SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — Syracuse athletics director John Wildhack says the latest November swoon and failure to achieve a 7-5 regular season record led to firing football coach Dino Babers after eight seasons.
“The decision was not a knee-jerk reaction, not an emotional decision,” athletics director John Wildhack said Monday, a day after firing Babers. “We evaluated the program on a consistent basis … what it boils down to is November. We’ve not had success in November.”
The Orange (5-6, 1-6 ACC) have one last chance to become bowl eligible by hosting Wake Forest (4-7, 1-6) on Saturday. Syracuse had just two bowl appearances under Babers.
After opening the season 4-0, Syracuse has dropped six of seven following a 31-22 loss at Georgia Tech on Saturday. The pattern is similar to last year when the Orange opened 6-0 start before closing 1-6, including a loss to Minnesota in the Pinstripe Bowl.
“There’s a consistent theme, ”Wildhack said. "We’ve not had the success we need and that really is one of the things that stood out to me.”
Two factors led to making the switch with just one game remaining. One was getting a head start on finding Babers’ successor. The second was failing to meet the expectations Wildhack set out to the coach.
“I met with Dino before the season, and I told him the benchmark was 7-5," he said, noting he reminded Babers of the objective after Syracuse dropped to 4-3 following a 41-3 loss to Florida State. "I reiterated that once that obviously wasn’t attainable, it was time to make a decision.”
Tight ends coach Nunzio Campanile takes over on an interim basis. He joined the Orange this year after spending the past five seasons at Rutgers, where he also worked as tight ends coach and offensive coordinator and served as interim head coach.
Wildhack indicated candidates with ties coaching in the northeast might have a leg up in his search by noting the school’s most successful coaches — Ben Schwartzwalder, Dick MacPherson, Paul Pasqualoni and Doug Marrone – all had similar geographical roots.
“Sometimes your history can be a really good teacher,” he said.
Babers had a breakout season in 2018 when the Orange went 10-3 and finished No. 15 in the AP Top 25. He couldn't replicate that success, managing only a 7-6 record in 2022, his other winning season. The 62-year-old Babers, who finished 41-55 overall and 20-45 in the ACC, had one season left on his contract.
Wildhack insisted Syracuse remains an attractive destination despite its central New York location and after earning just two bowl berths in eight seasons.
“We’re not that far away. Are there are areas that need to be addressed? Yes. Will they be addressed? Absolutely. But it’s not like this is a total rebuild. We’re not a 2-10 team that you’ve got to totally rebuild," he said. "There’s a lot to sell here.”
By noting enhancements being made to the program's existing facilities, Wildhack remained steadfast in his belief that Syracuse can successfully compete. He also says having the most money “doesn’t always equate to success.”
“The narrative that we’re behind is not accurate,” he said, adding donors have stepped up to support the school's ability to attract and retain players.
In September, Wildhack described the program as being “an ascendant brand," after the school broke ground on a new football operations center that will feature a new locker room, expanded cafeteria and meeting spaces, and new offices and amenities for coaches.
Wildhack stuck with his belief on Monday.
“I still feel there are ways we are an ascendant brand. From a record perspective, I get it," Wildhack said. "But I go back in terms of the investment, the commitment that we made, the investments that we’ve already made in the infrastructure of the program, so I think it is. Is there a lot of work to do? Absolutely.”
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