Syracuse defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough has no problem with the fact that his boss, coach Scott Shafer, was in the very same position for four years before being promoted to head coach in January.
“I know coach Shafer,” Bullough said. “He’s one of my best friends. It’s not like you’re coming in not knowing the head coach at all. There’s no tension when we sit down to discuss stuff. It’s just like two buddies talking about football.”
Bullough and Shafer were last together at Western Michigan in 2005, and their friendship is a microcosm of the familiarity within the entire staff. Western Michigan, Illinois, Northern Illinois -- all programs that have connected some of these coaches in their careers. Their wives and children know each other. The assistants aren’t just acquaintances, they’ve coached together before. While an entirely new staff often is cause for bumps in the road, the familiarity on the Syracuse sideline helped make for a smooth transition this spring.
“How the coaches interact and how the coaches get along and how they coach together, the team sees that and this is a very tight-knit group of coaches,” Bullough said. “We all coached with one another throughout our whole careers. There’s nobody on the staff, except for the DB coach, Coach [Fred] Reed, that has never coached with another guy on this staff. That’s amazing. That makes the transition so much easier. That I think really goes a long way. The players see everything.”
With an ongoing quarterback competition heading into fall camp and having to replace its top two receivers and three of four starters on the defensive line, there are plenty of questions facing Syracuse this fall. While the players spent this spring adjusting to their new coaches, the staff didn’t have to waste any time with introductions or philosophies.
Running backs coach DeAndre Smith was at Northern Illinois from 2001-2004, overlapping with Shafer’s time there. Defensive line coach Tim Daoust was a holdover from the previous staff, but he was also a graduate assistant at Northern Illinois when Shafer was there. Quarterbacks coach Tim Lester and offensive coordinator George McDonald were both on staff with Shafer at Western Michigan in 2005-06.
The six degrees of Scott Shafer go on -- and have paid off.
“It’s a lot of familiarity with our coaching styles and our beliefs, so from a coaching standpoint, it’s just like coaching with your friends, because we’ve all worked together before at prior stops,” said McDonald. “It helps because it shows solidarity, everyone understanding and speaking the same language, having the same vision. So when you come in as a new staff and everyone is on the same page, just because we’re familiar with the expectations of coach Shafer, and on the defense and offensive side, the kids buy in a little faster because they feel the unity from all the coaches.”