Russ Cellan called it an informal meeting.
New Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone traveled to Long Island in early January to have lunch with Cellan, the Freeport (N.Y) High School head coach, and Farmingdale (N.Y.) head coach Buddy Krumenacker.
Marrone didn’t have much time, as he had already met with coaches from Suffolk County before the eat-and-greet, and had to catch a plane soon after. But he stopped in that afternoon to grab a quick bite in a Freeport diner with the two Long Island coaches and to share his vision of the program.
It left a lasting impression on Cellan.
‘We’ve already seen him more than we’ve seen the last Syracuse coach in his whole tenure there,’ Cellan said.
If Marrone sticks to his promise, they will surely be seeing more of him in the future.
Just seven weeks into his new job, Marrone is laying the foundation for his plan to extensively recruit in the downstate New York and Tri-State area and rebuild the connections that previous head coach Greg Robinson lost – and he has coaches in the region excited about his hiring. He has already hired assistant coaches with ties to the region, such as John Anselmo, the new secondary coach of the Orange who coached at Nassau Community College.
Marrone has a snagged a recruit from Staten Island and one from New Jersey for next season, and has said he wants to go back into the area to give Syracuse the edge it used to have in recruiting the region.
‘I think Doug Marrone is just what the doctor ordered,’ Cellan said. ‘He’s a Syracuse guy, he has New York roots, he’s from the city, he understands what New York and this city and Long Island are all about and how to recruit it. ‘
In his introductory press conference, Marrone had a direct message about recruiting. He said he maintained his ties from his time working with the New York Jets, and he wants to add more New York and New Jersey flavor to his squad.
More than a month later, in his jacket-dropping, sleeve-rolling pep talk during halftime of Syracuse’s basketball game against Notre Dame on Jan. 17, he reiterated the message.
‘We are also in the process of recruiting the best student athletes in the state of New York, around New York and across this great country,’ Marrone shouted to a crowd of 30,000 Syracuse fans.
Marrone’s ties to the city and the Tri-State area begin with his home borough of the Bronx. There, he played high school football at Herbert H. Lehman High School before moving on to Syracuse for his college ball.
In 2002, Marrone returned to New York as the offensive line coach of the New York Jets, before becoming the offensive coordinator of the New Orleans Saints in 2006. Spending so much time in the region and being a product of the city gives him an advantage in familiarity. He knows the coaches and what it is like for recruits in the area.
Coaches in the city agree this gives him a leg up in finding the best players for the Orange.
‘He understands there is talent there that can be tapped into and who better to harness that talent and to get it out of somebody than somebody who’s been through it himself,’ said Alex Vega, head coach at John F. Kennedy High School in the Bronx. ‘Once he became the head coach and he was in the local news and they put his face on the screen, Brandon Marshall Jersey underneath it read, ‘Bronx Native Doug Marrone.’ That was huge, the fact that he’s not shying away from telling people I’m from the city, I’m from the Bronx, I played at Lehman High School.’
This helps Marrone connect to the players on a one-on-one level, and has helped him snag cornerback Torian Phillips from Port Richmond High School in Staten Island, widely seen as the top recruit from New York City this season. Phillips led his team to a Public Schools Athletic League championship with 1,486 rushing yards and 34 touchdowns, and also said Marrone’s roots in the region swayed his decision to come to Syracuse.
When he first met with Marrone at Port Richmond, Phillips said Marrone laid out his plan to recruit the city. The two have met twice privately and twice with Phillips’ family present.
‘He made me feel like he really wants the city kids to be there at Syracuse,’ Philips said about meetings he and his family had with Marrone. ‘He knows how it feels growing up in the city in New York, how hard it can be to get recruited over the kids from Florida or Texas or South Carolina or California. It’s real hard, but he knows how it feels.’
This connection to the area has high school coaches excited about dealing with Marrone as well. After the firing of Robinson’s predecessor, Paul Pasqualoni, some Long Island and New York City coaches said they were disgruntled with the Syracuse athletics department.
Cellan said Pasqualoni was very involved with Long Island and New York City football and did great things for the Syracuse program. He said him and Pasqualoni were friends through football, and their relationship helped get the ball rolling when Freeport did have a couple of possible recruits.
Robinson, a California native, did not make many friends in New York, as he struggled to connect with an area of the country he was unfamiliar with.
Cellan said it ‘wasn’t, for whatever reason, the same’ with Robinson. Vega said the previous coaching staff let kids slip through the cracks. He believes Marrone will utilize the area better. Port Richmond coach Lou Vesce said Robinson made an effort, but city coaches did not embrace him. In his four recruiting classes, Robinson had six recruits from the downstate area and nine recruits from New Jersey.
Vesce said he was impressed with Marrone’s positive attitude and his vision of getting New York City back into the mix, like it was with Pasqualoni.
‘Coach Pasqualoni was very well liked by the New York City coaches,’ Vesce said. ‘And when he was released there were a lot of coaches who weren’t fine with that. And I think with Coach Marrone’s hiring really got the New York City coaches back into the mix of thing of putting Syracuse on their list.’
Marrone has assembled his staff to help him do that, too. It was Anselmo, the former Nassau coach, who set up Marrone’s diner meeting with Cellan and Krumenacker.
In a statement about Anselmo, Marrone mentioned his experience in recruiting New York City, Long Island and New Jersey. Anselmo also said he made note that Marrone has been recruiting Long Island and New York City for 30 years.
‘There’s probably not a coach within a 100-mile radius who isn’t friendly with him over the years,’ Cellan said. ‘Between John and Doug Marrone, I don’t see many people that don’t know them already and aren’t familiar with them.’
While Marrone says he will hit the area hard, his initial recruiting class will have little to show. He has two recruits from New York, Torian Phillips and Christian Brothers Academy offensive guard Andy Phillips. He also has reeled in offensive guard Zack Chibane from Paramus High School in New Jersey, who had originally committed to South Florida.
Allen Wallace, a national football recruiting editor for Scout.com, said Marrone shouldn’t focus now on where he gets his players from, but should simply get players. He said it will take a while to establish ‘a dominant presence’ because the program has fallen down so far.
He said Syracuse should do well in recruiting the local talent, but also cautions about getting too optimistic about recruiting in New York, a state not known for its talent. According to MapGameDay.com, a Web site that tracks recruits from every state, New York only had 24 Division I products in 2008 – a low number considering New York’s size. Twenty-five states had more recruits.
‘New York is a notoriously low talent-producing state,’ Wallace said. ‘There are not a lot of great football prospects in New York, relatively speaking, and that’s just the way things are. In that respect, I think Syracuse’s ability to come down to places like Florida and find some skill that is not immediately available from a geographic advantage points will be really key right now.’
Teams like Rutgers, Connecticut and Buffalo will all be fighting Marrone for recruits in the region. This will make stocking up on talent in the area tougher for the Orange, who used to hold an advantage in recruiting in the area.
Dan Sabella, head coach at Paramus, said it will be a big job for Marrone to control the local schools with the success teams like Rutgers have found in the area. But he did add that Marrone has laid the groundwork for the next few years.
But if Marrone has his way, Syracuse will take charge of the New York recruiting scene and finally live up to the mantra plastered on billboards around New York: ‘New York’s College Team.’
Marrone has placed the pipeline for the future, and has immediate results with Torian Phillips, the All-City Player of the Year, in his grasp. www.bearsofficialnfl.com/Authentic-Brandon-Marshall-Jersey Cellan said Marrone will return to Long Island two times this month for coaching clinics.
Now it’s up to him to determine what the future brings for downstate New York and the Tri-State area and Syracuse football.
‘Every place gets its own identity,’ Cellan said. ‘The more one is familiar with the school, the geography and that part of the country, the more I think that feeds into being a successful recruiter. Doug knows this since he set out. He lived on Long Island when he coached with Jets. He’s a city guy, he understands Long Island, he understands this whole area and I think it’s very important. I think he’ll be right in there on every recruit in this area.’
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