2022 Syracuse Football Preview: Coaching Staff
Syracuse Football head coach Dino Babers arrives to the Orange’s 2021 home opener against Rutgers on September 11, 2021.
After a third straight losing season for Syracuse Football, major changes needed to occur. Sterlin Gilbert was replaced after a two-season stint as offensive coordinator. SU has a special teams coordinator for the first time since 2020. Find out below who was retained and who was brought onto the ‘Cuse’s staff after a 5-7 performance last fall.
Dino Babers, Head Coach
It might be hard to believe now, but Syracuse had a 5-4 record with three games left in 2021. Babers was well on his way to leading SU to its second bowl game under his leadership. Instead, three straight lopsided losses left an ugly taste in the mouth of the Orange faithful; who watched The ‘Cuse get outscored 113-34 in the month of November. Since taking over six years ago, Babers has guided Syracuse to just a 29-43 record with the success of 2018 (10-3 record, Camping World Bowl win) looking more and more like an outlier. Babers has failed to lead SU to success on the field and continues to struggle in regards to recruiting off of it. According to 247Sports, The Orange’s 2022 class ranks 66th in the country, good for the third-worst in the ACC (ahead of North Carolina State and Wake Forest).
Robert Anae, Offensive Coordinator
The man who replaces Sterlin Gilbert comes to the Salt City with plenty of recent success. As the play caller at Virginia in 2021, Anae’s unit ranked third in the FBS in total offense. The former Brigham Young offensive lineman has 15 years of experience as an FBS offensive coordinator, and spent the last six seasons in the ACC with UVA. The 63 year-old’s resume speaks for itself: Anae is a three-time nominee for the Frank Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant coach. In his first season as the Orange’s full-time starter, quarterback Garrett Shrader aims to improve as a passer under Anae’s tutelage. Currently, the junior’s more of a threat with his legs than with his arm, rushing for more touchdowns (14) than he did passing scores (9) last season. Anae has experience with a well-known dual threat in current New Orleans Saint swiss army knife Taysom Hill. As the signal-caller of Anae’s BYU offense back in 2013, Hill totaled over 2,900 yards through the air, over 1,300 on the ground, and accounted for 29 touchdowns on an 8-5 Cougars squad. Not only is Anae SU’s new offensive coordinator, but the first-year coach is also responsible for preparing the tight ends and inside wide receivers.
Tony White, Defensive Coordinator
White’s 3-3-5 defense worked wonders for Syracuse in 2021, his second year on the job. SU posted its best total defense mark in a decade, as opponents racked up only 330 yards per contest, the second best mark in the conference. A fierce Orange pash rush led the charge up front and averaged 3.1 sacks a game, ranking 16th nationwide. Unfortunately for White, two key defensive lineman are out the window thanks to graduation: First Team All-ACC selection Cody Roscoe and Honorable Mention selection Josh Black. Regardless, plenty of talent returns on the defensive side of the ball this go around, headlined by star inside linebacker and First Team All-ACC selection Mikel Jones. Speaking of which, White (a former UCLA linebacker) is set to be the ‘Cuse’s linebacker coach this season alongside his duties as defensive play caller. The 43-year-old has consistently fielded a strong secondary, too, sending former Syracuse defensive backs Andre Cisco, Ifeatu Melifonwu, and Trill Williams to the NFL. All-ACC standouts Garrett Williams and Duce Chestnut return to give White one of the most talented cornerback duos in the land.
Bob Ligashesky, Special Teams Coordinator
Syracuse lost former special teams coordinator Justin Lustig to Vanderbilt last season and didn’t promote or hire anyone to replace him. Instantly, SU’s most reliable unit under Lustig crumbled without him in 2021. Former Lou Groza Award winner Andre Szmyt had by far the worst season of his career, connecting on nine of 14 field goal tries. Punters James Williams and Ian Hawkins combined to average a mere 37 yards per punt. SU didn’t frequently force touchbacks on kickoffs (24%) or spark exciting plays in the return game (one touchdown). As a result, Babers brought on this 37-year coaching veteran to right the ship. Ligashesky's career includes 12 years in the NFL, where he won a Super Bowl as special teams coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2008. If there’s anyone who can correct the play of Szmyt, it’s Ligashesky. Just last season, the 60 year-old developed Bowling Green kicker Nate Needham into the most accurate in the nation (.950% field goal rate). During Ligashesky’s half-a-decade run with Illinois from 2016-20, the Fighting Illini boasted both the 2018 Big Ten Kicker of the Year (Chase McLaughlin) and 2019 Big Ten Punter of the Year (Blake Hayes).
Jason Beck, Quarterbacks Coach
Robert Anae wasn’t the only member of Virginia’s 2021 offensive coaching staff to join Syracuse this offseason. Beck, Anae’s quarterback coach at both BYU (2013-15) and UVA (2016-21) was a former Cougars backup quarterback in his playing days. Under Beck’s watch, the Cavaliers had the second best passing offense in the nation last season, as Brennan Armstrong flourished. The Maxwell Award Semifinalist completed over 65% of his throws, tossed for north of 4,400 yards, and had a 31:10 touchdown-interception ratio. Between 2013 and 2021, quarterbacks under Beck have averaged 3,300+ passing yards and 500+ rushing yards a season. Beck was the position coach for three NFL passers in that time: Taysom Hill, Kurt Benkhert, and Bryce Perkins.
Mike Lynch, Running Backs Coach
There’s no surprise that the position coach partially responsible for Sean Tucker’s breakout 2021 campaign returns this fall. Lynch's unit broke records last season thanks to the All-American’s efforts, as Syracuse totaled the fifth-most rushing yards in a single season in program history (2,562). Tucker posted the fourth-most rushing yards per game in the country (124.7) and eclipsed Joe Morris' 42-year old rushing record to finish with 1,496 yards. To nobody’s surprise, Tucker was both a semifinalist for the Doak Walker and Maxwell Awards. Lynch has actually taught every position on offense, but is now in his fourth season as Syracuse’s running backs coach. In fact, from 2018-19, Lynch was SU’s offensive coordinator. Lynch and Babers have a strong working relationship, as the former has coached under Babers for all seven seasons with the Orange and 11 overall.
Mike Schmidt, Offensive Line Coach
Lynch wasn’t the only reason for Syracuse’s strong ground game a year ago. The addition of Mike Schmidt as offensive line coach and run game coordinator helped pave holes for Sean Tucker all season long. Behind Schmidt’s offensive line, Tucker accumulated the third most yards from scrimmage nationally (1,751) and scored 14 total touchdowns. Shrader also tallied the second-most rushing yards (781) and rushing touchdowns (14) by an SU quarterback ever as the Orange dominated the line of scrimmage. These numbers should come as no surprise if you’re familiar with Schmidt’s previous body of work. Schmidt had previously been coaching offensive line for over a decade at San Diego State, where he helped to create one of the nation’s top rushing attacks. In 2017, All-American running back Rashaad Penny led the nation in rushing, and the year prior, Donnell Pumphrey became the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher. With the ‘Cuse, both left tackle Matthew Bergeron and center Airon Servais picked up All-ACC accolades while blocking for Tucker in 2021.
Michael Johnson, Outside Receivers Coach
Lynch and Schmidt return to aid the Syracuse offense, but Johnson is another new face on the staff. The 20+ year coaching veteran was most recently at Florida Atlantic as the team’s co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2021. His career also includes stops with Oregon, UCLA, the San Francisco 49ers, Baltimore Ravens, Atlanta Falcons, and San Diego Chargers. Johnson last coached wideouts with Mississippi State in 2019 for an offense that averaged over 400 yards per game. Prior to that, he spent three seasons at Oregon. In 2018, Johnson’s wide receiver unit featured the best individual performance at the position in program history. Dillon Mitchell finished with 75 catches for a single-season record 1,184 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns; Mitchell was named second-team All-Pac-12 in the process.
Chris Achuff, Defensive Line Coach
After coaching the Syracuse linebackers for two seasons, Achuff replaces Vinson Reynolds as defensive line coach in 2022. Achuff has 16 years of defensive line coaching experience in both college and the NFL, having joined the Orange after leading the defensive line of the Arizona Cardinals in 2019, where he worked with former SU superstar Chandler Jones. Over the 46 year-old’s first two seasons with The ‘Cuse, Achuff groomed one of the best linebacker corps in the ACC, capped off by Mikel Jones finishing second in the league in tackles last season. Jones was joined by Stefon Thompson and Marlowe Wax, a duo that combined for almost 240 tackles, 30 tackles for loss and 15 sacks in 2021. Before his time with Syracuse and Arizona, the Philadelphia native produced elite talent as Baylor’s defensive line coach from 2008-16. Achuff coached three All-Americans and 12 all-conference selections across nine seasons with the Bears. Defensive tackle Phil Taylor was a first-round pick of the Cleveland Browns in 2011. Another defensive tackle, Andrew Billings, was the 2015 Big 12 co-Defensive Player of the Year and was also named an All-American. In the 2016 NFL Draft, Billings was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the fourth round.
Chip West, Cornerbacks Coach
Under West’s guidance, the cornerback position has become Syracuse’s most reliable over the last two seasons. Since 2020, every starter has earned All-ACC honors, and West has coached two Freshmen All-Americans and one NFL Draft selection. After spending a year with Marshall as its cornerbacks coach, West quickly developed an elite cornerback duo in 2020 with the SU. Then-freshman Garrett Williams and redshirt junior Ifeatu Melifonwu ranked first and fifth, respectively in passes defended across the ACC. Williams was honorable mention All-ACC while Melifonwu earned second team All-ACC honors from the Associated Press. Melifonwu was a third-round pick of the Detroit Lions in the 2021 NFL Draft. Last season, West’s prized recruit, Duce Chestnut, burst onto the scene. The combination of Williams and Chestnut ranked second and third in the ACC in passes defended, respectively, with Chestnut finishing runner up for ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year and earning Third Team All-ACC honors. Williams was once again an honorable mention selection, and both he and Chestnut returned to the Orange in 2022.
Nick Monroe, Safeties Coach
Monroe has been on the Syracuse coaching staff since the beginning of the Babers era, and doubles as the defensive passing game coordinator. He spent his first two seasons in the 315 as Syracuse’s secondary coach before coaching only safeties and nickelbacks in 2018, and then only safeties and rovers starting in 2020. Over the last four years, Monroe has co-directed an SU pass defense that has thrived at causing takeaways. The Orange have intercepted 46 passes in 48 games since 2018, including a streak of 17 straight contests with a pick from Aug. 31, 2018 to Sept. 21, 2019. In his current role, Monroe oversaw success instantly in 2020 when a pair of rookies shined. Ja’Had Carter became a Freshman All-American while Rob Hanna also notched north of 50 tackles. Both Carter and Hanna took steps back production-wise in 2021, but Monroe’s previous success in the secondary should trump any concerns over the backend of the defense this Fall.