Paul Pasqualoni deserved better, and Syracuse has gotten what it deserved for firing him.
Pasqualoni, a Penn State alum, enjoyed a successful run as the Orange's head coach from 1991-2004. He went 107-59-1, won four Big East titles and was 6-3 in bowl games.
Syracuse was always good and sometimes very good under "Coach P," finishing in the Top 25 seven times during his 14 seasons.
However, the program's return to prominence, which began in 1987 with Dick MacPherson calling the shots and Don McPherson calling the plays, ended thanks to a couple of huge mistakes by one guy.
Athletic director Daryl Gross is single-handedly responsible for turning the tradition-rich Orange program into a national joke.
Gross took over as AD in December of 2004, and two weeks later he fired Pasqualoni.
The Orange finished in the Top 25 seven times during Paul Pasqualoni's 14 seasons.
Huge mistake No. 1.
Pasqualoni, now defensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins, took the high road when asked this week if he had gotten a raw deal at Syracuse.
"There was new leadership that came into the institution," he said. "When new leadership comes in, the one thing that's inevitable in life - and in football - is that there will be change. You might not always agree with it, but it is inevitable.
"I kind of understood it as just being part of the business."
Pasqualoni led Syracuse to a 10-3 record and No. 14 ranking in 2001, then the team struggled his final three years. He suffered his only losing season in 2002 (4-8) and went 6-6 his last two years. The Orange were just 6-5 during the 2004 regular season, but that was good enough to tie for the Big East title.
The bizarre part about Pasqualoni's dismissal was that just three weeks earlier, Syracuse chancellor Nancy Cantor had given the coach a public vote of confidence and endorsed him to return for a 15th season.
Gross then came on board and botched everything.
The new AD made things even worse when he selected an awful replacement, giving the job to Texas defensive coordinator Greg Robinson.
Huge mistake No. 2.
Robinson's tenure was a disaster from the start. He went 1-10 in 2005 - the worst season in Syracuse history - and was a putrid 10-37 in four years before being fired last season.
There were Syracuse faithful who weren't happy near the end of Pasqualoni's stint and were calling for the coach's ouster. Some bad losses - including two to lowly Temple - and an inability to sustain the program's high standards after quarterback Donovan McNabb graduated were the major areas of criticism.
Still, Pasqualoni had done enough good at Syracuse - including winning three straight Big East titles with McNabb from 1996-98 - that he deserved a chance to turn things around. Instead, all those people who wanted him out, including Gross, quickly learned just how valuable he was once the program collapsed.
Pasqualoni not only was a solid head coach, he ran a clean program and was a good representative for the school.
"I felt good about the kids that we had in the program, and we were doing everything we could do for the kids," he said. "I thought that we did as much as we could for the university and the program - representing the university in the right way, never had any problems with kids, never embarrassment, never any rules violations, went to bowl games, won some conference championships."
Pasqualoni remains proud of his high graduation rates, citing Syracuse was No. 1 among all bowl teams in 2004 and had a 100 percent rate in 1998.
"We would take some at-risk kids, and I don't ever remember one of those kids not graduating," he said. "We worked at it real, real hard."
That's what being a college coach is all about. You represent the school in a professional manner, graduate the student-athletes and try to win a lot more games than you lose.
Pasqualoni did all those things and still got fired.
Pasqualoni came to Penn State as a walk-on linebacker in 1968, back when Joe Paterno was a young head coach.
"My memories of Joe," he said, "are of a young coach who had a lot of passion for the game and a guy who was very, very detail-oriented, very, very much wanted things done right."
Paterno has always spoken highly of Pasqualoni and called him "a very loyal guy."
"He was loyal to Penn State, and he was loyal to Syracuse because they gave him a chance," Paterno said.
JoePa was asked what he knows about how things played out for Pasqualoni at Syracuse and said, "He's very rarely talked about any of [that] stuff."
"I still am not sure what happened," Paterno added. "Paul did a great job for them. He was a good recruiter. He was a heck of a football coach. He was the kind of person that you'd want to coach your kids."
Penn State didn't play Syracuse from 1991 until 2008, so Paterno never coached against Pasqualoni. The latter was, however, an assistant coach with the Orange in 1987 when they pulled off one of the biggest wins in school history, a 48-21 victory over No. 10 PSU that helped propel Syracuse to an undefeated season.
"We scored on a post route from Don McPherson to Rob Moore on the first play of the game," Pasqualoni said. "Penn State had a heck of a team; Blair Thomas was the back. We had a heck of a team.
"That was an awfully, awfully big win in the resurrection of the Syracuse program."
And the destruction of the program? That began when Pasqualoni was fired, and the Orange are still trying to pick up the pieces.
Cory Giger can be reached at 949-7031 and firstname.lastname@example.org.