NEW YORK (AP) — Doug Marrone completed his fourth season at Syracuse with another successful homecoming, and hoped it wouldn't be the last time he brings his team to the Bronx.
"You're right, I should play more games in the Borough of the Bronx," the Orange coach said after Syracuse beat West Virginia 38-14 in the Pinstripe Bowl on Saturday at Yankee Stadium. "It's very special for me.
"But for me to talk about what's special for me today really does not put into perspective how I feel," he added. "We have a lot of players from this area, a lot of players whose families can't make that trip up to Syracuse for games, but they were able to come."
Marrone, a former Syracuse player and NFL assistant, took over a program that had crumbled into one of the worst in the BCS-automatic qualifying conferences in four terrible seasons under Greg Robinson.
In Marrone's first three seasons, he managed one winning record in 2010 and Syracuse followed up that hopeful season by losing its last five games in 2011 to finish 5-7.
When the Orange started this season 2-4 there was speculation about Marrone's job security, though athletic director Daryl Gross never wavered from his support of the 46-year-old coach.
Gross' confidence was rewarded. The Orange finished the season with six wins in their final seven games, a share of the Big East title in their last season in the conference, and their second bowl victory at Yankee Stadium in the past three years.
Marrone had a hard time pinpointing what made this team finish so strong after last year's stumbled down the stretch. He talked about the leadership his players showed and the closeness of his team.
He was clear about his affection for playing in the Pinstripe Bowl.
Coaches tend not to enjoy bowl trips the way players do, but earlier this week Marrone acknowledged taking a moment to appreciate how far he has come while speaking to some school-aged kids from the Bronx during a short football clinic with his players at Yankee Stadium.
"Here you are, you look to the left and you see young kids form the Bronx there," he said. "When I look at them I see part of my life going by. I was once just like these kids.
"And I look to my right and there's the Syracuse football team and I say to myself that was a point in my life when I was fortunate enough to play for Coach (Dick) MacPherson.
"Out of all the things that I have pretty much done in my life, I would say from the standpoint of sports, people will laugh, it's probably the greatest moment personally, because it's life come full circle."
The next step for Syracuse and Marrone is the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Orange will join their new conference with a team in transition in a few key areas.
An offense that was among the most potent in the country will have to replace quarterback Ryan Nassib, both starting receivers, and very possibly star tackle Justin Pugh, who has another year left of eligibility but could enter the NFL draft.
Five defensive starters are seniors, including All-Big East safety Shamarko Thomas.
Among the key players expected back are running backs Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley, who helped the Orange run for more than 300 yards against West Virginia. Gulley's 208 yards rushing were the second-most for a Syracuse player in a bowl game, eight yards shy of Floyd Little's school record set in 1966 Gator Bowl against Tennessee.
On the defensive side, Syracuse should be loaded at linebacker next season with Marquis Spruill, Cameron Lynch and Dyshawn Davis all coming back.
The speculation about Marrone has now turned from whether he will keep his job to whether an NFL team tries to lure him away.
The coach didn't want to address any of that Saturday night, instead basking in another Bronx bowl victory.
"You know, I think it's special," he said. "It's become — winning the one, it's become a special place for all of us and it's always been a special place."