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Syracuse Football: Four Things Working Against Scott Shafer Right Now

There's a conversation going on whether you like it or not. We dig into some of the reasons why.

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

There are conversations swirling around Syracuse Orange football right now and I think you know the conversations I mean. From my POV, there seems to be this narrative out there that blogs like this one are the one pushing for a certain head coach to no longer be a certain head coach but from where I sit, I'd just like to point out that that conversation has been jumpstarted by two things:

1. National media who just scan the stats and decided Scott Shafer is probably in the vicinity of a hot seat.

2. Fans on social media and comment sections and message boards venting their frustrations.

Correct me if I'm wrong but no one here has ever said "Scott Shafer should be fired." We've raised concerns. We've provided scenarios. We've asked questions. But we're certainly not leading the charge on this issue.

That said...we are Syracuse fans. Long-time Syracuse fans. We didn't just start caring about SU last year, we've been here for decades. We won't stop caring about SU a few years from now because a personal connection to a team is over, we'll always be here. Not just for football but for basketball and lacrosse and even field hockey. We care about the whole of the university and it's sports teams and part of being a fan is voicing your concerns and wondering whether or not the things people say match the things we see. If they don't, we're not gonna sit here quietly, toe the party line and twiddle our thumbs until we're told it's okay to think something else. Fandom don't work like that.


It's hard not to wonder if we're drifting more and more in the direction of THAT conversation. The Orange have squandered a 3-0 (24 Years!) start and are mired in a four-game losing streak with a pissed-off Florida State on the docket, a road game with Louisville and a showdown with the ever-#DISRESPECTED Clemson Tigers looming.

So while we're not sitting here telling you we know for sure that THAT thing should happen, we would like to shed some light on the reasons beyond wins and losses that are not working in Scott Shafer's favor.

(Let's be clear, there are a lot of valid reasons out there to not have this conversation. Shafer’s tenure is riddled with injuries that derailed all good hopes and intentions. He’s had a quarterback carousel in almost perpetual motion. SU's scheduling hasn’t done him any favors. Last year’s team at full-strength probably wasn’t as bad as it’s 3-9 record and you have to wonder what could have been with one or two injured players back in the game this season. And by God, even Greg Robinson got four years...)

1. He's Was A Continuity Hire

I've talked about this before at length but basically there two kinds of head coaching hires: Rebuilders and Continuity Coaches. Rebuilders do what it says. They come into bad situations and rebuild them into better teams. Doug Marrone was a Rebuilder and he did just that. Continuity Coaches come into situations that are already good (or at least mediocre) and they're expected to maintain that level of success. That was Shafer to a T.

I have no hard data to back this up but my sense is that Continuity Coaches have a shorter leash when it comes to how long they can last without results. Frank Solich famously went 58-19 at Nebraska and got fired because 58-19 was a step down from the heights Tom Osborne took the program to. The Guy After The Guy is always starting at a disadvantage because the bar is higher than if he'd just taken over at some smaller school. Ask Ron Zook what it was like to follow Steve Spurrier.

When Shafer took over, the bar had been raised on SU Football and he has yet to reach that bar.

2. His Predecessor Did More With Less

One defense of Shafer I’ve seen in recent weeks is that when he took over as head coach, the cupboard was bare and he’s still in the process of trying to stock it. In the last two years, he’s starting bringing in three-star and now four-star guys who are just beginning to make their impact on the team. Aside from that, Marrone might as well have given Shafe a brand new create-a-team roster made up of guys with names like WR #81 and QB #7.

While there is something to be said for letting a head coach have some time to grow the guys he recruits, the idea that Shafer took over the Syracuse program with an empty roster is laughable, mainly because of what the guy before him accomplished.

The guys that Doug Marrone used to get to 2 eight-win seasons? Two-star recruit Ryan Nassib. Two-star recruit Justin Pugh. Two-star recruit Chandler Jones. Two-star recruit Alec Lemon.

And you want to talk about a bare cupboard? Talk about what Doug Marrone walked into. That was a program at it’s nadir. That was a decimated roster made up of little talent and no direction. Marrone turned that into a bowl team in two years.

Sure, a lot of those guys who developed into stars left with or before the 2012 squad but Marrone left behind a program that was in decent shape, and at the very least leaps and bounds better than how he found it. It wasn’t amazing. It wasn’t Alabama-levels of talent. But it was, at worst, middle-of-the-road. Two years later, it was a 3-9 team. Three years later, it may be headed to the same place. Not good.

3. The Robert Washington Theorem

Something that I believed firmly for a while was that you couldn't even consider firing Shafer this season because to do so would mean big time recruits like Robert Washington and Rex Culpepper would almost certainly go elsewhere. And then Washington went ahead and revealed that it actually doesn't matter. Because he left the fold for entirely different reasons. As for Culpepper, he's recovering from a torn ACL and will be walking into The Dungeyoen.

Point is, Washington reminded us it's that verbal commitments are illusions and that it's all a crapshoot anyway. While there's still quite a few quality recruits verbally-committed to Shafer and the Orange, now we know we can't count on a correlation. Whatever happens happens.

4. Mark Coyle's First Priority Is Mark Coyle's Job

Here are some facts.

  • Mark Coyle took over as Athletic Director this year.
  • He has seen first-hand not only the state of Syracuse Football but also the state of it’s fandom interest in packing the Carrier Dome.
  • He and his underling John Cunningham have said one of their top priorities is to get football attendance back on track.
  • Attendance is often a reaction to what has already happened. So after last year’s 3-9 season, attendance was miserable this season. If the Orange continue down that road again, 2016 attendance will follow.
  • Mark Coyle’s job is largely dependent on getting the Syracuse Football program back to a level in which it is successful on the field and financially-viable to the university and athletic department.
  • College football is an arms race and he does not have the luxury of waiting years to make SU stand out.
  • Mark Coyle has assembled an athletic department full of his people and started to remake it in his image.
  • Scott Shafer is not one of Mark Coyle’s people.