Commentary

Offense improvement key to Syracuse revival plans

Originally Published: December 24, 2007
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

On the half-full side of Syracuse football, six players made the All-Big East freshman team, the most from one team. It's also an indication of why Syracuse went 2-10 this season. Youth and inexperience, if mixed liberally, become a toxic cocktail for coaching careers.

The half-full view of the decision to bring back Greg Robinson for a fourth season is an endorsement of the old-school methods that give a coach time to develop his program. Though no one came right out and said it, if Syracuse doesn't improve in 2008, Robinson will be ordering moving boxes. Robinson, who is 7-28 after three seasons, understands that he needs to give the school some success to grasp.

[+] EnlargeGreg Robinson
Charles LeClaire/Getty ImagesThe Orange are only 7-28 in three years under Greg Robinson.

"People have to feel there is definitive, tangible growth," Robinson said, "[so that] they can see it and feel it. What a bowl would do for us would be outstanding."

Robinson didn't dither. Two days after he fired offensive coordinator Brian White, Robinson replaced him with Mitch Browning, a 10-year veteran of Glen Mason's staff at Minnesota. They worked together as young coaches at North Carolina State, and Robinson served as best man at Browning's wedding. But that's one of the reasons they're together.

Browning, a coordinator for seven of his 10 seasons at Minnesota, coached offenses that put up big, balanced numbers in the Big Ten. The Gophers had three consecutive seasons (2003-05) with two 1,000-yard rushers. Both center Greg Eslinger (2005 Outland, Rimington) and tight end Matt Spaeth (2006 Mackey) won national awards at their positions.

Browning may be just the doctor for an offense that finished next-to-last in rushing yards (62.75 per game). Everyone knew that Syracuse couldn't run, which is why the Orange also finished next-to-last in the nation by allowing 54 sacks.

Robinson's three seasons have been an offensive failure. His Syracuse teams proved unable to make the transition from the option offense that his predecessor, Paul Pasqualoni, preferred, to the West Coast offense.

"I'm not concerned about what Mitch is going to do," Robinson said. "His philosophy is, 'It's not what you do, it's how you do it.' I know him well enough to know that what they do, they will do well."

The hope is that "they" will include Delone Carter, the sophomore tailback who dislocated a hip shortly before the season began, as well as Curtis Brinkley, the junior tailback who broke his leg midway through the season. Robinson doesn't expect either player to be at full strength in the spring. But their promise, and the promise of the rest of his young team, buoys him.

"Throughout the course of the year, I saw flashes," Robinson said, "… I really believe. I know we are ready. It's development. This isn't easy. The culture has been developed. I see young players that are flashing at me all throughout the year. We just need to develop all these guys into being good players. I have seen it."

If the flashes turn permanently bright in 2008, Robinson will get to see them in 2009, too.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at ivan.maisel@espn3.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com