honest and upfront with everyone during this whole process, and I think that's important. A lot of times when you handle things the right way, when you do things the right way, all of these things kind of fall into place. And right now, I need to go out and buy a lottery ticket.