Quick, think of the most disappointing moment of 2013 for the Syracuse Orange.
Okay, there were more than a few to pick, no question, but I'm betting Syracuse's disturbingly close loss to Penn State is pretty near the top of the "I'd rather forget that one" list for fans. A strange 23-17 loss for the Orange; a game of what could have been and, more accurately, what should have been. Instead of a nice win to start the '13 campaign, Scott Shafer began his reign already below .500.
And nearly a year later, you know who not only still talks about that loss, he openly blames himself for the outcome?
"I look back at the Penn State game and I did a poor job. That was our opener and I lost that game for us. I felt like I should've limited the number of calls, the number of checks and adjustments on both sides of the ball and just let them go out and play. There were couple of games early in the season, that one and the Northwestern one especially, where we gave up some plays because we asked kids to do too much mentally as opposed to just playing football."
Of those 92 words spoken by Syracuse's second-year head coach, Scott Shafer, and transcribed by Syracuse.com's Stephen Bailey, not a one is surprising. I evaluated Shafer's first year on the job as successful not just for the wins and the eventual bowl victory, but also for the way in which Shafer operates. Coach Speak to Scott Shafer must be what Mandrin Chinese is to me -- foreign and complicated. And if you thought Shafer's honesty in his first season at the helm was born of naivety, an "awe shucks, I'm just learning the ropes," well, you are wrong.
I couldn't be happier that "Some What Established" Scott Shafer seems more or less like "Allow Me To Introduce Myself," Scott Shafer of last year. He's actually becoming like a more physically stout version of Jim Boeheim -- not afraid to say what needs to be said; not afraid to just be himself.
There's obvious differences -- Boeheim's decades of consistent success and his being a curmudgeon among the most glaring - but there are similarities between the Hall of Fame basketball coach and the football man. Shafer is a little rosier sure, but they both have a brute bluntness about them. Ability to self-criticize, to berate an opponent when deemed fit, or to have a fair thought of what's to come. It's a characteristic very befitting Syracuse University athletics, right? It takes some backbone, some conviction, to be able to sell Central New York to some of our country's finest athletes. SU hoops is in the upper class of college basketball, but it's still penthouse living in...Syracuse, NY. SU football doesn't have the same luxuries but Shafer, following in Doug Marrone's footsteps, is making his way.
There's a different attitude needed to last, just ask Greg Robinson.
Oh, and winning helps, too. (Ask Greg -- Gerg -- about that one while you're at it.)
To that end, Shafer expects as many wins, eight, out of the upcoming slate as most (realistically thinking) fans. I've forever said and written that eight wins should be the benchmark for Syracuse football -- sometimes below, sometimes above, but usually near that line. Yet, I'm reasonably confident someone like Nick Saban or Urban Meyer or fill in the blank would A) never admit to such a low goal, and B) would never have even answered that question in the first place. Which, to be fair, most coaches wouldn't bother to respond with anything but some sort of run-away sentence.
Shafer, though, still attempts to answer a question with an actual answer. He'll tell you, mostly unprompted, that he's still thinking of last September even though most coaches only talk about the next game, the next quarter, the next play. Of course, those coaches are lying. Shafer may give some fluff answers occasionally, but he usually doesn't hide from anyone, including himself.
Which is why the coach brought up Penn State and last year. An assessment of his first contest as head man, where defeat was snatched from the sure jaws of victory, that very well may be correct. Syracuse really may have lost because of Scott Shafer, directly or indirectly. True or not, though, he hasn't forgotten that loss like a lot of fans haven't, and the good news is he'll tell us about it because it's on his mind.