It may seem like a strange time to be talking about extending a football coach coming off a 3-9 season, but hear me out when I say that right now is the time to do whatever it takes to keep head coach Scott Shafer on the Syracuse University football sidelines for the foreseeable future. There’s been some pretty drastic upheaval in the Orange athletics department, starting at the top with former athletics director Daryl Gross, but whenever the new AD is named one thing is clear: he needs to retain Scott Shafer.
Shafer inherited a tougher situation that many people realize, I think. When Doug Marrone bolted for Buffalo (a place he promptly left after only two seasons with no immediate plan of action, I might add), he left Shafer in a pretty tricky situation. Gone were his offensive coordinator, his running backs coach, and on down the list. And if you want to count his own promotion, gone too was the defensive coordinator. His record setting quarterback was gone, with zero experience behind him. He had to put in an entirely new offense. A losing season would have been understandable, but he still took the Orange to a victory in the Texas Bowl.
And then, last season happened. It was a rough season, and there’s no getting around it. On and off the field, there were difficulties ranging from injuries to his starting – and backup, and third string – quarterback, as well as the necessary change at offensive coordinator midway through the season. If you think installing an entirely new offense before the season is tough, just imagine how absurdly hard it must have been for Tim Lester getting the call halfway through the 2014 campaign.
It kind of feels to me like at this point, we don’t really know exactly what we have in Scott Shafer other than a passionate coach who is absolutely adored by his players, and his staff is proving to be able to recruit better talent than we’ve had in years. Just last year, his staff won recruiting battles against the likes of Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, and Oregon, to name just a few. Add in this year’s epic victory over Alabama, Michigan, and Florida for the services of elite running back Robert Washington, and we’re on the verge of a talent pool we haven’t seen since the mid-1990s on the Hill.
And whoever the new athletics director is has to let Scott Shafer see his creation through. Not just because he deserves the chance to coach his own players, but because to be perfectly blunt, if there’s a change at the head coach position, many of those players from both the 2015 and 2016 classes will be gone, off Syracuse’s radar in the blink of an eye. Robert Washington has already said the only thing he can think of that would cause him to waver would be a coaching change, and if he goes, so does every big recruit he’s currently got looking at the Orange.
It’s not just the class of 2016 this will impact, either. I can tell you right now, with absolute certainty, that if Scott Shafer is let go after the upcoming season, we’ll lose people from the class of 2015. I’ve heard from multiple people – including directly from a few recruits in that class – that if Shafer is gone, so are they. Basically, what we have here is a Hoosiers situation.
But don’t just take it from me, either. I’ve recently talked to someone close to the world of college football recruiting, who wished to remain anonymous, and here’s some of what they had to say on the subject of Scott Shafer:
“He has built momentum in recruiting, with each class getting stronger and stronger, with the next class having the potential to be explosive. Recruits see the stories of coach Shafer living in the projects, and on the reservation. They know he is a high caliber person who doesn’t seek out the limelight, and puts the kids and the program ahead of himself. They all have seen the pictures of the team barbecues at his pool, and they know he donates a lot of his own time to local charities without every seeking recognition. He supports the military and does the cross training with the team and the soldiers at Fort Drum.
Even with last year’s poor record, players on the team have said Shafer kept them focused and fighting right up until the last play at BC. Players graduating this year have said he was the best of the coaches they have played under. So we know the team likes him and the kids will fight for him.
But does that mean he can bring in the top talent? Each year the recruiting class has gotten better and better under his tenure. The next class is off to a bang and has the potential to be not only his best, but possibly the school’s best in years. Robert Washington has pointed to the coaches, and the feeling of family they gave him. His dad said he feels like coach Shafer is the man to take his son and continue his growth as a person. They feel Coach and staff are the right coaches to further his playing career to the next level. Past recruits have said they have committed to Syracuse in large part because of the staff. We have seen the pictures of coaches crashing on a recruit’s couch after traveling for in home visits during a snowstorm when certain coaches from opposing schools chose to skip the visit due to the weather. Could that have been the moment that turned the tide for a great future player to choose Syracuse?
Can he energize the fanbase and put butts in the seats? The fans haven’t been as excited as they are right now in recent memory. The fans will return as long as the program wins, and wins come with a deeper, better talent pool, which is exactly what Shafer is putting together at Syracuse. And he’s already proven he can manage his staff, and is willing to make tough decisions for the betterment of the program. Just look at what happened with George McDonald and Tim Lester last season. Early in his tenure he was accused of simply bringing in his friends to coach with him, but he’s proven that he values the growth of the program and is willing to make the tough decisions to see it continue.”
At this point, it’s difficult to see how this whole thing will play out with the continued search for a new athletics director. There are little birdies flying around suggesting that no matter what happens this season, Scott Shafer should feel secure in his job. But frankly, assurances should be made. Otherwise, you’re mortgaging the future of the Syracuse football program by risking some of the best parts of the past two classes if you hold off on coming out and saying that, yes, Scott Shafer is our coach, and will continue to be our coach at the very least through the duration of his current contract (he’s currently about to begin year three of a five year deal).
The wheels are in motion for a return to glory for the Orange football program. The last thing that Syracuse needs is any sort of stick being jammed into the spokes. The best thing for the program right now would be for someone to come out and say that, yes, Scott Shafer is our head football coach, and he’s not going anywhere. Take the thought of instability out of the minds of recruits, and take away any potential negative recruiting that could come from our coach being considered on the hot seat.
It’s time to make it official, Syracuse University. Let the college football world know that Scott Shafer is your guy.