Syracuse Football Coaching Change: What Was Lost, What Was Gained

It’s been a few weeks since Syracuse completed its coaching change, with Doug Marrone leaving to take over the Buffalo Bills and defensive coordinator Scott Shafer being promoted to head coach. Now that most of the chips have fallen, let’s assess some of the changes that have been made inside the football program.


The list of what the program lost as a result of Marrone’s exit is extensive. Obviously, it starts with Marrone himself. Marrone is the guy that wowed the search committee four years ago, fearlessly took over one of the worst programs in the country, changed the culture without cutting corners, and turned it back into a winner. Losing a guy that accomplished all that in just four years is a tremendous loss for the program. With all the momentum he has built up, especially this past season, there’s no telling how far he could have taken the program. The passion Marrone had for the program is perhaps the biggest loss. At a place like Syracuse, as we’ve seen in basketball and lacrosse, it helps to have an alumnus of the school in charge, and losing a guy like that in Marrone is immeasurable in terms of the passion and heart he brought to the program.

In addition to Marrone, many of the Syracuse assistant coaches have also made the move to Buffalo. Headlining the list is former offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, who, along with Marrone, orchestrated the last-minute change to a no-huddle offense that created Syracuse’s fast-moving and high-scoring offense this past season. In addition to having a smart offensive mind, Hackett is a young and energetic coach, who is perfect for recruiting players to a program on the rise. Among Syracuse’s other losses on the coaching staff were Greg Atkins, John Anselmo, and Tyrone Wheatley. Atkins was both the offensive line coach and the recruiting coordinator, and was key to Syracuse’s success recruiting in the south over the last few years. Anselmo, along with Marrone, were in charge of the Orange’s recruitment in the New York City area, which is the base of Syracuse’s recruiting. Wheatley, in addition to coaching the running backs, was quickly developing into a top-notch recruiter for Syracuse. All three assistants were quality coaches and recruiters for Syracuse, and their absence will be felt throughout the program.

With the exit of the head coach, as well as several assistants, recruits were bound to jump ship as well. The biggest recruit to de-commit from Syracuse in light of Marrone’s exit was quarterback Zach Allen of Temple, Texas. Before switching his commitment to TCU just days before he was scheduled to enroll at Syracuse, Allen was one of the most anticipated quarterback recruits to commit to Syracuse in nearly a decade. Besides being a well-regarded recruit that committed to Syracuse early, Allen spent a lot of time encouraging other recruits to join him at Syracuse, which made him an invaluable part of the class of 2013. Of course, all of that went out the window, as Allen decided not to come to Syracuse once both Marrone and Hackett left for Buffalo. Another important recruit that appears to heading elsewhere in light of the coaching change is running back Augustus Edwards of Staten Island, New York. Losing Edwards would be a crushing blow for the Syracuse recruiting class, and would bear some resemblance to when Ray Rice de-committed from Syracuse because of a coaching change, something that negatively impacted Syracuse both on the field and symbolically for several years.


When it comes to what Syracuse football gained from its coaching change, it starts with new head coach Scott Shafer. What Syracuse gained by promoting Shafer is a head coach that is motivated to succeed in his first head-coaching opportunity and a coach that has a plan and a vision for the program. Any question regarding whether or not promoting Shafer was the right decision went out the door after he completed his introductory press conference, in which he showed the fire and intensity, not to mention the confidence, that he will bring to the position. What Syracuse also gains from Shafer becoming the coach is stability within its program, which is rare during coaching changes. Syracuse, as of now, has not had to deal with a surge of transferring players that often accompanies a head-coaching change, and it’s because of Shafer’s familiarity with the current roster, as well as the admiration and fondness the current players have for Shafer.

Despite losing a significant chunk of the old coaching staff to Buffalo, Shafer has done well to fill the positions. The biggest name on the list is new offensive coordinator George McDonald, who will be a first-time coordinator, but is also a top-notch recruiter, being named one of the 25 best recruiters in the country last year. McDonald can recruit anywhere in the country, but his specialty is south Florida, where Syracuse has had a good presence in the past and will need to continue to have a strong presence as they move into the ACC. Bringing McDonald to Syracuse could potentially give the Orange a tremendous boost in recruiting. In addition to McDonald, defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough, quarterback coach Tim Lester, and running back coach DeAndre Smith are all quality additions to the coaching staff, both from a coaching standpoint and a recruiting standpoint.

Some recruits may have been turned off by the exit of the old coaching staff, but the new coaching staff has been able to attract and earn commitments from high school players that weren’t being looked at or recruited by the old staff. To replace Allen, who de-committed when Marrone and Hackett left, the new staff found quarterback Mitch Kimble in Jerseyville, Illinois to fill the void. While the old staff struggled to lure wide receivers in this recruiting class, the new staff has received commitments from a pair of wide receivers: Corey Winfield and Corey Cooper. Syracuse has also received a verbal commitment from defensive back Chauncey Scissum, who wasn’t recruited hard by the old staff, despite being from nearby Henrietta, New York.


Did Syracuse gain as much as they lost with their recent coaching change? It’s too early to know for sure, and time will certainly tell, but there is plenty to be excited about regarding the new staff. Losing Marrone was far from ideal, and seeing most of his staff follow him to Buffalo also hurt the program a great deal. But with Shafer taking the reigns, the program has bounced back quickly, and there’s no reason why the momentum gained at the end of 2012 can’t be carried over into 2013, regardless of who’s doing the coaching.

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