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Syracuse coach Dino Babers learned under Pitt's Walt Harris

Jerry DiPaola
| Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017, 8:33 p.m.
Syracuse  coach Dino Babers (right) reacts during the second half against Clemson on Nov. 5, 2016, in Clemson, S.C.
Syracuse coach Dino Babers (right) reacts during the second half against Clemson on Nov. 5, 2016, in Clemson, S.C.

Football coaches live a busy existence, often neglecting the necessities of daily life.

Even as an assistant to Walt Harris at Pitt in 2003, current Syracuse coach Dino Babers had better things to do than waste time shaving.

One morning during that season, Pitt defensive line coach Charlie Partridge, who will be on the opposite Carrier Dome sideline Saturday when the Panthers meet Babers' Orange, got a taste — or was it a whiff? — of Babers' work ethic.

“We car-pooled,” said Partridge, who is in his second tenure as a Pitt assistant.

“I pick him up, and he comes out of his house and I can't believe my eyes. He has a white beard.“I smell something and I say, ‘Dino, what's on your face?' ”

“I was waiting for you to ask,” Babers said.

Turns out, Babers had lathered his face with Nair hair removal cream.

Babers apparently used the Nair as an alternative to standing still for five minutes to shave.

Standing still is not a regular part of Babers' day or coaching career. Born in Honolulu 56 years ago (his father Luther was as 21-year Navy man), he has coached at 15 schools since 1984, when he started out as a graduate assistant at Hawaii.

Harris said he had his mind nearly made up to hire Babers when he showed up for the interview before the 2003 season. Before coming to Pitt to coach running backs, Babers had been offensive coordinator at Arizona and Texas A&M.

“I remember always being impressed with him and his background,” Harris said. “The way he looked, the way he conducted himself. He was an excellent communicator and had California roots, which is where I'm from.”

After the '03 season, Harris said Babers had his eye on Pitt's vacant wide receivers job. But Harris didn't want to disrupt two positions by moving Babers out of the running backs room.

“In hindsight, it was a bad decision,” Harris said. “He obviously had an understanding of the passing game. His passing game is a lot different than the passing game we had, which he learned at Baylor, which everybody has bought into nowadays.”

Babers left Pitt for UCLA, and by 2008 he had joined Art Briles at Baylor where he was wide receivers coach and special teams coordinator.

Even though he was at Pitt for only one season, Babers said he learned a valuable lesson from Harris: Get the ball to your playmakers. Of course in 2003, Pitt had one of its all-time great playmakers.

“The thing that I learned from Walt Harris, especially with Larry Fitzgerald on the team, is that you can throw into double coverage,” Babers said. “I thought, ‘Hey, if you get double coverage, you need to go the other way,' and (Harris) is like, ‘Hey, it's double coverage, we understand that, you need to look at Larry. And then if he's triple covered, you might want to look at Larry again and then decide you don't want to go to him.'

“So, it just made me realize that even though people are trying to, through X's and O's, take players away from you, you need to find ways to get your really, really good players the ball.”

From Briles, he said he learned to run the fast-tempo offense Pitt will see Saturday and to be “super, super aggressive.”

Babers is working on his third head-coaching job in six years. He spent two years each at Eastern Illinois and Bowling Green, where he was 19-7 and 18-9.

At Syracuse, he has developed the No. 15 passing offense in the nation (an average of 317 yards per game). Wide receivers Steve Ishmael and Ervin Phillips are 1-2 in receptions (51 and 44 in five games).

He was on the losing end of the highest-scoring game in FBS history last season, a 76-61 Pitt win at Heinz Field.

“I was exhausted with the loss, and the other guy was exhausted with the win, but I think we were both totally exhausted.”

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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