There’s been a lot of talk around these parts on what to do with Shafer, as the team is now 6-16 over the past two seasons, and looking far closer (at least by record) to the team coached by Greg Robinson than the one inherited from his predecessor, Doug Marrone.
In the last few weeks, I’ve heard three schools of thought:
- Shafer is terrible and should be fired
- Shafer is amazing and the doubters will be proven wrong in time
- Give him one more year to figure this out, and we'll decide then
After another close loss to a top-ranked Clemson team - a moral victory much in line with the loss to LSU earlier in the season - the tendency is to fall closer to option #3 and see if he can finally turn some of those moral victories into actual victories.
Unfortunately, these are not the actual options Mark Coyle faces when he looks at the situation, as Nate Mink beat me to the punch a bit on this last week. Being a private university, we don’t have too much insight into the contract details for head coaches, but Scott Shafer indicated last week in his comments, that his contract has one more year remaining after this one, and that’s it.
So, given that information, Shafer could potentially come into 2016 as a lame-duck coach, unless something changes with his contract situation. That leaves Coyle with two real options when the 2015 season comes to a close:
- Fire Scott Shafer
- Extend Scott Shafer's contract
Given the current state of the program, I’d imagine not many people are ready to sign up for a long-term commitment to Shafer. Even two more years from now seems borderline insane at this point. But there are still two games remaining, so I’ll keep an open mind.
But the frequent refrain is that you give Shafer one more year, and 2016 is make or break for him. Here’s why that’s not realistic.
One of the main arguments in Shafer’s favor is that he has recruited well. We can debate the veracity of that statement another time, but even if you do concede he and his coaches are good recruiters, how are they going to fare when players aren’t sure if they’re even going to be there on signing day? We’re already concerned enough about whether firing a coach will result in recruits flipping to other schools after they’ve already said they will come. Imagine how hard it will be to get guys to commit in the first place with that cloud hanging overhead. Recruiting will suffer dramatically if Shafer is a lame-duck coach, there’s no avoiding this.
Assistant Coach Defections
There are probably a few coaches fans wouldn’t mind seeing move on, but there are also a few talented assistants on the staff right now that are probably holding this group together the best they can (Tim Daoust and Clark Lea come to mind). If Shafer comes back as a lame duck in 2016, there’s a chance some of his coaches decide to move on. Even if it’s a lateral move, you wouldn’t be able to blame a Daoust or Lea for taking additional job security with a coach that’s likely to stay in one place for longer. So bringing back Shafer may also mean bringing back a weakened Shafer with some of the good coaches jumping ship.
We already saw a little of this from a coach whose seat was slightly warm at the start of the year, but what incentive does Shafer have to redshirt talented players who may need a little bit of seasoning before they play? That’s how you get a guy like Kenterius Womack playing a few snaps at wide receiver in garbage time and wasting an entire season of eligibility for nothing this year. If Shafer has no reason to think he’ll be around past 2016, he has no reason to care about eligibility concerns past 2016.
If you bring Shafer back for one more season as a lame duck, you’re setting him up for failure, and you’re setting the program up for longer-term failure. And unless he rights the ship immediately, you’re looking at firing him (or simply letting him go) after a third-consecutive down season, with a likely poor recruiting class, and fewer years of eligibility for your young players. You’re essentially making the job less-desirable for the incoming coach, and hurting your chances of making a good hire.
Coyle still has a few more weeks to decide – as do the fans in which decision they would support – but he MUST decide. He cannot punt on this decision, because a lame-duck coach is simply not an option Syracuse can entertain.