On the surface, it looks like Daryl Gross is without a worry in the world. There isn’t a question without an answer. There isn’t a problem without a solution. There isn’t a shortcoming without some kind of benefit.
And why not? Life is good today if you’re in charge of Syracuse Athletics. Jim Boeheim is operating a machine-like basketball power. The football team just knocked off a top-ten opponent in the Dome for the first time in eleven years, and it now looks to be bowl bound for the second time in three seasons. Gross is also very proud of another major initiative: to reach new heights for non-revenue sports. From soccer to softball, he has accomplished it across the board.
But it wasn’t all this easy when he was hired. Ultimately, he has been, and always will be judged by the success or failure of Syracuse football. And since the day he and Chancellor Nancy Cantor decided that the Paul Pasqualoni Era was over, it's been more failure than success. He has been desperately trying to piece together the puzzle since that day in 2004.
“I didn’t anticipate the recruiting landscape when I got here,” Gross says. "At USC, even when we had a down year, the recruits were always right across the street to help us reload. Here we get a few local kids, but our recruiting base is a bigger area that includes New Jersey, New York City, and Pennsylvania.”
Why should the Athletics Director need to understand a recruiting base? After all, it’s the coach’s job to find the players.
“Greg Robinson couldn’t get into any of the niches,” Gross says. “There was so much loyalty to Paul Pasqualoni, so what I learned is that you have to build that loyalty out here in the East. It’s a totally difference in philosophy than out West.”
Recruiting suffered mightily under Robinson. Even in a crumbling Big East, the Orange managed just three conference wins in four years. The talent strongholds built by Dick MacPherson and Paul Pasqualoni were infiltrated, and even taken over by the likes of Rutgers and Connecticut. We all know the story. It was time to begin another coaching search, and this time Daryl Gross needed to undo what he had done. Enter Doug Marrone.
“The thing I really liked about Doug is that he had established the relationships from his early days in coaching. He always did clinics here. So the second time around, I asked high school coaches what they thought of Doug Marrone, and they loved him. I guess you learn as you go.”
Now, ten games into the 2012 campaign, nearly eight years after the departure of Pasqualoni, the Orange is one win away from a second bowl game in three years, a significant payoff for the program. The coaching staff says that each recruiting class has been better than the previous year's. Next year’s class is already set to include a dual-threat quarterback from Texas and the top rated offensive player from New York City. Gross can finally see the plan coming together.
“Doug is building a system now where we can replace good players. Kids love this spread no-huddle kind of thing. We’re building credibility. I call that sustainability.”
So today, life is good for Daryl Gross, even if that’s dependent on Syracuse football.
“Ultimately, I look at it like this: Does my coach put the kids in the best position to win? And he does. He does it every single week.”