Williams quits; Marrone defends Paulus

Updated: November 3, 2009, 6:00 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Syracuse coach Doug Marrone said goodbye to his star receiver and defended his starting quarterback Monday.

Mike Williams, the Big East's leading receiver, quit the team. He had 49 catches for 746 yards and six touchdowns.

Williams was Syracuse's most talented player. He has all the physical traits coaches covet in a receiver -- size (6-foot-2 and 210 pounds), speed, amazing leaping ability, sure hands.

Two years ago, he established a Syracuse record with touchdown receptions in nine straight games, then was suspended in June 2008 for violating the university's academic integrity policy and missed all of last season.

Williams was on the verge of another suspension when he quit the team, a person close to the program told ESPN's Joe Schad. Marrone, through a spokesperson, declined Tuesday to address specifics.

According to a report in the Syracuse Post-Standard, Williams was in a vehicle with teammates Torrey Ball, Antwon Bailey, Andrew Tiller when it was rear-ended by a tractor trailer early Sunday morning.

Marrone told Williams that he could be suspended again and the receiver said he'd rather quit, the source said.

Williams is expected to enter the NFL draft as a junior.

Bailey, Tiller and Ball have been suspended for Saturday's game against Pittsburgh.

Marrone said Monday he had not yet made a formal announcement to the team about Williams but suspected many players had already heard the news.

"He walked up to me and voluntarily took himself off the team. That's it," Marrone said, declining to elaborate. "I'm not going to discuss the conversation from my end."

Williams re-enrolled in January, returned to the team for spring practice, and picked up where he left off. He caught a scoring pass against Minnesota to extend his streak to 10 games before being kept off the board at Penn State.

His 20 career TD catches ties Marvin Harrison for second at Syracuse, two off Rob Moore's school record. Williams also was named recently as one of 10 finalists for the Biletnikoff Award, presented to the nation's top wide receiver.

In an interview last month, Williams, a senior, said he fully expected to return for his final year of eligibility in 2010.

"I'm really looking forward to coming back," Williams said. "I'm not even going through that process right now of thinking about leaving [for the NFL]. It'll be good for me because I sat out a year. All the problems I went through and stuff when I sat out, I feel like I really have to come back."

At his weekly news conference Monday, Marrone focused first on quarterback Greg Paulus. The former Duke point guard returned home to play football this season, but was booed Saturday during a 28-7 loss to Cincinnati at the Carrier Dome.

"I've never seen an athlete at any level, including the NFL, work as hard mentally and physically as Greg has worked since he's joined us here," Marrone said. "Really, what he's accomplished is extraordinary. Maybe he can't be fully appreciated because most don't know just how difficult it is to play quarterback at a Division I program."

Marrone said he felt Paulus was a victim of his own success. Paulus, who's only here for this one remaining year of athletic eligibility, nearly led Syracuse to an upset of Minnesota in the season-opener at home. He threw for 167 yards and one touchdown, but his lone turnover of the game, an interception in overtime, allowed the Gophers to escape with a victory.

Two weeks later, Paulus scored on a 10-yard run and threw for 346 yards (the sixth-highest total in school history) and two TDs in leading Syracuse to a comeback win over Northwestern. But in Syracuse's first two Big East games, he threw six interceptions and had another in the second quarter against the Bearcats, in the end zone with the Orange trailing 14-7.

That prompted a cascade of boos from the fans, who cheered every time backup Ryan Nassib was inserted.

Marrone said he wasn't aware of the negative reaction until he was told about it long after the game had ended. He said he had not yet discussed it with Paulus, though he tried to reach him by phone.

"We've seen him make great plays and great decisions, and we have come to expect that from him every time," Marrone said. "But football is a team game. People don't know when an offensive lineman misses a block or a receiver runs the wrong route. They only see the decisions that Greg makes.

"I understand that [booing] is a part of sports, but Greg is one of us. He grew up here. He came back to do something that's never been done before and has poured every ounce of his body and soul into that task."

Information from The Associated Press and ESPN college football reporter Joe Schad was used in this report.

ALSO SEE