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After Syracuse’s 31-14 loss to No. 20 Pittsburgh last Saturday, Garrett Shrader sat down and talked with his parents about what the future would look like. Shrader’s father, Tracey, asked whether the quarterback thought offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert would return in 2022.
“He’s going to be here,” Shrader responded.
But the next day, head coach Dino Babers fired Gilbert. The news surprised Shrader, Tracey said. Defensive line coach Vince Reynolds and tight ends coach Reno Ferri also parted ways with SU. Coaches informed players of the staff changes Sunday, and Shrader, taken by surprise, immediately called his parents afterwards.
Even though Shrader will be tasked with working with a new offensive coordinator for the fourth straight season next year, his parents confirmed to The Daily Orange on Friday that the quarterback will return to Syracuse in 2022.
“He is all in,” said Shrader’s mom, Christie. “He knows the business. And obviously, coach Babers felt like they needed to make some changes, so he’s all in and he’ll roll with whatever decision is made, and they’ll get going on whatever that offense will look like next year.”
Gilbert, along with Babers, was key in bringing Shrader to Syracuse last year after the quarterback entered the transfer portal. Gilbert coached Shrader as both the quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator this season, and the two developed a close relationship, Christie said. But the Orange’s offense ranked near the bottom of the Football Bowl Subdivision in total offense in each of Gilbert’s two years in charge, and it ranked last in the Atlantic Coast Conference in passing offense this season.
Going into the game against Pittsburgh, Christie said Shrader and the rest of SU’s offense felt better about matching up with the Panthers’ defense than they had against Louisville and NC State. But after scoring on their first drive of the game, the Orange punted seven times and recorded two turnovers, leading to a season-ending loss. Syracuse gained 25 total rushing yards on 30 attempts, and running back Sean Tucker was held to a season-low 29 yards.
SU’s offensive performance in its final three games — where the Orange scored only 34 total points and missed out on a chance at picking up bowl eligibility — put Gilbert firmly on the hot seat. Syracuse struggled the most in the passing game as Shrader threw for less than 100 yards against Boston College, Louisville and NC State. The Charlotte, North Carolina, native rarely connected with wide receivers on deep throws and frequently missed on short connections, too.
When Shrader was still in the transfer portal last fall, Gilbert spent time with him watching film to see what the offense could look like with him running it. Tracey said in December that Shrader liked the fact that Gilbert had previously designed his offenses around the quarterback’s abilities. Shrader told The D.O. then that he saw himself as a pass-first quarterback, but Babers and Gilbert moved their offense this season toward a more run-focused attack centered around Shrader and Tucker’s strengths as runners.
Shrader had to adjust to Syracuse’s new offense, Tracey said. He said the offense “wasn’t perfect” for Shrader — someone who likes to have a good balance between running and throwing the ball — and that Syracuse wants “to do more from the passing perspective” moving forward.
“You need the right system. And you need a more sophisticated system with progressions and something that’s keeping up with the times, and you need balance,” Tracey said. “I think coach Babers realized that, and that’s why he made the move. And I could see this looking completely different next year (with) whoever it is that comes in.”
Shrader likely won’t be asked for input on who SU’s next offensive coordinator will be, Tracey said, and will be “fine” with whoever Syracuse brings in to replace Gilbert.
But Christie pointed out that Babers has shown he listens to his players, referencing the time the head coach put Tucker back into the game against Louisville after the running back asked him to.
“That’s just a testimony to how Babers operates, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he did ask for input from some of his key players,” Christie said.
Christie and Tracey said that Shrader prefers an up-tempo offense with four or five options to throw to. When he started at Mississippi State in 2019, Shrader was “more successful” passing, Tracey said, because the offense was balanced and gave the quarterback passing progressions. Shrader threw for 1,170 yards and eight touchdowns as a freshman, compared to 1,145 yards and nine touchdowns this season, one where he had 81 more passing attempts.
“You hear you can’t throw, or you need someone who can throw and that sort of thing. That couldn’t be so much further from the truth,” Tracey said. “They throw the ball and they can throw it very well.”
Shrader will return home to Charlotte to work with his trainer, Anthony Boone, over winter break, Tracey said. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound quarterback mentioned gaining weight as something he’s focused on, but he will also be focused on resting his body from some small injuries suffered during the season, Christie said.
After the Pitt game, Shrader told his parents that “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” He specifically talked about how Syracuse was just two years into Gilbert’s tenure and just one year into offensive line coach Mike Schmidt’s. Shrader emphasized it’s a process developing an offense, and the team had shown improvement from 2020.
Even with Gilbert departing, Shrader is committed to further growing Syracuse’s offense next season, mentioning to his parents how NC State and Louisville’s quarterbacks, Devin Leary and Malik Cunningham, had been in their respective offensive systems for four to five seasons. Both teams scored over 40 points against the Orange this season.
“There was never any discussion with him going back in the portal with Gilbert leaving,” Christie said. “He’s had so much change in his high school and his college career, he just wants continuity … so I think that’s what he’s looking forward to moving forward.”
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