Don’t Fire Scott Shafer

I felt the sudden urge to apologize to my whole family.

Myles Willis of the Boston College Eagles (7-5) had just run back the opening kickoff for a 95-yard touchdown against the Syracuse Orangemen (3-9) last Saturday, Nov. 29.

I had told my entire family on the way down, “We’re not very good! We’ll probably lose!” but still, I hoped Syracuse would play well. But even though I had low expectations, Syracuse football had managed to let me down before my feet had even frozen in the icy water-slush that were the stands.

Syracuse played 12 games this season, and I attended nine of them. I saw eight losses and a lone win.

I had fun (road-tripping to Clemson, bussing to MetLife), but by the time the game ended, I felt a bit like a masochist because I enjoyed everything about Syracuse football except the game. They found a new way to lose every week.

Solutions?

The easiest one is fire head coach Scott Shafer.

But Syracuse would be foolish to fire their head coach.

Shafer coached as the defensive coordinator under Rich Rodriguez at Michigan and, before that, Jim Harbaugh at Stanford. While coaching the Cardinal, in addition to having the fifth most sacks in the country and upsetting the University of Southern California – who entered the game favored by 41 points – by a score of 24-23, he was called “one of the most creative and innovative defensive minds in college football” by Harbaugh.

But don’t just take the now-NFL coach’s word for it.

When Shafer was hired by former coach Doug Marrone in 2009, he took one of the nation’s most porous defenses and made them respectable – they rose from 101st to a top 20 unit.  The defense of Syracuse was actually pretty good this year, too, 47th-ranked in the nation for points against, allowing just 24.3 per game. They played with swagger that was effective and enjoyable to watch.

But the awful, horrendous, painful, excruciating offense ruined it.

SU did not score a single rushing touchdown with a Running Back after Opening Night on Aug. 29 when it took the team two overtimes to defeat FCS opponent Villanova. They did rush for a few touchdowns, but it was usually the Quarterback, or even one time a Defensive Lineman.

I remember multiple occasions throughout the season that Syracuse had a 1st-and-Goal situations from inside the 10-yard line and failed to score touchdowns. Penalties, drops, bad play-calling, there were always reasons they couldn’t score, always different.

In a particularly painful segment I remember against Louisville, SU Wide Receiver Ben Lewis had three passes in his arms in the end zone, but none scored.

To be fair, Shafer doesn’t call the plays. If he did, I’d be the first one barking for his resignation. A great breakdown by NunesMagician.com shows us that, in SU’s Nov. 22 game against Pitt, through the first three quarters Syracuse ran the ball 17 of 20 first downs. They scored once the whole game.

To summarize my exasperation: Syracuse lost games this season by tossing interceptions returned for game-winning touchdowns, clock mismanagement, and one particularly cruel loss because an NCAA rule prevents advancing a ball after recovering an onside kick. They also have a pathetically predictable offensive scheme.

The offense’s early season struggles were thought to be remedied when Syracuse demoted Offensive Coordinator George McDonald on Oct. 6 following a 28-6 loss to Louisville.

Offense With McDonald Without McDonald
Points Per Game 18.8 12.8
Rush Yards Per Game 194.8 109.7
Pass Yards Per Game 214.6 162.3
Third Down Conversion % 34.2 33.6

All this tells us is that Tim Lester, McDonald’s replacement, did not do any better at the task of getting the Syracuse offense to score and possibly that the plug may have been pulled on McDonald too quickly.

Most times, Syracuse lost because of the offense. Against 21st-ranked Clemson on Oct. 25, Syracuse allowed 16 points. Then on Nov. 8 against 22nd-ranked Duke, SU gave up 20 points on defense.

They lost both contests by double-digits.

It’s the offense that needs fixing. Granted, there will multiple complications with the turnstile Quarterback system the Orange dealt with this year, but that’s no excuse for scoring fewer than two touchdowns per game as well as regressing in every offensive statistical category. So if you fire someone, let it be Lester.

After seeing what happened to McDonald, many Offensive Coordinators may be wary of joining the Syracuse sidelines for fear of job security.

Don’t fire Shafer, that’d be jettisoning a successful defensive coach who has proved himself across the country. You can blame him for demoting McDonald and thinking Lester would improve the offense. You can blame him for not intervening and saying, “This isn’t working.” But firing him isn’t the answer.

If Syracuse is serious about improving their football program, they need to scour the country for the best offensive mind they can find and assure them total creative control until full results can be seen.

This season was a disaster, but next season is a new one, it’s a first down. Maybe this time Syracuse will let it fly.

Sam Fortier is a displaced New Englander living in New York as a freshman at Syracuse University. He likes baseball, crunchy peanut butter, Kanye West, and using the word “wicked.” He’s not a fan of purposefully misspelt business names (“Kathy’s Kut & Kurl”) or grammatical error’s. You can follow him on Twitter @Sam4TR or email him at sam.fortier@yahoo.com. 

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