Syracuse Recap–Everything You Have Seen Before, Only Worse
Scott Shafer is a lucky man. He is not being held hostage in the Middle East, much less under any threat of imminent beheading. So that is good. And Syracuse fans should certainly be pleased that we share Shafer’s good fortune in that regard. We are, after all, just discussing a game of football played by young men. Perspective noted. But the last time I checked, Scott Shafer did not use that same perspective when negotiating his salary or imploring his team at practice. All the reference to perspective shows is that Shafer does not get it. He can say the words of a fan in press conferences, but it is apparent that the folksy-speak is just a ruse. He goes not get it. And on the field he does not get it either. Everything that occurred last night during Syracuse’s drubbing by Louisville took place earlier this year. Maybe you missed it or ignored it. But it was there. Last night was just that same stuff being more obvious and not getting the benefit of the doubt anymore. Consider…
This Syracuse team looked awful against Villanova. Terrell Hunt committed a mental mistake in punching a player, resulting in his ejection. The backup QB fared OK, but was clearly not ready for anything other than an FCS foe (preferably one worse than Villanova). Scott Shafer could not manage the time at the end of the game. And, but for a FG missing, the game would have ended with the worst loss in Syracuse history. Then, with the ball at the one-yard-line on 1st down in overtime… with a touchdown to win the game.. Syracuse decided to run the ball in a pistol formation losing yardage. But for Villanova’s QB making a bad decision on when/how to run for the 2-point conversation, Syracuse would have lost.
Last night, Terrel Hunt showed that he lacked an understanding of the game situation at the end of the first half. The team mismanaged time. The backup QB came in at the end and did not look like he could be entrusted to do anything other than hand the ball off. The offensive coordinator called a slow-developing pitch to a full-back sized RB five yards deep in the end zone. On purpose. If there has been a less intelligent playcall in the history of Syracuse football, so be it. But there haven’t been two that were less intelligent–that’s for sure.
Louisville, in contrast, was playing a true freshman QB. That QB was behind an offensive line that has been subpar for parts of the year. They responded by getting flagged repeatedly in the first half. Louisville’s best WR–one of the best in the NCAA–was in street clothes. And yet they put up 28 points on a Syracuse defense that forced a few good turnovers and generally played well. Syracuse was using a senior QB in his 15th or so game. And the closest Syracuse came to touchdowns were passes by persons other than that QB. And those were eliminated by penalty and a bad drop. But you knew all that. Worse yet, you were not at all surprised. This was the Greg Robinson era 2.0.
Scott Shafer? Yes, he is a good guy. But his folksy press conferences were already wearing thin. This team was soft two weeks ago and they are getting softer. Three weeks in a row Shafer has punted from inside opponent territory with 20 minutes or less left to go, down by more than 10 points. All to net 10-20 yards of field-position. That is hard-headed and soft-nosed. As the Confidential said two weeks ago–that is fraidy cat football. Moreover, he cannot manage time or timeouts–the team routinely using timeouts in curious times, such as while the clock is stopped or after a TV timeout. Other than a .500 record, which should disappear when the Seminoles get back on the bus next week, there is little there to believe that he should be a head coach in a Power 5 conference.
George McDonald? Probably a good guy too. He does not get the benefit of press conferences to shape opinion (although his interview last week was counter-productive). But he does not seem qualified to run an offense. The playcall in the end zone for a safety was historically bad. But beyond that there is way too much time being taken on playcalls for a team that aspires to be fast-paced. During the Villanova game, Austin Wilson had to wait for the call in overtime all-too-often. This issue persists. You cannot be fast-paced and take 20 seconds to decide the play. Sometimes it seems like the playcall is “do that again,” just to buy more time to think of the next play. Thus, a 10-yard run will be followed up with the same play, perhaps to the other side. Finally, he may like his system… but that does not mean that it fits the players on the field. Greg Robinson learned the hard way–at the expense of Syracuse fans–that a West Coast offense without the personnel to run it and an NFL defense without that level of skill–simply will not work.
It all makes you wonder. Is this the Peter Principle? Has a decent defensive coordinator risen to his level of incompetence? Has a decent WR coach/recruiter risen to his level of incompetence? Who on the staff has experience at their position? Well, Chuck Bullough does, and low and behold the Syracuse defense seems to be improving. Notwithstanding the injuries on offense, there is still a rather plain regression by the offense and its coordinator.
We saw it Week 1. We saw it again against Maryland and Notre Dame. We saw it last night. The only difference is that some “folks” each week are choosing not to ignore it anymore. And while they are happy that they are not going to be captured by militants this week, that does not make them happy Syracuse fans.
Is it time for Syracuse to move on from Shafer & Co?
This isn’t about uniforms.
This isn’t about bubble screens.
This isn’t about branding or moving games to MetLife stadium.
This isn’t about things said in pressers, or attendance of home games.
Those are nothing but distractions and shiny objects to keep the blogosphere entertained.
This is about football.
This is about a team that, for whatever reason, continues to look lost and ill-prepared for games. This is about fundamentals: tackling, blocking, decision making. This is about coaches calling bad time-outs, this is about coaches that promote toughness and then watch their teams get pushed around. This is about coaches who simply do not, and cannot, find any answers.
Only a few months ago, Syracuse bloggers were blasting anyone who thought the football team would lose fewer than 8 wins. Whether it was Vegas setting the over-under at 5.5 wins (odds that this writer thought were pretty spot-on), or fans of other teams that overlooked Syracuse as a real threat, there was a near-conspiratorial view that the entire media landscape was wrong about Syracuse and only a few faithful knew the truth.
Sorry, folks. It looks like Vegas, and everyone else outside-of-the-bubble, were able to see what Syracuse fans were not: two good drives to end the Boston College and Minnesota games is simply not enough to believe that this team is being prepared/coached well-enough to win consistently. And for that, its time for a shake-up on the Syracuse coaching staff.
First things first: I really like Coach Shafer. He’s a great guy with a great story. Shafer is a true player’s coach, and the kind of guy who will get his players (and the fans) to run through a brick wall for him. Unfortunately, what the team needs is not someone to run through a brick wall, but just to tackle the brick wall. What this team also needs is someone who can find some answers, and right now Coach Shafer just looks lost. It’s hard to judge someone that is only 18 games into their Head Coaching career, but being the leader requires being accountable – and many of Syracuse’s woes stem from the top.
Three weeks in a row, Syracuse has actually played to the same-level of their team – but mental errors, miscues, and penalties have hindered this team’s ability to put points on the board. Much of this falls on Shafer.
His clock/game management is questionable. There have a been too many times that Syracuse has a called a timeout with the clock already stopped, or coming out of a timeout. Case in point: to start the 2nd quarter, Syracuse had to a burn a timeout before the clock even started in the period. That would later come back to haunt the team when they were trying to drive the field at the end of the half and had no way to stop the clock.
Which leads to the next major issue: intelligence on the field.
Greg Paulus and Ryan Nassib were not the most athletically gifted quarterbacks. Paulus couldn’t throw a football more than 30 yards and was slow as molasses. Nassib had a rocket for an arm, but was not a threat to run (except against Akron). But both QBs were very very smart. It was evident that they knew their situation on the field at every snap. Whether that was a result of Doug Marrone’s coaching, or just their intelligence is to be debated, but it is obvious that Hunt is not in the same stratosphere as those two. Hunt plays with instinct, and has been able to use his physicality to win games. But I have zero confidence that Hunt would have run the mayday on 3rd down that Paulus did against Northwestern to set-up a game winning field goal.
And that falls on Offensive Coordinator George McDonald.
Last year’s offensive success was largely credited by the team’s ability to “strip down the playbook”. And it was evident, especially as the biggest gains last year usually game from Hunt opting to keep the ball and running.
This year, with new weapons like Brisley Estime, Ervin Phillips, and Broyld – McDonald has the keys to a ferarri and he really wants to go for a spin. Unfortunately he doesn’t have anyone that can drive it. To be fair, injuries have been a major problem for this team. That is equal parts bad luck, and equal parts recruiting/conditioning as this team is built for speed and seems small-ish compared with other teams. But outside of the Central Michigan game, this offense just isn’t working. It seems to me that McDonald knows its not working – but he just cannot find a way to make it work, so he’s throwing everything out there and hoping that something will click.
To McDonald’s credit, outside of a few WTF moments (namely the pitch to Adonnis Ameen Moore in the endzone, which falls more on Hunt’s decision making), there was a lot more creativity in the redzone that, for whatever reason, just didn’t pan out as planned. To paraphrase the not-so-great Greg Robinson, “there were some flashes out there” from the coaching staff showing some juevos. The fake FG against VU, the fake punt against ND, and the reverse-halfback pass was perfectly timed but for whatever reason Ben Lewis didn’t come away with the catch.
It was a frustrating outcome, but as a football fan I was not bothered by it because that is exactly the kind of ballsy, win at all costs kind of call that you expect from an aggressive coach like Shafer. We need much more of that. Like many, I was tired of the uber-conservative, NFL-esque decision making that we saw from the previous coaching staff.
I’ll gladly defend a coach that goes for it on 4th down from the other team’s 40 yard line and fails, than any coach who elects to punt and gives up a touchback.
This team needs to play smarter, but the coaching staff needs to help them out. Let’s strip down the playbook again. If you’re going to keep Hunt as your QB, then you have to let him win games with his legs. Lets feed AAM the ball (outside of their own endzone) and let him wear down defenses…just like Radcliffe did to Syracuse.
I still like Shafer, but if he and his staff want to keep their jobs at Syracuse, then they have a lot to work on. A bowl game may not be likely this year, but finishing the season strong would go a long way to keeping the fans on board.
Hypothetically, if you were to replace Scott Shafer…who would some of the potential candidates be?
First, some parameters:
1) Must have head coaching experience & success at the FBS level (or excellent success at FCS level)
2) Should have connection to Northeast, preferably Syracuse
3) Should be able to evaluate talent and plan accordingly, opposed to coming in with a system that may/may not match the talent current on the team.
Also, this obviously assumes that a coach would not take a step down to go to Syracuse (Dan Mullen is not leaving Mississippi St. for Syracuse), and we can also assume that coaches like Ruffin McNeil and Doc Holliday are not leaving ECU and Marshall.
So…who does that leave? Here are just a few names to get the conversation started…
Jim Tressel: It’s been a long time since the “sweater vest” was an assistant at Syracuse under Dick McPherson, and has retired from football to serve as an administrator at Youngstown State. But his success at the Ohio State University is undeniable. He is currently serving out the rest of his show cause, which would put sanctions on any team that hires him, however the stars could align if Shafer is being replaced after the 2015 season.
Ed Orgeron: Former Defensive Line coach under Paul Pasqualoni from 95-97. Has one year of head coaching experience, and served admirably in his only stint as HC at USC. He is definitely a coach with something to prove, but not sure that SU would be a good fit.
Greg Schiano: I know, I know…I can’t stand the guy, but he’s a tremendous recruiter and was able to take a perennial cellar dweller and turn them into a respectable team (I threw up in my mouth a little just writing that). His record at Rutgers is not really that great (.500) and was mostly built on cupcakes, but could be the type of disciplinarian that the team needs to cut down on penalties, etc…
Dave Campo: Another former assistant under McPherson; doesn’t have any head coaching experience (he’s currently an Assistant HC at Kansas, for whatever that is worth).
Turner Gill: Speaking of Kansas…Gill a candidate for the Syracuse job in 2008 before taking over the Jayhawks. After a promising head coaching career at University of Buffalo, Gill would flame-out in Kansas. He is currently the head coach at Liberty and is doing a great job of re-establishing himself as a good HC.
Mario Cristobal: The former FIU head coach has connections to the NE from his time as an assistant at Rutgers. He is regarded as being a fantastic recruiter and found incredible success at FIU, including two bowl games in his 6-year tenure, but was inexplicably run out of town after turning in a 3-9 season. Hard to say if he would leave the cushy confines of Alabama to travel up north and take on another project, especially if his predecessor had a similar exit to his at FIU.
What are your thoughts? Who are some of the up-and-coming coaches in the American, C-USA, or MAC?
A few more names, not sure if any are even viable:
Butch Davis: Great coach but has two major problems: First, he was fired from UNC because of academic misconduct/improper benefits, but was never mentioned in the NCAA report as having knowledge of the violations. Take that with a grain of salt, of course, since it was likely just plausible deniability. Secondly as a condition of his termination at UNC he was unable to take another coaching position. Not sure how long that moratorium lasts, or if it would continue for fellow ACC schools, but his hiring would definitely shake things up at Syracuse (hopefully for the better).
In looking at MAC/C-USA/AAC teams, it seems that many of the best HC’s have already been hired away (Doeren, Clawson, Hazell, etc…) so it may be a few years until the current crop of coaches are seeking bigger opportunities (I’m looking at you Terry Bowden). So, for kicks I thought it would be interesting to check out the FCS level for experienced HCs.
Greg Gattuso (Albany): Although dipping into the FCS ranks would likely be seen as a step-backward for the Orange, the current head coach of the Albany Great Danes has experience recruiting/coaching the northeast and mid-Atlantic from his previous positions at Pittsburgh and Maryland. Additionally he tallied a 97-32 record as the HC at Duquense. He’s in his 1st year at Albany (currently 4-1) with a 5-year contract.
Chuck Priore: Staying in the FCS, the Stony Brook Head Coach gave Syracuse fans a scare in 2012 by hanging tough with the Orange and throwing everything at them, en route to a 28-17 loss in the Dome. Piore is from New York (Long Island) and obviously has recruiting ties to the area. His record as a head coach is good (81-48, including his previous HC job at Trinity) and has won Coach of the Year honors 5 times at the FCS level.
Joe Moorhead: One more FCS name to throw in the mix, and another New York HC, the former Fordham QB is doing a great job leading his alma mater (24-8 record) and has experience coaching the FBS levels at Akron (of course) and UConn (under former SU player/assistant Randy Edsall…not under former SU coach Paul Pasqualoni). I don’t think he’s ready to take over a P5 team, and I doubt he would choose to leave his alma mater.
Take Stoops from UK, please. Lol I dont know about Syracuse or northeastern ties but the Memphis coach has the Tigers playing great ball this year.
Yes, it IS time for Syracuse to replace the coaching staff. I’ll have to think about who to hire.