During Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer’s press conference on Thursday where he previewed the Orange’s upcoming matchup with Notre Dame, he recalled his first collegiate coaching experience which happened to come against the Fighting Irish. It was prompted by a question regarding the ‘awe factor’ that often comes with Notre Dame and their rich football tradition. But it gave great insight into the mind of a coach who just loves football.
Rather than retelling his story, it’s best to get the full effect by reading (or hearing in the video at the bottom) his remembrance in his own words.
”I’ll tell you a story,” Shafer said. “My first collegiate game every coaching, I was a graduate assistant at Indiana. We played Notre Dame at Notre Dame. That was my first college football game. I can remember sitting next to coach Novak, a guy that gave me an opportunity to work for Bill Mallory. He was the defensive coordinator and I was that G.A. in the corner of the locker room. My heart was pumping pretty good. I was just a division three guy from nowhere in Ohio. You know what I’m saying? So, for me, I was really in awe of Notre Dame. Coach Novak looked over at me, and we were both putting our socks on during pregame, and he said ‘you little son of a gun. It’s taken me 23-years to get here and play in this venue and here you are in your first game at Notre Dame as a college football coach.’ And I turned to him and I said, ‘coach it’s taken me 23-years to get here too.’ Because I was 23-years old at the time.
”I was in awe, but I do remember distinctly. I was really in awe because coach Holtz, he won’t remember this, Lou Holtz, but he actually yelled at me because I had my guys on the other side of the 50-yard line where we weren’t supposed to be in warm-ups. I had Trent Green, our quarterback, and we were too far back. And he’s like ‘you don’t get…you don’t get to the 50’ or whatever. I was like ‘oh’ and I got over. I’ve got to tell you, I was intimidated. I shouldn’t have been. It was just coach Holtz. He grew up in Ohio just like I grew up in Ohio. We didn’t have anything. We kind of knew football was a way to get out I guess.
”But anyway, I was in awe until somewhere in the middle of the first quarter when there was a TV timeout,” he continued. “I didn’t know what the hell was going on. I didn’t know what a TV timeout was. We never had TV timeouts in division three football. So I’m standing there, I’m on the sideline and I’m charting. I was doing charting at the time. I was mad because something didn’t happen the way we wanted it to and whatever. I remember just stopping and kind of looking around and saying, ‘it’s still football.’
”There’s still two white lines. We’re just trying to win a game as opposed to all the pomp and circumstance of the band and the stadium and the aura of the legacy and the traditions and all those things. Those things are great. But when you’re on the inside, they don’t matter. You better make your best move right now. You better make your best block right now or else you’re going to get opened up. No different than when you were playing ninth grade football at Auburn Road Junior High against John R. Williams. It’s the same game.
”You can say ‘oh you’re trying to downplay it coach’ but I’m not trying to downplay anything. This is a great opportunity. It’s an unbelievable chance to live the dream for my players and our coaches and myself. But, it’s overrated if you don’t take care of job one. And that’s what’s the call, what’s the cadence, what foot do I have to step with, where are they at, let me try to go knock this guy backwards. So we’re trying to break it down to the simplicity of the things that it is, is the key.”
Coach Shafer then gave an anecdote regarding how to look at big football game or dealing with tragedy in life in general.
”Understand there’s quite a few Chinese people out there over in China that don’t even give a hell that we’re playing a football game,” Shafer said. “My father in law used to say that to me all the time when I was a young coach after my dad had passed away. He kind of tries to take my under his wing. We’d lose a game and I’d think it was the end of the world. And he’d say that to me all the time. I thought that was pretty profound, you know? Trying to bring you back to reality.”
Check out the 18-minute mark of the video below to hear coach Shafer tell the story above. Syracuse and Notre Dame square off Saturday night at 8pm in MetLife Stadium. The game will be nationally televised on ABC.