There are three ways that Scott Shafer is still the head coach of the Syracuse Orange football team in 2016.
1. He beats Clemson next week. In what would be, at the very least, the second-biggest upset in the history of Syracuse football, Shafer would have his signature win and make SU instantly relevant, if only for a week.
2. He beats both NC State and Boston College to close the season. It gets the Orange to 5-7, ends the year on a two-game winning streak and takes momentum into the offseason. It's a two-game improvement on the previous year and proof that the team didn't quit on him.
3. Despite a 3-9/4-8 record, Shafer is retained by Mark Coyle and given one more chance to see this through because he's demonstrated that he deserves trust and faith as the leader of this football program and the caretaker of his players. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what that means, and it won't be enough to satisfy those who demand results, but it's the kind of placeholder decision that could show mercy for a head coach who has proven that he has nothing but the best intentions for guys like Eric Dungey and their potential.
And that's why it was so troubling to see the true freshman quarterback still in the game on Saturday when SU was down 31 points with 4:21 left in the game. Especially when Dungey was clearly in the midst of his worst performance to date and the offense was a sputtering shell of itself.
Dungey was doing what he does best, fighting for more yards, when Louisville linebacker James Hearns blasted the QB in the shoulder/collarbone and sent him flying. Dungey was extremely slow to get up and taken to the locker room before the game ended. It was the latest in a long series of hits that Dungey has already taken in a year in which he already has one
concussion UBI on the books. In a season in which we've openly-discussed whether or not it's in Dungey's best interest to just shut him down for the year to protect his career.
Shafer told reporters after the game that Dungey was still in "to see if we could get a couple more touchdowns and try to make it a great comeback-type situation." Setting aside the fact that there have been crazier comebacks in the history of college football, the odds were not in SU's favor. By all accounts the game was over and considering it was going to mean risky playcalls from here on out, it was the kind of situation where it ceased to make sense for an injury-prone freshman to continue playing for the win.
Compounding the concern that Orange fans have about the trust and faith we put in the coaching staff, Tim Lester told reporters after the game that Dungey was only still playing "to give him a chance to carry some momentum into next week," conflicting with Shafer's reasoning. Lester also tried to downplay the injury, saying "He had 60 other snaps, it could happen on any snap."
That's not exactly the kind of thing someone charged with keeping the best interests of a player in mind should be saying. Not in this moment. Not with Dungey's career perilously careening towards medical-disqualification faster than you can say designed-quarterback-run play.
To his credit, Shafer did say "I feel horrible that he got it. If I had 20-20 hindsight, I would have taken him out that play or the play before that." I think that's good to note. Scott Shafer is not an asshole, like Tim Beckman. I think it's clear he's a good guy and has a good head on his shoulders. His players love him for a reason.
But if you're Mark Coyle, and your reasons to retain Shafer are getting whittled down to those three options up top, it's tough to look at this decision and think it was the sign of a coaching staff with their priorities in order. If your coach is going to fight for his job with back-to-back 3-9 seasons, you want to be able to look him in the eye and know that he's making decisions that are in the best interest of his players. Your student-athletes.
There's thousands of decisions that go into running a football program. Some make waves. Some don't even register. But this was a big decision. And it was a very bad one.
The kind of decision that diminishes the trust and faith you have in your leader.