For those calling for head coach Scott Shafer’s head, here’s a plea: just wait for it. Yesterday’s loss to Virginia is just as hard to think about as it was to watch, and seeing the Orange let the game slip away in the final minutes of the fourth quarter and eventually the third overtime period was painful.
But, in college sports, remember that coaching is two-fold. And as good as former head coach Doug Marrone was at maximizing talent on the field, Scott Shafer might be a better recruiter than his predecessor. In Marrone’s final year, he had a great roster to work with, but as soon as he joined the Buffalo Bills staff, Shafer was forced to use Marrone’s players. Now, with Shafer finally having a roster of young talent, Syracuse is showing promise.
The Orange roster is ripe with young talent: Eric Dungey a true freshman, Erv Phillips a sophomore, Dontae Strickland and Jordan Fredericks, two true freshmen running backs, Steve Ishmael a sophomore, Parris Bennett and Zaire Franklin, two sophomore linebackers. Shafer may not be the best at coaching on the field, but the fact of the matter is in college sports, recruiting is half of the battle.
Now, that’s not to say that on-the-field product isn’t important, because it’s most definitely the most important part of being a college head coach. But, Shafer is only in his second full season at the helm and it would be ludicrous to expect the team to transition without growing pains. Unfortunately, the growing pains are more glaring when a new coach is paired with such a young roster.
The Orange probably will not see a bowl game this year after three straight losses and two crushing defeats to USF and UVA, but there is reason for hope. It would be ludicrous to fire Shafer after just two seasons. Look at the young talent he has already put on the field, and realize that in two years, these guys will be seasoned upperclassmen. Syracuse football will find it’s way to a bowl again, and it may be sooner rather than later.
When watching the game, some of Shafer’s decisions are infuriating. Simple things like not calling a timeout when Virginia was forced to punt with 35 seconds left even leaves me scratching my head. But, at the same time, the Orange is essentially two bad defensive penalties away from having five wins. Shafer makes some infuriating decisions, but it can’t all be blamed on him.
What are the alternatives? The Orange could hire a new head coach, but finding a better coach than Shafer probably isn’t in the school’s budget. And bringing in a new coach is ultimately setting the program back to square one, which is where Shafer entered from two seasons ago.