People like to say State S&%t is a thing and it’s probably true but in our ‘Perspective’ series we explore the misery in other programs in the ACC. Up first is Boston College. JFK explores the hope and misery he has lived through for the past decade.
Dec. 20, 2006.
I was a junior at Boston College and was sitting on my parents’ couch. I was home until mid-January on winter break and I was excited. I couldn’t be more bullish on our athletic department, especially our three major revenue sports — football, basketball and hockey.
BC hockey continued to be BC hockey, a perennial national title contender (former Hurricane Nathan Gerbe was quickly establishing himself as one of the best players in the country). BC basketball was flying high, too. Led by Craig Smith and Jared Dudley, Eagles hoops finished in the Top 10, nearly beating Duke to win the ACC Championship. They made it to the NCAA Sweet 16 and lost to Villanova in overtime on a goaltending call. That game still makes me want to cry — easily the most devastating loss I experienced as a student.
Though the hockey diehards might say otherwise, football has always been king at BC. It’s the flagship sport, and it had just finished off its eighth winning season in a row. Though the fanbase had loftier expectations than a 9-3 season and a Meineke Car Care Bowl bid against Navy, there was a lot to be optimistic about.
Matt Ryan was returning at quarterback. Our defense was stout. And, most importantly, we had a new coach who seemed committed to playing to win.
Long-time coach Tom O’Brien was hired by NC State on Dec. 8. Though he was the winningest coach in school history, a lot of us were tired — I sure was — of his conservative philosophy and “we are what we are” excuses for not winning a conference title or taking the program to the next level. With TOB gone, we could get a new staff who could maximize the roster’s talent and win the ACC.
I sat in my parents’ living room that night, watching the introductory press conference of our new head coach, Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski. Jags was everything O’Brien was not — young, charismatic, brash … maybe even arrogant. But I loved it. It was about time someone stopped making excuses for BC.
Jags brought former ECU head coach and Raleigh radio legend Steve Logan on as his offensive coordinator and they transformed Ryan from a solid ACC starter to a Heisman contender and the No. 3 pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. We won the ACC Atlantic Division two years in a row, losing in the title game both years to Beamer Ball.
But things were looking up. For all of the doubters and naysayers who said we couldn’t compete in the ACC, we weren’t just competing. We were contending for the conference title consistently. We were building something and would be a force in the league for years to come.
Flash forward 10 years … which feels more like 50.
Jagodzinski was fired in January 2009 after getting into a pissing contest with our athletic director, Gene DeFilippo. Gene didn’t want Jags interviewing with the New York Jets, who had just canned Eric Mangini. He said if he took the interview, he would be fired. Jags called his bluff and took the interview. That was the end of that.
Instead of finding another star, DeFilippo settled on longtime DC Frank Spaziani as Jags’ successor. Over 60 and never having sniffed a head coaching position, Spaz was loyal and not a flight risk, which seemed to be all that Gene cared about. Spaz was a predictably disastrous hire. He went 22-29 in four years, bottoming out at 2-10 in 2012.
While hockey continued to remain immune — head coach Jerry York, the winningest active coach in the NCAA, guided the program to national titles in 2008, 2010 and 2012 — basketball was not.
Head coach Al Skinner was shown the door in March of 2010. Like O’Brien, Skinner was the winningest coach in program history. But a 15-16 record that season along with waning fan support was enough to do him in. I had my issues with Skinner — he wasn’t much of a motivator and his teams could be frustrating to watch when they inexplicably didn’t show up for games — but he was a solid coach and a great talent evaluator. He brought in guys that weren’t always highly recruited but fit his system.
DeFilippo replaced him with flavor-of-the-month Steve Donahue of Cornell, who was as big of a disaster as Spaziani. Donahue went 54-76 in four years, capped off by a stunning 8-24 record in 2013-2014.
The authoritarian DeFilippo “retired” in 2012 and was replaced by the ineffective Brad Bates from Miami of Ohio. Bates hasn’t done much of anything since taking the reigns, other than ridding us of Spaziani and Donahue. But replacing them with Steve Addazio and Jim Christian, respectively, wasn’t what the athletic department needed. Both were left field hires that no one had on our radar.
What has followed is more of the same. Football has managed to eek out three bowl appearances by watering down the schedule and getting a little luck with Heisman finalist RB Andre Williams (2013) and freakish athlete QB Tyler Murphy (2014). Personally, I’ve covered high school teams with more innovative offenses than what Addazio is scheming. And despite all of his chest-thumping about making the Quick Lane Bowl — he’ll be the first to tell you that he’s only the second coach in BC history to take a team to three bowls in his first four years — no one is paying attention to BC football.
I’m more tolerant of Christian and the basketball situation, even though it’s frustrating as hell. Maybe it’s because Christian isn’t a constant whiner like Addazio. He was handed a team with hardly any talent — Donahue couldn’t recruit anyone to Cardinal Gibbons, much less an ACC school. But losing to Nicholls State and Hartford this year? Give me a break. A P5 school should never lose to those teams. Christian needs to produce, and fast.
Don’t forget, Addazio and Christian both went winless in the ACC last season. BC was the first school since TCU in 1976-77 to earn this distinction.
What Happens Now?
I like to think about what I would do if I were the BC athletic director for a day. But in this case, I would need to be the University president for a day. The reason we suck right now is because of a systemic apathy towards athletics that starts with Father William Leahy and the Board of Trustees.
I’m sure there are board members who care about athletics. Maybe Leahy does, but he sure doesn’t show it. When the Boston Globe wrote a damning article in March about how pitiful the state of the athletic program is, he couldn’t even be bothered to give an interview. He issued a canned statement about how the school is spending more money on athletics that ever.
If they’re spending so much money, where is it going? Our facilities are terrible and the gameday experience is horrendous. I’m not seeing any tangible results from all of this money that is being spent. Oh, I forgot about the indoor practice facility for football that is several years too late. Bravo.
If I were university dictator, here’s how I would fix things:
- Ask Leahy to retire. Father Leahy has done lots of good to raise the academic profile of the school and build up an enormous endowment. He doesn’t get athletics, nor does he seem committed to competing at the highest level. He’s a huge roadblock to moving things forward, and I don’t see things getting better with him pulling the strings.
- Fire Brad Bates immediately. Bates has been a total trainwreck. He can’t raise money and he sure as hell can’t hire coaches. I’m not really sure what he does besides speak in platitudes about “student development.” His contract is up in June allegedly, so get rid of him now. You’re stuck paying him the money anyway.
- Hire an AD with a track record of success. I’m talking a killer. Someone who has won and won big. Open up the checkbook and get someone who knows how to raise a lot of money and can sell the program to legit coaches. College athletics is an arms race. We need a leader with the will to keep up with the rest of the ACC.
- Establish a board committee on athletics. Leahy has proven you have to get the university president out of athletics. Have the new AD report to a committee of board members passionate about BC sports. Keep off anyone who isn’t.
- Let the AD hire the coaches. Assuming you hire someone worth a damn, let the AD pick the next football and basketball coaches. There have been lots of message board chatter about meddling that led us to Addazio. The AD should have the opportunity to hire his guys, even if there is a board committee that the AD reports to.
- Bring in the right coaches. If you have the autonomy, you have to make the right hires. I’m not saying you have to get Nick Saban and John Calipari, but you need to pay for proven recruiters and guys who can succeed in this environment. And stop looking for “loyal” guys who have no ambitions for anything bigger. I’d much rather take a guy who is here for three years, wins big and moves on than being stuck with Steve Addazio until 2020.
- Invest in facilities. The IPF is a good first step that should have happened a long time ago. We should strive to have the best facilities in the conference. We have the money. Improve Alumni Stadium and Conte (maybe even replace Conte, it’s a terrible basketball venue).
The best facilities and coaches attract the best players. The best players have a tendency to win. And winning brings the fans back. We’ve won in the ACC before and can do it again.
It’s pretty simple, right?