BC report: Spaz is a Jersey guy…and a BC guy

The 2012 version of Boston College football will be introduced to the media on Friday, practice in pads for the first time later in the afternoon, participate in their first scrimmage of training camp on Saturday night and then head at full speed towards a season that could very well determine the direction for the next decade.

BC football is at a pivotal cross roads and Eagle coach Frank Spaziani is at career milepost. Win and he moves on, perhaps following the tradition of his mentor and friend, former Eagle coach Tom O’Brien, who is also the winningest coach in BC history. Lose and he will probably be history, with a major reconstruction project beginning, perhaps through the athletic department.

Even in the academic atmosphere at BC, W’s and L’s and money generated from those W’s and L’s are important factors.

I, as a Jersey Guy, will be rooting hard for Spaziani, another Jersey guy, to make it work. I will also be rooting for kids like QB Chase Rettig, WR Colin Larmond Jr. and offensive tackle Emmet Cleary, among others to do well.

No cheering in the press box? Neutrality. Forgetabout it. I like BC kids. In 42 years in this business, talking to all sorts of athletes and coaches and administrators I have never dealt with better PEOPLE than former BC QB Matt Ryan (my all time favorite) and former BC linebacker Luke Kuechly (a close second).

Ryan and Kuechly have moved on to the NFL. Spaziani is still here and he is still learning. He is a better coach than he was when he took over in 2009. He has learned a lot and still needs to learn, even at the tender age of 65, when  most people are taking harder looks at the benefits provided by their AARP cards.

For the most part, I have always liked BC coaches. I liked Tom Coughlin, but I knew his mind was starting to wander in the summer before the start of the 1993 season. Coughlin had built steadily and quickly from a 4-7 record in his first season in 1991. And he would have a good season (9-3) that fall. I remember sitting in his office and asking him what he liked about the job. He went through about three or four things. I asked him what he didn’t like. Ten minutes later he stopped. I said to him, “what are you still doing here”, knowing that he wanted to be a football coach, not a baby sitter or a counselor. A year later he was headed to the NFL.

I loved Tom O’Brien, who rebuilt the program after it took a dip in the Dan Henning years. He built a foundation for success that was not spectacular, but steady. He was a Navy guy, a marine, no frills just doing his job and doing it well, until he felt he was no longer as welcome at BC as his record would suggest.

And it wasn’t just football. I loved former Eagle”s  basketball  coach Jim O’Brien, who I felt got a raw deal from the BC administration. He was, and is to this day, as much of a BC guy as any coach the Eagles have had. someone who will always love his school.

I loved the way Al Skinner followed O’Brien and built his own program with his own style. I like and respect new Eagle basketball coach Steve Donahue–few coaches in the country did a better job of coaching with little talent or experience available to him than Donahue did last season with the Eagles, keeping the Eagles in almost every game they played for 33 to 35 minutes. Unfortunately, for the Eagles, the clock runs for 40 minutes.

I liked Spaz’s predecessor Jeff Jagodzinski, although, like Coughlin, I knew almost from the start, that Jags’ eyes always was on returning to the NFL, where he had come to BC as the offensive coordinator of the Green Bay Packers.

I remember talking to him about something not related to football one day in his office and he talked about what he called a shit list, that he and his family had in their house, listing all the people or things that bothered them. “You’re on it,” he said with a grin.

Not knowing whether to be insulted to honored, I said thank you.

I remember standing on a practice filed in Nashville, Tenn. watching the Eagles practice and prepare for a Music City Bowl berth against Vanderbilt, casually listening to BC athletic director Gene DeFilippo talking to some of his old friends from his days when he worked at Vanderbilt (like me, Gene has worked in more than a few places in his career). DeFilippo was asked about the Eagles’ prospects for the following year. And he went on about the talent was coming back. Being the quintessential Jersey guy I couldn’t resist and said “What about your coach?”

“Of course, he is coming back,”’ said a surprised DeFilippo, giving me a “what do you know that I don’t know” look. I knew very little, other than that Jagodzinski was checking the transactions in the NFL the way coaches check the waiver wire.

A month later he was gone, after going back on the promise he gave the AD about giving him three years without looking elsewhere. Jags looked at the Jets job and he was gone.

Then it was Spaz’s turn. Spaz had made a run at the job two years earlier when Tom O’Brien left for North Carolina State. Along with Jagodzinski and former UMass coach Mark Whipple, he made the final cut. Whipple was the leader in the clubhouse until he was told that one of the conditions of the job was that his defensive coordinator would have to be Frank Spaziani.

Whipple, quite correctly, understanding that it is never good business to keep someone on staff who has failed to get the job that you have, balked. That theory proved true when Jack Bicknell Jr. who also wanted the job when Jags left was kept on Jags’ staff. He became an ex-Eagle coach again escaping to the NFL and the Giants on Coughlin’s staff.

Spaziani has had his growing pains as a head coach. He has made some mistakes in coaching and staffing. I also remember during one of his first sessions as the head coach watching him talking to his team and then watching them go to their drills with their position coaches. Spaziani, a career hands on assistant coach, was standing in the middle of the field like a child watching his classmates in recess. I went up to him and asked him if he missed the hands on part and he smiled and nodded his head.

Spaziani has adjusted. So have the Eagles. Is he great coach? No. He hasn’t done anything to prove that. Is he a bad coach? Despite the cries from the galleries about bad recruiting and poor game management that resulted in last year’s 4–8 record, I say he is not a bad coach.

I look at an Eagle team that may once again have a great offensive line. I look at a running back like Andre Williams and a WR like Larmond and still see potential for great positives. And I see Rettig ready to finally blossom.

Will it happen? No one really knows and that is what makes this so interesting.

Like I said before Spaziani is a true Jersey guy and I root for most Jersey guys. What makes this year so interesting is that it will be clear-cut.  There probably will be no grey area. Win and things will get better. Lose and there will be massive changes.

That’s as black and white as you can make it, which is the way Jersey guys like Spaz like it.


© 2012, Mark. All rights reserved.

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