With one of the worst seasons in the history of Boston College football mercifully over and coach Frank Spaziani removed from his post and spared finally from unceasing criticism that came with consecutive losing campaigns, the search for a new coach will begin immediately.
Athletic director Brad Bates, who was hired in October as successor to Gene DeFilippo, made the first significant decision of his tenure by announcing Sunday, less than 24 hours after the Eagles’ season-ending loss to North Carolina State, that Spaziani would not return after four seasons as head coach.
In dealing with a 2-10 team that lost the second-most games in the history of the program, Bates’s most pressing challenge will be finding the right person to stop a slide that now has lasted four years.
“We want someone that oozes with integrity,” Bates said. “Secondly, we want someone that genuinely and sincerely cares about the students, particularly their intellectual development, and who will engage in facilitating their maximum development as scholars, as athletes, as leaders, and servers. And the third is, we want someone that is going to win.
“We’ll move as quickly as possible but we will be very, very deliberate. This is an incredibly significant hire relative to the leadership of our department and our program. So we’ve got to make absolutely sure that we make the best choice for what this program needs right now.”
Bates will sift through candidates who could include Miami coach Al Golden, Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, and Kent State coach Darrell Hazell.
Golden has spent two seasons at Miami trying to pull a proud Hurricanes program from the rubble of an NCAA investigation. After going 6-6 in 2011, the ‘Canes are 6-5, including a season-opening victory over BC, but face a self-imposed postseason ban for a second straight season.
Diaco has headed the top-ranked Fighting Irish defense, which held the Eagles to 6 points earlier this month.
Another candidate could be Cleveland Browns quarterbacks coach Mark Whipple, who has local ties going back to the Division 1-AA national title he won with the University of Massachusetts in 1998, was thought to be a candidate six years ago when Tom O’Brien left Boston College for North Carolina State. After leaving UMass in 2003, Whipple served as an assistant with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles, took a job as offensive coordinator at Miami, and jumped back to the NFL as a quarterbacks coach for the Cleveland Browns.
Other possible candidates include Sean McDonnell of New Hampshire, who has had success at a lower level with minimal backing from the university; Temple’s Steve Addazio, who was an assistant to Urban Meyer at Florida; Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen, another former Florida assistant who could be looking for a less grueling league than the Southeastern Conference; and Tim Murphy, who has succeeded at Harvard with players who adhere to its tough academic standards.
None of the assistant coaches under Spaziani, not even offensive coordinator Doug Martin, who overhauled the team’s offense, will be considered, Bates said. He said he wouldn’t limit the pool to candidates with previous experience as a head coach. He was also mindful of the competition with other universities for potential candidates.
“Any athletic director in the country is prepared for any change that takes place,” Bates said. “Does it mean that people on the list will ultimately be the ones that are hired or interviewed? Of course not. But we’ve got to perpetually be prepared for any attrition that takes place.”
Before burying himself in the coaching search, though, Bates lauded the 16 years Spaziani spent at BC going back to his time an assistant. Spaziani left with a 21-29 record as head coach.
“Spaz clearly is a man of integrity,” Bates said. “He genuinely cared about his students. The performance, obviously in the last couple of years, has struggled. Ultimately our responsibility is to do what’s in the best interest of the students and the program and the team. That was clearly our focus all along.”
For all the stress the season brought him, Spaziani was steadfast and dignified in the face of the ever-boiling frustration of the fan base.
Linebacker Steele Divitto said, “Obviously when you’re under a lot of scrutiny it does [take] a toll on you. But you didn’t really see it. If anything, we saw him get more fired up throughout the season. He kept caring more and more and wanted to win more and more.
“When someone tells you that you are not good enough, or whatever, you tend to get a little more competitive and get more of an edge about you. We saw it in his eyes. He is a guy that definitely wants to win. He did a great job at Boston College. I’m thankful for the opportunity to play for him, and hopefully all goes well for him in the future.”
Spaziani said he understood the move, and that the fans’ frustrations were his, too. He also said he understood that the only way the situation would change was if the results did, but it didn’t happen.
“Obviously this is a sad day for my family and me,” Spaziani said in a statement. “Boston College has been my home for more than 16 years, and I have been fortunate to work with some amazing student-athletes. I will always treasure my relationships with them and the BC staff. Boston College is a tremendous place, and I am extremely thankful for my time there. I wish the current and future Eagles nothing but the best.”
Spaziani entered the job as the program was riding the high of back-to-back Atlantic Coast Conference championship games. But he was hired after the messy departure of Jeff Jagodzinski, who left after two seasons to test the NFL waters even though he was warned by DeFilippo that he would be fired if he did.
Spaziani started this season on the hot seat, and it loomed over the program.
“I had no problems with Spaz,” said receiver Bobby Swigert. “I thought he was a great guy and I wish him nothing but the best. He’s the reason I came here. Everyone kind of had an idea that something like this was going to happen.”
Immediately upon his arrival, Bates went to great lengths to show his support for the program, traveling to the game at Florida State the weekend after being introduced. Throughout the season, he and Spaziani had casual meetings filled largely by ice-breaker conversations.
“I don’t know that I would say that we had a thorough conversation that was an ongoing dialogue about the assessment of the program,” Bates said.
Bates’s stance was that he would wait until the end of the season to evaluate the program. Watching the team lose six of its last seven games (a win over Maryland in October was its lone victory over an FBS team), the choice to go in a different direction was almost made for him.
“It was made at the conclusion of the season [Sunday],” Bates said. “It’s an assessment that’s been ongoing since my arrival here. Really an evaluation on a body of work and not a game-to-game emotional decision.
“Ultimately all of us are measured on our performance and when you’re working in a profession of athletics, winning is a very big factor in that performance.”
Bates did not meet with players before making the decision, but he talked with them Sunday afternoon hours before it was made public.
“He asked us how we felt and what we were looking for,” Swigert said. “We told him we were looking for a guy who has a passion for us and BC football. Someone who knows what’s going on at all times and makes us play to our full potential. I trust in Mr. Bates, he’s going to set us up in a way to succeed.”Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Globe correspondent Craig Forde contributed to this report.
Correction: Because of a reporting error, this story previously misidentified the Kent State coach as Mark Whipple. Whipple is the Browns quarterbacks coach, while Darrell Hazell is the coach at Kent State.