When Scott Shafer defended his decision to not allow Pitt to score in the waning minutes of Saturday’s loss I had a familiar feeling. He’s in over his head leading this program. By now you know the situation: Syracuse and Pitt tied at 20, Panthers first down at the 18, with 1:39 remaining.
Had SU let Pitt score there, the Orange get the ball back with a chance to tie with a minute and a half. Instead, the Panthers drained clock, kicked the chippy, and the Orange never saw the football again.
It wasn’t just the strategy that bothered me. It was the rationale:
“I just don’t feel like throwing in the towel is the way to teach young people how to live their lives through football,” Shafer said. “That’s teaching them how to quit.”
You want to make the argument a fumble could happen on any play? Okay. Or that college kickers are anything but a sure bet so force them to kick it? Fine. But life lessons are how you’re deciding clock and game management? That’s just seems ridiculous.
Shafer’s “don’t give up, keep fighting, be hard-nosed” mentalty is admirable in many ways. The effort and want is apparent with him. He feels like he can will this program to better days. And that’s what we all want. But when Mike Holmgren and Bill Belichick decide to let the opponent score on the goal line in a Super Bowl (which both did), are they teaching their players to “quit?” Understandably, college kids and pro players are different. But smart game management has nothing to do with life lessons or teaching moments. The idea is to win games, and there’s not a kid on that sideline or that huddle who doesn’t want to win.
Life lessons come through the hard-work, the practice, the commitment every Saturday. It comes from being there for a teammate, grinding in the weight room when no one is watching, putting everything you have into a goal. There’s not a kid alive that would get that signal from the sideline and then think, “Man, I guess quitting is the right thing to do in life.” It’s just not a reasonable cause and effect.
If you want to derive life lessons from gameplanning (and that’s pretty dangerous) it’s that sometimes to take two steps forward, you need to take one step back. You need to position yourself for successful situations. How many of us have passed on what appeared to be the short-term gain for the better long term solution? We’re always taught that the long view is what’s most important. And in this case you’re looking for the bigger victory by conceding a smaller defeat.
It’s just tactics – this is football coaching, not life coaching. It feels like recruiting has been on an uptick, and injuries have done him no favors. But we’ve all seen some questionable game and clock management decisions this year by Shafer. We’ve groaned at ill-advised time outs. I’ve winced at his defensive posture in postgame press confrerences. It’s not just Shafer appears headed for another lost football season. It’s that he doesn’t seem equipped to be the top man for this football program. His time feels like its running out.