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Syracuse Football: Scott Shafer & The Personal Business of College Football

Writing about the team you root for can put you in a bit of a grey area. Days like today only muddle the whole thing further.

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

This site and what we do here exists in a kind-of grey platinum area.

We write news stories, cover games with beat reporters and even break a story now and then. But the site's also founded on fandom. First and foremost everyone who writes here was a Syracuse Orange fan long before they did so. We're the jerks in our mother's basements spewing biased rants and opinions.

So when it comes to how we process things like the firing of the head football coach, it can be a little hard to find the right chord to strike.

On one hand, because we report news and write analytically about SU Football, it feels important to talk about what went wrong and where we go from here. The body's not even cold but it's time to start compiling lists of potential replacements and start talking about next season before this one's even over.

On the other hand, being a part of the "local media" means we get to know people like Scott Shafer more than the national folks or people who follow other teams. They all see the outbursts, the pull-quotes and the press conference moments and make their own judgments about who he is. We actually get to dig into the reality that he's a complex human being. We get to know his family. We read up on what he got his master's degree in. We find out about the hardships he's been through to get here. We see how we treats his players when it seems like no one is watching. Like Jim Boeheim, there's so much more to him than wins and losses and who he yells at in pressers.

On one hand, it's business. On the other hand, it's personal.

I didn't actually speak with Coach Shafer when we decided to do the #CuseTixForKids campaign for the 2013 Texas Bowl. I did, however, speak with Missy Shafer a bunch of times. Not only was she excited about it but she made it clear that Scott was as well, and they were both willing to help where they could.

Afterward, I received a care package from them, including a Texas Bowl belt buckle, SU football tchotchkes and this signed photos:


See what I mean about that grey area?

I spent the next two years overseeing a site that did a great deal of critical analysis about Shafer and his program. As the losses piled up, that criticism got louder. Eventually, we started to question the future of the program. Now, that future looks very different.

But none of that had anything to do with the personal stuff. Just as I felt when Greg Robinson was fired, I have the utmost compassion for someone who finally attained their professional goal only to see it all go wrong. There is no karmic retribution at play here. By all accounts he ran a good program, most of the guys who played for him love him and he's admired across the board by peers. Hell, even Dabo likes him now.

If only the situation had played out different. If only there didn't seem to be a new season-changing injury every week. If only SU had implemented a smarter offensive scheme. If only some of those games that could have gone either way went the other way. These are the questions that will haunt Shafer (and SU fans) from now on.

I often say of sports fandom that much of it exists in a vacuum. We hate Georgetown. The guys who run Casual Hoya hate Syracuse. We've said some particularly mean things about each other's schools. But if we all ran into one another in a bar, we'd probably shake hands, buy each other beers and have some good laughs about it all. And then we'd go back to talking smack.

So while I have written a lot of words about how Scott Shafer's tenure at Syracuse did not work out, I also have nothing bad to say about Shafer the man. I've written some extremely-critical thoughts about his time at SU, but if I saw him on the street, I would shake his hand and tell him that I appreciate everything he did in seven years with the university. I would wish his family well in whatever comes next and I would mean it.

As a Syracuse fan in the third quarter of another loss in a season full of losses, I am an unsatisfied monster hellbent on recompense and I don't care how I get it.

As a human being looking at the big picture of "what it all means," I feel terrible for Shafer and wish things could have gone differently.

I feel like the program is probably doing the right thing but it also seems wrong.

It's a big grey area, this sportswriting thing.