New Syracuse coach Scott Shafer spent over 20 years working as an assistant in the college ranks, waiting for the opportunity to become a head coach.
But nobody he worked for influenced him more than his father.
You see, the way Ron Shafer coached high school football is the way Scott Shafer coaches college football, with passion, conviction and a desire to mold men, not just football players. And though Scott Shafer could not pick up the phone and share his career achievement with his late father, Ron Shafer is the first person he thought of when he was hired to replace Doug Marrone.
Ron Shafer spent years coaching at Riverside High in Painesville, Ohio. But he suffered a heart attack on the field during a game at the age of 38. Though he tried to make a come back as a head coach, his health precluded him from that. So Ron Shafer became an assistant at the high school. That is when Scott Shafer got to play for his father.
"The way he was as a coach is he was extremely hard on the players and could love them at the same time," Scott Shafer recalled in a recent phone interview. "He held their best interests in his hands and he always understood that was someone’s child. His passion was to help them find themselves in this crazy sport that we all love."
Ron Shafer died in 1994 at the age of 53 after suffering another heart attack. But he already had impacted Scott, who went into coaching because of his father. That influence was evident during Scott's introductory news conference in Syracuse, when he got so visibly emotional trying to talk about his dad, he had to pause, compose himself and ask to move on to another question.
"He was my guy," Scott Shafer said. "You know how it is you love somebody so much, it’s so hard to talk? We’re all human beings and a lot of times emotions get the best of us. I thought I was prepared, but I just couldn't conquer those emotions."
You will know why after reading this anecdote Scott Shafer shared about his father, and the true measure of the man he was.
"At his funeral service, that’s when it just solidified that I was doing the right thing for my life, being a coach, because of all the people that came up and said great things about him and shared stories," Shafer said. "The ones that stuck in my head the most weren’t the players that were the great ones I remember him coaching. It was the people who said, 'You don’t know me, I was probably the worst player on the team, but your dad helped change my life.'
"That’s why every person we coach -- from the worst athlete on the team to the most athletic guy on the team -- is an important part, an important link in the chain. You never take for granted anyone because they’re all doing the same thing, working just as hard as the guy with more talent. You never know when that kid’s influence can affect one of his teammates. Those are the biggest types of things that I learned from my dad."