Even for Syracuse University football fans who are growing numb to the revolving door of head coaches, this one felt different.
When Paul Pasqualoni was fired after the 2004 season, the feeling was that Pasqualoni’s mostly successful 14-year tenure had run its course.
When Greg Robinson was fired in 2008, the feeling was that Robinson shouldn’t let the door hit his you-know-what on the way out.
And when Doug Marrone left his “dream job” with the Orange to become coach of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills after the 2012 season, the feeling was that Marrone had blindsided the program by figuratively loading up the moving van in the middle of the night.
When Marrone departed for Buffalo, then-athletic director Daryl Gross named Marrone’s defensive coordinator, Scott Shafer, as head coach. Shafer’s three-year run ended last Saturday, Nov. 28, with a last-second 20-17 win over Boston College and lots of love from fans and players who recognized that Shafer is a good guy who genuinely believed that it was equally important to produce outstanding men as it was to produce outstanding football players.
But you don’t get invited to bowl games because your team is filled with a bunch of upstanding young men. So new athletic director Mark Coyle dismissed Shafer and his entire coaching staff Nov. 23 — three days before Thanksgiving and five days before the Boston College game. Shafer’s final record: 14-23, including 7-17 the past two years.
“It’s about people, and Scott’s as good a guy as you’re going to meet in college football,” said Tim Daoust, SU’s assistant head coach under Shafer. “Wish it had a different ending, but you’ve got to win more games. Don’t let anybody tell you anything different. You’ve got to win more games.”
Saturday’s win over Boston College snapped a seven-game losing streak that had torpedoed SU’s first 3-0 start since 1991. The game ended on SU kicker Cole Murphy’s 35-yard field goal, and what followed next showed how people feel about Scott Shafer.
After Shafer shook hands with Eagles coach Steve Addazio, Orange senior offensive linemen Rob Trudo and Nick Robinson hoisted Shafer on their shoulders and carried him to the end zone, where the players had gathered for the traditional post-game playing of SU’s alma mater by the student band. Even before the song ended, the players started hugging Shafer and thanking him, while SU fans in the sections overlooking the end zone chanted, “Thank you, Shafer!”
The Orange players who were made available for interviews after the game all said they wanted to win the game for Shafer and were glad that Trudo and Robinson carried him off the field.
“Since I’ve been here he’s been like a father to us,” said redshirt freshman cornerback Cordell Hudson, who had one of SU’s two interceptions against BC. “I know (this season) didn’t go the way we wanted it to. But we knew this game, we had to win it for him.
“We were like his sons, so take away a father from his sons, it’s going to be a little emotional,” Hudson added.
SU sophomore linebacker Zaire Franklin said Shafer’s post-game speech reinforced his continuous message that the players need to make good decisions on and off the field.
“He was just saying, first and foremost, if anyone ever needed anything, he’s got our back,” Franklin said. “That he’s always just one phone call away, regardless of wherever he is in the country.”
For his part, Shafer took the high road in his post-game news conference. He made a statement that lasted 90 seconds, and walked off without answering what would have likely been sensitive questions about the timing of the firing and whether he thought he was given enough time to build the program after Marrone bolted in the heat of recruiting season with half the coaching staff.
“Great victory for our seniors — really excited for them. Wish it was celebrating eight or nine wins and going to a bowl game and all those types of things, but it’s four wins, and it’s better than three,” Shafer said. “More importantly, I just want to thank Syracuse University for giving me a shot to be their coach. I want to thank the community and the communities both on campus and in Syracuse, especially in Fayetteville, and all the people that have been there for Missy and I, helping us raise our two kids for the past seven years.”
At this point, Shafer started to choke up. But with his wife, Missy, encouraging him from the back of the room, Shafer finished up.
“I want to thank my coaches, (their) 11 wives (and) 27 children on this staff, busting their (butts) for me and my family. God bless our brothers and sisters at Fort Drum, especially the 10th Mountain Division. Hoorah for those men and women that protect our country! God bless this community and go Orange. That’s it.”
Now it’s up to Coyle, who left the room before Shafer addressed the media, to make good on his promise to incoming recruits that he would make a quick hire. While Coyle has not tipped his hand regarding several coaches with impressive resumes who have been reported as potential candidates, this much is certain: The Orange may get a better coach, but they won’t get a better person.
“Positive guy, great person,” said sophomore wide receiver Steve Ishmael. “When we used to go to his house in the off-season, he would treat us just like family, offer us food and stuff like that. I love him, man.”
Orange Hoopsters Win Atlantis, NCAA Appeal
While the SU football team awaits another rebuild, the men’s basketball team returned to the top 25 after defeating two ranked teams, Connecticut and Texas A&M, to win last week’s Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas. And that wasn’t even the best news of the week as Syracuse won its appeal of the NCAA Committee on Infractions decision and will get one scholarship back per year over the next four seasons.
Originally, the Orange was going to lose 12 scholarships over four years, but it was reduced to eight. SU also received a $1.23 million reduction in the financial penalty imposed by the Committee on Infractions. SU’s basketball program still has to vacate 101 wins, and the NCAA has not yet ruled on Coach Jim Boeheim’s individual appeal of his nine-game Atlantic Coast Conference suspension that’s scheduled to start Dec. 30.
“Although the appellate panel did not grant every one of our requests, it recognized there was merit in our appeal,” Kevin Quinn, SU’s senior vice president for public affairs, said in a statement. “We simply sought to be judged according to the same standards as other institutions, and we did our best to achieve that goal.”