It is hard to be a Syracuse fan right now and not know that Scott Shafer’s job is most likely on the line. After all, there’s a hashtag supporting him on Twitter, a segment of the fanbase that is very disappointed that the team has lost seven games in a row, and the head coach acknowledged this week he is only under contract for one more year and has made veiled comments after games that the program is building for the future and he hopes the big picture is being used to judge the program.
So, since you’re reading this, you undoubtedly have an opinion on Shafer and his future. And, no matter where you come down on the issue, you’re right. But, it’s complicated. And simple. And hard. And easy.
Some Syracuse fans have a simple goal for the football team – win as many games as possible. Well, of course, that is the goal. And, with the team staring a second straight three-win season in the face, they can make a case that the coach is not getting it done.
But, for those on the other side of the coin, there are reasons why the team is struggling to get back in the win column. It is a young group almost everywhere except the offensive line. In the last couple weeks, it has gotten worse as some key players have been banged up. Quarterback Eric Dungey missed his second game since taking over the reins, starting linebacker Parris Bennett sat out Saturday’s Clemson tilt, and leading rusher Jordan Fredericks injured Saturday and left the Dome with an arm in a sling.
Of course, for those on the “must win games” side of the coin, youth and injuries are excuses for not winning, not reasons. They likely follow this up with “why aren’t the backups ready to go? I thought our recruiting was getting better under Shafer. Other schools across the country get freshmen who come in and are ready to play. If our recruiting was getting better, wouldn’t we get guys who are ready to play?”
For those on the side of keeping Shafer, the reply is, “Recruiting is getting better under Shafer. The rankings are improving. And the guys coming in are ready to play. After all, Dungey and Zach Mahoney, Fredericks, Steve Ishmael and Brisly Estime, Zaire Franklin and Bennett, Steven Clark, and Juwan Dowels, Cordell Hudson, Antwan Cordy, and Corey Winfield all came in under Shafer and are making real contributions. Those young guys are
all contributors now and they’re only going to get better as they keep going. Next year, we should take a big step forward.”
But, if you’re looking at resumes of head coaches at lower-level schools and doing online searches for “hot coordinators”, you say, “That’s all fine and good. But the Orange are in the ACC, not the Big East, so they’re still getting recruiting classes near the bottom of the conference. And are you sure we’re going to take a big step forward? After all, the offensive line will be decimated by graduation. The guys blocking for Dungey, Fredericks, and Ishmael will be just as raw as this year’s young guys are now.”
For those who want Shafer to remain in his role steering the ship, the simple reply is, “I believe those kids will be ready. Shafer aims for recruits are good kids who work hard, keep out of trouble, and represent the school well on the field and in the classroom. He holds those characteristics as important because they are characteristics that he has. You can tell he’s a good man because of these things.”
The people on the side who want to move on say, “That’s all great about the kind of players he recruits and that is a good person. I believe he is a good person. But, he’s not a good coach. He doesn’t win enough games.”
And there we are, right back where we started. There are more things to complain about (for example, the offense is still below average), but there are still reasons to accept those complaints (in this example, it’s the first year of a new offense with those same young players at the skill position spots) and it just gets more and more circular.
So, when it comes to Shafer, you’re all right.
And about three years from now, we’ll know how the decision turned out, whether keeping Shafer was good or bad or firing him was good or bad and if the right replacement was or was not hired.
Who knows, we might be right here again, whether we’re talking about a different coach or still talking about Shafer.