Boston College can change football coaches, but it can’t change where it sits in the hierarchy of college football. It will take a lot more than a new coach to do that. BC will always have its facemasks pressed against a gridiron glass ceiling, unless it wants to abandon its core principles.
Doing so would constitute a greater loss for the institution than any football game. That’s just the way it is.
Face it, BC football fans: Even if charismatic athletic director Martin Jarmond lures the next Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, or even the next Ryan Day to The Heights, it won’t be a marriage built to last. Boston College remains a stepping-stone job, not a college football final destination. It has been since the days of the legendary Frank Leahy. Tom Coughlin isn’t walking through that door, and if he does he’ll be on his way to a better job after a few years at a bigger program or in the NFL.
As a college football devotee, there is nothing I would love more than for Chestnut Hill to feel like Columbus, Ohio, or Tuscaloosa, Ala., or Baton Rouge, La., on fall Saturdays. But it’s not going to happen. This is a pro sports town to the core. College sports represent a niche here, and college hockey seems to resonate the most. BC is destined to be a small fish in Boston’s big sporting pond. Casual fans will pay more attention when there is a Flutie, a Ryan, a Kuechly or a Kiwi (Matthias Kiwanuka) to behold. Otherwise, BC is background noise.
It’s alright to have aspirations, but we can’t all be Tom Brady or LeBron James. At a certain point, you have to be content with your station in life. The Eagles are academic supermodels and ACC football also-rans. Since joining the ACC in 2005, BC is 52-60 in regular-season ACC play and 0-2 in the ACC Championship game. The Eagles haven’t finished with a winning record in ACC regular-season play since 2009. The best they’ve been able to muster since is five 4-4 marks, including the last two years.
As the great football philosopher Duane Charles Parcells said, “You are what your record says you are.”
The Eagles dumped football coach Steve Addazio overboard on Sunday, ending his seven-season tenure with the most BC records possible, a 6-6 mark in 2019 and a 44-44 career mark. He guided BC to bowl eligibility in six seasons, including this one, but could never get the Eagles past the seven-win plateau. The Spirit of 7-6 was always alive and well at Alumni Stadium with Addazio.
Addazio did a good job, especially considering he inherited a downtrodden program that had suffered back-to-back losing seasons and was coming off a 2-10 campaign. Like his program, he was solid, not elite. But a shocking home loss to Kansas and blowout defeats to Clemson (59-7) and Notre Dame (40-7) resonated with the administration. So did his 22-34 record in ACC play.
Addazio made the program reliable and respectable. BC craves more than that.
Explaining the decision earlier this week, Jarmond, who came from Ohio State and took over in 2017 as the youngest AD of a Power Five school, said he wanted the program to be more competitive in the conference and nationally. He said the program is not “a rebuild” but “a retool for greater heights.”
This is Jarmond’s chance to make his mark. He possesses a grander vision for BC athletics than the hardened skeptics from these parts. He believes BC can fulfill the trope about imitating Harvard during the week and competing with Notre Dame on Saturday. If anyone can bring it to fruition it’s Jarmond. But he’s fighting years of institutional inertia, and more recently a malaise that has enveloped the program.
There is undoubtedly a financial element to Addazio’s ouster. Enthusiasm for the program and season-ticket sales, which are seeing a downward trend across college football, had started to wane with a program that inspired apathy more than fealty while mired in mediocrity.
Jarmond’s baby is the Greater Heights campaign, a $150 million capital drive to upgrade Boston College athletics from facilities to fan engagement. A Forever .500-ish football program fosters numbness, not numbers. It’s almost better to be bad because then alumni and fans are fired up about making improvements and about the prospect of being part of the solution. If a program is really good, they’re eager to associate with the brand and bask in the success.
Under Addazio, BC’s program became middling and emotionally muted. A change could jump-start the business side of BC football.
Changing coaches doesn’t come without risk, because the BC job isn’t an easy one. The academic standards are high, the recruiting territory isn’t fertile, and the competition is daunting, with the Eagles being ACC Atlantic Division cannon fodder for Clemson. Plus, when it comes to pay scale, the perception across the college football landscape is that BC wants Dom Perignon success on a Bud Light budget.
Jarmond is trying to thread the needle. He’s trying to find a unicorn — then keep him.
Any coach good enough to lift the Eagles to national prominence is going to attract job offers from programs with more pay, more resources, and the opportunity to contend for a College Football Playoff berth. There is a very small sweet spot for the BC job, one that Tom O’Brien occupied before he departed for North Carolina State.
Bet on BC getting the best coach it can and worrying about retention later.
BC is a wonderful school with a picturesque campus, an enviable academic profile, and an accomplished national alumni base. It enjoys high-level success — the BC women’s’ lacrosse team played for the national championship in May. But BC folks have to accept that The Heights is home to a middle-of-the-pack college football program in perpetuity.
There will be occasional spikes of glory like Doug Flutie’s fling in 1984, David Gordon’s kick to upset No. 1 Notre Dame in 1993, and the Eagles rising to a No. 2 ranking in 2007. But most of the time BC will enjoy solid seasons, low-profile bowl games, great graduation rates, and some NFL draft picks. That should be enough.
It was 35 years ago Tuesday that Flutie was on the cover of Sports Illustrated following the most iconic moment in BC football history, the Hail Flutie touchdown toss to Gerard Phelan. Nationally, that’s still the defining image of BC football.
That doesn’t figure to change anytime soon, and neither does BC’s standing in the college football caste system.Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.