Football programs across the country experience ups and downs all the time. Often, head coaches are to blame. A coach’s third year at a school is often his most significant challenge.
Current Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer has a record of 10-15 after two years, including a victory in the 2013 Texas Bowl against Minnesota during his first year. The two previous coaches, Greg Robinson and Doug Marrone, stood at 5-18 and 12-13 respectively, with Marrone having a Pinstripe Bowl win during his second season. Robinson would go to finish his third year with a 2-10 record, 7-28 overall and no bowl wins, while Marrone went 5-7, 17-20 overall and 2 bowl victories.
What should fans expect from Shafer’s third campaign as the head of the Orange football program? With the return of a hopefully healthy Quarterback Terrel Hunt, Shafer has an experienced QB who can put the team in the best position to win. Hunt needs to aggressively lead the offense and provide a spark that will lead to increased scoring. Shafer can help build on creating more opportunity for Hunt and offensive unit to succeed. Defensively, Shafer needs to prove he can bring the defensive unit back to form. The team is in rebuilding mode, but Shafer could solidify younger position players to ensure tangible success in the future.
As defensive coordinator under Marrone, Shafer proved that his units could keep the team in games. Shafer coached Chandler Jones to become the highest selected draft pick, 21st overall in 2012, from the Orange since Dwight Freeney in 2002. For 2015, Shafer needs to focus on getting back to his strengths and institute a defense that will allow the team to stay competitive and win games.
In 2015 Shafer needs to prove that he can lead a team to at least a .500 record and get to a bowl game. This 3rd year is vital for Shafer as it is his make or break season. The two previous coaches did make it to a fourth year. However, Robinson would be fired midway through his fourth year, in 2008, after a dismal start. Marone would cap off his fourth year with another Pinstripe Bowl victory and would go on to accept an offer to become head coach of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills.
To avoid going the route of Greg Robinson, Shafer needs to prove he can get his team to 6 wins. The talent on the team, and games against beatable opponents, Shafer seems poised to get to the 6-win mark and be at Syracuse for year 4. Shafer does not have the flexibility of coming off of a bowl win, like Marrone. The team’s success starts with coach Shafer’s ability to create opportunity and get wins against beatable opponents.
What helped Shafer in his first season was the retention of some of Marrone’s players and momentum. Last year. Shafer’s second as head coach, the team compiled a 3-win season that had some highs, but more often lows. The games against Notre Dame and FSU seemed highlights, as they were both respectively close matchups against top 25 opponents. However, Shafer coached his team to multiple double-digit losses. This year Shafer has the opportunity to bounce back from a tough season. If Shafer does not succeed in producing a bowl-eligible team, the Orange will most likely be in the hunt for a new head coach for 2016.