Cohen: Marrone to blame for Syracuse’s struggles this season
Time and again last season, Doug Marrone fooled us. He took to the podium week after week, loss after loss, and insisted that the blame be heaped on his shoulders rather than those of his players. He affirmed that the five-game losing streak was chiefly his fault — that his preparation must improve for Syracuse to win games.
The message, repeated like a broken record with each successive defeat, was a metaphorical shield. It deflected media inquiries, shrouded the truth and protected the players who later lauded him for doing it and keeping them safe.
As we learned in August, Marrone’s go-to response from 2011 hid a rash of unpublicized injuries that withered away the Syracuse defense to a unit consisting of skin, bones and a code of silence.
The same message has resurfaced in 2012, with Marrone taking the blame for each of SU’s (2-4, 1-1 Big East) losses and insisting he must do a better job at the helm. Only this time there are no injuries, with Marrone saying “everybody is healthy” in his press conference on Wednesday.
It means his use of last year’s rhetoric in this year’s context is the honest truth rather than a protective wall, and Marrone himself is truly the root of the problem for a team dangerously close to sliding down the familiar precipice that is Big East play.
“It starts with the head man, and he feels like that so it’s only right,” Syracuse defensive tackle Deon Goggins said. “It’s his team. We’re a resemblance of him, if that’s how you want to put it.”
But Goggins, along with a handful of other teammates, was quick to point out that coaches can only do so much, that once the game plan is created and installed the pressure to produce shifts to the players. In Marrone’s case, though, the time has come to question those game plans, to question the instruction that is given during the week and leading to what looks like another sub-.500 season.
And the first place to look is on special teams.
Marrone took over the special teams unit during the offseason, and he now coaches it himself, in addition to the tight ends. He wanted to apply his hands-on approach to the team’s specialists, but the results have been nothing short of disastrous.
Ross Krautman, the junior kicker who missed only five of his first 38 attempts at Syracuse, is suddenly inept. He is four-for-nine on the season with a pedestrian long of 37 yards and ranks 94th in the country in field-goal accuracy. Steve Rene, a junior punt returner, ranks dead last in the country among players with one punt return per game with 0.1 yards per return, and was finally replaced by Ritchy Desir this week after a fumble inside the 30 yard line handed Rutgers a touchdown. Kick returns have been no better either, as Syracuse is 96th in the country in that department.
“I really am a believer that you are a replica of your coach,” Goggins said in explaining how the defensive line feeds off the teaching methods and intensity of its coach Tim Daoust. And as that unit comes off its best game of the season against Rutgers — Goggins had 11 tackles by himself — and special teams comes off its worst, one can only wonder how that statement would apply to Marrone’s instruction.
It can be argued that other personnel groups are simply more talented, and Marrone shouldn’t be blamed for the poor play of the special teams. But of all the coaches on the staff, only Marrone works with a former All-American each day — Krautman. And all he’s done under Marrone’s tutelage is put together the worst season of his career in 2012.
Beyond special teams, the other major concern for Syracuse is ball security, an area which Marrone says candidly has been a problem since he took over as head coach. That means over the course of four seasons, two quarterbacks, three running backs and a wealth of fresh faces on defense, he is still stumped about how to protect the football and prevent turnovers.
This goes beyond poor execution by the players, for not everyone in Marrone’s tenure had turnover woes — see Delone Carter’s zero fumbles on 231 carries in 2010. Instead, his inability to solve the puzzle of arguably football’s most basic principle — holding onto the ball — is an indication of a coaching deficiency.
“When we start playing this game, from when we’re in kindergarten, we always have talked about ball security,” Marrone said in his press conference on Wednesday. “It’s not something that’s not coached on an every-day, every-play basis. It is (coached on an every-day basis). The focus on it has to be there constantly.”
Yet this constant focus, as he described it, has led to 15 lost turnovers, tied for 101st in the country out of 120 Bowl Championship Subdivision teams. It suggests the message is not effective, that whatever is being taught is not yielding results.
That’s why Marrone is the source of this team’s problems, because everything starts at the top with the message from the head coach like Goggins said.
Marrone fooled us last year by hiding the injuries. But this year’s team has no injuries to hide. That leaves him alone at the podium, speaking nothing but the truth.
Said Marrone: “I have to do a better job.”
Michael Cohen is a staff writer at The Daily Orange, where his column appears occasionally. He can be reached at email@example.com, or on Twitter at @Michael_Cohen13.
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