Syracuse made the right decision in firing Scott Shafer. He was in over his head as a coach at the power 5 level, but I have no problem allowing him to coach the final game vs. BC. Some think it’s too awkward to have a lame duck coach on the sideline with the guillotine already fallen. But if CBS canned me tomorrow, I’d like to have one final show as an opportunity to say good bye. Not like someone kidnapped me in the middle of the night and dumped me in the North Country forest.
I was wrong. I advocated promoting him after the departure of Doug Marrone. I thought it would keep the recruiting class in tact, continue the momentum built. I felt he had earned the shot. It may have been fine in the short term (7-6, a bowl victory). But it was the wrong hire long term, and that’s all that matters. His greatest attribute was his effort. There was no doubt every loss ate at him. He’s driven by emotion and self-discipline. You could tell he viewed his team through the same exact lens he built his career on. If we want it more than them, if we max out on effort, if we out-work the opponent, we’ll win. Which is admirable, but unrealistic at a major program.
Shafer was never the golden assistant, the young prodigy, the kid whose dad was a high-profile coach. Shafer was a grinder, in the best sense of the word. He was a sum of his parts: Baldwin-Wallace, Northern Illinois, Painesville, Ohio-tough. He grew up 30 minutes northeast of Cleveland, right on the lake. His dad was his high school football coach. And that was Shafer. The hard-nosed mentality of the son of a high-school football coach. But “hard-nosed” became a cliche with him, because no matter how slobber-knocker you want to be you also have to be smart and savvy.
As much as we want to simplify the game, it hasn’t been a “hand in the mud, crash into the guy in front of you, bleed more than them” type of sport for a long time. There are tenants of that sensibility that work. Alabama certainly works hard and beats you up physically. But the Tide is also sophisticated, incredibly well-coached, and recruit some of the best talent in the nation. The Orange doesn’t need to aspire to be Bama. But Nick Saban doesn’t think if you work harder than LSU, you’ll beat them. College football is now nuanced and offensive-oriented, and in need of decent clock management. Shafer lacks that skill set.
“Hard-nosed” became a punchline at SU, because that boiled down the myriad problems the Orange had to a slogan you tell your gym class before climbing the ropes. And that gets you 9 loss seasons in a power conference. The problem was never that Shafer didn’t care. By the end of the Greg Robinson Era, I honestly wondered how much he was really invested. Because the losing was so much, the ineptitude was so dark, he had to have shut off some of his own personal internal lights. How much humiliation could one human bare?
Shafer cared. But he couldn’t control the outcomes anymore and that made him explode inside. His lifelong calculus: “effort + work = success” wasn’t changing anything. And as people criticized he lashed out. His constant questioning of media was a terrible, immature, in-over-your-head look. What exactly do you expect when you’ve lose 8 straight games? When the program can’t beat any ACC team besides Wake, you’d prefer a parade down Salina Street? A bunch of “attaboys, you’ll get ’em next time coach.” That’s silly, nostalgic, 1950’s stuff. That’s Painesville High.
Recruiting seemed to be better, and that’s probably largely because out-working the other guys pays dividends there. Identify a kid first, visit him more than anyone else, have an assistant calling and texting constantly. You can win some battles. But it wasn’t showing up enough on Saturdays. It would be one thing if this season felt like a year of growth at 3-8. It doesn’t. It feels like there’s some decent young talent that keeps playing undisciplined football, and a coach who keeps making rookie play-calling, game management, and clock mistakes. Then tries to bully you when you question why it isn’t working.
I’ll write much more about the candidates and the state of the program soon. During my years at SU, I watched four years of football that included McNabb, Freeney, and glorious Miami and Va Tech teams coming to a sold out, ridiculously loud Carrier Dome. The biggest problem is that feels so long ago. And when a forlorn audience that resembles the old Temple crowds we used to make fun of shows up for Saturday in another lost year, it only takes looking at the 30,000 empty seats to know Shafer had to go.
Posted: Damon Amendolara
You can listen to D.A.’s radio show every weeknight 6-10p in Syracuse on the Score 1260, broadcast to 170 affiliates on the CBS Sports Radio Network.