Time’s a wastin’ at the Heights, as Boston College is one of the few Division 1 programs still without a basketball coach. Athletic director Brad Bates is likely headed for North Texas to the Final Four to potentially field interest from additional candidates about the vacant position.
This is not the optimal time to search for a basketball coach. That was about three weeks ago. Jobs are being filled quickly. The hot candidates are being hired quickly, and it appears many of those passed up BC as a viable option.
As it has for years, BC has an image issue. The school believes it can be one of the premier basketball programs on the East Coast. It believes the academics, structure, and tradition should sell itself.
The job is intriguing, but the powers that be are going to have to take a chance with this next hire, or risk re-living the Steve Donahue era, or being mired in insignificance.
BC’s is the least-talked-about Division 1 college opening. The Eagles are talking with Florida Gulf Coast coach Joe Dooley, Ohio University coach Jim Christian, a former Boston University player, and St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt. While any of those three could resurrect the program, chances are they could be gobbled up by the challenge, as Donahue was.
Bates appears to be taking a conservative approach, exemplified by the hiring firm he tabbed to help with the search. The firm is likely to compile names who are more qualified on paper to lead BC, but those names are also unlikely to carry any sizzle, or influence the decision-making process of key recruits who may consider BC as an option.
Now that Steve Wojciechowski has taken the Marquette job, which should offend BC folks because he considered a job in the flailing Big East a better position than one in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Eagles are limited in their options to create sizzle.
There are three options that would go against the grain and offer a bigger upside. The question is whether Bates and the administration are willing to take a chance on sustained success for the basketball program or another coaching search three or four years from now.
Celtics assistant Walter McCarty is interested in the job and wants to be considered a serious candidate. The concerns about McCarty are his lack of college head coaching experience and why he left Louisville and Rick Pitino if he was seeking a college job.
What BC needs is a coach who has no plans of leaving for greener pastures, a coach who does not want to make the school a springboard for a Top 20 job. McCarty has serious Boston ties and wants a Division 1 job, but skipping steps is difficult to do in moving up the college coaching ranks. McCarty is a former NBA player and NCAA champion, but the only thing that is going to impress Division 1 schools is whether McCarty can draw top-notch high school talent and whether he could coach that talent to success.
The latter point is McCarty’s biggest unknown, but at this point there are no coaches BC could hire who wouldn’t have detractors. Bates waited much too long for the candidate who would make the perfect fit.
BC also could take a chance on Mount St. Mary’s coach Jamion Christian, who led the Mounties to the NCAA Tournament at age 31. He is from the Shaka Smart coaching tree and is headed for a major Division 1 job, the question is merely when. Christian realizes his long-term future is at stake, so he is going to be careful with which major job he accepts. But chances to coach in the ACC don’t come along often — although the three worst ACC jobs came open this spring — so Christian would listen to BC.
Or . . . Bates could have a conversation with Al Skinner, who enjoyed sustained success at BC before being abruptly fired after a 15-16 record in 2009-10. Skinner, 61, took the Eagles to three NCAA Tournaments in his final five years as coach, raised the expectations of the program, and then got bounced when previous athletic director Gene DeFilippo felt as if the program flat-lined and needed life.
Donahue, a solid mid-major coach, wasn’t qualified to revive the program. Perhaps Bates should have a conversation with Skinner to see if the former coach has some fresh ideas about how to make BC relevant again.
There are no easy choices. BC believes it is one of the premium jobs and those rising coaches who kept their résumés in their briefcases say it isn’t. As they have learned at Virginia Tech and Wake Forest, being in the ACC isn’t good enough anymore. Being a strong academic institution isn’t good enough to attract talent and garner respect.
The university needs to pour more money and resources into the basketball program or Conte Forum will continue to brim with enthusiasm only when Duke or North Carolina come to town. It’s time for Bates to take a chance, make a splash with this hire, but the serious candidates so far are likely to make the alumni doze off and thirst for hockey season.
This is a critical decision for Bates, who has to understand that how BC is perceived inside is not the same as it is perceived outside and act accordingly.