Football

Cohen: Marrone’s punishments of Spruill, Rene hypocritical to no-nonsense approach

When Doug Marrone returned to Syracuse, his alma mater was in shambles. The once-proud program — it’s easy to forget Jim Brown used to run wild in Central New York — seemed to have plummeted toward a state of irrelevancy once the 20th century gave way to the 21st.

It hit rock bottom under Greg Robinson, a laid-back coach with a laid-back approach, who handed out free time and perks “that winning programs should be given,” as former defensive tackle Andrew Lewis (Class of 2011) said.

Only his teams weren’t winning. Rather, they were piling up losses at an alarming rate.

“The previous seasons we were, what, 3-9, 4-8, 1-and-terrible and 2-and-terrible?” said Lewis, who is a vocal supporter of Marrone. “… At that point it was like here is our chance to start over new. The old way wasn’t working.”

Marrone was the new way, the antithesis of his predecessor. He would restore his alma mater using discipline, which he wielded with a heavy hand. The result was a 28-player exodus in a one-year period from spring 2009 to spring 2010 as Marrone “definitely tried to send a message,” in the words of Lewis, to create the culture he wanted. Many players were dismissed while others chose to leave because of the ways Marrone’s vision clashed with that of Robinson’s.

As he weeded out the players who wouldn’t — or couldn’t — buy into his philosophy, he developed a reputation as a no-nonsense coach. Any rule violation or misstep could be costly, as former fullback Adam Harris explained. That belief is reflected in former defensive tackle Lamar Middleton’s dismissal over an alleged curfew violation, he told The Daily Orange back in 2010. Marrone would not confirm or deny the validity of Middleton’s remarks when given the chance to comment after that season.

But the most recent behavioral issue Marrone has faced — the arrests of running back Steve Rene and starting linebacker Marquis Spruill in early December —yielded a response from the head coach that is hypocritical when juxtaposed with his handling of disciplinary matters earlier in his career. That Spruill will suit up for the Pinstripe Bowl, albeit in a reduced fashion, after police reports indicate he laid hands on a police officer and almost struck an officer in the face when he kicked the door of a police van, is a disgrace.

It probes the validity of Marrone’s professed commitment to ensuring his players are developing as people first, and football players second.

“I would almost challenge that if that was exactly how it happened (with Spruill and Rene), there would have obviously been more punishment for the situation,” said Harris, who graduated in May. “… I know that when I was there, and if those events were true, then they wouldn’t be playing and they would pretty much be begging to still be on the team.”

Perhaps, then, Marrone has changed his ways in regard to discipline. Or maybe he doesn’t believe the police report and newspaper articles derived from that report were entirely accurate. (Harris, who speaks highly of Marrone as a coach and an individual, questioned the newspaper articles.) Regardless, it deserves an explanation from the head coach.

Both Marrone and Athletic Director Daryl Gross declined to comment for this column. Marrone issued the following statement through an athletic department spokesperson Saturday:

“Our policy is to not discuss team matters outside of football as these matters are handled internally.”

But when the internal handling begins to change, the coach would be wise to offer an explanation. There was a pattern established during the handful of previous arrests of Syracuse football players under Marrone, and this pattern was broken in the handling of the situation of Rene and Spruill.

In the past, Marrone tended to suspend players almost immediately after they were arrested. It happened with Delone Carter, Jonny Miller, Marcus Sales and Terrel Hunt. The announcement was relayed in a statement that said the matter would be handled internally and then Marrone would announce a punishment, if there was one, at a later date.

Marrone suspended Hunt for an entire spring season after he was charged with misdemeanor petit larceny in connection with stolen cologne from the Carousel Center. Sales was suspended for an entire season for charges that were eventually dropped. Carter was suspended nearly four months after he faced criminal charges for punching a fellow Syracuse student in the face. And Marrone suspended Miller immediately after he was arrested in connection with a robbery and assault.

Applying this template to Marrone’s handling of the Rene/Spruill situation illustrates important differences. Neither Rene nor Spruill was suspended from the football program at the time of his arrest. Rather, each player will not be allowed to play “a significant portion” – whatever that means – of the next game for which they are healthy. In Spruill’s case, this is the Pinstripe Bowl, and for Rene, who is currently out with an injury, this likely means the season opener in 2013.

Rene and Spruill had their cases adjourned until Jan. 30. But if police reports are to be believed, resisting arrest to the extent that a police dog is needed to secure the situation (Rene) and laying hands on an officer before kicking the door to a police van, nearly striking an officer in the face (Spruill) warranted a less-than-one-game suspension.

What? Really? Under Doug Marrone?

“It’s hard to say (if there has been a change in Marrone),” said the aforementioned Andrew Lewis, who missed the 2010 Pinstripe Bowl himself after violating an unspecified team rule. “I didn’t think Delone was going to return. I didn’t think Marcus was going to return either.

“Every situation is different.”

Apparently so. And this situation is the most different of all. It’s just too bad Marrone won’t tell us why.

Michael Cohen is a staff writer at The Daily Orange, where his column appears occasionally. He can be reached at mjcohe02@syr.edu or on Twitter at @Michael_Cohen13. 

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