Syracuse Football: When Being Swift Is Better Than Being Quick

Jared Wickerham

All signs point to defensive coordinator Scott Shafer to be Doug Marrone's replacement, but is Syracuse rushing to judgement?

Who will keep Syracuse football going?! The question on every Syracuse Orange football fan's mind. Well, it was on their collective mind, anyway.

Donnie Webb broke the news we all figured was coming, Scott Shafer is likely taking over as Syracuse University head football coach. Webb reported that incoming Orange recruit Darius Kelly was told such by Syracuse assistant coach Donnie Henderson. (Bruce Feldman of CBSSports has since reported it's an officially done deal.) As defensive coordinator, Shafer is one of the major reasons, probably just behind Marrone, for Syracuse's incredible turnaround over the last four seasons.

Just look at the numbers:

  • 2012 - Syracuse finished sixth in total defense while leading the Big East in tackles for loss.
  • SU held eventual Sugar Bowl champ Louisville to 10 points - T-E-N. (Whoopsie! Meant to write SU blew out eventual Sugar Bowl champ. I'll blame that one on Notre Dame being overrated.)
  • 2010 - Syracuse finished seventh in total defense.
  • That year SU won 8 games -7 of those wins Shafer's defense held the opponent to less than 15 points.

Clearly Shafer has proven he knows defense and just as clearly there seems to be a correlation between the rise of Syracuse football and Shafer's signing on to help Marrone. And before I go any further, let me be clear, I fully endorse Syracuse keeping what works and giving Shafer a chance to be head coach.

But Syracuse has been here before - kind of, anyway. In 1991 Orangemen (without a space) head coach Dick MacPherson surprised us all and took over the New England Patriots. Coach Mac had turned around a program that had been left for dead years ago. Things went from real bad to real good, highlighted by the 1987 Sugar Bowl, quick. And just like that, MacPherson was gone.

Coach Mac went pro and Syracuse, looking to capitalize on recent success and looking to keep incoming recruits happy, tabbed Paul Pasqualoni to replace him. Pasqualoni was the little known linebackers coach who had more ties to Penn State than Syracuse University. But SU athletic Director Jake Crouthamel didn't want to rock the boat, so he hired within and he hired quickly.

I won't rehash my thoughts on the job Pasqualoni did at Syracuse, and I won't pretend to compare the work Pasqualoni did before taking over at SU to the work Shafer has done before taking over. (I'll come back to that in a second, actually.) But it is important to note the similarities between the two coaching searches. While it was in a much better position in '91 than now, Syracuse football is on a rise now as it was then. And like then, SU is turning to a first-time head coach. (Which, for the record, worked out fine with Marrone.)

And there is a fear of everyone associated with the program that the recent success will fade away like a memory of a dream -- just like in '91.

Crouthamel moved fast to replace Coach Mac and keep things going and not let memories fade. It could be argued athletic director Daryl Gross is moving just as quickly to do the same. I have to wonder if Gross is reacting out of fear in hiring Shafer -- similar to how Crouthamel did after Coach Mac's departure. Is Gross listening to current players and worrying about fan reaction, still getting burned for his swing and miss with Greg Robinson, in reportedly hiring Shafer?

In getting back to the credentials, Shafer did great work at Western Michigan and Stanford and probably would have at Michigan if not for the bone-headed Rich Rodriguez. Pasqualoni's resume was nowhere near that of Shafer's. But how does Shafer's resume stack up to other potential candidates? Were other candidates interviewed? How would those other guys handle themselves in interviews? Remember Marrone wasn't the leading contender at SU until he smacked it out of the park in the interview process (a lot like what he did in Buffalo). Is Syracuse missing out on not knowing what it is missing out on?

Being swift in the hiring process is necessary when replacing a coach in January, but acting quickly to counter the timing of the search is never good.

Ignoring the process to hire Shafer isn't wrong, possibly too-safe a move, but assuredly not wrong. As I've pointed out, I am in favor of Shafer. Assuming Shafer is the best candidate. He knows the system, he knows the players, he knows the recruits (major), he knows the fans,and, most importantly, Shafer knows Syracuse.

But this is a scary time for Gross, the entire administration, and the fans. No matter who is officially put in to replace Marrone, there will be a ton of pressure on the new guy. He will not be trying to make people forget about Greg Robinson, he will trying not to screw up a mini-miracle. If Shafer fails it doesn't necessarily mean Gross chose wrong, but we would certainly be left to wonder who else may have been out there to keep things going.

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