'Psycho' of Syracuse never stops ticking Pasqualoni is just mad about football

September 12, 1991|By Donnie Webb | Donnie Webb,Special to The Sun

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Players howled in delight as coach after coach stepped to the plate during a softball game between the staffs of Syracuse and Arizona at last year's Aloha Bowl in Honolulu.

When linebackers coach Paul Pasqualoni of the Orangemen took his turn, the chorus of hecklers seemed to take on a particularly rabid tone. Bass voices boomed through the huge stadium in salute to the husky-throated Pasqualoni, known to his players as Coach Psycho because of his fanatical style of instruction on the practice field.

Never mind this was probably the last place in the world Pasqualoni wanted to be. As soon as the coach took his swing and made his out, he was back in the dugout, scribbling plays and formations.

There's nothing wasted in the day of Paul Pasqualoni, now the head coach of the 22nd-ranked Syracuse University football team, which plays Maryland at Byrd Stadium on Saturday at 7 p.m.

The softball game at the Aloha Bowl is typical of the intense and serious nature of Syracuse's 26th head football coach. His passion for preparation is legendary, even in a relaxed setting. Pasqualoni is known to spend more than 18 hours a day holed up in his classroom that is the Orangemen's football complex, researching and teaching the game he loves.

One Pasqualoni joke making the rounds is that his only houseplant recently died from neglect. It was a cactus.

Pasqualoni, a 42-year-old son of Connecticut farmers, with a Penn State degree, is a bachelor married to football. He was the surprise selection last January of athletic director Jake Crouthamel to succeed Dick MacPherson, who resigned after 10 seasons at Syracuse to coach the NFL's New England Patriots.

It seemed no one considered Pasqualoni as a potential candidate for the job, not even members of MacPherson's staff. Pasqualoni said he was as surprised as anyone to learn that Crouthamel wanted him as the new coach.

"Bear Bryant once said that timing in life is everything," said Pasqualoni.

The staff upheaval couldn't have come at a much worse time. The program was in the midst of its recruiting period and about a month away from signing day.

That's one reason why Crouthamel moved quickly to name a successor. Pasqualoni was in place within two days after MacPherson's decision.

It was not an easy transition. MacPherson took three assistants with him to New England. A fourth assistant left for Boston College. That left Pasqualoni with but three coaches to try to salvage recruiting, the lifeblood of any program.

But Syracuse lost only one player who previously committed to sign a grant-in-aid, and its recruiting class of 21 prospects generally was rated as one of the top 25 in the nation, and second only to Penn State in the Northeast.

This was continuity, and hard evidence of why Pasqualoni was retained.

It is almost impossible to find much about the Syracuse program that has changed.

Pasqualoni has been extraordinarily low-key as his first season as Orangemen's coach begins. Even before Saturday's 37-10 victory over Vanderbilt, Pasqualoni seemingly tried distancing himself from the moment, saying he didn't feel any different about the opener than he did when he was coaching in junior high.

"There's no difference," he said. "It's just another game. You just get ready like you always do."

After the Orangemen rallied from a 10-3 deficit by scoring four touchdowns and a field goal in a 15-minute stretch, Pasqualoni said he was gratified with the team's performance. He said the usual coaching cliches and even went so far as to say Vanderbilt had given his team "the battle of our lives."

That night, Pasqualoni finally allowed himself the indulgence of a relaxing evening at home. He said he planned to eat a plate of lasagna, pull out TV Guide and find a football game to watch.

"Some night, huh?" he said.

The next morning, after attending Mass, Pasqualoni was back in his office by 8:30, reviewing film and preparing for Maryland.

And, as usual, he deflects any notion that this head coaching business he has entered has made any impact on the Syracuse program.

"This game is a lot bigger than any one person," said Pasqualoni. "When people start to think they're bigger than the game, they're in trouble. I'm one small part of the operation, believe me."

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