One-on-One with John Wildhack: "All of us want Coach Babers here for a long time"
"Those are great questions to field, right?"
Truer words never spoken by an athletic director.
John Wildhack said that after my round of questions featuring the future of Dino Babers in Syracuse and the complicated nature of the bowl selection process.
Regarding Babers, Wildhack makes no secret that the successful Orange coach can stay in Central New York as long as he wishes.
"We want Coach Babers. All of us want Coach Babers here for a long time. From day one, I've tried to work with Coach Babers to give him the support to build a program that can sustain success" Wildhack says of their well-maintained relationship.
There's a worry--unfounded or not-- that because Babers is enjoying a banner year and because it's at Syracuse that means he's leaving. While that outlook is jumping the start line quite a bit, it's on fans minds as schools like Kansas and Maryland are in the search for a head coach.
Those schools probably aren't a threat to pull Babers away from the Orange, but it begs the question that I asked Wildhack:
How do you handle trying to let a season play out before working on extensions, while other schools and agents may be moving in?
"That’s just kind of the nature of the industry right now. And that’s the reality. You have to deal with that reality. And I think part of that is, if you have that strong relationship and demonstrable commitment to building and sustaining a program, I think that’s gonna help retain any coach, anywhere" Wildhack said
"But again, you never know what happens. It’s a free market and we’ll see."
The reason Babers might have the eyes of other schools around the current 7-2 record for the 'Cuse and 13th overall ranking in the College Football Playoff poll.
What bowl game this highly enjoyable campaign finishes with is entirely dependent on how the last three games for for the Orange.
Wildhack spells it out as clearly as possible.
"Now, if we win out, the most likely destination will be Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl in Atlanta. If not, then the Camping World Bowl in Orlando has the first selection and then we got our group of Tier 1 bowls. Part of that though is where conversations come into play. Between the conference, the bowls and the individual schools and one of the things I think you’ll see is the importance of the regional factor."
"So for example for us to go back to New York (after playing Notre Dame in the Bronx next week), The Yankees will not be concerned about that whatsoever. They would love to have us in the Pinstripe Bowl" John says.
In the more immediate and much less speculative future, the Orange has a shot to finish with an undefeated Carrier Dome record for the first time since 2001. It is a three-touchdown favorite to do so against Louisville.
Often times, fans might hear administrators saying they want a packed Carrier Dome in order to sell tickets, this time it feels like more than anything it's to show the group of seniors that turned the team around the respect it's due.
"There’s eyes that’s back on this program that haven’t been on this program for a long time. And you see that on a national basis."
"So, to me, that’s most impactful part. The senior class will be special forever because this is the class that helped turn this around. The 2018 class that got us through a winning season and got us back to a bowl game. So, Friday night will be great. We have a senior ceremony at 6:35. We’re going to honor all our seniors. And then post game, we’ll have our senior walk. So, Dino will have them in the locker room for no more than 5 minutes. And then let the seniors come out and let them take one last lap around the Dome. A chance to let our fans come down to near field level to thank them. So, I think it will be an amazing night. It’s a really big recruiting and impact weekend for us. So, having the Dome full and highly energized crowd, that’s impactful to recruits" he adds.
Friday's kickoff with the Cardinals is set for 7:00 p.m. with Syracuse hoping to improve to 8-2 for the first time in 17 years, with 8 wins for the first time since 2012.