Q. Just like to ask you a little bit about Vick Beasley and just your thoughts on trying to defend him. It’s not often that you see a guy that’s a first team All-American draft eligible and he comes back. Just your thoughts?
SCOTT SHAFER: He’s a great football player. Back in my early days at Northern Illinois, we started having to defend the spread, and there’s a couple different things you do with your players. Urban Meyer was coaching at Bowling Green back then and had a real good quarterback, and we caught ourselves in quite a discussion on how to defend the quarterback and whether or not we could put a defensive end on him, and week to week we’d have to make that decision.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched Vick do two roles. He can play the quarterback and still get to the pitch, and he’s a hell of a football player. He’s going to make a lot of money some day. Just proud to say he’s part of our conference. He plays hard, physical football, and he’s got some great gifts, great God-given ability. Not excited to have to play him again.
Q. First and foremost, with this season coming up, what you’ve taken away the most from the spring, and what you’ve seen from the guys in the competition because you have some returning starters but you also have positions that are open for opportunity which you like to give the guys.
SCOTT SHAFER: That’s right. I think spring was good. We got a little bit banged up up front, especially with the offensive line, couple serious injuries, but most them are back and ready to roll. I’ve been pleased with the development of our passing game.
What we did was, Coach McDonald took over the wide receivers. He’s also our coordinator, as you know, and George has done a nice job. I think those wide receivers are competing at a high level. I was impressed with competition from West and Fleming and Ashton Broyld, Travon Burke did a great job, but was equally impressed with Terrel Hunt’s ability to throw to open spots rather than to open men and anticipate making those throws quicker, an area that we challenged him to make improvement. I thought Tim Lester did a nice job bringing him around.
On the defensive side of things, excited to see this group. We’re going to miss Jason Bromley in the middle. He was a great defensive tackle for us. The Giants thought so, too. And I think he’s going to have a great career up there. So when you move out to the edge, I think we have some good defensive ends. Ron Thompson really did a nice job. He’s a nice addition, obviously with Robby Welsh on one side and Ron Thompson backing him up, with the ability to bounce to either side, gives us some good football players. Michael Robinson had a nice year.
Excited, spring went well. We’re going to have to up that ante, though, because we’ve got a hell of a football conference.
Q. I saw you talking to Coach Swinney from Clemson. Had you guys talked since last year’s game?
SCOTT SHAFER: We talk all the time, yeah. Dabo is a great football coach, and, yeah, a lot of respect for him. Obviously, somebody asked me what the biggest difference was going from year one to year two, and your biggest lessons you learned, or what was the most difficult thing I had to overcome. And to be honest with you, it was — for years I was in the press box, for 23 years I was in the press box — so when something went wrong, I could duck and hide and throw a chair and get away with it. And now I’m a head coach, and everything is right out there.
I’ve always been a sore loser, and I hate to lose. I can’t stand it. I’ve learned my lesson well. I need to control those emotions in those situations and chew some gum, bite down on the gum, and make better decisions. But Dabo is the best. So proud of what he and Jimbo have done for this conference this past year. They’re carrying the flag of the conference right now, and hopefully we can get in their way one of these seasons, one of these games.
I’m looking forward to going head to head with those guys, and like I started to mention, we have such a great conference, and for me, extremely humbling to be part of it. But we’re looking forward to kicking off this season on the 29th against Villanova and trying to get some warmup games in before we get into conference play.
Q. What kind of reception do you expect this year in Death Valley after the incident last year?
SCOTT SHAFER: Reception in Death Valley. I’m sure there will be a lot of people extremely happy to invite us in there (laughing). I’m excited about it. This is what college football is all about. I’m as excited as the kids to go see what Death Valley is all about. We know it’s going to be a great challenge, and it’s what we all signed up for. It’s what you look forward to as a coach.
I was telling a story the other day, when you’re a little kid dreaming about making the big play in the backyard, you’re always trying to do it against the best of the best, whether you’re shooting baskets and imagining yourself playing against the best basketball player in the world or the best team. Same thing, you know, so for us to get a chance to go down there to Death Valley and be a part of that environment is going to be extremely exciting for us, and we’re looking forward to that challenge. Great football team.
Q. Annual crossover game against Pitt. Just a little bit about that rivalry and what that means to both programs? SCOTT SHAFER: Yeah, we played each other for so many years in the Big East, and we’ve had some great contests.
Last year, obviously, we came up short by a point there and ran out of time there at the end. It’s a great rivalry. It’s an old northeast rivalry.
It’s a part of the ACC conference that I think ourselves, Pitt, as well as Boston College, take a lot of pride in, trying to add a little bit of that flavor to the conference, some of that northeast flavor to the ACC football conference. To me, I think it’s a situation where we go back and forth. It’s always towards the end of the year, so we’ll be playing outside in Pittsburgh, and that’s a great environment.
Being from Cleveland, Ohio, and watching the Browns go against the Steelers all those years, and now having Shamarko, a young man recruited and played for us, playing for the Steelers, just going back to Pittsburgh and taking Sean Hickey who’s from out that way, it’s great. It’s a great rivalry. It’s a natural rivalry. It’s a situation where we go head to head in recruiting a lot with those guys, and it’s healthy, it’s what college football is all about.
Q. Just wondering how much more explosive do you think the Syracuse passing game can be, and is that one of your offensive priorities heading into preseason?
SCOTT SHAFER: Sure. You know, we’ve worked a lot on it. Obviously, we weren’t very proficient in the passing game. We got better towards the end of the season. I was happy with the way we finished the season.
I thought both Terrel and the wide receivers did a nice job finishing up with the victory over Minnesota in the Texas bowl, but we need to take it to the next level, to get to the next level. We’re always going to really work hard to run the football.
I believe in running the football, I believe in stopping the run. I think that’s where it starts with our philosophy. But in this day and age, you’ve got to be able to open it up, and we put the onus on our passing game, our wide receivers, to take their game up.
Excited about some of the kids that we recruited. I think we’ll have great competition at the wide receiver position. Any time you look behind yourself and you say, that guy can take my job from me, it’s the best way to motivate that guy that’s playing, and that’s the approach we’ve taken, and looking forward to it. We’ve got to get better, that’s for sure.
Q. I want to know your thoughts on Louisville adding the Cardinals to the conference and if you have any relationship with Coach Petrino?
SCOTT SHAFER: I really don’t know Coach Petrino that well. I got to know him a little bit here in the last few months with the different activities that we do with the coaching staffs, the head coaches getting together. I know he’s a great offensive mind. I used to enjoy watching him coach that team years ago, and it’ll be nice to have Louisville in the conference.
Obviously, they were a team that was a rivalry of ours back in the Big East. We had some great contests against those guys, and both down at their place and in the Carrier Dome with Teddy Bridgewater coming up. I think it’s healthy for the conference. It’s something I think both sides will find that Louisville is going to be a great competitive outfit, and we’re looking forward to that challenge.
Q. new jersey has been identified as a territory that you want to bump up the recruiting.
SCOTT SHAFER: That’s right.
Q. You happen to have Notre Dame on the schedule at East Rutherford. That seems to work out pretty well for you.
SCOTT SHAFER: Yes, it does. It’s a good statement, and I agree with you. Yeah, we’re looking forward to getting back into New Jersey. Back in the heyday of Syracuse, it used to be Penn State and Syracuse recruiting in that area.
I think Coach Schiano did a great job. He kind of built a wall around new jersey and did a nice job, but I do think that there’s opportunities there, and we’re excited. We’ve had good success in the second half of this year recruiting out in that area, had a lot of kids up to campus, and looking forward to that.
I think playing in the Meadowlands against Notre Dame will be an added benefit to our recruiting push for that part of the country.
Q. I don’t know that 10 or 15 years ago people really were praising the ACC’s offensive line play, but seems to have gotten a lot better. Florida State has set a standard. You and Boston College and Pittsburgh obviously have brought in big, physical offensive lines. As an old offensive line guy, how good are the offensive lines in this league right now, and something like 50 of the top 70 linemen coming back?
SCOTT SHAFER: Yeah, I think it’s a very — someone asked me the difference between the ACC and the Big East after my first year, and I said, you know, the biggest difference was when I was in the Big East, we had some talented skill kids in the league, and we’ve had some great offensive linemen at Syracuse as you know.
But I think the big guys in the ACC conference, the guys up front on both sides of the ball is the biggest difference, whether you look at the speed of the defensive ends, the Clemson kids as we were mentioning earlier, or the ability of those tackles to set and play with quick feet. It’s probably one of the strengths that gets overlooked sometimes because you look at the skill positions so much, but you look at the games that are won and lost up front.
And like you mentioned, that Florida State offensive line last year was as good as I’ve seen, not just in the pass game, giving Jameis an opportunity to sit back there and pick you apart, but in the run game. They want to bring people and pull then and run zone, run outside zone get to the second level like that. They’re as good as I’ve seen in a long time. I think it goes without saying that their group is definitely good.
But you look across the board, this conference has some great offensive linemen and will continue to do so because they have to because of guys like Vick. We’ve got to go out there and find some guys to block those kinds of guys.
Q. You talked about recruiting. How has the nation responded to you because it seems like the talent is coming in at a higher level from all over the country at this point?
SCOTT SHAFER: Well, you know, I’ve got a great group of assistant coaches. Most of us have worked together in the past. We’re a bunch of MAC guys, Mid-American Conference guys, that kind of had to fight and claw our way into this profession, on the offensive side of the ball, George McDonald. George and I, we’ve coached at three different schools together, two of them in the MAC, Northern Illinois and Michigan.
Our running backs coach, DeAndre Smith, great recruiter, Chicago, St. Louis. George McDonald, South Florida. DeAndre coached our running backs at Northern Illinois — getting back together with them. Tim Lester and I coached together at Western Michigan. Tim was a great quarterback at Western. I actually coached against him when he was playing. Couldn’t beat him, by the way. He was a hell of a player. He’s done a great job recruiting Chicago, as well.
The one area that we really wanted to foster and get after is New Jersey, and hired a gay named Bobby Acosta who was also a head coach, and came from a small school and appreciated the opportunity. He’s from New Jersey, knows New Jersey, has recruited new jersey for a long time, and I think we’re making inroads because of the work that he’s put in.
I think the point I’m trying to make is my assistant coaches have done a wonderful job attacking that part of the football program that’s so essential. It’s the life blood of our program to take this Syracuse program up to the next level, and they’ve done a nice job, and we’re filling in in recruiting as we speak.