It all happened quickly.
After one of the worst football seasons in Boston College history, new athletic director Brad Bates was looking for a head coach to stop the bleeding. It took him about a week to interview Temple coach Steve Addazio, but only a matter of moments to make up his mind to hire him.
It was a job Addazio had his heart set on for a while.
In 2009, when he was the offensive coordinator at Florida, Addazio was among the candidates on then-BC AD Gene DeFilippo’s list to replace Jeff Jagodzinski. But Addazio had blown out his knee during the celebration after Florida’s BCS championship, was still recovering from surgery, and couldn’t interview.
“We cried for him,” said former Gators offensive lineman Maurkice Pouncey. “It was a sad moment.”
It was the kind of opportunity that rarely pops up twice.
“For him to build it all the way back up was awesome,” Pouncey said. “It was a dream come true.”
Temple AD Bill Bradshaw didn’t know BC was Addazio’s dream job until after he had taken it. The process moved so fast that Bradshaw barely could react to it. He knew Addazio was in Chestnut Hill interviewing for the Eagles job, but he was essentially powerless to convince him to stay. They only talked when Addazio called to say he was accepting the position.
The disappointment at Temple was obvious. Some players vented via Twitter. Some recruits were left wondering what to do. The program was left looking for another coach. Addazio met with the team for five minutes before flying to Boston. He recently had told his players, after a 4-7 season, that he was “in it for the long haul.” All Bradshaw could think was that Addazio’s time at Temple was short.
“Too short,” he said.
But for Addazio, the opportunity felt too right. The Connecticut native with a house on Cape Cod and recruiting ties in the Northeast was heading back home.
“I was thrilled to death to come here and I explained that to people back at Temple, that this is a very unique opportunity for me, one that I was going to take,” Addazio said. “It’s hard. To go in there and tell people that have been good to you and tell your team, it’s a hard thing to do.”
But he had to.
Addazio’s coaching career has been long and winding, from Western Connecticut to Cheshire to Syracuse to Notre Dame to Indiana to Florida, to Temple as a head coach for the first time, and now Boston College, where he’ll try to restore a program that’s been on a four-year downturn. But the rewards of the journey, Addazio said, are strong relationships and paid dues.
“I’m one of those guys that came from the ground up,” he said. “I really feel like I’ve learned this business the right way. A lot of guys in the business today, they kind of wake up on third base. I didn’t. I earned it. It took a while, I built my career, but I feel like those stops along the way have been great experiences for me, and they pay back to me all the time.”
There was a point, early in Addazio’s career, when all he had was a gas card, a calling card, a running list of recruits, and a Chevy Chevette.
He was an assistant coach at Western Connecticut State and his assignment was to recruit in Western Massachusetts, so he would wake up at 5:30 in the morning just to beat the traffic on the Pike. He’d hit eight to 10 schools. There wasn’t enough money for a hotel room, so he was back on the road the same night for a drive to Danbury, Conn., that was two hours, if he was lucky.
“It was a pain in the rear end,” he said. “But those are the days when I started meeting some of those coaches up here and establishing relationships.”
And that’s when he learned something he still clings to today.
“I’ve got long relationships with these coaches, friendship, I’m not just popping in to recruit a guy,” he said. “I love relationships, so I work at keeping relationships good and strong. Some guys don’t pick up the phone, I always pick up the phone.”
Addazio has done his best never to sever a tie. He recruited Mike and Maurkice Pouncey at Florida, and even though they’ve moved on to the NFL, they still talk to Addazio weekly.
“We love him as much as anything on this earth,” said Maurkice, who was drafted by the Steelers with the 18th overall pick in 2010. “He’s a tough guy, an Italian guy, he coached our [rears] off, and for me and Mike he played a father role.”
Addazio has a coaching style — and volume level — that players have to adjust to, but former Syracuse offensive lineman Cory Bowen said players benefit from his “coach hard, love hard” philosophy. Bowen had five knee surgeries in his four seasons with the Orange, and Addazio was at the hospital after each one.
“That’s special stuff,” Bowen said. “He was always at the hospital when I got done with surgeries, and not everybody does that. I can guarantee not everyone does that.”
Fifteen years ago, when Addazio was an assistant under Paul Pasqualoni at Syracuse, he found himself rushing to be the first person at a 6 a.m. workout for an offensive lineman in Pennsylvania. He was surprised to see another coach there. It was Urban Meyer, at the time an assistant at Notre Dame.
“Of course, the two idiots that are at this 6 a.m. workout are me and Urban,” Addazio said.
They talked to the coach, looked at the lineman, went to lunch, and went on their way.
“We’ve been friends ever since,” Meyer said.
When Meyer became head coach at Florida, he brought Addazio with him. Addazio climbed the ladder from coaching the offensive line and tight ends to coordinating the offense.
“Relationships and friendships are so important,” Addazio said. “It always comes back.”
Pressed into duty
In 2009, when Meyer took an indefinite leave of absence for health reasons as the Gators were staring at a Sugar Bowl matchup with Cincinnati, Florida AD Jeremy Foley told Addazio they needed to talk.
Now and then, Foley would have some fun at Addazio’s expense. For instance, he’d catch him in the hallway or call him to the office and say, “What’s going on, Steve? Why aren’t you excited? It’s the biggest game of the year, you don’t have any juice today?”
It didn’t matter that Addazio was always running on jet fuel, he’d get worried anyway.
“I could get him on that two or three times a year,” Foley said. “Next thing you know, he’d be yelling something.”
But this time, Foley was serious. He needed Addazio to become interim head coach.
“It was chaotic when it happened,” Addazio said. “My whole thing at that point was this is something I felt like I could do for the University of Florida, for the players, and for Urban. With all he had done for me, I just said I just want to get this all right so when he’s ready to come back, I can give him back the program in great shape and not a situation where there was chaos.”
Addazio guided the Gators to a Sugar Bowl win, then had to hire a defensive coordinator, secure what was the No. 1 recruiting class in the country (“We signed everybody,” he said), handle many of Meyer’s speaking engagements going into the spring, and run spring practices.
Beyond that, he had to keep key players in the program. The Pounceys were thinking of leaving for the NFL. Addazio had to get them to believe that the dollars would still be there if they waited a year. They trusted him because they remembered the person that came to their home to recruit them.
“He did a good job being a man about it, approaching the team the right way, doing things in the best interest of those guys and not in the best interests of him,” Maurkice Pouncey said.
Addazio kept the program together at a critical point, said Foley.
“It was a difficult time for everybody,” Foley said. “He came through with flying colors.”
Meyer said, “He commands respect from his staff and his players, and he did an excellent job.”
For Addazio, it was on-the-job training at the highest level.
“Sometimes when people talk about interim head coaches, usually that term means for the bowl game or a week or two or three,” he said. “But I ran the program for eight months. So that was, for me, a tremendous learning experience. So when I went to Temple, I had been a head coach, probably in the most pressurized spot in America, and that experience for me was invaluable.”
Hard at work
It was part of what Bradshaw saw in Addazio.
“He’s the quintessential football coach, the tough, roll-up-your-sleeves, steam, smoke coming out of his nostrils,” said the Temple AD. “He looks it. He’s central casting when he comes out there fired up.”
When Bradshaw hired Addazio, he figured the program was at a point where it was a destination for coaches. Al Golden spent five years doing “the heavy lifting,” Bradshaw said, rebuilding from a 1-11 team in 2006 to a 9-4 bowl team in 2009, before leaving for Miami after the 2010 season.
“I believe there was a lot of people who felt that this was a program where somebody could come in and sink their teeth in,” Bradshaw said. “Certainly Steve was grateful, because we were the first FBS program to give him a chance to be a head coach. He had looked to do that for a long time and we were the first ones to give him that opportunity. So there’s probably an expectation from most people that he would be here as long as Al Golden was.”
Addazio said all the right things when he was introduced. That he was committed to Temple, that he saw a future there.
“He did a terrific job of convincing people that he would be here for a long time,” Bradshaw said. “He did an exceptional job of selling that.”
Addazio stayed long enough to lead Temple to its first bowl victory in 32 years, transition the program from the Mid-American Conference back to the Big East, and left fingerprints all over the $10 million upgrade of the football facilities that was completed just as he left.
Bradshaw took nothing away from what Addazio was able to do there, saying, “The people who are most disappointed and the people who are bitter, too, I remind them where the program was seven years ago when Al got it and where it is now, and I told them, would you complain that we had to hire three coaches during that time? To a person, they would say, we don’t. Clearly, Al Golden for five years and Steve Addazio for two are responsible for getting us where we are today, despite all the emotions that might be included in that.”
But Addazio has plans for Boston College.
He’s been on the job for just under three weeks and already he’s called every new signing, hosted meet-and-greets with a handful of them, watched workouts, talked to returning players, and assembled a coaching staff.
In a five-day span, he made recruiting trips to Florida, Atlanta, Ohio, Washington D.C., Maryland, and Pennsylvania.
“We’re going to go recruit,” he said. “Recruiting is building relationships, it’s being out there.”
He’ll go to Philadelphia over Christmas to spend a couple days with his family, but just a couple.
Then it’s recruiting, training, and planning for the job he says he’s always wanted.
“I’ll be right back at it,” he said.Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.