Syracuse coach adds juice to Orange

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — It’s been a long and sometimes twisted road from quarterback at Baldwin Wallace University in 1990 to the head football coach at Syracuse.

But it’s the journey that has seasoned Scott Shafer for the job.

An offensive player, the 47-year-old Shafer has been cast as a defensive coach throughout his professional life.

With stops as a graduate assistant at Indiana (1991-92 under Bill Mallory), Rhode Island (1993-95), Northern Illinois (1996-2003, Joe Novak), Western Michigan (2005-06, Bill Cubit), Stanford (2007, Jim Harbaugh), Michigan (2008, Rich Rodriguez) and Syracuse (2009-12, Doug Marrone), Shafer started his leadership role as defensive coordinator at Northern Illinois in 2000, and was in charge at every stop.

Four years as defensive coordinator at Syracuse prepared him for the top job.

What did he learn through his experience as an assistant?

“That I enjoyed being in the press box more than I ever knew; I didn’t get in trouble when I got mad – that was probably the biggest thing,” Shafer said. “Over the years, watching the different head coaches I was able to work with, I had some good mentors that helped me prepare to be in this position.

“Nothing earth-shattering. I want to try to be involved enough (that assistants) understand that you’re involved, but not get in the way, either. That’s one of the most difficult things to do.”

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly was in a rare situation in 2006. As the head coach at Central Michigan, he faced Shafer’s Western Michigan defense during the regular season. Then, after accepting the top job at Cincinnati, he faced Shafer and the Broncos again in the International Bowl.

“They're a pain in the butt!” Kelly said of the defense Shafer masterminds. “They live on taking the football away (Syracuse forced three turnovers in the first half). They live on big plays. If you look at what they do defensively, they've got an answer for virtually everything.

“He's an experienced defensive coordinator, and with (present defensive coordinator) Chuck Bullough with him, who is experienced in his background, both those guys working together, make for you're going to earn everything you get and make for a long day.”

While defensive coordinator at Syracuse, Shafer’s defense held opponents under 100 yards rushing 25 times. The Orange were 17-8 in those games.

The Shafer-Bullough combo got off to a good start. Syracuse was 7-6 in Shafer’s first season last year, including a 21-17 Texas Bowl victory over Minnesota.

Big stage

While prime-time national television games are more the norm rather than the exception for Notre Dame, Saturday night’s game was quite unique for the Orange.

Actually, the teams return to the same venue – MetLife Stadium – for a rematch in 2016.

Syracuse used the game as an opportunity to get across its recruiting pitch to the New York/New Jersey area, a place it sometimes has difficulty reaching.

According to the Syracuse Post-Standard, Shafer’s hiring of tight ends coach Bobby Acosta this year, who has ties in the area, was a step toward developing a relationship.

Orange peels

• How much did Notre Dame and Syracuse pocket for playing in at MetLife Stadium on Saturday night?

Nobody from either school will say, but Syracuse chief of communications Joe Giasante told the Syracuse Post Standard, “I’d say it’s unequivocally the best neutral-site deal that’s ever been done.”

Previously, the top earner was the Alabama-Michigan game in Dallas, 2012, at $4.7 million.

• Syracuse unveiled its “platinum” uniforms. Along with the pants and jerseys were shiny red helmets.

• Rumor has it Saturday night’s game was a Syracuse home game.

Couldn’t tell by the fan base.

The MetLife Stadium parking lot was awash in green- and blue-clad Irish fans doing what they do best – tailgating several hours before kickoff. Orange was hardly a color in style.

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Syracuse players celebrate after an interception by Oliver Vigille, center, during the Notre Dame-Syracuse game on Saturday, Sept. 27, 2014, at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)