New Maryland defensive coordinator Scott Shafer has track record of immediate improvement

Former Syracuse coach Scott Shafer looks to the clock during the second quarter against the Pittsburgh Panthers on October 24, 2015. Shafer is now the defensive coordinator at Maryland.

After less than a week on the job, Maryland coach DJ Durkin has moved swiftly to fill out parts of his coaching staff. A former defensive coordinator at Michigan and Florida, Durkin is regarded as a top, young defensive mind, and he's already made additions on the defensive side of the ball that are expected to fit his vision for Maryland in Scott Shafer (defensive coordinator), Mike London (defensive line) and Aazaar Abdul-Rahim (defensive backs).

Here's a quick analysis of Shafer, who will work with Durkin at constructing a defense that can keep up with the Big Ten Conference's top talent.


Shafer, the former Syracuse coach who was fired in November after a 14-23 record in three seasons, worked with Durkin under Jim Harbaugh at Stanford in 2007. Shafer has 12 years of experience as a defensive coordinator, including four years at Northern Illinois (2000-2003), four years at Syracuse (2009-12), two years at Western Michigan (2005-06) and one year each at Stanford (2007) and Michigan (2008).

In five of his six stops as a defensive coordinator, including Maryland, Shafer joined the staff of a first-year coach. The lone time Shafer was promoted internally was at Northern Illinois, where he coached from 1996-1999 as defensive backs coach before taking on the defensive coordinator role in 2000.


So most of the time, Shafer has been part of new staffs coming in to a program and trying to revamp it. In his stops at Syracuse, Stanford and Western Michigan, Shafer's defenses improved in at least three of four major categories (total defense, pass defense, rush defense, scoring defense).

At Western Michigan, Shafer took over a defense that ranked 116th on a team that went 1-10 in 2004. By 2006, the Broncos were ranked 11th in total defense, fifth in rush defense and 36th in scoring defense.

Stanford was a major rebuild under Harbaugh in 2007. The year before, the Cardinal finished 1-11 and were ranked 97th in total defense, 27th in pass defense, 117th in rush defense and 108th in scoring defense. While Shafer's 2007 squad still finished 97th in total defense and the pass defense dropped to 107th, the rush defense jumped 30 spots, and Stanford finished 67th in scoring defense.

In the press release introducing Shafer as Stanford's defensive coordinator, Harbaugh said Shafer was "considered one of the most creative and innovative defensive minds in college football. He is an excellent teacher and mentor."

In Shafer's first year at Syracuse, the Orange jumped from 100th in total defense to 37th, and the rush defense went from 101st to 13th. His Syracuse defenses peaked in his second year in 2010, when the Orange finished seventh in total defense and pass defense, 41st in rush defense and 17th in scoring defense.

So with Shafer officially taking over in College Park as of Wednesday, it's fair to the expectation is is almost immediate improvement. The Terps finished 90th in total defense, 105th in pass defense, 59th in rush defense and 103rd in scoring defense in 2015, and those numbers seem as if they can be improved upon.

But there will be challenges for Shafer. Defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, who set the program's single-season sack record, declared for the NFL draft. Three starters in an unsteady secondary exhausted their eligibility. There were depth concerns along the defensive line and among the linebackers.

The improvement might be incremental, too. Despite the gains on defense, Stanford went from 1-11 to 4-8 in Shafer's season as defensive coordinator. In Shafer's first year at Syracuse, the Orange went from 3-9 to 4-8. A revamped defense can only do so much for a program.


And Shafer does have an experience where things haven't worked out for him. He was Rich Rodriguez's defensive coordinator during Rodriguez's disastrous first season in Ann Arbor, when the Wolverines went 3-9. Shafer was running Rodriguez's 3-3-5 alignment, a formation he wasn't comfortable with as opposed to the 4-3, and Shafer wasn't able to pick the defense's position coaches.

The result was a defense that regressed drastically and allowed 28.9 points per game.

For Shafer, though, it should be different in College Park, where he'll be working under a former defensive coordinator in Durkin. Shafer and Durkin should be on the same page in terms of vision for the how the defense should run. London is an experienced defensive line coach with a wealth of knowledge. And with the recruiting track record of London and Abdul-Rahim, the talent for Shafer's defense should be restocked regularly.