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Dino Babers: A Legacy of Failure

On Sunday morning, Dino Babers was finally fired as head coach of the Syracuse Orange football team after eight aggressively mediocre seasons at the helm. A move that should have happened years ago, Babers leaves a program that has only seen two bowl appearances in his eight seasons and only one season where they won more than seven games.

In 2016, Babers was hired to replace Scott Shafer, who was fired after three seasons with an overall record of 14-23 and took over a team that had gone 4-8 the previous year. In his first season, the Orange went 4-8 with a win against Virginia Tech, who was ranked 17th in the nation at the time, and Babers appeared to be making decent progress toward building a solid foundation for the program.

The following year, Syracuse went 4-8 again and had a marquee win over Clemson, who the Orange beat 27-24 in a massive upset at the Carrier Dome. The loss was Clemson's only loss in the regular season, and the Tigers entered the College Football Playoff as the top team in the nation before falling to 4th-ranked Alabama.

2018 Babers’ Orange had their breakout season, going 10-3 and winning the Camping World Bowl against 16th-ranked West Virginia. Syracuse's three losses game on the road against Clemson, who was ranked 3rd in the country at the time, in a nailbiter in overtime at Pittsburgh, and in a blowout against Notre Dame, who was ranked 3rd in the country, at Yankee Stadium. Syracuse appeared to be a program on the rise and was rewarded by being ranked 15th in the final AP Poll.

In 2019, Syracuse started the season ranked 22nd and was expected to contend against traditional powerhouses like Clemson and Pittsburgh in the ACC. Still, the bottom fell out, and the Orange plummeted to a 5-7 record. Unlike the previous three seasons, Syracuse didn't have a good win, as their five wins came against an FCS opponent, two Group of Five teams, ACC bottom-feeder Duke, and Wake Forest, a middle-of-the-pack team in the ACC.

The 2020 season was greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and college sports were one of the many programs that were hit by the impact of the virus. During the season, Syracuse was one of the worst teams in college football, finishing with a 1-10 record; their lone win was against Georgia Tech, who finished with a 3-7 record. At the end of the season, many Syracuse fans, including myself, were calling for Babers to be fired, as outside of 2018, the program had only seemed to go downhill since his arrival.

In 2021, Syracuse seemed to rebound, but the ACC as a whole was significantly weaker than it had been in the past; the downturn in the ACC's talent level has extended to today, though this season, it seems to have rebounded a bit with the emergence of Florida State and Louisville. The Orange finished 2021 with a 5-7 record, but three of their wins came against Group of Five/FCS teams, and their other two wins were against 6-7 Virginia Tech and 6-6 Boston College. After the season, the calls for Babers’ job became louder, but the Orange would seem to rebound once again the following season.

In 2022, Syracuse started 6-0, including a win over 15th-ranked N.C. State in their sixth game, catapulting the Orange to being ranked 14th in the nation before a heavily-anticipated matchup against Clemson, where Syracuse would be able to show if they were true contenders in the ACC; the Orange would fall in a close game against the Tigers and would fall to 16th in the country. After that loss, however, the Orange would lose their next four games before winning their final game of the regular season against Boston College to finish 7-5. Their schedule was incredibly easy at the start, and once they began playing tough teams, they fell apart; in their bowl game, they would fall to Minnesota in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium.

Babers began 2023 on the hot seat, and the Orange would start out similarly to the previous year, winning four games in a row against easy opponents. The Orange would then lose their next five games in a row, including three against Clemson, 14th-ranked North Carolina, and 4th-ranked Florida State, before winning against Pittsburgh and losing at Georgia Tech. After the Georgia Tech game on Saturday, Babers was fired, having accrued a 5-6 record in his final season.

Babers finishes his career in Syracuse with a total record of 41-55, having been to two bowl games, winning one and losing one, and only having one season (2018) where the Orange had more than seven wins. Babers should have been fired after 2020, or, at the very least, 2021, but Syracuse decided to hold on to him and honor their contract, which was to run out at the end of the 2023 season, instead of cutting ties and starting over. At least Syracuse finally realized their mistake, even if it was too late.

(Photo by Bryan Bennett/Getty Images)


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