Here is the second part of my pre-spring conversation with Syracuse coach Doug Marrone. You can read Part I here.
Doug Marrone: Both players got hurt at the end of last year. I do like Van. I told everyone that last spring and no one really jumped on that. I guess they figured I didn't know what I was talking about. He had a good year for us and he's healthy, he'll be ready to go. Alec had a real good end of the year his freshman year, and last year he was a little inconsistent. He's faster right now than he's ever been, which is exciting. He's really worked hard, and there's more competition there. When you create a lot of competition at each position, you'll get better play.
Ryan Nassib started all 13 games for you at quarterback. Is he the no-doubt leader there again this spring?
DM: That's the way we feel now, but we have to go out there and make sure everything is set. He had 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions and completed about 56 percent. We try to get our quarterbacks up to 65 completion percentage. Does he have the lead going in? Absolutely, because he has the experience. But Charley Loeb has done some nice things. John Kinder had a great bowl practice for us -- he really, really did a nice job, so where does he go now? Jonny Miller is coming off shoulder injury, so it's going to be interesting to see him because he's a very good athlete. Does someone have to play extremely well to beat out Ryan Nassib? Yes. But Ryan Nassib has some pretty good competition behind him too.
Any redshirt guys or others who didn't play last year who you're expecting to make a move this spring?
DM: Well, we didn't redshirt many guys. But I think Deon Goggins, on the inside for our defense, is one. We've moved Marquis Spruill to middle linebacker. He played well for us last year as a true freshman [at outside linebacker], but there's still going to be a learning curve for the kid. At corner, Ri'shard Anderson was going to play for us, probably be our corner when went to nickel, until he got hurt last year and he's healthy now. Keondrick Lyn, I think, is a very, very good player there as well. So it will be interesting to see them and Kevyn Scott battle. Then there's Jeremi Wilkes, too. Micah Robinson and Max Beaulieu are two defensive linemen to watch, and Ollie Haney is coming off an injury. He had a pretty good spring last year.
You moved some coaches around this offseason. Was that just to prioritize some positions that need extra coaching this year?
DM: It was. You look at it now, and we have two coaches on the D-line, so coach [Jimmy] Brumbaugh can now spend that time coaching those young inside players. We have to do that to be successful. Our ends are returning, and I really think they'll do a heck of a job, all of them. Then with our linebackers, coach [John] Anselmo is down there now with with coach [Dan] Conley. With so many spread offenses, basically one of the linebackers will have to come out of the box, and coach Anselmo knows that stuff from being a defensive backs coach. So we wanted to strategically put coaches in areas where we need to play well in order to be successful.
You also promoted Nathaniel Hackett to offensive coordinator. Was that really much of a change, since he was calling plays last year anyway?
DM: It's really not. I know I can call plays, that's not a problem. Then when coach Hackett came in the spring, he'd call a segment of practice and I would call a segment. At the end of the day, we come from the same background, and our thoughts are going the same way. my philosophy is I want to be able to manage the game, know when to call timeouts, when to punt, when to do everything. So it's very simple for me to say, 'You know what, go ahead and call the plays, and at the end of the year we'll make sure you have the title because you deserve it.' But every play goes through me, on offense, defense and special teams.
Last year, you publicly stated your goal was to get to a bowl game. What's next?
DM: We're going to go through spring and create this goal for ourselves when we start this preseason. I think it's very important to do things together with the players. Obviously, we won eight games last year and have a challenging schedule this year. What that goal actually is will be verbally communicated when we get closer to the beginning of season. We've still got a lot of time to get ourselves ready and a lot of work to do.
I've said before that the toughest thing to do is turn around a college football program. I think the second toughest thing to do is maintain it. That's the key. So we have a lot of hard work in front of us.
You definitely turned things around, and I know you had a very detailed plan when you took over. Winning eight games and a bowl your second year, how did that match up with your plan?
DM: In the beginning, every coach comes in thinking they're going to win and go to a bowl game. Those were our thoughts coming in. I let other people say where they think we are. I thought we should have been in a bowl game that first year, but we fell short in a couple games. Last year we were in a position where we could have won more football games but we didn't.
So how do we get ourselves playing at the highest level every single week, and still do all the other things that's expected of us as student-athletes -- going to class, getting high GPAs and being leaders on campus? We expect a lot of our players. So we'll sit down and break down these goals, because we have to take it to the next level.