SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — Four years ago, Scott Shafer's football sojourn almost seemed at a dead end.
Fired after only one year as defensive coordinator at Michigan under Rich Rodriguez, a victim of one of the worst seasons in Wolverines history, Shafer was down and out after stops at five colleges in a five-year span.
Then came a phone call at Christmas time in 2008 from Doug Marrone, who had just been hired as coach at Syracuse. The two clicked and Shafer was hired as defensive coordinator. He quickly transformed a woeful Orange defense into an intimidating unit, becoming fast friends with Marrone as both became key cogs in turning around a program that had reached the depths of despair.
Now, with Marrone suddenly leaving this week to coach the Buffalo Bills, Shafer has landed his first job as a head coach. He will officially replace Marrone, two people familiar with the selection process told The Associated Press on Tuesday. Both spoke on condition of anonymity because there had not been an official announcement from the university.
The school was expected to schedule a press conference for Thursday.
With national signing day looming, acting quickly to find a replacement was of the utmost importance. Dr. Daryl Gross, the athletic director, hinted in a radio interview Monday that the choice would come from within the staff.
"We want to move fast and make sure we get things in place," Gross said.
Syracuse has received 14 commitments so far, nine of them from three-star athletes, including quarterbacks Zach Allen of Texas and Austin Wilson of Pennsylvania, according to Rivals.com. The site ranks the Orange class at No. 71.
Though an official announcement has not yet been made, Shafer was congratulated by his son and former players Rob Long and Antwon Bailey on Twitter.
Shafer, a 1990 graduate of Baldwin Wallace University, was one of Marrone's first hires. Though he's never been this high up the coaching chain, Shafer expressed interest in taking that next step and was a candidate for the Western Michigan job that went to P.J. Fleck last month.
Marrone preached discipline, accountability, character, and integrity, and Shafer will have to follow that lead if the team is to remain on the upswing. Marrone rejuvenated a team that went 10-37 under his predecessor, Greg Robinson, and transformed it into a two-time bowl winner.
Syracuse finished 8-5 this year and 5-2 in the conference. The latter mark was good for a four-way tie in the race for the Big East title.
"I think we have an outstanding bunch of individuals on the (Syracuse) team," Marrone said Monday in Buffalo after being introduced as the Bills coach, indicating the staff he picks there will have NFL experience. "I think we have an outstanding bunch of coaches, support staff, and I think everything's in place. And I really think that moving forward toward the ACC, there are things that are going to go on that are going to push this program forward."
Stability and continuity are big deals at Syracuse. Basketball coach Jim Boeheim is in his 37th season at his alma mater and his three assistant coaches — Mike Hopkins, Adrian Autry, and Gerry McNamara — are Syracuse graduates, as are lacrosse coaches John Desko and Gary Gait and football assistants Rob Moore and Bob Brotzki.
Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, a 2002 graduate of Cal-Davis, was in charge of an offense that set numerous school records in 2012 with fifth-year senior quarterback Ryan Nassib at the helm. Hackett, just 33, has limited coaching experience, but retaining him on staff is paramount going forward.
The up-tempo spread offense Marrone and Hackett installed in August at the end of preseason camp has piqued the interest of quarterback prospects like Allen and Wilson. Hackett developed Nassib and transformed Syracuse's offense into one of the best in the nation. Syracuse finished 2012 first in the Big East in total offense with an average of 473.4 yards per game, and Nassib is being projected as an early-round pick in the upcoming NFL draft.
The Orange will play eight ACC games next season, as well as non-conference dates with, among others, Northwestern and Penn State.