Syracuse's Scott Shafer has already started his third season as the Orange head coach, for all intents and purposes. And while SU fans are a bit mixed on how he's done to this point (10-15, one bowl win), there's still at least one more fall to rewrite the prevailing narrative.
While that third season is a complete unknown for Shafer, though, we can at least look at previous Orange head men to see how they fared in that critical year -- and whether that set them up for future success.
Doug Marrone (2011): 5-7, no postseason
Boy, did we hate this season... and for good reason. A 5-2 start for the Orange featured two awful games (Wake Forest, Toledo) that were harbingers of terrible things to come, but a monster victory over West Virginia made us think SU was bound for great things. They weren't, obviously, since they lost the rest of the games on the schedule. Marrone had some leeway after rescuing Syracuse from the depths of the GERG era, so his job was never in danger. He would proceed to bounce back in a big way in 2012.
Greg GERG Robinson (2007): 2-10, no postseason
Following a combined 5-18 record in his first two seasons, you'd think GERG was on a very short leash in year three. Not the case at all, as we (unfortunately) learned in a disaster-filled 2007 campaign. SU has recorded double-digit losses just twice in program history, and not coincidentally, twice under Robinson. Though he did nothing to earn a fourth year, DOC wanted to avoid a larger buyout and make himself look less terrible for this hire. So "hooray" on the larger buyout.
Paul Pasqualoni (1993): 6-4-1, no postseason
Two seasons of hanging around the national top 10 (sobs) were followed up by a pretty rough season of football -- by then-recent Syracuse standards. The fall from 10 wins would represent a two-year struggle before Donovan McNabb arrived on campus, but overall, this 1993 season did very little to change Coach P's legacy or trajectory. This and the subsequent 1994 squad were the only two Pasqualoni teams to miss the postseason (and both would've made a bowl under the current system).
Dick MacPherson (1983): 6-5, no postseason
This season is typically cited as the start of SU's turnaround under Coach Mac. Beyond the blowout 63-7 loss to Nebraska, the team's strong 3-0 finish (including upsets over ranked BC and WVU teams) showed a fight in this team that would last for the rest of the decade. The Orangemen stalled out a bit with an 11-11 combined record in 1984-85, but Mac and this team weathered the storm and reaped the benefits later.
Frank Maloney (1976): 3-8, no postseason
Maloney's third Syracuse team was offensively inept and barely competitive against its typical Eastern Independent schedule -- a disappointing fall for the program after what was seen as a slightly encouraging 6-5 record in 1975. As we know, SU was at a crossroads at the time, and could've briefly considered a move to I-AA before the Carrier Dome was given the go-ahead. Despite a poor third season, the Orangemen would get four more years of mediocrity... and an Independence Bowl win.
Ben Schwartzwalder (1951): 5-4, no postseason
Ben's first three teams hung around .500, but you could see the gradual uptick in quality, which was then validated by the Orange Bowl trip in 1952. Tough to create a true comparison to athletic department standards then and now, but it was clear that Syracuse was willing to give Ben the time because he showed progress. It worked out pretty well, obviously.
1920-1950 Head Coaches
Ossie Solem (1939): 3-3-2, no postseason
Vic Hanson (1932): 4-4-1, no postseason
Lew Andreas (1929): 6-3, no postseason
Chick Meehan (1922): 6-1-2, no postseason
No longer the "modern" era of college football by any means, so again, tough to make true comparisons. But all of these coaches did last past that third season except Andreas, who moved to running the basketball program full-time. Meehan actually had the best resume of this group, losing just seven games in five years.
So what have we learned, other than "it's tough to compare?" For one, no Syracuse coach has ever made a bowl game in his third year on the job. Second, no SU coach has ever won more than six games in his third year. Sure the different eras and such make that less alarming than it would be today, but it's still a stunning development over a nearly 100-year stretch just the same.
Can Scott Shafer do better than that? For what it's worth, there's plenty of opportunity to do so and a desire by the fan base for him to achieve at least the six wins of these aforementioned predecessors. We'll see how it all plays out on the field, while keeping these ghosts (both friendly and not-so-much) of the past in mind too... but seriously Coach, please win six games and make a bowl this year.