Syracuse head coach Dino Babers was among those who represented the Orange at the ACC Kickoff event on Thursday. He spoke at the podium on a variety of topics.
Q. For you this season, you bring Josh, Airon and Taj. I wanted to start there, the leadership of these three gentlemen, why they're the proper representation for Syracuse this year.
DINO BABERS: Let me start with this. Taj has been an amazing player for us. Came in as a young man, battled an upperclassman, ended up becoming a starter his true freshman year. If things go right this year, he's going to be an opportunity to be the leading wide receiver in the history of Syracuse football.
Syracuse history goes back a long way. There's been a bunch of not only fantastic collegiate wide receivers, but NFL wide receivers. For him to have an opportunity to be in that light, I felt like he deserved the right to be here.
When I talk about Josh Black, and I talk about Airon Servais, there's no doubt they're leaders on our football team, but the thing I appreciate about that class is the six super seniors that are coming back to help lead this team, to have the redemption from the last year that we had, is so important.
There's no way we'd be able to bridge the youth on this football team with the season that we're going to have and we're trying to have without the super seniors coming back.
All six of those guys, they have their degrees. All six of those guys could have started their lives. All six of those guys could have had shots in NFL camps. But they decided to come back and do one more year because something just didn't feel right with them.
Their attitude is the attitude that I want to radiate not only throughout the football team but throughout the staff and throughout the community. I will give them all the power I have to have the type of season that they want to have at Syracuse.
Q. The big boys up front. Only two teams in the nation gave up more sacks than you last season. What are your expectations for this year with your offensive line?
DINO BABERS: I think the first thing is we need to call it exactly what it is. We had major injuries, domino effect of injuries in the offensive line. Most of them not on the football field. Most of them happening walking around campus. Just fluke things.
When you're playing nine football games with your fullback playing guard so that you can be one of I believe two ACC teams that played every entire game, never had a stoppage because of COVID in their program, you're going to have some difficulties.
Now, we're not happy with those numbers. There's no doubt about that. That needs to change. But when you talk about the effort that that offensive line put in, and the people who were unselfish, Chris Elmore, other people who changed positions to give us the best opportunity we could to keep those guys upright, to keep us functioning, I really do appreciate their efforts.
We've had some changes. We've got some different coaches at some different positions. But I think the main difference is going to be that those guys are healthy, and we're not going to be having a rotation of a bunch of young guys in there with some older guys. We'll have an older group, and they'll are ready to be. It always starts with the O-line and it always starts with the defensive line. You can't be good in football if you're not good at those two positions.
Hopefully we've got the health that we need to have the season that we want.
Q. There's a rarity of NCAA Black football coaches, you're one of the better ones definitely in the ACC. Can you speak on that impact, what being an African American coach in college football means to you.
DINO BABERS: Every day I want to be known as a football coach. Watch how I say this. I want to be known as a football coach, a good football coach, and I appreciate you saying that.
There's no doubt when I look in the mirror, I wake up in the morning, I see an African American staring back at me. The responsibility is to make sure that the things that I do in this position allows other people to have an opportunity to enjoy and embrace the same profession. It gets difficult sometimes. Sometimes it's just like, Wow, I really would like to do that but I can't do that.
But you got to understand that not only are you doing it for your family and your university and your community, but you're also doing it for others. I am not perfect. I'm not always right. I try to be good as much as I can (laughter), and not bad.
But there's no doubt that you make sure you cross Ts and dot Is because you want those opportunities to happen to other people like me, to have the same opportunities that I had.
Q. Five seasons in, what is the assessment for you as you look back on these five years at Syracuse as you head into year number six, those big points that maybe you wanted to hit at this point, maybe if you have gotten to some of those pillars?
DINO BABERS: I think the biggest thing is that we had a bad season, and we've had a really, really good season. I don't think we're as bad as we were in the bad season, and maybe we're not as good as we were in the good one.
But the thing that I really want is consistency. I want to be consistently good, not occasionally great. If we can find that consistency, I think we can find the support and the foundation that we need not only for the university but also for the community.
It's really important to me that they have a football team they can be proud of. That's very, very important.
Q. You open up against a stingy Ohio team. This is an Ohio team that's made bowl appearances 10 out of their last 11 seasons. What challenges do they present to you?
DINO BABERS: It's huge. Now that Frank Solich has retired -- I have an unbelievable Frank Solich story. He's an amazing coach, he's been an amazing competitor. I think back to when I want to say I was the offensive coordinator at the University of Arizona in 1988. I want to say it was 1988. In the Holiday Bowl, we were playing Nebraska. Frank Solich was the defensive coordinator. It was an amazing game. He's a fabulous defensive coach.
We ended up winning in the very last drive, one-minute drive at the very end where a walk-on, Brad Brennan caught a ball in the back of the end zone. Now, he had a scholarship at the time that he caught it, but before the season started he was a walk-on. An unbelievable catch. Nebraska got the ball back and almost won, but the defense ended up stopping them.
But we came down the elevator, I was talking about the drive. Then I said, There's like 30 yards. I can't even remember what happened.
A voice in the back of the elevator said, You did this, and it was a scramble. You did this, and it was a quick out. You did this on a draw, which was a heck of a call. That's how you got down there. I mean, bang, bang, bang.
I turned around, Who? It was Frank Solich. From that day we've had an unbelievable relationship. I respect the heck out of him. They've always been a good football team. They've always had his personality.
But it's going to be more difficult because now they have a new head coach and a new personality. We haven't played them. So it's going to be a difficult game. I'm sure they'll try to win that one for their new coach and their old coach. It just makes them a lot more dangerous.
I have a lot of respect for the Ohio Bobcats. I have tremendous respect for Frank Solich. I'm sure their new coach will do a fabulous job in the opening game.
Q. This is going to be your deepest group of running backs this season. How will that change your offensive game plan and schematics this year?
DINO BABERS: First of all, you better not leave out Cooper Lutz. I mean, that was the guy that house called Notre Dame at the end of the season when we got some of our offensive linemen back.
They're very, very deep. The coolest thing about having that type of depth, and we do not have it everywhere, we just don't, is to see the way they compete in practice, the maturity that their position handles their business. It's rare. It's really rare.
I think nothing but good thoughts about that group. They need to come to work every day because the guys they're competing with, there's some cats that aren't going to miss a day. I'm telling you right now you can throw some of those guys in a hat and mix them up, they're all about the same. There's some special ones in there, but I think we can win with every name that you mentioned at that position. They're a really, really talented group.
Q. Trill, Cisco and Iffy are gone. Do you expect the young DBs to take any sort of step back with the older guys out of the way?
DINO BABERS: They better take a step forward unless they're backpedaling. No, this is an opportunity. They got a chance to play early.
Out of those three guys you mentioned, Iffy was the only one that finished the year, if my memory serves me correctly. Last year the injuries were so numerous. But they better take a step forward. Those young people have had a lot of playing time.
The thing that I'm excited about is they've had an opportunity to change their body. Now it's going to be one of those deals where they have some knowledge because they did play and they were out there, and reps make you better, but take that new body with the reps that you learned and let's see if we can get a different type of production out of that group.
It's going to be a group that's going to be around for a while. There's only two things that are going to happen: they're going to stay around, play a lot, graduate, or they're going to get really good and leave early. Either way is good.
Q. Name, image and likeness is obviously something that's front and center right now. How have you addressed that with the student-athletes? What is your overall take on moving forward knowing this is a real thing right now?
DINO BABERS: The first thing I talk to them about is I'm really excited for them. It's new. Not only is new for them, but it's new for coaches. We've probably had two or three things in the last six or seven months in coaching for changes, more changes than we've had in the last 30 years. So some of it we have to adjust, we have to adapt, improvise, make sure we're changing with the times so to speak.
One of the first things I said in a team meeting, I'm going to teach you guys about contracts, what happens when you sign your name to something, it's legally binding. Just making sure when they're going out there and they're exercising their right to some of these opportunities, that they're not getting tied up in a situation where it could cost them later.
They're going to have classes. There's three classes that we're going to have, teach for them, to help them, help them with their brand. We're going to, how do I say this, introduce them to certain people that we think can help them if they don't have their own type of representation. People not to represent them, but people that can talk about representation, what they're looking for.
We're going to have to wait and see how this thing goes. I think there are some schools that are obviously way ahead of other schools. But I don't think we're going to be far behind. We're just a little slow to go. Once it gets going, state of New York is a big state, has a lot of people, I'm sure there's enough name, image and likeness for everyone.