Scott Shafer was fired as head coach of the Syracuse Orange football program Monday. While you could have made a case for Shafe to get another year and one more chance to finish what he started, there were ultimately some key decisions and situations in play that led directly to this decision.
He Started A Company With His Friends
We had some fun with the fact that almost everyone on Shafer's staff when he was hired came from a connection he made while in the MAC. And while in many cases those decisions panned out, at least a while, it might also have been a critical error that kneecapped his tenure and helped push it towards the never-ending rebuilding job it became.
Brian detailed most of this last year when it became clear that The George McDonald Experiment failed. Shafer rolled the dice on the unproven OC for his recruiting prowess and also because the two made a pact during their assistant days to hire the other if they ever became a head coach. It ended so badly that there's still bad blood between the two. Perhaps it was doomed from the start, especially when you consider how far behind SU's offense has fallen in the last two seasons.
Had Shafer been a little more "business-first" when hiring his staff, he could have avoided some messy emotions and unfortunate consequences.
Ironically, his offensive-minded predecessor made the right decision when he deferred defensive duties to a proven DC rather than to someone he was friendly with: Scott Shafer.
He Made Unnecessary Enemies
From the get-go, I liked Shafer's fiery demeanor. He sounded like the kind of guy you wanted to run through a brick wall for. Back when he was still more gusto than game-winning, things like the "F*** You, Dabo!" incident felt refreshing and exciting. Yeah we lost, but we're not afraid of you. We're coming for you next time.
Shafer made enemies with a few more fanbases along the way. His comments about Atlanta turned Georgia Tech (and national folks) against him. He called out Jimbo Fisher for not being "gentlemanly" a couple weeks back over injury reporting (as if it would have made a difference). There came a point where I realized Shafer's reputation from a national perspective was that of a jerk, which wasn't the truth of who he is. He's actually a really good guy. But you know what they say about perception.
Somewhere along the way he decided to turn the local media into the enemy as well. He was chippy at press conferences, quick to shove early-season success in their faces and call them out over perceived slights, and then this past weekend he let the mask slip once more. He also fostered a "you're with us or you're against us" vibe that seeped into the fanbase as well.
Three years later, there's a lot of people who dislike Scott Shafer. Some for reasonable reasons, some for unreasonable ones. But that doesn't matter because it's a trend that seemed to follow Shafer all the way to the end and he didn't do much to avoid.
He Was A Continuity Hire
I've talked about this before as something working against Shafer from the beginning. There are two kinds of hires: Rebuilders & Continuity Coaches. Rebuilders have more leeway because they have to remake a bad program into a good one. Continuity Coaches has less leeway because they have to maintain the success a good team already has. If they can't keep to the same level, they're much more likely to get the boot sooner than later. Why roll the dice on a guy who turned an 8-5 team into a 3-9 team?
It also never helped Shafer that he was compared to Doug Marrone, who took a football program in disarray and turned it into a bowl team with NFL talent. By comparison, Shafer took everything that Marrone built and brought it back down to where it was before. At least on paper.
He Lacked Any Quality Wins (Especially Recently)
It's easy to forget that Scott Shafer took Syracuse to a bowl game in his first season. Also, he won that bowl game, beating a decent Minnesota Golden Gophers squad. Since then, however, he has overseen six wins in two seasons. Those six wins break down like this:
- Two wins over FCS schools
- Two wins over Central Michigan
- Two wins over Wake Forest
In fact, even when you factor in that first season, his 13 wins are propped up by three FCS wins, three mid-major wins and three wins over Wake. That leaves only four wins to choose from of any notability. The Minnesota win is probably the best one on his resume and that was back in 2013.
Sure, you could say that there's been a lot of games where, had one or two plays gone the other way, SU would have won. But we didn't. And that's all anyone remembers.
Next Year's Home-Opener Attendance
Carrier Dome attendance has been pretty abysmal this season. I believe that attendance is largely based on what happened the previous season and if that's the case, you would assume next year's attendance would be even worse assuming no change was made at the helm.
Next year's home-opener is against Colgate. So imagine what that would look like. Shafer returns as a lame duck coach, having overseen consecutive three-win seasons, and an FCS opponent is standing on the other sidelines. What would announced attendance be? 25K? Maybe less?
Things like Field Hockey National Titles are great but Football is the financial engine that drives SU Athletics and there's only so long you can allow it to sputter by financially.
Mark Coyle isn't on record as saying much be he did say that he considered solving the football attendance problem one of his top priorities. The easiest way to goose attendance right away? Excitement. Easiest way to bring excitement back to the fanbase following back-to-back losing seasons? A new coach. It worked for Marrone's first game. It'll probably work next year as well.