Casullo returns to roots as Orange's second banana

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
The day after Doug Marrone was hired as Syracuse's head coach in December, he called Bob Casullo and offered him a spot on his coaching staff.

Casullo told his longtime friend, I'll think about it. Meaning: Thanks, but no thanks.

At the time of the call, Casullo was an assistant coach on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who were leading the NFC South Division. He was happy in the NFL, and that's where he planned to stay.

But then Tampa Bay went into the toilet, finishing the season on a four-game losing streak to fall out of the playoff hunt. Jon Gruden and his staff got fired, and Casullo needed a job.

All along, Marrone kept calling every week, urging Casullo to return to his roots. Finally in February, after realizing there were no available NFL jobs he truly wanted, Casullo agreed. With one caveat.

"I told Doug, 'I'm 58. I'm not looking at a four- or five-year rebuilding program,'" Casullo said. "'I want this thing done now.' And he said, 'That's why I'm hiring you, because I know how impatient you are.'"

The Orange still have a long ways to go in their rebuilding process and might very well struggle again this year. But with Marrone and Casullo -- who serves as assistant head coach, special-teams coordinator and tight ends coach -- they have two men perfectly in sync with one another who are dedicated to restoring the luster to the program.

Casullo grew up in Little Falls, N.Y., about halfway between Syracuse and Albany. After playing at Division III Brockport, he moved to Syracuse to coach high school football, eventually landing an assistant coach's job with the Orange in 1985. Marrone was a starting senior offensive lineman that year.

The two were reunited a few years later at Georgia Tech, and again in 2004 with the New York Jets, when Marrone coached the offensive line and Casullo oversaw tight ends. Casullo said they worked literally side by side, with their offices next door to each other. And over the years, they'd probably talk on the phone at least a few times a month.

"He was always a very smart football player," he said. "When we worked together at Georgia Tech -- and that was his first Division I-A job -- you could see Doug had the football savvy and football smarts. He had no problem picking up offensive schemes and teaching players. Even though he was the youngest coach on staff, he didn't have to take a backseat to anyone intellectually."

Casullo had spent the past nine years in the NFL. When he returned to upstate New York, he said, one of the first things he noticed was how the relationships between Syracuse and the regional high school programs had deteriorated.

"My first few months, we spent most of our time renewing old friendships and reacquainting ourselves in areas," he said.

"Some of the newer [high school] coaches have never seen a Syracuse coach in their school. We're hot and heavy after this one kid, and his coach tells me, 'Bob we haven't seen anybody [from the Orange] in this school since you left. And I left in 1994.

"That just blows my mind. All you've got to do is read the roster and see where the players were from, see what region it is and go attack that region."

Casullo said he believes the new staff has made progress in re-establishing those connections, and that progress can be seen in the Orange's recent recruiting. Syracuse already has seven players from New York and New Jersey committed for next year's class.

But Casullo said recruiting that area isn't as easy as it used to be in his previous stint with the Orange.

"When I was here before, Pittsburgh and Penn State were pretty much our top competitors," he said. "Now you go against Rutgers, UConn -- which didn't even exist as a Division I team when I was at Syracuse before -- Maryland, which is coming back in the Northeast region, and Michigan State. And of course Pitt and Penn State are still in there. And if there's a big recruit in the area, you've got Notre Dame and the ACC schools coming in. It's a little more congested than it was before."

One advantage Syracuse may have is the deep roots that both Casullo and Marrone still have in the region. Casullo said if he goes into a high school and doesn't know the head coach, he will mention a past coach there and get a conversation going.

"Between Doug and me, we probably know everybody in the area," he said. "And there's somebody we don't know, we probably know somebody that does know them. I think that's opened up a lot of doors that in the past were closed.

"I think that was one of the downfalls of the previous regime. Nobody could turn to somebody and say, 'Hey, do you know so-and-so.' Nobody knew anybody."

Nobody knows Syracuse and Doug Marrone quite like Casullo. Which makes him the perfect No. 2 man for the Orange.