Football

Iseman: Players deserve blame for Syracuse’s struggles

Doug Marrone can say what he wants. He can stand behind a podium at every press conference and preach that Syracuse’s struggles start with him and say that he needs to do a better job. He can take the blame and the spotlight off his players and bring it all onto himself.

He’s the head coach; it’s his job to do that. That’s as far as it can go.

Marrone is not the reason for the Orange’s disappointing start to the season. But when fans want to consider why Syracuse is playing poorly, why the players are turning the ball over so much, why the program as a whole can’t seem to move forward, they look to Marrone. They blame him. They say the team’s struggles are a reflection on him and that the players aren’t being held to a high enough level.

But that’s all misdirected blame. Syracuse can be a winning program with Marrone at the helm. It already has. Syracuse played in a bowl game. Remember? The Pinstripe Bowl? Which came after a 7-5 season.

This isn’t to say that Marrone should be absolved of all fault for this season’s struggles. But to say he’s the reason for Syracuse’s futility would be ignoring the Division-I football players that take the field every week with the task of playing at a high level. At some point, they’re the ones who need to shoulder some of the blame, as well.

“Coach Marrone’s going to say what he wants to say,” center Macky MacPherson said. “Obviously I think it’s no secret that coach Marrone can’t go out there and play for us. Obviously, it has to start with us. It starts with me; I snap the ball and then Ryan goes from there. I think that’s something that we all know.”

During his four years at Syracuse, Marrone has shown he’s a player’s coach. He’ll never criticize any of his players to the media. He’ll protect them and ensure they aren’t treated unfairly. It’s why he accepts the blame.

It takes the pressure off the players and lets them focus on improving. That’s important considering they’re the ones on the field. The players are the ones who commit turnovers or make mental mistakes. It’s foolish to think Marrone ignores that in practice and doesn’t drill into their head how they’re supposed to play.

Marrone is not glossing over any of his team’s mistakes. He even restructured his practice schedule to allow for more time to work on ball security.

“We’ve worked on all the things that we can do from the standpoint of practice time,” Marrone said. “We spent the maximum amount of practice time on that, to a point where we’ve actually cut things out to work on it, emphasized it.”

Marrone adjusted his practice schedule. Now the players have to adjust how they play on the field. He can’t do that for them.

Wide receiver Alec Lemon said the team’s been focusing in on ball security since before the Orange’s bye week. So what happened when Syracuse committed four turnovers against Rutgers last Saturday?

The players made the mistakes. Quarterback Ryan Nassib threw two ill-advised passes that were intercepted. Steve Rene fumbled on a punt return. Justin Pugh said he missed the assignment that caused the Orange’s field goal to be blocked and be returned for a Rutgers touchdown.

Marrone wasn’t on the field. He didn’t commit any of them. The players know he’ll defend them, but they know the true responsibility is on their shoulders just as much.

“It’s great because you know Coach has your back, because it’s not his fault,” Nassib said. “We shoulder the blame as players. It’s nice to know he’s got our back and he’s going to be with us in the long haul.”

Turning the team around, starting Friday against Connecticut, will determine how much the players can raise their level of focus and limit their mistakes. All week long, Marrone emphasized it, and that’s the job of a coach. Now it’s each individual player to make sure they execute on the field.

“It’s just raising the level of focus. I know personally I need to pick my game up, I have to play better. That’s really where we have to start,” offensive tackle Justin Pugh said. “If you play better individually, then you’re going to pick up everyone’s game around you, and that’s the approach I’m taking.”

Marrone’s not the cause of these struggles, but because he’s the face of the team, he’s the one who takes the brunt of the criticism. And that’s certainly understandable since he is, indeed, the head coach.

But this is not on Marrone.

There is not much else he can do.

“He put it on his shoulders,” MacPherson said. “But I think everyone knows we have a big part in it as well.”

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