The routine was the same. Early pre-game meal. Eagle Walk journey through campus to the Stadium. Pre-game warm-up. Kick-off.
Frank Spaziani knows the routine as well as anyone at Boston College. Fifteen years at The Heights, including the last 4 seasons as the Eagles’ head coach, qualifies Spaziani as a PhD in BC tradition.
But Saturday was different. It wasn’t just the final home game of another season. It just wasn’t the annual Senior Day festivities.
It was the end of the Spaziani era at BC. Oh, not officially. That could come in the next few days or, at the latest, in another week following the Eagles’ final game of the season at North Carolina State
But Saturday’s 30-23 overtime loss at Alumni Stadium to Virginia Tech sealed the deal. Not the end result. With a 2-9 record, BC’s fate has long been settled this season.
It was the way the game ended. Not with a bang, nor a whimper, but with a cascade of boos from what remained of the crowd of 34,266 as they watched the Eagles play out the final plays of regulation time in the most non-aggressive manner,
Consider the situation: a 2-8 team, in front of a home crowd, kicker Nate Freese, who had missed only two attempts all SEASON, and who had been alread made field goals of 36, 35 and 42 yards.
But BC chose to play conservative, playing timid, playing not to lose, or at least force overtime, rather than taking a “go-for it” attitude.
And no one liked it. Not the crowd, not the critics who have wailed for Spaziani’s departure for most of the season.
Even new BC AD Brad Bates, who will make the final decision on when a change is made, looked puzzled when the Eagles, with a pair of time outs, and more than a minute left in regulation time, chose to play safe.
As the game moved into overtime, Bates stood in the end zone and watched as Tech won on a 7-yard TD pass from Virginia Tech QB Logan Thomas to tight end Randall Dunn, on a play that Tech Coach Frank Beamer said the Hokies had not used all season and was only in the play book as a two-point conversion option.
When the Eagles came up empty on fourth down on their overtime series, Bates walked quickly out of the stadium.
Spaziani explained the conservative nature of the final minute of regulation by saying the Eagles plan was to run a quick draw play with Dudeck ( starter Rolandan Finch, who re-emerged with a solid 133 yard game had been sidelined with a hamstring injury) going up the middle. If that play gained some yardage, Spaziani said the Eagles were ready to go into their two-minute game-winning plan offense.
But after Dudeck was stuffed after only a 2-yard gain (on the same play, in which he ran for 12-yard go-ahead 4th quarter TD), the Eagles went conservative in the final 40 seconds.
“There were a lot of factors that were involved,” said Spaziani .”We ran the draw hoping we were going to get a good play on first down and then we were going to up-tempo it. They could have made us punt, we could have thrown an incompletion. We could have wound up punting and they kick a field goal and the game is over. We could have done some positive stuff. We were backed up and we felt our better chance was to go into overtime.”
The Eagles did get into overtime and lost and now Bates will decide the next chapter in a season which has not had many positive notes.
Make no mistake, Bates is already well into the evaluating and search process. Last week he met off campus with a group of advisors to talk about plans for the future of BC football. He has put together a list of potential replacements for Spaziani, who still has three-years remaining on his contract.
According to sources familiar with the process, Bates and Friends will make it a three-tier search.
Included are candidates who are probably not really interested, but might listen, a second group of coaches with head coaching experience at major FBS schools and a third group of coordinators and coaches from non BCS guarantee leagues such as the Mid-American conference
According to sources, the names at the top of the wish list include Penn State coach Bill O’Brien, Mississippi State Coach Dan Mullen and Miami coach Al Golden. None of those coaches would seem to be inclined to leave their jobs for BC.
The next group of coaches, who might consider a move, include Air Force Coach Troy Calhoun and Vanderbilt coach James Franklin. Again, Bates will probably have to do some heavy recruiting.
The third group, which seems most likely to produce a coach, could include people such as Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, and Northern Illinois coach Dave Doreen.
Other names, such as former UMass coach Mark Whipple and Harvard coach Tim Murphy could also be included in the list. That story line will unfold in the next several days.
BC has been remarkable in its ability to absorb disappointment like a sponge and bounce back into game form.
Admittedly, the latest loss will take some time. “This one is going to hurt” said middle linebacker Nick Clancy, who bounced back from a concussion suffered last week and led the Eagles’ defense with 20 tackles. “It was my last home game at BC and I wanted it to be special. But I walk away from here with no regrets. It doesn’t get much worse than that being my last home game, to fight that hard until the very end to come up short at the end.”
The Eagles provided hope for much of the afternoon for their fans, taking 13-3 lead in the first half and then overcoming a Tech comeback in which the Hokies regained the lead 17-16 in the final quarter, only to see the lead and then the chance to win the game disappear.
A week from now, BC’s season from hell will also disappear.
© 2012, Mark. All rights reserved.