Syracuse football coach Dino Babers says a saying when talking to his team, one he’s relied on heavily over the past year.
Among Babers’ many gifts is the ability to tell a story. To explain the phrase, Babers recalled his former college coach, the late Dick Toomey, and how he regularly used it with his teams.
“When I was 18, I was like, ‘What the hell is he talking about? Hard?’ I want to date her and have her be my wife — ‘try less.’ I want to be a head coach … ‘try less hard.’ What does that mean?” Babers says.
Bobbers never forgot that phrase as he moved forward in his career because he desperately wanted to figure out what Tommy was trying to say. In Babers’ mind, trying “less hard” doesn’t make sense. To get where he wanted to go, he felt he had to try harder than others, and then a little extra. But as he went about his career as an assistant, the cycle of job interviews grew and intensified until it finally hit him.
“When you get older, if you’ve got the skills, if you’ve got the skills, and it’s going to happen, the best thing you can do is relax,” Babers, now 61, said. “I think back to all the head coaching jobs I’ve interviewed for, and I wanted the job so bad, I didn’t get the job. The first time I got an interview, I said, ‘You know what? If I get it.’ If not, I don’t. Well, I got the job. When I have that attitude, I look invincible.”
He used the story to make a bigger point about his team this year, a team that is 3-0 heading into tonight’s game against Virginia (7 p.m. ET, ESPN) in its first start since 2018.
“Now I finally understand what it means to try less hard,” he says. “I hope my team gets it too.”
They talked about it after last season, when Syracuse lost three games by one field goal in a disappointing 5-7 campaign. Throughout his coaching career, Babers has prided himself on winning close games. Any of those three-point games go differently, Syracuse was a bowl team last year, and the story surrounding the Orange title this season is completely different.
Babers showed his players a collection of plays during the game that could have resulted in a different outcome. news? “We can show you 10 plays where God doesn’t have to go back and remake you,” Babers said. “All you have to do is what you’ve been trained to do.”
After last season, Babers brought in five new assistants — notably offensive coordinator Robert Ane and quarterbacks coach Jason Beck to help fix a stagnant offense from Virginia.
Babers never worked with Ane, but former Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall was one of Babers’ colleagues who said the same thing about recruiting Ane: Do it.
“By the time we got together and had a chance to sit down and talk X’s and O’s and talk philosophies, I was like, ‘This is a no-brainer,'” Babers said. “It’s 80 to 85%, I’m talking to the same person. [as me]And other 10 to 15% is negotiable. It’s a heck of a relationship.”
So far, the results are promising. Quarterback Garrett Schrader has 11 total touchdowns this season — no interceptions — and 910 yards of total offense. He is responsible for 68 points, sixth nationally.
“Early on, in winter workouts, guys are following it,” Schrader said. “There was a different sense of urgency and competitiveness. When we got into spring ball and saw what we could do with the new system, it was completely different. There was more excitement. We were putting up points.”
That’s what Bobbers wants. When he first arrived in Syracuse in 2016, he promised that, ”Orange is the new fast,” and that held true for a time. Syracuse has caused several upsets early in his tenure, including a 27-24 win over No. 2 Clemson in 2017. Syracuse finished 4-8 that year, but the following season, the turnaround occurred.
Syracuse went 10-3 in 2018 and was ranked in the top 20 nationally. I felt like the program was on an upward trajectory.
No. 2 After upsetting Clemson 27-24, Syracuse’s Dino Babers tells his team to never forget the feeling when someone is doubting.
But that season was Babers’ only bowl appearance at Syracuse so far.
Over the past three seasons, Syracuse has struggled to regain its footing. The 2020 Covid-19 season dealt Syracuse challenges that other programs didn’t, starting with strict state protocols that required the Orange to rearrange their entire travel schedule for road games because they had to leave and return within a 24-hour window.
Syracuse went 1-10 that year, but Babers didn’t see it as a complete failure. He says he has learned patience. For the players who chose to stay, they learned to trust and lean on each other.
“We’ve been together through our ups and downs,” said linebacker Michael Jones, who was on the team in 2020 and is now an All-ACC performer. “Some people transferred, a lot stayed. I feel like the ones who stayed, we worked together and pushed something we believed in, and that was us.”
Babars are included in it. After the regular season ended last November, athletic director John Wildock announced that Bobbers would return and that “we’ll be aggressive on our deficiencies.” He took into account the Covid year — in the Wildcat’s words, it was “no wonder” the team played its full 11-game schedule — and the close losses in 2021.
Wildak also noted that none of the starters entered the transfer portal.
“It told me there is a culture here, and the culture works,” Wildock said in a phone interview. “My job is to work with Dino. If we’ve got this as a foundation, what changes can we make to make this foundation stronger?”
This includes personnel changes, but also a completely rebooted recruitment department
“The overall infrastructure of our program is stronger than it was last year, stronger than it was two years ago,” Wildach said. “So when I see myself progressing like that, I think the coach has earned the right to be here.”
But that hasn’t stopped questions about the project’s direction. In June, Wildhack again told local reporters that Babers was not on the hot seat. “It was nice of him to do it, but did I ask for it? No,” Babers said.
After starting 3-0, Syracuse players noticed a change in narrative around the team, especially among the fans.
“Last year, the fans gave us a hard time, and this year they’re kissing our behinds. It’s the same people, nothing’s changed,” Schrader said. “We love Coach Babers. I’m grateful to him every day for giving him the opportunity to be here and for choosing me as the starting quarterback. I’m focused on proving to people that he made the right decision in this building, and this conference.”
He certainly did that in last week’s dramatic win over Purdue, especially in a wild, frantic, highly emotional fourth quarter. After Purdue took a 15-10 lead, Schrader threw a 46-yard touchdown pass to Oronde Gadston II on fourth-and-1 to go up 18-15.
Following a pick-six that gave the Orange a 25-15 lead, Purdue scored two touchdowns to pull back to 29-25. But several penalties on Purdue gave Syracuse great field position, and Schrader tossed the game-winning 25-yard touchdown to Gadsden with 7 seconds left.
Garrett Schrader found Oronde Gadston II for a Syracuse touchdown with seven seconds left.
On the sidelines, Babers tried to keep his emotions in check.
“I’m a volcano,” Babers said. “You can put houses and trails and roads and little lookout points outside of me. You think life is great for four, five, six years, and then all of a sudden, I’m going to wipe it all out. As soon as I went crazy, all the lava started coming out. It was definitely coming to the edge with all the things that were going on. But my team really settled me down. They were the Alka-Seltzer I needed because they were very confident, very solid going down the road.”
You know…trying hard.