Today’s topic deals with two Upstate coaches’ efforts to resuscitate moribund football programs, and how they compare to their predecessors.
In the case of Syracuse University’s Doug Marrone, progress is being made.
In the case of Buffalo Bills coach Chan Gailey, the rebuilding project continues to be stuck in reverse.
Marrone’s Orange men are 7-5 and heading to their second bowl game in three years. His four-season mark is still a sub-.500 24-25, but what he’s done has been very impressive when you consider the mess he inherited. His predecessor, Greg Robinson, turned in the worst four-year record in the school’s storied history, winning just 10 of 47 games. Twice, Robinson’s teams lost 10 games, marking the only double-digit-loss seasons in Syracuse football annals.
Marrone’s rebuilding job compares favorably with the first four years of two of SU’s Hall-of-Fame coaches – Ben Schwartwalder and Dick MacPherson. Ol’ Ben went 21-17 in his initial autumns at SU, leading the Orange to a 7-3 record and an Orange Bowl berth in season No. 4. Coach Mac was only 25-30-1 during his initial stretch and didn’t take Cuse to a bowl game until his fifth season when they went 7-5 with a Cherry Bowl victory.
All three of the aforementioned Syracuse coaches’ starts were dwarfed by Paul Pasqualoni, who went 33-12-1 with two bowl victories and two 10-win seasons in his first four years. Of course, Coach P inherited a powerhouse from Coach Mac, so we aren’t comparing apples and oranges here.
Sadly, little progress has been made, record-wise, farther west, at One Bills Drive. Late into his third season, Gailey is 14-29. Dick Jauron, the man he succeeded, was 24-33 in three-and-a-half seasons. Mike Mularkey, who returns to the Ralph this Sunday as Jacksonville’s head coach, was a more respectable 14-18 in his two seasons, which included a 9-7 season, the Bills only winning record of the past decade. Mularkey’s predecessor, Gregg Williams, kicked off this mediocre stretch with a 17-31 mark in three seasons.
Syracuse football still hasn’t completely turned the corner, but the job Marrone is doing is encouraging. And it's a lot more difficult to rebuild in college, where you can't rely on a draft or free agency.
The job Gailey has done with Buffalo is much more discouraging. The Bills are headed to their 13th consecutive year without a playoff appearance – not an easy thing to do in a league predicated on parity and helping the weak become strong in a hurry.