By: Julian Whigham
Art: Jes Simpson
There’s an old century proverb: “In the confrontation between the stream and the rock, the stream always wins; not through strength, but through persistence.” The quote is credited to a number of authors, but most notably the Buddha. It hangs in another form by the necklace of Syracuse University’s head football strength and conditioning coach, Sean Edinger.
Water on rock, pressure in time.
“I could’ve put don’t quit on there.” Edinger said. “But then, I don’t want you to think I’m thinking about quitting.” The testament reflects a philosophy within a Syracuse football program mastering the art of a rebuild.
At the heart of program reconstruction is a culture change. Since Dino Babers took over as the head football coach at Syracuse, Edinger has been the man tasked with building the team’s infrastructure.
The groundwork started slow. Adopting a new team has its obstacles and in Edinger’s first season the challenge had been replacing old habits. “You always want to pay seniors some respect, regardless of what their habits are like,” Edinger explained. “they only know what they’ve been taught, so whether they’re good or not good, a player’s never going to thrive and be amazing if the coaching staff is terrible.”
Restructuring a program, Edinger says the first stones to be laid are in building up new standards. The traditional route usually includes an emphasis on constructive thoughts, habits and priorities— ideals promoting the steps necessary for success rather than pressing for an end result like the score, a win, or a winning record.
In its first season under the new coaching staff, the Orange finished 4-8 and near the bottom of the ACC. An upset victory over Virginia Tech indicated signs of progress but program standards were still in flux. The mental buy-in was absent. Blown coverages and missed assignments plagued most of the season.
“Here’s the deal,” Edinger said “when you come to a new school and the team’s been bad, you can’t tell fans, you can’t tell boosters, you can’t tell the players, but the hard fact is you can’t wait for year number two. Because now you get a group of freshmen under you and now everyone knows what the expectations are.”
In Babers’ second season, Edinger had designed a more rigid workout program for the spring and summer periods—a modern take on traditional training routines. By summer’s end, the team had a new look both physically and mentally.
The physical evidence was apparent on the opening days of camp. A team once deficient in ACC-caliber size in the trenches, now had off-the-bus stature. Still, results were the same.
“We built on some things. You can tell we were getting better,” Edinger said of the season. “but we couldn’t sustain it. Injuries don’t help, but our minds weren’t quite right yet either.”
In football, experience tells you what to do, but confidence allows you to do it. For Syracuse, a 4-0 start sparked outward approval and high expectations. The experience is there, they know what to do. And a hot start has lit a fire among the team’s confidence.
So how do the Orange sustain their run this season? Edinger believes discipline and consistency will lead the Orange.
“Here’s the thing, air conditioning makes people soft.” Edinger said. “Cold water from a faucet can make you soft. But here’s my thing, and I can’t speak for anyone else, for men and women, sport has this ability to help people express their willpower and their dominance over their own mind and their own mindset. Constant repetition carries conviction. That’s the thing about sport. It takes time and when you look back you see your progress.”
Water on rock, pressure in time.
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