When Steve Addazio took over at Boston College, his makeover of the football program did not exclude his own office space. It, too, was subject to the myriad changes the Eagles mentor has implemented since his hiring Dec. 4, 2012.
Addazio had his desk and large hutch moved from the more expansive part of the football office to a smaller adjacent space that previously was used as a meeting room. Now, visitors to Addazio’s office are greeted by a large, plush sitting area, with a wall-mounted, 50-inch flat-screen TV but little else in the way of wall hangings.
“Honestly, this is a recruiting room,’’ said Addazio. “That’s what this should be for. I mean, I got a desk. That’s great. I don’t sit in it very often. I’m in with the coaches and I’m all over, but I want to sit in here with recruits and parents — and recruit.
“So I looked at this through the eyes of a recruiting room and not a head coach’s office, per se,’’ Addazio added. “It’s a recruiting room.’’
Given the challenges the energetic 54-year-old coach faces in turning around a program that lost 18 games the last two seasons, some might think Addazio is just rearranging the deck chairs with respect to his office makeover.
But it is, in part, a subtle reminder of the importance recruiting will play in Addazio’s ability to remain in office at BC.
To that end, Addazio, who developed a reputation as a strong recruiter when he was an assistant at Florida from 2006-10, made it his first priority to revamp BC’s recruiting operation, modernizing it by embracing social media as a tool to connect with prospects.
That approach resulted in gaining 22 verbal commitments for the Class of 2014, which at one point was ranked 21st in the nation by one recruiting service. The latest addition was Sherman Alston, a 5-foot-6-inch, 165-pound running back from St. Joseph Regional High in Montvale, N.J., who gave his verbal commitment last Thursday.
“His energy is contagious,’’ BC athletic director Brad Bates said of Addazio. “He pays attention to the little things. He’s a disciplinarian. At the end of the day, the best coaches I’ve ever been around are the ones who are incredibly demanding on and off the field.
“But they can be incredibly demanding because they sincerely and genuinely care about the students and that’s Steve.’’
Addazio made that clear when he first met with his players, telling them things would change. To promote the team-building aspect of their first year together, names would be removed from the uniforms.
Then, after he balked at the sight of a messy locker room, Addazio held each player accountable for keeping it tidy. Slobs would not be tolerated, which meant shirts would always be tucked in — even in the weight room — and coats and ties worn on road trips.
“I really appreciate the discipline he brings to the table,’’ said senior defensive end Kasim Edebali, who along with senior right tackle Ian White were named cocaptains. “Obviously, the last few years, we had discipline. But it’s just the way he cares about you. He always says, ‘I’m going to love you hard, but I’m going to coach you hard.’
“So he’s the first one to pat you on the back when you do a good job, but when you mess up he’s the first one to come up and say, ‘You gotta be better.’ ’’
Among the other changes included the shifting of practices from the afternoon to early morning. When players hit the field, they were subjected to high-intensity, fast-paced drills where the cultivation of a winning mind-set was the underlying objective.
“When you come out to the practice field, you got to win,’’ Edebali said. “You got to win your rep, your period, your practice. If everyone brings that mind-set in a communal effort, then everybody’s going to grind and work it.’’
Addazio said the new morning routine would result in players being more attentive on the practice field and in the classroom. It also assured the coaching staff of getting their players a nutritional breakfast and lunch before sending them to class and giving them more time to rest and recover before the next game.
“Everything is detailed,’’ White said. “From tucking our shirts in [the] weight room, aiming points on blocks, to where to place your feet, everything is detailed. It made it rough at the start, but it’s made a huge difference now.’’
Addazio represented the biggest agent of change at a school where it will take time to recapture the lost culture of winning.
“I remember the first thing he told the team when he came here was, ‘Take a leap of faith. Trust me with what I’m doing,’ ’’ Edebali said. “As a team, obviously, we were just like, ‘Whatever this man is going to demand from us, let’s do it,’ because ultimately we want to win games. So everyone decided, ‘Let’s take a leap of faith and trust this man.’ ’’
Said Bates, “The culture of the program is really set by the tempo of the head coach. And he’s set a great tempo for the program.’’
To add meaning to every victory this season, Addazio challenged the team to learn the words to BC’s fight song, “For Boston.’’ After every win, the Eagles will sing the fight song in their locker room.
“He’s even having us learn the alma mater,’’ White said. “It always used to be you’d be holding your helmet up and we’d be looking up at the screen, reading the words off the screen. It never really meant anything. It was just what we were supposed to do, but it wasn’t any fun when you were losing games.
“But it’s definitely a motivation to learn the fight song and learn the alma mater, because when we win games at home this year it’s going to be awesome to go over to the student section [for the alma mater], then come into the locker room as a team and come together to sing that.’’
When the team raised their voices in a robust rendition of the fight song during a dress rehearsal last week for Saturday’s season opener against Villanova at Alumni Stadium, Addazio was struck by the harmonious chord the team sounded. “That,’’ he said, “was cool.’’
It was yet another attempt to help stitch together a team that was pulled apart at the seams by last season’s 10-loss ordeal.
“This was a fragmented team and sometimes that just has to do with losing,’’ Addazio said. “Winning brings out the best in people and losing brings out the worst. So how do you pull that team together? You’ve got to hold them accountable, you’ve got to really demand, so our offseason program really focused on mental toughness and accountability more than it was on squatting, bench pressing, and power cleaning.’’
In embracing the changes brought about by a new coach, the Eagles took a leap of faith because they were starving for success.
“That’s why so many people are buying into it,’’ White said. “They know all this stuff is to help the team to win. He’s not taking the names off [the jerseys] because he wants all of us to be upset. He’s not making us sing the fight song because that’s something else to learn in the middle of camp. He’s doing it because he needs us all to come together. We need to come together and buy in to what he thinks it takes to win.
“From there on forward, it’s all about winning. We just got to do it now.’’