Yup, I know, it's all "just a part of the business, the job." I get it. But really though, it must just suck for Scott Shafer. About four months ago, no one really believed he would be fired at the end of the 2015 season. I mean, it was certainly on the table, but that's the case for just about every coach in every sport not named Jim Boeheim. But going back to August, the prevailing thought was that Shafer and Syracuse would hover around .500 -- that Shafer was likely setting the stage for an all-in or all-out 2016.
And then...*SNAP*...Shafer's fired, all before the end of the season. And all so publicly, too. Recently, in the world of northern New York, I had something kind of similar happen to me. The professional baseball league I helped found and work for folded up shop after one hell of a crazy year. That left me and my family with plenty of questions and worries. Obviously, it's nothing like an FBS coach in a "power five" conference getting fired, but it still hurts (for so very many reasons). For me, when I'm out of the house, I kind of feel like everyone is judging me a little. At the grocery store or stopping to get gas: "There's that guy. What's his name? His team went out of business. He's kind of screwed now I guess."
Really, I'm probably feeling what a lot of people who lose their jobs feel. Be it an owner of a restaurant or someone in retail. All of a sudden you feel like a pariah in a fish bowl. My fish bowl just happens to be about one-third the size of Shafer's right now. His getting the boot was national freakin' news, reverberating through central New York to South Bend, Indiana to Eugene, Oregon and lastly in Bowling Green, Ohio. Everyone, directly or indirectly, talking about Shafer. "Syracuse fired Shafer, who they going to get to replace him?"
Of course, he handled it as well as anyone could. Even tweeting a very "stay the course" tweet the day his axing was announced.
Win the day! #BeatBC— Coach Scott Shafer (@Coach_Shafer) November 23, 2015
After the final game, the victory over Boston College, Shafer was the same guy he was three years ago when he was introduced as coach. He was same guy he was seven years ago when he first set foot on SU's campus. The entire presser afterward, (briefly) standing there knowing it was likely the last time he would even set foot in the Carrier Dome. Just part of the routine, I suppose. Right?
It's all there, though.
A little confrontational: Check
Shafer's best and worst attributes as head man were his emotions. I think there were times his players rallied around and performed better. An unquantifiable "rising to the occasion." Then, probably too many times, Shafer's hot-headed ways would hurt the cause -- the Clemson game from November certainly comes to memory first.
Through it all, though, Scott Shafer always seemed like he was being Scott Shafer. Which is admirable but not job-saving. You can be yourself all the time, if you don't win, you're out. That's it and that's all. I know there's always this sidebar discussion about producing top-tier talent, or even players' grades, but that's all bullshit. Les Miles gives the NFL more talent than anyone and he was two quarters from being fired two weeks ago. And does any fan keep track of the "APR" boxscores when it comes to grades? Pfftt...
It's why Shafer is out and why Dino Babers is in. And it's why everyone around here, myself included, is pumped. Babers brings to Syracuse a proven track record of winning as a leader, something the last three coaches didn't have with them when they arrived. Babers also seems to be the first coach in program history perfectly suited for the Carrier Dome -- offense should have always been a priority and now it finally is for the Orange. It's a good time for SU fans because the guy who should be head coach is now head coach.
Shafer just wasn't meant to be the lead character here. He didn't have the credentials, the philosophy and he just didn't win enough. Because of that, he now has the shortest reign here since Reaves Baysinger's two seasons on the Hill. (Yeah, that's called research, kids.) You could say three years isn't enough time to really implement a style of football, especially with Shafer's having six different quarterbacks over the final two seasons. But I don't think there is much debate: Babers raises the ceiling for Syracuse in a way Shafer couldn't.
But damn it all did I want Shafer to succeed. I've written before that Shafer's emotional outbursts, his sometimes tense press conferences, his love for his team, is exactly how most of us would coach. I sure as hell know I would be that way. "Us against the world, boys! Let's go prove EVERYONE wrong!" You almost have to be like that, what with the entire fan base picking apart every move. And with endless updates on your team, your players. A loss for a fan can sting like a bee got you; a loss for someone like Shafer was probably like his intestines were trying to get out through his mouth.
Lose too much and you lose your job. No matter how close you came in the battles, the final result says it all after a while.
And now, after fighting the good fight week after week, month after a month, Shafer is watching his old employer, and its followers, welcome in his replacement like a hero arriving in the nick of time to save the planet. There is Babers wearing an orange tie and chatting up Floyd Little. Over there, that's Babers' face plastered on the Dome's big screens. Hey, there's Shafer's old guys, his recruits, talking to the newbie. And Online, that's where you can read a lot of people gushing over the next guy up.
Meanwhile, Shafer probably fielded phone calls from friends, well wishers, and hopefully potential bosses. From finalizing game plans and co-hosting a radio show one minute, to updating the resume the next. A blink of the eye and life is different. For Shafer, that now means moving to Maryland and attempting to help a coach resuscitate a lifeless program. You know, exactly what he did with Doug Marrone here at Syracuse.
It all seems so quick, this moving on, Syracuse's and Shafer's. Like scraping the calling hours and funeral and going right to lowering the casket into the ground. I know, it's all with the territory. Jesus, I know. I went from trying to get a league set for 2016 to wondering what to do with my life in about 24 hours. I get it. And I understand what Babers represents and why he's in charge now. Yet with Shafer -- especially Shafer -- it will always seem a cruelly justifiable part of the process.
And for Babers? The hard part starts now: Doing the job. Winning.