SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- The pictures on the walls of room 217 of Syracuse football headquarters tell the story of the man seated behind the desk.
One includes a hand-written message scribbled in black marker by Tony Romo, his most famous protege. To the right are action shots of other quarterbacks he had coached that reached the NFL. That one in the back is from 2002, depicting the nation's best coordinators across all levels of college football. Alongside him is Brian Ward, whose office is down the hall.
These relics help explain why this man was hired by Dino Babers amid a cancer fight and has been part of his staff for the past five years. They provide reminders Syracuse football is housing someone with a sterling background in quarterback development, someone referred to by those inside the program as "Master Wittke" because of his eye for finding unheralded recruits good enough to reach the NFL.
And they help tell the story of why more people outside these walls might not know his name.
His business card reads director of player development, a liaison between the head coach and university personnel, but that does not fully describe the importance of 58-year-old Roy Wittke to the Syracuse football program.
Three people -- including Babers and co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Sean Lewis -- in the program carry the most clout when deciding whether a quarterback gets offered a scholarship.
Of the three, Wittke is the only one NCAA rules prohibit from going on the road to recruit or doing any on-field coaching. He can study film, watch a high school quarterback throw on campus and meet with him face-to-face afterward.
"He has a voice," Babers said of evaluating the most important position in the program.
"Those six sets of eyes have to be a voting majority when it comes to who we're going to take and who we're not going to take."
Still, there is some mystery surrounding Wittke's job description. He's described as a sounding board and filter for Babers, and he will watch practice from the sidelines, offering his opinion on coaching strategy only if asked afterward.
"I don't care if it's handing out the lunches after games or watching tape of quarterbacks or answering questions or showing a walk-on around," Wittke said.
"Often times people say, 'What's your role?' I do whatever the hell the head coach wants me to do. I say that a little bit tongue-in-cheek but with all honesty as well."
Perhaps his biggest asset is giving Syracuse, a program in a talent-deprived geographic location that needs strong evaluators, a seasoned set of eyes in recruiting.
He watched tape of Tommy DeVito and confirmed certain leadership traits during a junior-day visit early last year to help the Orange ultimately land its prized quarterback of 2017. A family connection helped Wittke get an early read on James Morgan, the Bowling Green redshirt sophomore quarterback rated four stars by multiple recruiting services.
"I've seen more and I've seen guys that have developed, even guys that we haven't recruited, that I've seen gone on to other places and have been successful or maybe haven't been successful," Wittke said.
"You store those things into your memory and try to refer back to those impressions and those experiences that you have."
Said Babers: "In the old days, you might say he's a walking encyclopedia. I guess nowadays he's a walking Siri. It's always good to have somebody that has that type of knowledge and they don't have to go search for it.
"He is a fantastic evaluator of talent. He's a quality person. There are too many plusses. There are too many goods for him not to be a part of your staff."
Wittke built up such cache thanks to the players dotting the walls of his office. He is best known for recruiting and coaching Romo and Jimmy Garoppolo at FCS Eastern Illinois.
The two quarterbacks bookend the most significant period of Wittke's four decades in coaching. Romo's ascent to becoming the Dallas Cowboys' all-time passing leader elevated Wittke to the highest level of college football. Garoppolo, a second-round pick of the New England Patriots gifted to Babers when he took over as head coach in 2012, exemplified the value of creating a position on staff for Wittke even after he applied for the head job himself, a rare move during a coaching transition.
Bob Spoo, the longtime head coach who preceded Babers at Eastern Illinois, doesn't hide the fact he nearly prevented setting this in motion 20 years ago by questioning whether Romo was good enough to bring to Eastern Illinois.
Wittke, who first became aware of Romo through newspaper clippings his parents mailed him from Wisconsin, pointed out he had a knack for making plays, a trait confirmed watching him on the basketball court, where Wittke observed Tony's anticipation of players cutting to the basket and the same quick release flashed on the football field.
Spoo conceded a partial scholarship offer for a player who would go on to win the Walter Payton Award -- the Heisman Trophy of the FCS ranks -- and rake in more than $127 million in career earnings.
"Thank God," Spoo said, "for Roy Wittke."
His career started at outposts in the Midwest and West. Working one season with Bill Diedrick at Montana State helped shape how he would come to handle quarterbacks. He'd hear Diedrick on the headset talking in a calm voice even if the quarterback threw three or four interceptions by halftime, believing he couldn't be afraid to make decisions.
"You knew where you were supposed to be, what position your body was supposed to be in, what your reads were," said Jeff Phillips, a three-year starter and two-time conference player of the year under Wittke at Division II Central Missouri, "and he made it very clear that once you had made a decision to go with it, you make that decision and you live with it."
Years later, he applied those same principles to Romo.
"He created an environment that was comfortable for him," said Wittke's son, Jeff, who attended practice during the Romo era, helping spot the ball or carry cords on the sidelines during games.
"That working relationship they had together probably helped get the most out of him while he was there."
It also caught the eye of Arkansas coach Houston Nutt, who hired Wittke as his offensive coordinator after Romo left for the NFL. After more than 20 years toiling away in the lower divisions of college football, Wittke's chance in big-time college ball arrived.
In Fayetteville, Wittke inherited the most talented player he said he ever coached (Matt Jones) and helped raise Arkansas into the top 10 thanks to a road victory at Texas in 2003.
At the same time, a high school coach named Gus Malzahn was building a high school power just 12 miles north. By the end of 2005, the Razorbacks were coming off back-to-back losing seasons, and Malzahn had a group of seniors dubbed the Springdale Five, featuring the No. 1-ranked quarterback in the country, Mitch Mustain, and star receiver Damian Williams.
Wittke was let go, Malzahn was hired, and three of the Springdale Five followed their coach to Arkansas, which won the SEC West the following year.
"There was nothing that came from him that was negative about anyone else," Jeff Wittke said. "Now, if you were to ask me, my brother or my mom, that's an entirely different story.
"He was just completely heartbroken that he had uprooted us from where we lived our entire lives in Charleston to move to Arkansas and then three years later we had to do it again. Some of those times it was so tough for him that he couldn't even tell it to us himself. A lot of it would come through my mom because I think he felt that bad about it that it really ate him up inside."
A silver lining in being fired at Arkansas was landing at Arizona State under coach Dirk Koetter, now the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and one of the most influential coaches Wittke worked with. Everything in practice was geared toward enabling the quarterback to play well. That meant running more team and situational football periods, rather than individual drills.
It once put him in a room with Phil Simms when his son was on a recruiting visit, where he heard Simms say something that has stayed in the back of his mind to this day.
"If you look at the guys who really have outstanding arms, they are guys that don't strain when they have to throw," Wittke said. "Regardless if they have to throw an 18-yard comeback or putting touch on a ball over the middle or throwing the deep ball, that's really stuck with me since then. So, you look for that type of thing."
Wittke worked one season under Koetter before the staff was fired, a move that squashed the chance to work with an incoming quarterback recruit named Nick Foles, who would go on to make the Pro Bowl in 2013 with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Wittke would have to seek a new job for a third-straight offseason after being let go at Northern Illinois in 2007 when Joe Novak suddenly retired on the heels of a 2-10 season.
Five years after he left, he was back at Eastern Illinois.
Wittke weighed 138 pounds when he interviewed for an ops role with Babers in July 2012, the treatment from a stem cell transplant robbing him of his hair and strength.
"I can't imagine I was a very impressive-looking individual," Wittke quipped. Lymphoma penetrated his central nervous system during his final season at Eastern Illinois. It has slowed his gait and aged him beyond his years, but the thought of relinquishing his career to cancer did not cross his mind.
Spoo, a man Babers has trusted since he gave Babers his first full-time coaching job in 1987, passed along the highest recommendation. Still, Babers needed to privately meet with Wittke before hiring him. He laid out the stakes: If there was even the slightest pretense of undermining the first-year head coach with the radically different system, the whole regime would look foolish.
"This could be sabotage," Babers said, "especially the first year as a head coach. But he assured me that would not happen and he was absolutely correct, and because of the way he handled it and the professionalism that he showed me, he's somebody I wanted with me ever since."
Those close to Wittke weren't surprised by this. His personality perfectly aligned with Babers' mantra of dropping your ego and doing your job, traits instilled in him growing up the son of a construction worker in Racine, Wis., 30 miles south Milwaukee.
It's why he's a bit sheepish when credited with the success those great quarterbacks helped create for themselves, why he's uncomfortable at the mention of the monikers like Master Wittke: quarterback whisperer, and why he prefers to look forward, rather than back, on a career that once trajected toward greater heights.
"Things happen for a reason, and I'm a firm believer in that," Wittke said. "The last six years I've enjoyed myself and have had more fun doing this thing than I have in a long, long time. I would not want to be working for anyone else across the country."