Dino Babers Out As Head Coach: A Look Back At His Time At Syracuse

Sunday, Nov 19, 2023 at 2:11 pm by Sports Editor

By Jish Sokolsky

Syracuse football fans went to bed Saturday night with a sour taste in their mouths after a 31-22 loss to Georgia Tech. When they woke up on Sunday, they found out Dino Babers, who spent eight seasons as the head coach of SU, was dismissed from the program. The Orange officially went 41-55 under Babers with a 20-45 record in the ACC. In his eight seasons, Syracuse had just two winning seasons, and went 1-1 in bowl games. 

After Dino Babers’ first season in 2016, there was a tinge of hope. The team matched its 2015 record of 4-8, but under the tutelage of Babers the Orange collected their first ranked win since 2012 with a 31-17 win over 17th-ranked Virginia Tech. Later that season, SU dropped 61 points in a loss to Pittsburgh, a school record for most points against an ACC opponent.  In 2017, the Orange finished 4-8 for the third straight season, but this time collected a signature win over No. 2 Clemson 27-24. Syracuse was playing hard under its new head coach. The results hadn’t necessarily matched the optimism, but Syracuse fans would not have to wait long to find them.

In 2018, Dino Babers’ team put it all together. The Orange went 10-3, their best record in 17 years with a 6-2 record in conference. The Orange looked unbeatable for stretches of the season with two separate 4-game win streaks. The offense scored a program record 523 points. The campaign ended with a 34-18 win over 15th-ranked West Virginia in the Camping World Bowl. After the impressive season, Babers was named a finalist for the George Munger Collegiate Coach of the Year Award.  The future looked bright for the Hawaiian in central New York. For his efforts, the university rewarded the coach with a lengthy contract extension in December of 2018.

That was the peak of the Dino Babers era. After 2018, starting quarterback Eric Dungy graduated, and the cracks in the once shiny Syracuse armor began to show. The Orange stumbled out of the gate with a 1-2 start, including blowout losses to Maryland and Clemson in which they were outscored 26-104. Opponents rushed for over 200 yards against Syracuse in 2019, the third worst in the ACC. Babers and company scraped together 5 wins, halving their total from a year prior.  

There were rumblings as far back as 2020 about the status of the Babers’ future with the team. Syracuse went 1-10, its worst season under the head coach. The 2020 season was off to begin with, the dome had no fans due to COVID-19 precautions, but even still the disappointment was mounting. Quarterback Tommy DeVito, the heir apparent to Eric Dungy, was expected to break out, but played in just four games. Thanks to the instability at quarterback, the Orange finished last in the ACC in every major offensive category. With injuries up and down the roster in 2020,  the program expected a healthier team to bounce back in 2021. To some extent, it did. Syracuse boasted the best rushing attack in the ACC behind all-American running back Sean Tucker and Mississippi State transfer quarterback Garrett Shrader. The Orange started 2021 with a 5-3 record, just one win away from their first bowl game in three years. But SU lost its final three games to finish 5-7 for the second time in three years. 

Late season collapses became a theme under Babers. In 2022, Syracuse jumped out to a 6-0 start, its best in 25 years. At one point, Syracuse was ranked as high as number 14. Syracuse fans rushed the field for the first time since 2017 after a 24-9 win over NC State made the team bowl eligible. It seemed as though coach Babers was back in the fans’ good graces. After their sixth win, Syracuse lost six of their next seven contests, including a 28-20 loss to Minnesota in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee stadium. 

Despite the bitter end to the season, Babers returned to coach in 2023. With a healthier defense, new offensive and defensive coordinators and returning stars like Garrett Shrader, all-ACC tight end Oronde Gadsden and up-and-coming running back LeQuint Allen, the 2023 Orange were sure to be stronger than where they left off. Just like the season prior, Syracuse started hot. Even after Gadsden’s season ended with an injury in week two, SU was 4-0 with a top 10 scoring offense and defense in the nation. But just like 2022, the season took a turn for the worse. The Orange lost their next 5 games scoring no more than 14 in that span. including a 17-10 loss in the dome to Boston College, a team they had snapped their losing streak against in 2022. By that point fans were fed up. 

The next week, with quarterbacks Garrett Shrader and Carlos Del Rio-Wilson hurt, Babers and offensive coordinator Jason Beck implemented a brand new, wildcat quarterback-centric offense. It worked like a charm; Syracuse defeated Pitt 28-13 behind 392 rushing yards, a new high in the 21st century for the ‘Cuse. SU tight end Dan Villari had a career day as the wildcat quarterback with 154 rushing yards and a touchdown. The creativity and fight displayed by the coaching staff cooled off calls for Babers’ job. Just like that, Syracuse was one win away from bowl eligibility for the second straight year.

Unfortunately for Babers, lightning did not strike twice. The next week, a valiant, near 21-point comeback attempt against Georgia Tech came up short, and so too did Dino Babers’ time with the headset. 

The Dino Babers era can be defined by one word: Ohana, the Hawaiian word for family. No matter the results of his team, Babers always preached the importance of playing as a cohesive unit. While his legacy may be shrouded in mixed feelings, his message of playing as a family will be remembered for a long time. 

As for his successor, Syracuse has a few rumored options in the head coaching search. Some names include familiar faces like former DC Tony White and former head coach Doug Marrone.

For the immediate present though, tight ends coach Nunzio Campanile will serve as interim head coach for the remainder of the season. The Orange have just one game left on the season – back home against Wake Forest on Saturday. The game will kick off at 2 p.m. and be televised on The CW.