On the Debacle at Boston College

You can’t make this stuff up.

Boston College football’s head coach Jeff Jagodzinski, affectionately known as Jags, will be fired by Boston College after proceeding to interview for the New York Jets’ vacant head coach position even after Athletic Director Gene DeFelippo warned him doing so would lead to his termination.

This bizarre turn of events came out of nowhere but the consequences were immediate and obvious.  Regardless of whether Jags interviewed for the job or not, he was out because the relationship between the AD and the coach was irreparably broken.

I think  it’s important to summarize what appears to be the facts of the case.  The rumor that there is a provision in Jags’ contract that precluded him from interviewing for a head coaching position for three years is apparently incorrect.  There was only a mutual understanding, according to DeFilippo, that the coach would stick around for the long haul.  So, the public relations nightmare can’t easily be settled with “Jags was fired because he breached his contract.”  If only it were that simple.

It also appears, from the same Boston Globe source, that problems began to develop when DeFelippo first heard of Jags’ interview with the Jets from a reporter who called him for comments.  If the report is to be believed, Jags lied to DeFelippo, who was previously told by the coach he was not contacted by the Jets, only to discover an interview was scheduled when he called Jags to confirm what the reporter had told him.  At that point, DeFelippo issued his ultimatum.

What a mess.  This is not going to end well regardless of what happens.  The fact is that these are dark times for Boston College football.  During Jagodzinski’s two year tenure, the Eagles reached #2 in the national rankings, went to two straight Atlantic Coast Conference championship game by winning the Atlantic Division, won a school record 11 games, and produced the third pick in the NFL draft who is likely to be the Rookie of the year.  The program did everything short of going and winning a BCS bowl game, but by all accounts recruitment is still abysmal.  If these two years didn’t set the foundations for a future in the national limelight, nothing will.  Instead, BC is in the national headlines for all the wrong reasons instigated by Jags’ apparent desire to jump ship.

I want to be clear, though, that I’m not faulting Jags for wanting and pursuing an NFL job.  On ESPN, it was suggested that it’s petty for BC and DeFelippo to not permit Jags to seek other jobs.  I agree and in retrospect, Jags’ desire to return to the NFL was to be expected.  Jags came from the pros.  Despite spending a couple years being a BC assistant, he built up his resume in the professional league and BC should have been aware of the risk he’d be lured back to his roots.  Quite frankly, I never thought any NFL team would show interest in BC’s head coach, but then, I never thought Coach Jags would be this successful.

As I understand the situation, though–and a lot of facts are still yet to be revealed–it wasn’t Jags’ pursuit of the NFL job that caused the problem as much as how he went about pursuing it.  In that sense, I find most of the opinions accusing DeFelippo of being naive, such as this or this, to be off base.  Presumably had Jags gone through the proper channels, that is, have the Jets contact the athletic department to seek permission, receive it, and schedule an interview, DeFelippo’s issues with Jags’ pursuit would have been far more limited.  Granted DeFelippo probably would have been displeased–it appears he understandably wants a constant and stable presence as head coach–but it’s hard to imagine him issuing an ultimatum if the overture was properly pursued and he was fully informed of the situation.

Instead, Jags apparently lied to DeFelippo about being contacted by the Jets.  Even if not, it’s clear he outright lied to to the Globe.  We’ve seen this kind of conduct before, most memorably from Nick Saban when he abandoned the Miami Dolphins to become head coach at Alabama.  And this is where I have problems with what Jags did.  It may be a commonly expected, even if not accepted, practice to lie about overtures from other employers.  But Boston College is not Alabama, Auburn, or Arkansas.  The school and its athletic program present themselves with dignity and principles when they approach and hire a coach and they demand the same in return from the coach.  The program takes seriously the “student” of student-athlete.  It believes in education and graduation rates.  It believes in producing young men with character and honor who will be able to meaningfully contribute to society after football.  This is not a hollow rhetoric.  BC football has lived it as evidenced by its consistently high graduation rates, high ratio of fifth year seniors, and absence from the headlines of legal troubles of the program’s players and coaches.

Listening to Coach Jags over the past two years, I thought he was sold on the message.  He talked about recruiting men of character and the importance of educating his players.  Perhaps he does get it, but didn’t realize the same high standards were expected of the coaches. The reason why I ultimately side with DeFelippo in this mess is because he has been the athletic director of Boston College for over a decade and Jags has been around for only two years.  DeFelippo fully understands the standards and commitment expected of the Boston College Eagles even as he pursues the highest of athletic achievements.  I trust his judgment over Jags’.

There is no happy ending to this story.  It, in fact, borders on the tragic when BC football appeared to be on the cusp of greatness.  Whatever recruitment there was will never recover and the name of the school will long be stained for future recruits.  The program, I am now convinced, will never be able to achieve national prominence in football prowess.  But what DeFelippo can do–in fact, must do–is to clearly set forth the factual circumstances that led to Coach Jags’ firing and the reasons and principles underlying his dismissal.  He must show that this highly unusual turn of events unfoleded precisely because Boston College is unique among its peers.  It is not just a sports program.  It is a collegiate sports program that values the education it instills on its participants.


7 Responses to “On the Debacle at Boston College”

  1. 1 Chris Schroeck January 7, 2009 at 12:14 pm

    This is quite a predicament. It has been a very solid two years of football at BC and we were in good shape to have some recruiting success. Matt Ryan’s success has helped us a lot on the recruiting trail, and until recently I felt we had a decent chance of landing a big-name QB recruit.

    Let me start out by saying that I don’t think losing coach Jags will be so bad. For one thing, I think coach Spaziani will stick around either way, and he practically won us all of our games this year. For another, Coach Jags really hasn’t proven that much to me. His first year he had Matt Ryan, and we could have had a monkey coaching us and won 9 games. His second year, it seemed to me that he really just let two great coordinators do their thing and stayed out of the way. I am not saying he’s a bad coach. I think he’s a good coach. I just don’t think that he has been the key to our success in the past two years, and I think he’s kind of a lousy recruiter, which is one thing that head coaches absolutely need to do well.

    I am of two minds on this. The principled side of me agrees with you, that BC holds its athletes to a higher standard and should hold its coaches to a higher standard as well. I generally respect Gene DeFelippo and he has made many good decisions for our program.

    The pragmatic side of me, however, doesn’t side with Jags but thinks that Gene has made a big miscalculation. Look, Jags is not going to get the Jets job. He just isn’t. The Jets interviewed him for one reason: to appease Brett Favre. Brett and Jags go back, and Brett really pushed for him to be interviewed. It’s as simple as that. From a practical standpoint, the way to handle this is to say “We wish you luck in the Jets interview” without chuckling, and then when he comes back rejected, sign him to an extension or at least welcome him back. That keeps the recruiting process going pretty strong, and keeps the program’s momentum in place. The problem we are going to have now is attracting a good coach. Who wants to have the BC head coaching job for life, and is a talented coach? Honestly, I’m not sure anyone fits that description. Even O’Brien, who sucked, didn’t want to stay here. Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden are the exceptions, not the rule.

    I have heard that the real problem is that coach Jags just hates being a college head coach. He tried it, and the recruiting business just isn’t for him. I can’t blame him for realizing that he’s not suited for a job, and i certainly can’t blame him for wanting to coach in the NFL. In fact, you have to assume that Gene knew that. Still, the way that Coach Jags handled the transition out could have been much better.

    I can tell you that I hope Steve Logan replaces him. That would be good for the program – smart guy, good game-planner, backed up by a strong defensive coordinator in Frank Spaziani.

    • 2 joesas January 7, 2009 at 1:06 pm

      “Predicament” is the perfect word for it.

      I think I agree with you, most strongly, that Coach Jags is essentially replaceable. I like him. He’s impressed me far more than O’Brien and I think he could have made a fine coach for BC for a long time.

      That said, I didn’t know Jags was generally dissatisfied about being a college coach and found the recruitment process to be unfitting. That’s a serious problem if you’re coaching at a college level. Recruitment is half the job. If he doesn’t like it and if he’s not good at it (which is apparently the case), then we have to question his effectiveness going forward because talent’s going to run dry.

      I hear you when you talk about the pragmatic concerns of what DeFelippo is doing. He certainly didn’t handle this in the best way because once he made the ultimatum, Jags was gone. The relationship couldn’t be saved. And I certainly hope DeFelippo doesn’t believe that there would be a coach out there who’s hoping to die as BC head coach. BC isn’t the only school having difficulty retaining coaches; most schools have coaches who want to jump. I think what’s important is that in the future, clear ground rules are set so any opportunities are pursued with the understanding and blessing of the AD. That clearly didn’t happen here.

      I think DeFelippo will remain in-house this time and tap Spaziani to be the head coach. I’m not against Logan, but if DeFelippo wants someone who’ll stick around, the guy who’s been around for 12 years and won a bowl game is it.

  2. 3 Chris Schroeck January 7, 2009 at 2:31 pm

    That’s probably true that Spaziani has the most potential for loyalty. The reason I don’t want him as head coach is that he is such a damned good defensive coordinator that I am afraid to potentially mess that up.

    I watched the press conference, and DeFelippo said he would interview anyone in-house who wants the job, and will also interview people outside of the program. He said that he doesn’t expect to find a coach-for-life but is looking for someone who will live out the terms of a contract. He also came across as very gracious and reasonable, but also a bit sad about the whole thing.

    He read a letter from Jags thanking BC for the opportunity and wishing BC luck.

    All in all, at the end of the day both people took the high road. DeFelippo said we will seek a new coach both internally and externally, which is good. He also said that he has a “stack of resumes”, and that he is looking for the following things in a head coach:

    1. Great communicator
    2. Caring
    3. a great teacher of the game
    4. wants to be at BC

    Wow, maybe I should apply. I am a great communicator, caring, and I would love to be head football coach at BC and would never look up if given the job. That meets almost all of the criteria.

  3. 4 joesas January 7, 2009 at 2:50 pm

    Yeah, I just saw the press conference myself and I thought DeFelippo was quite gracious.

    I was hoping that he would provide more info about what happened, but it was probably the right thing to do to not air all the dirty laundry out for everyone to see.

    That said, I was troubled by two things. One, he kept on referring to differences of opinion about the future of the program. Was there a real difference, or was the difference that Jags just didn’t want to stay, because I can’t imagine what the “difference” could have possibly been.

    Second, I’m also a little shocked at how DeFelippo insisted on a coach serving out the terms of the contract, going back to your practical point. There was a mention about how he thought he was being reasonable throughout the whole process, but it seemed like ultimately, DeFelippo wants a coach who will stick around. The fact is, a coach who will stick around for the terms of the contract is someone who’s gotta be willing to stick around forever, because if he’s successful, the school will want to give him an extension and coaches’ tenure rarely ends at the end of the contract; they’re almost always fired or they quit.

    I still think DeFelippo was right to can Jags, but I am concerned about the future of the program more than ever.

    By the way, I’d love to be BC’s head coach too and guess what? I’m ready to make a lifetime commitment. Hell, I’ll even forgo my salary.

  4. 5 Chris Schroeck January 8, 2009 at 7:23 am

    I will apply for the job and you can be my “clock management” coach.

    • 6 joesas January 8, 2009 at 7:50 am

      You know how I’d love to have that job.

  1. 1 Eagles in SI, Memories of an Umbrella and Business Attire « The World According to Joe Trackback on January 16, 2009 at 8:09 am

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