Syracuse closed out its 2018 season with a 34-18, Camping World Bowl win over West Virginia, which is meaningful on a few fronts.
- The Orange finish 10-3 for Syracuse’s first double-digit-win campaign since 2001.
- Syracuse came into the Camping World Bowl ranked No. 20; with a win over No. 16, the Orange are assured their first Top 20 finish since that same 2001 campaign.
- By reaching the 10-win mark in his third year with the program, coach Dino Babers has now scored double-digit wins in each of his three head coaching stops — and done so at each in Year 3 or earlier. Babers previously went 12-2 in his second season at Eastern Illinois, and 10-3 Year 2 at Bowling Green.
Longtime readers of this site have read me lavish praise on Dino Babers before. His offense at Eastern Illinois set FCS records and helped elevate an unknown quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, into the NFL conversation.
As Bowling Green began to soar in 2015, and amid rumors of Virginia Tech considering Rich Rodriguez as its replacement for Frank Beamer, I suggested Babers as the best option for Arizona.
And in 2017, the first breakthrough at Syracuse foreshadowing the success to come stood as a testament to the long road Dino Babers traveled to this point.
His is a journey to which I relate on a deep level. Surely, others can follow the path and glean similarities to their own lives.
Babers began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at his alma mater, Hawaii, in 1984. He landed his first head coaching position at Eastern Illinois in 2012. Twenty-eight years.
The time Babers spent as an assistant at Hawaii, Arizona State, Eastern Illinois, UNLV, Northern Arizona, Purdue, San Diego San Diego State, Arizona, Texas A&M, Pitt, UCLA and Baylor equaled just three years fewer than Kent State’s Sean Lewis spent on Earth before becoming the youngest coach in FBS this season at 31.
A byproduct of our societal fascination with new is celebration of the wunderkind. It carries over into the football world. A young firebrand like P.J. Fleck invokes enthusiasm; a youthful mind that hasn’t had opportunity to become jaded by habit innovates, as is the case with Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley.
Experience has value, but too much experience can turn into negative perception. At that point, experience becomes a rut. Outside of longtime right-hand men inheriting the coaching vacancies their former colleagues occupied, well-tenured assistants rarely surface as hot commodities on the coaching carousel.
The coaching market reflects society at large in this manner. Forbes ain’t publishing its 30 Best with 30 Years Experience, but “30 Under 30” is a yearly staple.
From a personal perspective, emphasis on youth is a particularly harsh reality working in sports media. I am not an old man by any means: I’m an actual millennial (too many folks confuse millennials with the younger Gen Z. But I am in my mid-30s, and as of this year, a father of two. Media’s skewing younger and younger (and thus, cheaper and cheaper), to a point that legacy outlets I once considered dream destinations now hire kids who are still learning straight out of school to hold national beats.
I feel as though I am entering my prime. I reported and wrote some of the best work of my life in 2018, and what’s more, produced at a high level with greater consistency than at any time before. And yet, reading Austin Murphy’s widely praised essay in The Atlantic was utterly terrifying. If a legendary writer like Murphy is out of the game, what hope is there for a nobody, a peon, a pissant like myself?
Then I watch Dino Babers win his 10th game. He’s been in coaching 35 years, just seven as a head coach, but three of those have produced at least 10 wins.
Dino Babers’ success is an inspiration for anyone who has toiled for years without quitting, who gained invaluable experienced and added a multitude of perspectives to their repertoire before getting their opportunity.