Former Orange football coach who died on Tuesday offered CA graduate Bill Scharr an opportunity not many young players get to experience

Bill Scharr got to do what hundreds of local kids only dream of doing, and he has Dick MacPherson to thank for that.

And that’s why the 1986 Canandaigua Academy graduate says he was “bummed” to hear the news of Mac’s passing on Tuesday. MacPherson, who died at the age of 86 of natural causes, was the football coach at Syracuse University where Scharr was a quarterback from 1987 to 1989. The 1989 season was Scharr’s only full season after spot duty in 1987 and 1988 and no matter what you’ve heard over the years, Scharr looks back fondly on his time at SU with MacPherson.

“The guy was a football icon,” Scharr said this week. “It was a joy to play for him, he was all about family. He was excitable and a great story teller.”

MacPherson, of course, is credited with reviving the SU football program after taking the job in 1981. Part of that was his knowledge of the game and another part was his passion. He loved the game so much that if you were going to play for him, the same level of passion was expected of you.

“You couldn’t help but get sucked into it,” said Scharr. “He was hard to play for, especially at quarterback … He wasn’t very forgiving but once I understood that, it made it easier for me.”

In the next breath, Scharr said MacPherson truly was the man who would give you the proverbial shirt off his back. That approach, said Scharr, was rooted in a bond of family that he shared with the coach.

“He was one of 12 children and I was the youngest of nine,” said Scharr. “His career speaks for itself but his personality is what people were drawn to.”

Scharr doesn’t shy from talking about the end of his days at SU, which came a season early. It’s true what we hear about the SU staff telling Scharr the Orange would scrap the option-offense for a system more suited to the dropback style of Scharr, but that change never happened.

There is no animosity or ill will, however.

“I bucked the system and changed plays at the line,” he joked.

On a more serious note, though, Scharr looks back on the experience and says it fits right into his approach toward life where things happen for a reason.

“I was spoiled because I had success,” he said. “I just wish I had embraced the challenge a bit more.”

But instead of regret, Scharr keeps his focus on what he took away as life lessons and relationships instead of what did not happen. He was playing Division I football a little over an hour away from where he grew up. He traveled to Japan for a game and was with the Orange for bowl games. He had the foundation for countless friendships that continue to exist today.

Oh, and there was George DeLeone, the offensive coordinator who pulled no punches in his assessment of your play.

“He wouldn’t give you a compliment if you paid for it,” said Scharr with a laugh. “So when he did give you one, you know you earned it.”

That’s one of the many life lessons that Scharr carried with him from the SU campus. It’s a lesson of hard work paying dividends along with the benefit of understanding roles within the framework of team sports.

It’s a lesson he shares today when coaching youth sports.

“Teammates pick you up,” he said. “That’s what what the game gives you.”

It’s experiences and lessons like this that had Scharr so “bummed” when he learned of MacPherson’s death. Because he knows he’s not the only former SU football player to feel the impact of a man who was his coach more than 25 years ago.

“His passing is like the turning of a page,” said Scharr. “Not just for SU football, but for college football.”

Chavez is sports editor at the Daily Messenger. Contact me at rchavez@messengerpostmedia.com or follow me @MPN_bchavez