By Tim Graham
Mike Krzyzewski was an obvious influence on Greg Paulus' basketball coaching career.
Thad Matta, too, of course.
So has Jim Boeheim.
But don't forget Doug Marrone.
That's right. Paulus credits the Buffalo Bills coach for making a difference.
Paulus essentially was immersed in Boeheim's program while growing up in Syracuse. Paulus played point guard for Krzyzewski at Duke.
Now Paulus is an assistant to Matta at Ohio State.
But in between Duke and Ohio State, the two-sport Christian Brothers Academy star decided to give football another whirl. He enrolled at Syracuse in 2009 as a graduate student and won the starting quarterback job in Marrone's first season as head coach.
"I learned a lot about myself, a lot about changing the culture of a program," Paulus said today at the First Niagara Center, where Ohio State will play Dayton on Thursday in the NCAA basketball tournament.
"We've seen where Syracuse was before Coach Marrone and where it is now. It's come a long way, and I'm proud to have had that opportunity.
"Moving forward, I lean on those experiences even though they're different sports. I know what I got out of that, a great deal."
Paulus turned down scholarships to play football at Notre Dame and Miami (Fla.), choosing instead to concentrate solely on basketball. At Duke, he became only the fourth freshman to lead the Atlantic Coast Conference in assists.
He graduated from Duke in four years, leaving him one year of athletic eligibility if he wanted it. With no guarantees, he reported to his hometown program, which had been in shambles and had just hired a first-time head coach.
"It happened very quickly," Paulus said. "I ended up graduating from Duke in May, and the football season starts in August.
"I'm not someone who pays attention to the odds. All I wanted was an opportunity. I knew it was for one year, so all I wanted was a chance to compete for a starting position.
"I made the transition to try to learn the playbook, meet the guys on the team and try to help out the Syracuse program in whatever way possible. It was a quick turnaround to learn everything, but I had a lot of fun with it."
Paulus beat out incumbent Cameron Dantley and redshirt freshman Ryan Nassib for the job. Marrone wanted to establish a new culture, and a winner from a program such as Duke basketball was a gift. Paulus was named a captain.
Paulus' football stat line was mediocre. He completed 67.7 percent of his passes for 2,024 yards and 13 touchdowns with 14 interceptions. The New Orleans Saints invited Paulus to minicamp in 2010 before he focused on basketball coaching full-time.
"I would do it again in a heartbeat," Paulus said. "The opportunity to play football for a year, get my masters from the Newhouse School of Public Communications and have a chance to play for Doug Marrone is something that I'll never forget."
And when the Bills went into opening day with a total of one NFL start among their three quarterbacks, including Duke pal Thad Lewis, did Paulus have any fanciful thoughts?
"No desire," Paulus said with a laugh. "Just to see Coach Marrone do it at the highest level, I was real proud to have played for him."
If the higher seeds win Thursday, then Paulus will face Syracuse for the second time in his coaching career. Ohio State defeated Syracuse to reach the 2012 Final Four.
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