To revive a college football program, you obviously have to be a good coach. You have to be a great salesman, first, to recruit good players and second, to sell hope to your fans and alumni.
You also need patience because it's almost impossible to turn a program around overnight. Often fans don't have that attribute which means pressure for the coach.
Dick MacPherson felt that pressure after the 1986 season when his Syracuse football team finished 5-6. The signs and bumper stickers said "Sack Mac." It was MacPherson's sixth season as Orange coach and his 30-36-1 record was enough proof for some fans to say a change was needed. Athletic director Jake Crouthamel, who hired MacPherson, didn't pull the trigger.
If you're a longtime Orange fan, you remember what happened in 1987, an 11-0-1 record, SU's first win over rival Penn State in 17 years and a Sugar Bowl berth. It was a special season that other than the 1959 team's national championship, was the greatest in school history.
Coach Mac passed away on Tuesday, almost 30 years after that magical season and his death is a reminder of why it can be important to be patient.
MacPherson inherited a program that had fallen on hard times. The Carrier Dome had opened the year before his arrival and it was vital to recruiting. But if you ever met Coach Mac, his enthusiasm was even more important to reviving the Orange.
I met MacPherson once, at a sports banquet in Albany in February 1988. He was exactly as you saw him on TV, outgoing and genuine. It was a pleasure talking to him for a few minutes to congratulate him on his team's success.
I was stunned when he left Syracuse after the 1990 season to coach the New England Patriots. I understood when he said coaching in the NFL meant more money but after all those years it took to build a successful program at Syracuse, why leave?
MacPherson lasted only two seasons in the NFL. The Patriots were the exact opposite of who they are today, they had unstable ownership and were rumored to be moving to St. Louis. It was a bad situation and MacPherson would never coach again after a 2-14 1992 season.
Even though MacPherson was from Maine, he returned to Syracuse and became even more popular. He helped charities and he was an analyst on Syracuse football radio broadcasts. You could excuse his open cheering on the air because you knew it came from the heart.
The 1980s were a special decade for Syracuse sports. Jim Boeheim's basketball team took advantage of the rise of the Big East and became a national power that continues today. MacPherson's success took longer and lasted only a few years but it was incredible to see Syracuse football rise from the ashes.
In barely a decade, Coach Mac endeared himself to central New York. His passing at 86, which was sudden, was a shock. His memory and legacy will live on in the hearts of Syracuse football fans for years.