September 17

Bailey: Shafer’s first season should be viewed as success regardless of outcome in Texas Bowl

first_img Published on December 26, 2013 at 8:42 pm Facebook Twitter Google+ HOUSTON — For the first time all season, Scott Shafer seemed at ease behind the podium in the Westin Galleria Houston on Thursday morning.He enthusiastically posed for photos with the team captains and his wife, Missy. He opened up about his sister, Heidi’s, epilepsy. He even joked subtly about Marquis Spruill’s arrest last season.Shafer was in victory form, and deservedly so. While the Orange still has one game left, facing Minnesota in the Texas Bowl at 6 p.m. on Friday, there’s nothing left to prove. The season has been a success. This is just an extra gift.“We want to try to get out and go and try to get a victory, as does Coach (Jerry) Kill and his boys,” Shafer said, “but at the end of the day just playing a college football game just after Christmas is just an exciting time for us at Syracuse.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textThe 46-year-old Shafer inherited a team without a starting quarterback entering a more competitive Atlantic Coast Conference. He plowed forward through crippling injuries to the secondary and receiving corps, and balanced a hard-nosed on-field effort with equally strenuous efforts in the recruiting realm.The first-year Orange head coach not only propelled his program to exceed expectations this season, but firmly planted the team to succeed in the future. “We do everything Coach asks us to do,” running back Jerome Smith said. “We give a little bit more effort. On both sides of the ball we always figure out a way to get it done.”When Shafer was hired on Jan. 9, program-changing QB Ryan Nassib was headed to the NFL. So too were his stud wide receivers Alec Lemon and Marcus Sales, and arguably the Orange’s best defensive player in safety Shamarko Thomas. Doug Marrone had taken most of his offensive staff to Buffalo, and the future image of SU football was unclear. Shafer enlisted recruiting stud George McDonald as his offensive coordinator and built a close-knit staff around him. One he didn’t micromanage — even as the outgoing defensive coordinator. He stood for toughness and grittiness, the do-it-the-right-way kind of guy who backs up his hard-nosed coach speak with a very real personality.Players followed. In short, Shafer built a football family. “He really has a good connection with all the players,” center Macky MacPherson said, “especially on the defensive side of the ball last year. He had a real strong connection with those guys, and I think that’s really grown to everyone on the team. “Guys love him, and that’s why they play their butts off for him.”They stood by him even in the most daunting moments of adversity.When golden boy Oklahoma transfer Drew Allen fell through in the early weeks, Shafer turned to sophomore Terrel Hunt. When Adrian Flemming and Ross Krautman started a long trickle of season-ending injuries, Shafer preached the “next guy up” mentality, and so did his team. And when a team predicted by many to finish second-to-last in the ACC — and 5-7 by yours truly — seemed bound for failure, Shafer urged it not to give up.His infectious, hard-nosed personality seeped into his team. The players bought in and fought, upending North Carolina State and Maryland before winning what MacPherson called one of the five greatest football games in Carrier Dome history against Boston College.“It’s just a dream come true to be part of something like this and to see Syracuse excel,” MacPherson said. “I can’t wait to see what they do in the future.”As long as Shafer is around, the future will be bright. Now, that’s not to say Syracuse is going to jump up with the likes of Florida State and Clemson any time soon, but a winning mark in conference play and continually improving recruiting classes can be expected.Four-star wide receiver K.J. Williams and three-star wide receiver Corey Cooper could be joined by highly touted three-star wideout Steve Ishmael in next year’s class.That, combined with a bowl game in his first season, is plenty of reason for Scott Shafer to loosen up this week. He’s earned it.Stephen Bailey is an asst. sports editor for The Daily Orange, where his columns appear occasionally. You can contact him at [email protected] and @Stephen_Bailey1. Commentslast_img read more