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Slacking-ing Off With Sean & John: What to Make of Syracuse Football?

It's been awhile! John and Sean discuss the "state of the program" a bit.

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Every day, the TNIAAM staff uses real-time messaging service Slack to make up for their lack of geographic proximity. This can result in conversations that have a lot to do with Syracuse... or little to do with Syracuse. Our not-even-close-to-regular feature, Slack-ing off, captures those conversations so you can relive every moment. All time stamps on Pacific Time, despite not matter at all here.

John Cassillo (11:11 a.m.)

Without getting into all the hashtags and nonsense around firing or keeping Scott Shafer around, where's your head at after two straight years of losing now? We both lived through GERG. Does it feel similar? Is uttering his name an overreaction?

Sean Keeley (11:19 a.m.)

I was actually thinking about it this morning in the shower (which is a depressing realization for many reasons). At the end of the Year 3 of the GERG Era, it was abundantly clear that he needed to be fired. Maybe four years was "fairer" but it was beyond a reasonable doubt that he was not going to be able to turn this program around and that he seemed incapable of ever doing so. I don't feel the same way about the Shafer Era right now. I'm certainly not happy about six wins in two years, especially when those wins are all over Wake Forest, CMU and FCS schools. But I also don't look at Shafer and say to myself, "that guy will never turn this around."

So, regardless of what happens against NC State and BC, I feel like it's going to come down to what's important to Mark Coyle. I keep thinking about next season's home opener against Colgate and how it's probably going to be a ghost town in the Carrier Dome. Even if SU turns a corner next year and gets to 5-7/6-6, I don't know if that's enough to ensure 40K in the stands by year's end. So if attendance and finances are important, then I imagine he'd lean bringing in someone else to goose fan interest. If he's willing to think a little more longterm at the youth on the roster and the way SU has improved it's recruiting efforts under Shafer, I could see him giving Shafer one more year with the explicit understanding that if we don't go to a bowl game next year, he's out. Maybe that's not fair but neither is college football. ​

How about you? Are you getting GERG-y?

johncassillo (11:23 a.m.): You bring up a very good point on the "light at the end of the tunnel" stuff. With GERG, there was none, and here there clearly is the hope of something better coming along, despite diminishing returns and some obvious flaws in what we're getting on the field. My issue with the GERG comparison (and I've brought it up myself, so I'm not absolved of fault here) is based on my own perspective of that era. I was there for his final three years, and my coming-of-age as a Syracuse fan (though I was one before arriving on campus) is shaped by his woeful tenure. So I guess what I'm saying is that I'm more scared than others of going back down that road, and quick to call an audible to another coaching option if I see it potentially happening again. I'm scored, Sean. I don't know if I'll ever get over the fun he robbed me of at those games while in college. ​

The recruiting point you made is one I hear a lot. But based on the current numbers (60s and behind several MAC and AAC programs, by some metrics), is it based in any fact anymore? I've contended that any P5 should have 3-stars falling into their respective laps. Do you agree?

smkeeley (11:27 a.m.): Short answer: yes. Syracuse's recruiting bump just by joining the ACC would have been attributed to anyone who was head coach at the time. It's a higher-profile conference, we're playing higher-profile opponents, we play in the recruit-rich South more often, etc. I guess I look at a guy like Eric Dungey, who came from Oregon, and I wonder if he represents the recruiting wins that a Shafer staff gets us that others don't. Tim Lester is many things but on the quarterback recruiting front, I'd have to give him an A right now. ​

Ultimately I agree that getting good recruiting classes is less important than what you do with them. I will always contend that Doug Marrone did more with less. Look at all the stars and NFL talent that came from those teams. Almost all of them came to SU as two-star recruits. ​

So clearly the staff has made "Youth Movement" their big speaking point. They bring it up in most press conferences and it's become something of a rallying cry for those who defend Shafer. How much value do you put in it? That you need to look big picture at what's going on in 2015?

johncassillo (11:36 a.m.): To me, there's weight in it, sure. But plenty of teams are loaded with youth. FSU is a pretty young team, and so is Clemson. To be more accurate and true to our own situation, you can find youth loading the field for Wake and Pitt and USF too. Point is, it's not an excuse for failure unless you fail and need it as a talking point. Again, speaking to more elite talent, but more than half of recent national title winners have done so with a first-time starter. If we were 5-4 or 6-3, we'd be championing the fact that these young kids were "ready for the college game right away." Just a lot of double speak.

Other than the surprise breakout of Jordan Fredericks and Hunt's injury, what's changed since training camp? We knew the team was young. Mandate was still five wins or more then. Since Dungey turned out to be a high-quality option at QB and one that's produced at least comparable results to what Hunt would have, why are we giving this staff a moving target that lowers with every game in order to consider it a "success?"

smkeeley (11:41 a.m.): Well that's the nature of expectations. Does anyone even remember what their expectation was in September? That was before we really knew anything. We went from expecting 5-6 wins to expecting 8-9 and now down to just hoping for 5 but expecting 3-4. I do think it's hard for fans to see big picture and that's why it's up to Mark Coyle to really do that for us. ​

Ultimately what we're doing is giving Shafer & Co. all the opportunities to give us an excuse to be okay if they come back. We want them to win at least one more game so we can say "well, at least they started to get their act together at the end." We want them to be able to let us say we see momentum and progress. We need a valid reason to say these things beyond someone telling us that's what we're supposed to say. There's an old adage in screenwriting, "Show, don't tell." We've been told a lot of things about the future of this program, but nobody's showing it to us. ​

So let's say we lose to NC State but we beat BC. You finish 4-8, get a win over an ACC school not named Wake Forest and take some modicum of good vibes into the offseason. Does that keep Shafer employed?

johncassillo (11:52 p.m.): See, this is where there's no easy answer. The faithful Shafer defender says absolutely. The #FireShafer enthusiast says absolutely not. I don't think there's an easy answer. Let's say Dungey and Fredericks are shut down for the season and Mahoney brings us to a close loss and a close win to finish 4-8. Are you encouraged by the fact that back-ups kept us in the game, or discouraged that the back-ups were more competitive than the starters? If we get blown out by the Pack, is that the final straw no matter what happens vs. Boston College?

Good vibes are nice, but everyone measures them differently. Just too many personnel and margin-of-win/loss variables right now for me to get a clear read on what to expect. Coyle's relative quiet on the matter is also a wildcard, since we just don't know anything about his stance, despite him being the one that'll make the final decision.

smkeeley (12:04 p.m.): For me, I'm just left confused this season. If we lose to NC State this weekend I'll be even more confused. I know I'm supposed to look at the LSU and Clemson games and feel good about the effort and the way we gave both of them a run for their money, but it's the fact that we followed LSU with a beatdown vs. USF and loss to Virginia that I find so hard to reconcile. ​

First, because why can we play some of the best teams in the nation so well and yet not be able to beat mediocre-or-worse teams? ​

Second, because what does it say about this coaching staff that they let it happen? It robs those games of their value by putting them side by side with the disappointments in between.

johncassillo (12:10 p.m.): Right. There's far too much to unpack in those two questions for this post, but what I will say is that this team's gameplans can be its own worst enemy. Since I'm following things rather closely on both the first and second watches of these games, I'm seeing offensive elements that work for Dungey disappear, only to reappear (with even greater success) for Mahoney. I'm seeing blitzes disappear for quarters on end, only to come back and nearly shift the tide in a game against the top-ranked team in the country. I'm not a coach, and I'll never profess to be one. But there are a ton of (as you put it) confusing elements to this season, many just can't be explained. ​

I do want to circle back on Coyle before we close out, though. What do you think of him being pretty silent on things? And without anything to go off of, where do you think his head's at in terms of the decision, these last two games and where things stand right now?

smkeeley (12:17 p.m.): I'm actually fine with him being quiet right now. Coming off of The DOC Era, when we were constantly made to feel like we were idiots who "didn't understand how brand works," it's nice to have someone who isn't desperate to remake the athletics' program in his own image. I suspect that Coyle is doing his due diligence in the shadows right now, analyzing the data, looking over financials, etc. From everything I've seen so far, he's a deliberate person who makes smart choices and I'm guessing those choices come from careful analysis. As I'm sure DOC can tell you, who you hire as your first football coach can be the decision that makes or breaks you. I'd rather Coyle stay quiet and figure out how to do it right rather than make noise for the sake of making noise now. Like I said earlier, fans can't think longterm but it's his job to do so. ​

I think that Coyle is going to make the best business decision, if that makes sense. Football is such an important thing for athletic's programs based on how much money it brings in and how visible it is to the rest of the nation. He's going to make the decision he thinks will impact all of those things best, at least for now. ​

Floyd Little is the only person in the department to make a solid statement about Shafer's employment by saying those decisions won't be made until after the season is over. You think that's the smart play? Or should SU be trying to get ahead of the curve right now, especially with so many "better" jobs open?

johncassillo (12:24 p.m.): I guess it depends on how much stock you put in that timeline by Floyd. Like you said, seems unlikely Coyle doesn't have a list already. Just depends on how far he is down that road. I'd agree that I like an athletic director who'd rather let the athletes take center stage. But I also wouldn't mind hearing some opinions from him, especially now that the team's not bowl eligible anymore. The nature of college sports used to always prohibit mid-season firings, but that era appears to be over. It leads me to believe he's just as uncertain (not in a bad way) as you and I are about Shafer's long-term stay here, and is going to let things play out. ​

I WILL say that getting a head start could be for the best, however, if they go the route of firing. Two of SU's last three coaches have been hired past the typical college timing and that's set them up for a rough start. New coaches can energize a program and a fan base and kick-start recruiting too. But that means he's starting in early December, not a month or less before National Signing Day in February.

smkeeley (12:31 p.m.): I think the fear for SU fans is that we're going to be left with the table scraps of coaching options and then we're kinda right back where we started (which isn't even true because the team was good when Shafer took over). It feels like we've been rebuilding this program for decades now and we're just running out of patience. I don't know how many more start & stops we can deal with as a fanbase. Or maybe we don't have a choice?

johncassillo (12:35 p.m.): I think we do. Or at least we have a choice about the number/frequency of stops, y'know? Tons of programs in similar spots to us (Northwestern, Vanderbilt, Pitt, Maryland, UConn, Boston College, Rutgers, Temple to name a few) have pulled off at least one nine-win season and a lot of that is coaching. Pitt starts and stops every two years, but stop doesn't mean plummet. We're never going to be a destination job, but if we're smart with hires, we can make the "bottom" 6-6, as Pitt has. And then spike up when things get rolling. That's not too much to ask for in a college football environment that's built to make you bowl eligible.

smkeeley (12:45 p.m.): "So long as we schedule Alabama and Ohio State, it's fine by me..."