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ON SPORTS

Sciria: For better or worse, Syracuse football is wedded to Babers

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It's not really a surprise that Syracuse University Athletic Director John Wildhack announced this week that football coach Dino Babers is coming back for a seventh season.

Coming off a 1-10 record in 2020, a 5-7 mark shows some progress. Of course, when you were 1-10, it doesn't take much to show improvement.

And you can make the case that Syracuse was oh so close to an 8-4 record, losing three straight games by three points, including one in overtime to Wake Forest, who is playing Pitt for the overall ACC title.

You could see the glass half full.

Or you can look at Syracuse's last three games when all they needed was one win to become bowl eligible, all blowouts by 38, 24 and 17 points. Only two of the five wins came against Power Five opponents, ACC also-rans Virginia Tech and Boston College.

You could see the glass half empty.

However you want to look at it or how Wildhack looks at it, a 5-7 record is mediocre. Can it be looked at differently considering the Orange had six players enter the transfer portal since the start of the season. That may have been a factor in Wildhack's decision to retain Babers.

The emergence of running back Sean Tucker may have played a big role. Tucker said he would come back to Syracuse if the current coaching staff was retained. That has to count for something.

But to me the biggest reason why Babers is returning is his contract, which was extended after his 10-win season in 2018. Since then Babers has led the Orange to a 11-24 record. We don't know how long the extension is or how much money Syracuse would owe Babers if they fired him.

This week alone, we've seen USC and LSU shell out mega-million dollar deals to land new head coaches. It is very unlikely Syracuse has the deep pockets to be able to bring in a name coach. And sorry, what big name coach would want to come to Syracuse unless you dramatically overpay him.

The Orange play in a decent football conference but out of the Power Five, you could say it's No. 4 or 5, behind the SEC, the Big 10, the Pac 12 and maybe the Big 12 (and the Big 12 is on thin ice with Texas and Oklahoma leaving for the SEC).

Also, Syracuse is better known as a basketball school and it's rare when a school has high quality programs in both sports (Ask Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, UCLA, North Carolina, Indiana).

So the best Syracuse would be able to do is a coach from a lower tier successful Division I program, which is where Syracuse found Babers.

No one expects Babers to lead Syracuse to the College Football Playoff anytime soon but around 8 to 10 wins and a good bowl on a regular basis should be a realistic expectation. Seven years is more than a fair amount of time for a coach to show he's capable of leading a successful program.

For better or worse, Syracuse is wedded to Babers.

Assistant News Editor Chris Sciria can be reached at chris.sciria@lee.net or on Twitter @csciria

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