Soft-Nosed Scott Shafer
MCaffrey summed it up… Scott Shafer is on the hot seat. But that does not even do justice to the ineptitude that he is currently bringing to the Syracuse program. Let’s just consider some of the ways–both with a focus on the Virginia debacle, the 2015 season, and his entire tenure.
First, the Virginia debacle. If there has ever been a team that was TRYING to give away a game, it was the Virginia Cavaliers yesterday. They could not stop the Syracuse offense early–only Syracuse’s offense could stop itself (fumble, penalties, playcalling). They gave up a defensive TD. They gambled at the end of the first half in a way that gave Syracuse momentum, and then stumbled further to let Syracuse get up 21-14 before halftime. They allowed Syracuse to be up 10 points in regulation. In overtime, they got a targeting penalty that forced them to start from the 40 yard line. Then, they got another penalty that allowed Syracuse to start its drive from the 12.5 yard line. They then gave up a TD on the first play. And won.
Strategically, Scott Shafer does not get it. Other than the now-routine fake punt call, he has no courage. None. In the second overtime, Virginia scored a TD to go up 38-31. At that point, the Syracuse defense had been a sieve…. four straight scoring drives of various lengths. It was clear that Virginia was rolling. Syracuse had the ball and its own offense was faring well in overtime. On the last play in first overtime, Virginia’s linebacker–a weak spot already–was ejected. The Virginia commentators did not even know who would be able to come in. Syracuse scores on the first play to make the score 38-37. This was the quintessential example of a situation where a hard-nosed coach would go for 2 and the win. As the 1987 team proved, you can do so in life. When a coach trusts his team, amazing things happen (see the fake punts). When a coach meekly accepts the averages, bad things happen. In any event, with a tired or inept defense faltering, and an offense with momentum, and a Virginia defense reeling and undermanned, Shafer kicked the XP. It tied the game. And then lost it.
Not only was it gutless, it was NOT EVEN SMART. Guess what happens in OT3–if you score a TD, you HAVE TO go for 2. So if Syracuse had scored a TD in overtime 3, it would have been in exactly the same situation…. going for 2. To be sure, in OT3, the Syracuse 2-point attempt could fail and Syracuse could still win with a defensive stand. Or perhaps force a 4th OT. But anyone who was paying attention could see that the Syracuse defense could not stop Virginia anymore (a sad indictment on the state of things). So all the extra-point in OT2 did was shift responsibility from Shafer to his team. And, predictably, the offense that was not trusted to convert a 2-yard, 2 point conversion in OT2, faltered in OT3. And, predictably, the defense that had proven it could not be trusted for four straight drives, failed to stop Virginia.
Second, the 2015 debacle. For years, some Syracuse fans have been clamoring for an easier schedule. Finally, in 2015, Syracuse got it. A season-opener against an FCS foe, the most winnable ACC opponent (Wake Forest) in Game 2, a MAC foe in Week 3. Moreover, with AAC foe South Florida in Game 4 and Virginia in Game 5, there was a real chance at being 5-1 (nobody thinking Syracuse could beat LSU). In fact, with Pitt in Game 6, some even thought that it would be plausible for Syracuse to be 6-1 when heading to FSU in Game 7. Even better, both USF and Virginia were struggling teams–with a very real risk of having lame duck coaches. Somehow, Syracuse lost to both and is now 3-3. If Syracuse is going to be 3-3 after 6 games, it might as well just schedule absurdly. And bear in mind that Syracuse only barely beat Central Michigan. Sure, Syracuse is mathematically alive for a bowl and will be for some time. But barring some very surprising turn of events, it is not happening again for the second straight season. In fact, it is just as likely that Syracuse will finish 3-9 as it will finish 6-6. That is not good.
Third, the Shafer tenure. Let’s look at the wins:
- Wagner (home). A win over an FCS foe.
- Tulane (home).
- @ North Carolina State. A win on the road against a 3-9 team breaking in a new coach.
- Wake Forest. A win at home over a 4-8 team that would fire its coach.
- @ Maryland. A win over a 7-6 team that just fired its head coach.
- Boston College. A dramatic win over a good Boston College team.
- Minnesota. A nice bowl win over a mid-tier Big 10 program.
- Villanova. If Villanova’s kicker had hit a chip shot, this would have been a loss to an FCS team.
- Central Michigan. A win over a MAC foe.
- @ Wake Forest. A win over a 3-9 foe breaking in a new coach.
- Rhode Island. A win over an FCS foe.
- Wake Forest. A come-from-behind win over Wake Forest.
- Central Michigan. An overtime nailbiter against a MAC foe
Is there any win on this list that is truly a shocker? An upset? Minnesota may have been favored to win, but not by much. The road ACC wins were decent, but not exactly the cream of the ACC crop either.
Meanwhile, there are “barely” wins in the past two years over Villanova and Central Michigan.
And 2015 now features losses to South Florida, who had a fan base ready to fire its head coach. And a loss to Virginia, who will likely go ahead and fire its head coach anyway. The juggernauts on the schedule remain.
Finally, it has to be said. If you are have ball on the 2-yard line or less, you can always line up under center and try to have your QB punch it in himself. G-Rob never learned this. The fact that Scott Shafer allows his offensive coordinator to go pistol or shotgun in that situation is beyond foolish. The offense is more than happy to let Dungey get drilled on an option–why not let him run directly over center a few times for a touchdown? The question to Shafer is his press conference was valid. Only now, he does not have the courage to actually answer. Sorry, Scott, that makes you soft-nosed. The decision is stupid and you do not have the courage to own up to it.
Scott Shafer may be a good guy. But he was soft-nosed last year and soft-nosed this year. It is likely time for a change.
I’ll say this about Shafer as well: his decision to demote McDonald last year was by the far the most gutless thing he’s done.
I was critical of it then, and I’m critical of it now. Not just the way that it was reportedly done, but the fact that instead of taking the blame for the team’s losses (as a head coach should), he made his OC the scapegoat. Just like he’ll probably make Bullough the goat this year. What’s the point in hiring friends if you’re just going to make them out to be the bad guy? (Or maybe that’s the advantage of hiring friends…).
Coordinators get fired all the time; Rob “Bubble Screen” Spence was allegedly relieved of play calling duties in Marrone’s first year but he was still the OC until the end of the season.
The second most gutless thing was using last year’s rash of injuries as an excuse for the team failing to meet expectations. Yes there were a lot of injuries to key players, but Shafer’s quickly turned his motto from “Next Man Up” to “Better Luck Next Year”. Sadly the Syracuse bloggers and media love Shafer so much that they refuse to accept that he is just a bad coach.
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