The new coach at Syracuse was promoted on Jan. 8 after Doug Marrone left to coach the Buffalo Bills.
Marrone was 25-25 in four seasons at the school, but he left on top as Syracuse tied for first place in the Big East and won the Pinstripe Bowl.
Shafer said the way to keep pushing the program forward as it moves to the ACC is by taking some wrong turns.
"When I go on recruiting visits, I like to act like I don't know where I am going," Shafer said. "Oftentimes I will find my way to the discipline department and ask if so-and-so player is there. If the teacher says something like, 'no, not this week,' then I know he is getting in trouble."
Shafer says these intentional missteps help him gather information.
"If the school has security guards, I will find some old-timers with a leathered look and see if he knows a kid," Shafer said. "Those guys will tell you what is what. Principals, coaches and ADs will usually tell you their kid is great because they don't want to hurt his chances at a scholarship. But if you stop into a local McDonald's and hint around that you are there to scout some players, those people will give you the scoop on who is doing what.
"All of those outside-the-box stops in a town are sometimes the best places to get good information."
The tricks of the trade have worked for Shafer at previous stops. He often has had to uncover hidden talent.
At Western Michigan, he found Louis Delmas, a two-star player from North Miami Beach (Fla.) High.
Delmas went on to be the first pick in the second round of the NFL draft and was named a member of the NFL All-Rookie Team in 2009. He was a Pro Bowl alternate in 2010 and 2011.
Shafer said Syracuse has a history of finding those gems.
"Chandler Jones was a two-star player, and so was his brother Arthur," Shafer said. "Both came to Syracuse and are successful in the NFL. Ryan Nassib was a two-star player and will be one of the first five quarterbacks drafted. Shamarko Thomas was too small to play for anyone else and was a two-star who just saw his draft stock skyrocket to a third-round projection.
"That doesn't mean we are ignoring high-profile guys -- because we want them, too -- but we are not going to put a lot of stock into a star system that often cannot measure a kid's heart or drive or desire to play football."
Shafer said that is where he and his staff come in.
His instruction to them is to ask if a prospect would be willing to pay for school.
"I want to know if they love the game," Shafer said. "I went D-III and had to pay to play, so I ask if that is something these kids would do.
"I ask them, 'If you didn't have all of this God-given talent, would you still play; would you do anything to be on that field?' because it is important to have guys who want to play the game. Those kids who would be a gym rat to be on any field are the kids we want in our program."
The class of 2013 consisted of 19 players, of whom 11 were three-star prospects and eight were two-stars.
The highest-ranked was junior college linebacker Luke Arciniega of Roseville (Calif.) Sierra Community College.
The school has not signed a four-star player since Marquis Spruill of Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy in 2010.
Shafer wants everyone to come in thinking he is underrated.
"We have embraced that mentality," he said. "We want kids playing with a chip on their shoulder. Those kids who got two stars but went to an all-star game and kicked a higher-ranked player's butt but didn't get recognized for it.
"We have embraced letting the tape tell the tale. That is the only thing we have in this game that is not overrated, You can see if you are overrated or if the guy across from you is. Everyone can see it on the tape."
Once Shafer decides a player is ready to join the Orange, he has to sell the program.
That, he believes, is the easiest part of his job.
That belief has nothing to do with a first-class education, the New York City job market, the seasonal weather or the player development -- although all were mentioned. Shafer said his ability to sell the program comes from the success a player, any player, can have once on campus.
The story he chooses is about the former head coach.
"We have a tremendous story to tell," Shafer said. "There may be none better than the Doug Marrone story.
"He was a kid from the Bronx who came to Syracuse and then played in the NFL. He then chose to come back to Syracuse before going back to the NFL. Everything you can want to do in football can happen here, and it is easy to point to the many success stories this program has had."
And for those who think the Syracuse job was his latest wrong turn?
"The rise to the top will be more sweet," Shafer said.