Scott Free


One of my favorite sports figures is a free agent. Outgoing (and outgoing) Syracuse football coach Scott Shafer has been relieved of his duties. (That makes both of us this calendar year!)

He was easy to like. I mean, how could you dislike a football guy whose last name sounds like an iconic old-school New York beer?

Unlike his immediate predecessors, he was not phony, he was not duplicitous, and he did not utilize references to children’s books in motivational speeches.

What you saw and heard from Shafer was what you got–a hard-working and honest man, who treated everyone around him with dignity and respect. He gave you his best shot and his best shot was never going to be quite good enough under the conditions in which he labored.

The prospect of succeeding as a football coach in the ACC is daunting. You’ve got your Florida States, Clemsons, and Miamis, schools with wide parameters for misbehavior and academic achievement. Then, there are your Syracuses, Wake Forests, and Dukes, where football will never be as big a priority, and where it’s harder to excel in that sport.

Part of Syracuse’s problem when it comes to football is an identity crisis. In a nutshell, do they want to be Duke or Florida State?

David Cutcliffe has a record of 46-53 as Duke’s head coach. His first winning season there occurred in YEAR SIX of his eight-year tenure! Scott Shafer could have been the Cutcliffe of the Orange, if the school had allowed it.

However, if Syracuse wants to be Florida State, they should hire a Jimbo Fisher and let him enroll anybody he wants. What kind of character do you want to project?


I used to bump into Shafer out and about, in a grocery store, at a gas station, or at the Dome for a basketball game (above), and he would always say hello in a genuine and friendly manner. More than I can say for many similar public figures.

Shafer’s brand was infectious. The no-nonsense haircut. The way he pounded the podium at postgame press conferences. The salty language he used.

Factions at the university supposedly didn’t care for this kind of mildly profane Shafer-speak and tried to discourage it. But they wouldn’t criticize their legendary basketball coach for similar outbursts, now would they? And trying to muzzle Shafer would be depriving him of an endearing and honest quality.

Ultimately, Shafer loses his gig because of his unacceptable win-loss record. We’ll never know if he could have succeeded under different circumstances. Nor will we know the answers to other questions.

What percentage of Syracuse’s recent football failures should be attributed to him? How much are athletic directors and chancellors and others in positions of power also to blame?

We do know this: Scott Shafer made a positive mark on the people in Central New York. And he leaves without any scandals. The song (below) that I put together a couple of years ago with singer Gary Frenay for my previous radio show stands for me as a fine testament to the man and his work.

I loved this freakin’ coach. And I will always view him as a success. Like the old beer jingle, Syracuse truly was “Shafer City” for a while. If you’re having one tonight, raise a bottle or can to Scott.

Dave Coombs, once half of “Gomez & Dave,” is now the host of “The Talk of the Town” on 100.7 FM WUTQ.

5 Responses to Scott Free
  1. Bob Brown Reply

    Dave, what I don’t get is how can he be considered such a great person and coach when he leaves an 18 year old kid whose had at least 1 cincursion – Eric Dungey – in the game down by 31 with 4 minutes to go? And then lie why he did (the truth was he wasn’t thinking. Where is the true caring about the kid. Wherever he is or plays. Eric Dungey will always be part of us SU football fans.

    • Dave Coombs Reply

      Good point, Bob. I think Coach Shafer might have erred with Dungey. But I don’t think you can crucify him for that decision. I still say he’s a decent man who got caught in a bad situation spiraling further out of control every week.

  2. Bert Reply

    Miami is not a large public school. It’s a small, overpriced private school just like Syracuse.

    • Dave Coombs Reply

      Thanks for writing, Bert. Correct on the private school designation, although I don’t think anyone would deny their rules for admitting certain “student-athletes” are far different than Syracuse’s.

      • Bert Reply

        Maybe. But how would we really know? Syracuse isn’t able to recruit the same guys. None of them want to come to Cuse.

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