An Educated Guess...
I’ve now talked to Scott Shafer, Daryl Gross, Tim Lester, and plenty of people close to SU football. We have as much information as we’ll ever have on the coaching change. As much fun as conspiracies are, here’s what I’m rolling with on McDonald:
Shafer and the staff didn’t trust him. It’s not just that they got blown out by Louisville and Notre Dame. It’s that they butchered the two minute drive, refused to give the ball to Prince Tyson-Gulley, insisted on a Pop-Warner-style rotation of skill players, couldn’t execute a simple kneel down nearing halftime of Central Michigan, and employed a passing game consisting of two plays: “bubble-screen” and “fake bubble; go deep."
The staff thought what fans thought; it was an undisciplined, chaotic mess of an offense. They feel lucky to have reached a bowl game.
They don’t view this as a lost year, even without Hunt, because they are coaches. So Shafer makes the move.
Why not fire him? Shafer knows that this is an extremely tough blow to a good friend. It’s not like McDonald has made a mistake or hasn’t worked hard; it’s just that he’s not getting through to players and his system hasn’t developed. What’s Shafer supposed to do, tell a good friend he can’t coach and say he misjudged McDonald from the start?
Shafer tells him that it’s not his fault, but the offense is stagnant so he has to make a change. He miscalculates McDonald’s propensity to blow up in the press conference. He blames himself for the whole situation, and doesn’t have the heart to just fire him, even after those damaging quotes. The final decision is to just ride it out until the end of the year, and then let McDonald go coach somewhere else. It has nothing to do with recruiting, or wide receivers, or someone forcing his hand. This is the best way he can try to win and let his buddy down easy.
Bring on the ‘Noles!
I struggle to grasp multiple angles of this George McDonald train wreck, so let’s review:
9/13 Less than one month ago, Syracuse waxed Central Michigan. “Back on track” was a term most Syracuse fans would have used. Terrel Hunt bounced back from the ejection against Villanova and looked like the quarterback we wanted him to be. George McDonald’s offense was in motion toward his vision.
Regardless of the significance of this MAC blowout (in hindsight, it wasn't much), let’s agree that the shot-callers were satisfied. The Orange was 2-0, coming off a bowl victory, and major opportunity in view. Keep this moment in mind as we examine the next three weeks:
9/20 Daryl Gross makes the now infamous statement that “we are playing for national relevance these next two weeks." He was happy-drunk on football expectations heading into the Maryland game.
Syracuse racks up 589 yards of offense against Maryland, but a limitless supply of bullets with which to shoot themselves in the foot ruins the party. Awful third down execution, dumb penalties, horrible special teams, and a pick-six where your QB missed the play call leads to an Orange demise. “Blown opportunity” characterizes this game much more than “there are major problems here.”
9/27 Syracuse takes on Notre Dame (unexpectedly powerful) in the controversial MetLife Bowl. Somehow, college football lines up Fowler, Herbstreit, and ABC primetime for New York’s Previously Laughingstock of a College Team.
Scott Shafer’s defense generates multiple opportunities, but thanks to poor execution, questionable plays calls, and, let’s face it, a stellar Notre Dame defense, the Orange gets discarded, 31-15. Hunt’s top receiver, Ashton Broyld, sits with an injury. His other favorite target, Brisly Estime, is slowed significantly by an ankle injury (that has plagued him all year). Wind is now fully removed from the sail.
10/3 Out of thin air develops a bizarre orange uniform controversy. With Florida State looming, Syracuse hosts Louisville in a win-or-you’re-in-trouble Friday night tilt (in a half empty Dome).
Still no Broyld. Still no Estime. The Syracuse offense has no chance against Louisville (employing a million-dollar-per-year defensive coordinator who has spent the last ten years with Georgia and the Browns. Did we mention they’ve been recruiting like mad?) Syracuse can’t run against the nation's top run defense (surprise). It can’t throw without its top two playmakers (surprise). The Estime/Broyld replacement drops two touchdown passes. Hunt butchers a late first half, two minute drive. At the end of the game, Hunt breaks his leg. We didn’t know about the broken fibula until Monday, but the coaches sure as hell did.
Those are three rough weeks. But rough enough to fire the offensive coordinator who, three weeks ago, had climbed to his highest rate of approval and production?
Now remember that moment I told you to remember. McDonald had a GREAT offseason—sending his QB to Manning Camp, working with some of the top offensive minds in football, and enjoying more success on the recruiting trail than we’ve seen here in some time. Not to mention the fact that the cohesion on the staff was something to behold. AND THEY WERE 2-0!!!
Offensive coordinators don’t get fired, errr excuse me, demoted midseason, let alone midseason IN HIS SECOND SEASON. And why “demote” him, creating turmoil in your program, rather than just fire him?
And how is it possible that George McDonald can say this, and now Scott Shafer is just going to say that they worked it all out? Shafer met with McDonald, told him, "Keep your head up, sport," and everyone goes on their merry way?
An aimless wonderer would ask if Shafer was forced to do something he didn’t want to do.
Was the decision Shafer's alone? Daryl Gross didn’t like that question when I asked him. “It was 100% Scott’s decision,” Daryl said (along with some other stuff).
Did he cave to the disapproval of fans, media, alumni, boosters, or trustees?
If the answer to all of those questions is “no,” then Shafer simply lost faith in McDonald over the course of those three weeks. But if THAT'S the case, couldn't he just make the switch AFTER this season? He’ll need an out if they go 3-9 without Hunt.
Maybe Shafer thinks he can save the current season (even without Hunt), so he had to go to the 'pen now. If so, why not just fire McDonald and avoid this whole mess?
When I was six years old, my grandfather told me to "ask a question if you don't understand," so I'll ask. What the hell is going on?