Hours after Syracuse announced on Monday the firing of overmatched football coach Scott Shafer effective the end of the season with a terse two-paragraph statement, it canceled the program’s entire media interview calendar for the week.
Some might consider this the equivalent of hiding in the basement when someone knocked on the front door. But with the Orange (3-8, 1-6 ACC) ranked 66th nationally in average attendance and 104th in percentage of seats filled (62.3 percent, worse than every Power Five school except for Kansas), perhaps the school figured no one cared anyway.
Syracuse is the third ACC football job to open already, after Miami and Virginia Tech and with Virginia likely to join the list after the weekend. It might also have the most difficult challenge in finding someone who can succeed with any consistency.
Miami, however miserly it is historically, still boasts stupendous recruiting territory. Virginia Tech is deeply committed to football and not far removed from seven 10-win seasons in a row. Even Virginia, despite its considerable struggles over the last decade, has solid access to talent and also plays in the more balanced Coastal Division.
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Geography is not in the Orange’s favor. Syracuse’s traditional recruiting areas in New Jersey and Pennsylvania were balkanized in the last 20 years, first by the rise of a consistently good Boston College and later by the commitment of Rutgers and Temple to be at least remotely competitive. Shafer’s staff invested heavily in recruiting Florida, which is both considerably different and a fair distance from central New York.
It is also in the Atlantic Division, which means (like four other schools) it competes at the leisure of Clemson and Florida State. Division and conference titles will rarely be in play so long as those two continue to come close to maximizing their many advantages.
Any assessment of the Orange’s football woes must also include the colossal blunder of hiring Greg Robinson in the middle of the last decade. Syracuse settled into a mostly mediocre routine in the second half of the Paul Pasqualoni years. Robinson plunged the Orange into a pit of complete irrelevance, one it still hasn’t fully escaped.
Consider that Syracuse’s last appearance in the AP poll came at the end of the 2001 season. A whopping 94 schools have spent at least one week in the rankings since then, including every Power Five team with the exception of Indiana. When Syracuse was an ACC expansion candidate in 2003, it might have helped the league’s football profile. It certainly doesn’t today.
With just three bowl bids in the last 11 seasons, no wonder there’s so little interest in the program. With the Orange 4-18 since the middle of September 2014, there were no signs of a turnaround, and athletic director Mark Coyle (who was hired in June) reached the rational conclusion Shafer’s three seasons were enough.
Coyle has a tough task: finding a bright and able man willing to take a job where three of the last four coaches were fired and the chances of emerging as even an annual nine-win contender don’t appear great. Based on the numbers, not many people were paying attention to the Orange. Maybe, if Coyle’s fortunate, prospective coaches weren’t among the few who were.
Boston College would finish 0-8 in conference play if it loses at Syracuse on Saturday. Which five schools have gone winless in the ACC since the league schedule expanded to eight games in 1992?
The Triangle’s three ACC schools are collectively on the doorstep of their winningest season ever. North Carolina (10-1), N.C. State (7-4) and Duke (6-5) have combined to win 23 games, tied with last year as the third most ever by the programs.
The record is 25 victories, set in 1994 when N.C. State went 9-3 and both Duke and North Carolina were 8-4, while the teams cobbled together 24 triumphs in 1972 (North Carolina 11-1, N.C. State 8-3 and Duke 5-6). With North Carolina-N.C. State guaranteed to have one winner, a Duke defeat of Wake Forest would ensure the Triangle reached 25 victories prior to the ACC title game and bowl season.
On the other end of the spectrum, the record for fewest victories between the schools in years when all three had a team was first set in 1894, when North Carolina went 6-3 and N.C. State was 0-2 while Duke was 0-1 (whereupon it didn’t field a team again until 1920).
Those six victories were “matched” in 2006 when North Carolina and N.C. State went 3-9 and Duke was 0-12. None of the three went so far as to drop football, though both the Tar Heels and Wolfpack opted for coaching changes.
Since the ACC’s league schedule expanded to eight games in 1992, Duke (nine times, most recently in 2007), Georgia Tech (1994), Wake Forest (1995), N.C. State (2013) and Virginia (2013) have endured winless seasons in conference play.