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Father’s Day Podcast and Q&A With Dino Babers, Head Football Coach
On the football field, Dino Babers is known as the passionate head coach of the Syracuse University football team, the charismatic leader who has delivered his share of emotional pre- and post-game speeches.
But beyond the wins, beyond his ability to inspire his student-athletes, Babers is a family man first and foremost, a coach who preaches the values of family and togetherness to his players and his coaching staff.
Entering his seventh season as the Orange’s head football coach, Babers treats his football team as a second family—“I have 104 stepsons on this team,” he proudly says. Off the field, Dino and his wife, Susan, have raised four daughters: Breeahnah, Tasha, Jazzmin and Paris.
Being surrounded by family is nothing new for Babers, who was the middle child, one of six siblings in a proud military family. Babers’ father, Luther, had a distinguished 21-year career in the Navy, including as a chief petty officer on the USS Enterprise. Babers learned from an early age the importance of discipline.
Leading up to Father’s Day, Babers sat down with us to reflect on how his military upbringing influenced his coaching style, how his father taught him the important values of discipline and doing something the right way, and how his life forever changed when he became a father for the first time.
Here is the full conversation with Babers on the ’Cuse Conversations podcast. A transcript [PDF] is also available.
01Why is your football team like a family to you, and how do you instill that sense of family with the team?
I have 104 stepsons on the football team, and everyone has to operate in a family atmosphere. Everybody has an understanding of what family’s all about, and based on that foundation, we try to make it grow and we try to make it better. The one thing I tell these young men all the time is that these guys that you’re playing football with, they may not be your brothers, but they’re just like your brothers, and when you get married some of these guys are going to be in your wedding. It’s a special, special situation, and football is a special, special game, and to be around so many different individuals striving to do something together that they all want to achieve is extremely, extremely special.
02Your father, Luther, was in the Navy for more than 20 years. How did that military upbringing impact you growing up?
I grew up on military bases, and when my dad started to move up and rank and stuff you’d have an option of whether you wanted to live in town or on the base, and it almost seems like he would alternate back and forth. When you’re growing up in the ’60s and the ’70s, there are certain things going on on military bases that are not happening in the real world. You’re not having an issue with what water fountain you want to drink out of in the ’60s when you’re on a military base, everybody drinks out the same water fountain. Then you can go through the gates and go into town and you better know exactly what water fountain you’re going to drink out of. We used to have what we called base rules and town rules, and as a young person, you had to know the difference and you had to make sure your brothers and sisters knew the difference as well.
03I hear there's a story about making your bed for your father that really taught you a valuable life lesson.
After he showed us how to make a bed, we were supposed to be able to copy that. So we’d make the bed in what we thought was good form, and then he’d come in and flip a quarter, but the quarter didn’t bounce twice on the bed. And if it didn’t bounce twice on the bed, obviously the sheets and the coverings weren’t tight enough. So he came in, the quarter didn’t bounce twice and he ripped my tail of the sheets and gave me the quarter back and told me to stop wasting his time, and that I need to test the bed before he comes in here again. That was hard for a little kid, but it taught me about discipline.
04Does your military upbringing impact how you coach our student-athletes?
This is what I tell the guys, and I tell the mothers and the fathers this in recruiting, as well. I’ve got a military background, but I don’t necessarily run my team that way. I want to be able to communicate, I want them to be able to come to me with issues. I don’t want them to be necessarily intimidated by me, I want them to respect what I do, and we want to take this journey together. They’re 17- and 18-year-old men turning into 21- and 22-year-old men, and there’s going to be some growth. We want to grow together.
05What was your football story? Did your father get you into football?
He wouldn’t let me play. My dad was a semi-professional player who played back in the sixties. The Navy, Army, Air Force and the Marines had football teams on the bases. I used to go to the games and hold the chains and watch my dad play. I was never allowed to play organized football until the eighth grade, and when I signed up, all the other kids had been playing for years. They all had their positions, and I was the new kid that had never played before, so they put me at center. I played center on a losing football team, and then in the ninth grade the coaches changed, and I went from playing center to playing quarterback, and we won a championship and didn’t lose a game with the exact same personnel.
That’s when I realized that coaching matters. One of the things I’m always big with to our coaches is everybody has an opportunity to start, everybody has an opportunity to play, and just because a guy started one year doesn’t mean he starts the next year. Every year is a clean slate. You have to give the players an opportunity to develop past where they were before. You have to give them an opportunity for growth, and you have to see that growth if you’re going to be an evaluator of talent.
06When you’re on the road recruiting, what do you say to the family members of the players you’re recruiting to let them know their son is in good hands when they come to Syracuse?
I tell them the truth, that they’re coming to a great academic institution, somewhere where if they graduate, their degree is not only going to mean something in this country. The ‘S’ in Syracuse is international. The academic part is showing them exactly what this school can do for you academically and how it’s going to make you better. How the alumni are going to take care of you, and you’re going to take care of other alumni when you get this degree. And the other part of it is I’m a dad, I’m the father of four daughters with two sons-in-law. I’m going to treat your son the right way.
07How has being a father changed your life?
You have something greater than yourself. When you have an opportunity to have a child, what a gift, what a blessing. And then you get an opportunity to raise one, and not only do you get an opportunity to raise yours, but when you’re a coach, you get an opportunity not necessarily to raise other people’s children but to influence them, either positively or negatively.
I’m a teacher by trade and having a profession where you can make others better and give your players skills they can carry through generations, it excites me. I’ve always wanted to be a teacher, and a definition of a coach is just a teacher that teaches a very specific sport. That’s always been my calling and something I’ve always wanted to do.