Syracuse football coach Dino Babers has a saying when he talks to his team, one he has relied on heavily over the last year.
“Try less tougher.”
Among Babers’ many gifts is his ability to tell a story. To explain the phrase, Babers recalls his former college coach, the late Dick Tomey, and how he used it constantly with his teams.
“When I used to be 18, I used to be like, ‘What within the H is he speaking about? Less tougher?’ I need to date her, I need her to be my spouse — ‘Try less tougher.’ I need to be a head coach … ‘Try less tougher.’ What does that imply?” Babers says.
Babers never forgot that phrase as he moved forward with his career, because he desperately wanted to figure out what Tomey was trying to say. In Babers’ mind, it made no sense to try “less tougher.” To get where he wanted to go, he felt he had to try harder than anyone else, and then a little extra on top of that. But as he went through his career as an assistant, and the cycle of job interviews grew and intensified, it finally hit him.
“As you start getting older, in case you have the talents, in case you have the talents, if it’ll occur, the perfect factor that you are able to do is be relaxed,” said Babers, now 61 years old. “I believe again to all of the head-coaching jobs I interviewed for, after I wished the job so unhealthy, and I by no means acquired the job. The very first time I took an interview the place I stated, ‘You know what? If I get the job, I get it. If I do not, I do not. Well, I acquired the job. I appear to be undefeated when I’ve that perspective.”
He uses this story to get to his larger point about his team this year, a team that is off to its first 3-0 start since 2018 headed into tonight’s game against Virginia (7 pm ET, ESPN).
“Now I lastly perceive what strive less tougher means,” he says. “Hopefully, my staff will get it as nicely.”
They talked about it in the wake of last season, a disappointing 5-7 campaign in which Syracuse lost three games by a field goal. Entire his coaching career, Babers has prided himself on winning close games. Any one of those three-point games goes differently, Syracuse is a bowl team last year, and the narrative surrounding the Orange heading into this season is completely different.
Babers showed his players a compilation of plays during the offseason that could have resulted in a different outcome. The message? “We can present you 10 performs the place God did not have to return and remake you,” Babers said. “All you needed to do was what you had been coached to do.”
Try less harder.
After last season, Babers brought in five new assistants — most notably offensive coordinator Robert Anae and quarterbacks coach Jason Beck from Virginia to help fix a stagant offense.
Babers had never worked with Anae, but former Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall was among the colleagues of Babers who all said the same thing about hiring Anae: Do it.
“By the time we acquired collectively and had a chance to take a seat down and speak X’s and O’s and speak philosophies, I’m like, ‘This is a no brainer,'” Babers said. “It’s like 80 to 85%, I’m speaking to the very same individual [as me]and the opposite 10 to fifteen% is negotiable. It was a heck of a relationship.”
Try less harder.
So far, the results are promising. Quarterback Garrett Shrader has 11 total touchdowns this season — to no interceptions — with 910 yards of total offense. He is responsible for 68 points, ranking sixth in the nation.
“Early on, in winter exercises, guys had been getting after it,” Shrader said. “There was a unique sense of urgency and competitiveness. Then as soon as we acquired into the spring ball, simply seeing what we might do the brand new system, it was completely completely different. There was much more pleasure. We had been scoring a bunch of factors.”
That’s the way Babers wants it. When he first arrived at Syracuse in 2016, he promised “Orange is the New Fast,” and for a time, that was true. Syracuse sprung several upsets early in his tenure that gained headlines — including a 27-24 win in 2017 over No. 2 Clemson. Syracuse finished 4-8 that year, but the following season, the breakthrough happened.
Syracuse went 10-3 in 2018 and ranked top-20 nationally in scoring offense and total offense. It felt as if the program was on an upward trajectory.
After Upsetting No. 2 Clemson 27-24, Syracuse’s Dino Babers tells his team to never forget this feeling when someone doubts them.
But that season was Babers’ only bowl appearance at Syracuse so far.
Over the past three seasons, Syracuse has struggled to regain its footing. The COVID-19 season in 2020 dealt Syracuse challenges other programs did not have, starting with strict state protocols requiring the Orange to readjust their entire travel schedule for road games because they were required to leave and return within a 24-hour window.
Syracuse went 1-10 that year, but Babers didn’t see it as a total failure. He says he learned patience. The players who opted to stay learned they could trust and lean on each other.
Try less harder.
“We stayed collectively all through our ups and downs,” said linebacker Mikel Jones, who was on the team in 2020 and is now an All-ACC performer. “A number of individuals transferred, and lots of people stayed. I really feel just like the individuals who stayed, we labored collectively and we pushed for one thing we believed in, and that was ourselves.”
That includes Babers. After the regular season ended last November, athletic director John Wildhack announced the Babers would return and “we’ll work on our deficiencies aggressively.” He took into account the COVID year — in Wildhack’s words, it was “nothing wanting a miracle” the team played its full 11-game schedule — and the close losses in 2021.
Wildhack also noted none of the starters entered the transfer portal.
“That advised me that there’s a tradition right here and that the tradition was working,” Wildhack said in a phone interview. “My job was to work with Dino. If we have got this as a basis, what modifications will we make to construct this basis stronger?”
That included the staff changes, but also a completely retooled recruiting department.
“The general infrastructure of our program is stronger than it was final 12 months, stronger than it was two years in the past,” Wildhack said. “So after I see progress like that, I believe the coach has earned the precise to be right here.”
But that did not stop questions about the direction of the program. In June, Wildhack told local reporters once again that Babers was not on the hot seat. “It was good for him to do that, however was it one thing I requested for? No,” Babers said.
Syracuse players have noticed the narrative shift around the team, especially among the fans, after starting 3-0.
“Last 12 months, the followers had been giving us a tough time, this 12 months they’re kissing our rear finish. It’s the identical individuals, nothing’s modified,” Shrader said. “We love Coach Babers. I’m grateful for him every single day that he gave him an opportunity to come back right here and selected me to be the beginning quarterback. I make it a degree to go show that he made the precise determination to individuals on this constructing, and on this convention.”
He certainly did that last week in a dramatic come-from-behind win against Purdue, especially in a wild, frenetic, highly emotional fourth quarter. After Purdue took a 15-10 lead, Shrader threw a 46-yard touchdown pass to Oronde Gadsden II on fourth-and-1 to go up 18-15.
Following a pick-six that gave the Orange a 25-15 lead, Purdue scored two touchdowns to go back ahead 29-25. But multiple penalties on Purdue provided Syracuse with great field position, and Shrader tossed a 25-yard game-winning touchdown to Gadsden with 7 seconds left.
Garrett Shrader finds Oronde Gadsden II for the Syracuse touchdown with seven seconds left.
On the sideline, Babers tried to keep his emotions in check.
“I’m a volcano,” Babers said. “You can put homes on the surface of me and trails and roads, and little lookout factors. You might imagine life is nice for 4 or 5, six years, after which abruptly, I’m going to wipe all that stuff out as quickly as I get mad and all of the lava begins flowing. It was undoubtedly attending to the brim with all of the stuff that was happening. But my staff actually settled me down. They had been the Alka-Seltzer I wanted, as a result of they had been Extremely assured, extraordinarily decided taking place the stretch.”
You know … making an attempt less tougher.