Syracuse Special Teams Coordinator Hot Board

A look at potential replacements for the departing Justin Lustig.
By Mike McAllister , |

Syracuse has a vacancy on staff as Special Teams Coordinator and Outside Receivers coach Justin Lustig is headed to Vanderbilt to join Clark Lea's staff. Who will Syracuse hire to replace him? Here's a look at some options that make sense. 

Candidate: Jeff LePak

Current Position: Offensive Analyst at Syracuse

History: Grad Assistant at Bowling Green - 2015

Operations & Recruiting Assistant at Syracuse - 2016

Special Teams Quality Controls at Syracuse - 2017-18

Inside Receivers Coach at McNeese State - 2019

Offensive Analyst at Syracuse - 2020

Why it Makes Sense: LePak has extensive experience with Dino Babers. He played for Babers at Eastern Illinois, and was hired by Babers for his first coaching job as a grad assistant at Bowling Green. In addition to that, he has spent 2016 through 2018 and 2020 on Babers' staff in various roles. In 2017 and 2018, LePak worked under Lustig as a special teams quality control coach. This past season, he also spent time working with special teams under Lustig. That experience with Babers as well as knowledge of how Lustig approached and coached special teams makes him a natural fit that should provide a seamless transition. His experience coaching receivers at McNeese State would also allow him to take the outside receivers coach role vacated by Lustig. 

Candidate: Blair Cavanaugh

Current Position: Special Teams Quality Control at Syracuse

History: Grad Assistant at Ball State - 2017-18

Special Teams Quality Control at Syracuse - 2019-20

Why it Makes Sense: Cavanaugh is the son of Syracuse offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh. He has spent the last two seasons working with special teams under Lustig. Cavanaugh is young, has special teams experience at Syracuse and should be able to hit the ground running in the new role. In addition, he worked with receivers during his time at Ball State. 

Candidate: Doug Shearer

Current Position: Special Teams Coordinator at Miami (OH)

History: Grad Assistant at UConn - 2013

Grad Assistant at NC State - 2014

Special Teams Quality Control at NC State - 2015-18

Special Teams Coordinator at Miami (OH) - 2019-20

Why it Makes Sense: Shearer has experience coaching special teams in both quality control and as a coordinator. During his two years as the coordinator at Miami, the Red Hawks have finished fifth and 12th in the nation special teams efficiency. 

Candidate: Roc Bellantoni

Current Position: None

History: Defensive Line Coach at Buena Vista - 1995-97

Defensive Line Coach at Drake - 1998-99

Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers at Drake - 2000

Recruiting Coordinator/Defensive Line at Eastern Illinois - 2001

Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers at Eastern Illinois - 2002-06

Associate Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator at Eastern Illinois - 2007-11

Special Teams Coordinator/Defensive Line at Villanova - 2012-13

Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers at Florida Atlantic - 2014-16

Director of Player Personnel at Buffalo - 2017

Special Teams Coordinator/Defensive Ends at Buffalo - 2018

Interim Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers at Washington State - 2019

Special Teams Coordinator/Tight Ends at Utah State - 2020

Why it Makes Sense: Bellantoni has several years of experience coaching special teams at various stops. He was on the Utah State staff this past season, though they were let go due to no fault of his own. Utah State's special teams were ranked third in the nation in special teams efficiency in 2020. He has also coached various position groups on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball and has time as a recruiting coordinator. 

Candidate: Adam Breneman

Current Position: Graduate Assistant at Arizona State

History: Grad Assistant at Arizona State - 2020

Why it Makes Sense: Breneman is considered one of the rising stars in college football coaching. He was a standout tight end at Penn State and UMass before a knee injury prevented him from playing in the NFL. He may be the favorite to fill the tight end coach position currently vacant at Arizona State, but would he consider coaching receivers and special teams at Syracuse? It would at least be worth a call. Breneman is also considered an outstanding recruiter. During the 2020 season, he spent time with the tight ends and special teams. A move to Syracuse could possibly have him coach tight ends with Reno Ferri moves to coaching inside and outside receivers. 

Candidate: Nate Faanes

Current Position: Special Teams Coordinator/Linebackers at Ohio

History: Assistant at Wisconsin-Eau Clarie - 2013-15

Grad Assistant at Ohio - 2016-2018

Linebackers Coach at Ohio - 2019

Special Teams Coordinator/Linebackers at Ohio - 2020

Why it Makes Sense: Faanes is a young, up and coming coach who had an impressive first season as special teams coordinator last season. Ohio finished 14th in the nation in special teams efficiency, up from 57th the year before. Faanes also has experience coaching on both sides of the ball, as his time at Wisconsin-Eau Claire included working with quarterbacks, tight ends and running backs.  

MY TAKE: If I had to handicap this, I would put LePak and Cavanaugh as the favorites. LePak has more coaching experience, so he may have the edge there. Regardless, both have worked under Lustig and that would provide a more seamless transition. Bringing in an outsider is always a risk in terms of culture, personality, fit, etc. And that individual would likely change the approach to special teams. The move that promotes consistency in approach is hiring from within. 

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