Exit strategy, Syracuse football coaches: Matt's Memo

Doug Marrone hoists the Pinstripe Bowl trophy in Yankee Stadium.

One of the key questions a venture capitalist would ask an entrepreneur before investing in a rising company would be this: what is your exit strategy? The person considering opening a door of opportunity for this sharp, ambitious and hard working business person would want to know how the entrepreneur plans to extract value from his effort. Does he plan to sell or stay forever? Is it a five year plan or a ten year plan? Does this talented individual who used discipline, creativity and commitment to rise in the ranks appear to be satisfied at a modest level or will it take more?

Surely the administration of the Syracuse University Athletic Department asked these same questions of Doug Marrone when he was hired to replace the dismissed Greg Robinson four years ago. Marrone had already risen through the assistant coaching ranks at the collegiate level. He learned the ropes at Cortland State and the Coast Guard Academy. He fine tuned his craft at Georgia Tech and Tennessee. Then he made the jump to the professional ranks. He coached the offensive line with the New York Jets. He called the plays as the offensive coordinator at the New Orleans Saints.

Had Doug Marrone not been called to return to his alma mater he would have coordinated the Super Bowl winning offense of those same Saints the following year. He likely would have been instantly considered for NFL head coaching jobs. Instead he took the interview for what he described as his dream job. He had compiled a notebook of a plan to turn around Syracuse football. He detailed how he would reestablish formerly fertile recruiting territory. He knew the offense he would run. He had ideas for key assistant coaches he could implement his plan.

So when Darryl Gross or Chancellor Nancy Cantor asked where do you see yourself in five years what must the answer have been? He was working his dream job, but could he honestly answered he envisioned retiring from Syracuse University in twenty years. For twenty years this was a man with a plan. This was a professional football coach aspiring to the highest levels. He also had the dedication and understanding of the game to make the complete dream come true.

In the football business it is always wise to have an exit strategy. Just ask the seven NFL coaches whose firings have created this Doug Marrone conversation. Look at the difficult endings in Syracuse for Greg Robinson and Paul Pasqualoni. Neither left on their own terms. Dick MacPherson did. He spent ten years. Nearly won a national title and then darted off to his beloved New England to coach the Patriots before health concerns slowed him down. Before that Coach Frank Maloney was not a favorite on his way out. And even the legendary Ben Schwartzwalder stayed longer than he should and no longer was turning out the successful teams he did in the1950's and 60's.

Our community is cheering still for the Pinstripe Bowl victory and the tremendous second half of the season. Fans are hoping Coach Marrone remains on the Carrier Dome sideline for a few more seasons anyway. But, keep in mind a strong exit strategy is often the sign of a strong leader. Few get to leave when the crowd is still cheering. One day soon Doug Marrone may execute the final phase of the strategy he began implementing twenty years ago. He may have dreamed of coaching in Syracuse, but he planned to coach on Sundays.

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