Syracuse football coach Dino Bubers says a saying to his team, which he has relied heavily on for the past year.
Among Babers’ many gifts is his ability to tell stories. To explain the phrase, Babers recalls his former college coach, the late Dick Tomey, and how he constantly used it with his teams.
“When I was 18, I thought, ‘What the hell is he talking about? Less heavier? I want to date her, I want her to be my wife – Try less. I want to be a head coach… Try less. What does that mean?” says Bubers.
Babers never forgot that phrase as he moved up the corporate ladder because he desperately wanted to understand what Tomei was trying to say. It didn’t make sense to try “less hard,” according to Babers. To get where he wanted to go, he felt he had to try harder than anyone else, and a little more on top of that. But as he rose through the ranks as an assistant and the interview cycle grew and intensified, it finally dawned on him.
“When you get older, if you have the skills, if you have the ability, if it happens, the best thing you can do is relax,” said Bubers, now 61. “I think back to all the head coach jobs I interviewed for when I wanted the job so badly but never got it. work, I get it. If I don’t, I don’t. Well, I got the job. I feel like I’m invincible when I have that attitude.”
He uses the story to talk about his team this year, starting 3-0 for the first time since 2018 and heading into today’s game against Virginia (7 p.m. ET, Sportzshala).
“Now I finally understand what it means to try less,” he says. “I hope my team understands that too.”
They talked about it after last season, a disappointing 5-7 campaign that saw Syracuse lose three games by field goal. Throughout his coaching career, Baybers took pride in winning close matches. Each of these three-point games plays differently, the Syracuse bowled last year, and the narrative around the Orange is completely different this season.
Bubers showed his players a selection of off-season games that could have led to a different outcome. Message? “We can show you 10 plays where God didn’t have to go back and remake you,” Babers said. “All you had to do was what you were trained for.”
Since last season, Baibers has hired five new assistants — most notably offensive coordinator Robert Anae and quarterbacks coach Jason Beck of Virginia — to help fix a stagnant offense.
Babers never worked with Anae, but former Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall was among Babers’ colleagues who all said the same thing about hiring Anae: do it.
“By the time we got together and we had the opportunity to sit down and talk about X and O and also talk about philosophy, I thought, ‘That’s not a problem,’” Babers said. “It’s about 80-85%, I’m talking to the same person. [as me]and the remaining 10-15% are subject to discussion. It was a hell of a relationship.”
So far the results are promising. Quarterback Garrett Schrader has thrown 11 touchdowns (no interceptions) on 910 total yards this season. He scored 68 points, finishing sixth in the country.
“At first, in winter training, the guys were chasing it,” Schroeder said. “There was a different sense of urgency and competitiveness. Then when we got to the Spring Ball, just seeing what we could do with the new system, things were completely different. There was a lot more excitement. We scored a lot of points.”
That’s what Baybers wants. When he first arrived in Syracuse in 2016, he promised, “Orange is the new post,” and for a while, that was true. Early in their tenure, Syracuse caused several upsets that made headlines, including a 27–24 win in 2017 over No. 2 Clemson. Syracuse finished 4–8 that year, but had a breakthrough the following season.
In 2018, Syracuse took a 10-3 lead and entered the top 20 in the nation in terms of scoring and total offense. The impression was created that the program was moving along an ascending trajectory.
But that season was so far the only appearance of Babers in Syracuse.
Over the past three seasons, Syracuse has struggled to rebuild its position. The 2020 COVID-19 season presented Syracuse with challenges that other programs have not, starting with strict state protocols requiring Orange to adjust their entire travel schedule for away games as they had to leave and return within 24 hours.
Syracuse went 1-10 that year, but Baybers didn’t see it as a complete failure. He says he has learned patience. Players who choose to stay have learned that they can trust and lean on each other.
“We stayed together through our ups and downs,” said linebacker Mikel Jones, who was on the team in 2020 and is now an All-ACC performer. “Several people switched, and many stayed. I feel like the people who stayed, we worked together and achieved something that we believed in, and that was ourselves.”
Including Bubers. After the regular season concluded last November, athletic director John Wildhack announced that Bubers would be back and “we will be actively working on our shortcomings.” He factored in a year of COVID – Wildhack said it was “nothing short of a miracle” with the team playing a full 11-game schedule – and close losses in 2021.
Wildhack also noted that none of the players went into the transfer portal.
“It told me that there is a culture here and that this culture is working,” Wildhack said in a phone interview. “My job was to work with Dino. If we have this as a foundation, what changes are we making to strengthen that foundation?”
This included personnel changes as well as a complete retooling of the recruiting department.
“The overall infrastructure of our program is stronger than last year, stronger than two years ago,” Wildhack said. “So when I see progress like this, I think the coach has earned the right to be here.”
But that didn’t stop questions about the program’s direction. In June, Wildhack reiterated to local reporters that Babers was not at his peak. “It was nice of him to do this, but did I ask for it? No,” Baybers said.
Syracuse players noticed a change in the narrative around the team, especially among the fans, after starting 3-0.
“Last year the fans gave us trouble, this year they are kissing us on the ass. These are the same people, nothing has changed,” Schroeder said. “We love Coach Bubers. I thank him every day for giving him the chance to come here and for choosing me as the starting quarterback. I consider it my duty to prove to people that he made the right decision. building and at this conference.”
He definitely did it last week in a dramatic victory over Purdue, especially in a wild, frenetic and very emotional fourth quarter. After Purdue took a 15-10 lead, Schroeder threw a 46-yard touchdown at Oronda Gadsden II on the fourth and 1st to put the score up 18-15.
After a sixth pick that gave the Oranges a 25–15 lead, Purdue scored two touchdowns to go back to a 29–25 lead. But multiple misses on Purdue put Syracuse in great position on the field, with Schroeder giving Gadsden a game-winning 25-yard touchdown with 7 seconds left.
On the sidelines, Babers tried to contain his emotions.
“I am a volcano,” said Babers. “You can place houses, trails, roads and small lookouts outside of me. You may think that life is beautiful for four, five, six years, and then all of a sudden I erase it all. as soon as I go crazy, and all the lava starts flowing. It definitely came to the brim with everything that was going on. But my team really put me at ease. They were the Alka-Seltzer that I needed because they were extremely confident, extremely determined going down.”
You know… try less.