The night before the Birmingham Bowl, Boston College athletic director Martin Jarmond was making the rounds at an alumni event. The Eagles’ bowl game Thursday afternoon was a mere formality, a disappointing end to both a season and an era. The focus that night, as it’s been since Jarmond moved on from head coach Steve Addazio and hired Jeff Hafley, was the future.
Hafley was the talk of the function. Whenever fans brought up his name, Jarmond assured them about not only the hire but about the direction of BC athletics.
“I just said, ‘We got this. Trust me. Trust us,’ ” Jarmond said. “We have talented people in our department. We have leadership. We know where we’re going. You’ve just got to be patient and you’ve got to roll with us.”
It’s been nearly three years since Jarmond was hired to succeed Brad Bates as the head of BC athletics. After assessing the needs of programs across the board, then bringing in trusted aides at key positions, he believes he can see his vision sharpening.
“I knew this was an important year, Year 3 for me,” Jarmond said. “Usually, like with any job, things start to slow down a little bit. You feel like you’ve got a good handle on the culture, where we are, where we need to be, where we can go. Then you start to try to find how can we get there. Year 3, it just feels like it’s slowing down. I know what we can be. And we’re going to get there.”
The jewel of Jarmond’s first two years was the Greater Heights campaign, which was launched in 2018 and was Boston College’s first strategic fund-raising effort solely for athletics.
The five-year plan had a $150 million target. So far, Jarmond said, BC has raised $108 million.
“I think we’ve accomplished a lot with the Greater Heights campaign,” Jarmond said. “We’re ahead of schedule on that. So our fans really responded to the changes in the direction we’re going. So that was really positive.”
If the goal seemed lofty when it was announced, Jarmond said it should have.
“I think your goals should be scary and that’s what we did with the Greater Heights campaign,” Jarmond said. “There were some that wanted us to do a smaller number than that, but I said, ‘Why not?’ This is what we need and if we’re going to boldly go where we haven’t been, we have to ask our fans and our alumni and our parents things that we haven’t asked them before and that’s the reality.
“So it was scary and it still is. We still haven’t hit our goal. You obviously want something that’s realistic, but I think you have to stretch. That’s what I’ve learned since I’ve been at BC. I think sometimes we can be better than we think we can be. So part of that is culturally shifting that mind-set. But it’s not just a shift in mind-set, it’s got to be a shift in action.”
In order to justify asking the fanbase for such a large commitment, Jarmond said it was important to educate fans and alumni about exactly where BC’s resources stood in comparison with its competition. Jarmond had an outside perspective coming from Big Ten powerhouse Ohio State.
“Part of fund-raising and resources is understanding who we’re competing against and what do they have,” Jarmond said. “If you want us to compete and beat this team on Saturday, and yet some of their resources are drastically different than ours, that’s not realistic. So part of it, for me, was an education piece to share information to people.”
For Jarmond, it was as simple as laying out how many seven-figure gifts school such as Duke or Stanford receive and showing the gap between those and BC’s gifts.
“It was an education piece,” Jarmond said. “It was putting it out there and saying, ‘This is where we are. This is where we stack up. And there’s a gap. So how do we go about filling that gap? You.’ ”
The biggest obstacle for BC is being in a market dominated by professional sports.
“I heard all of that when I got here,” Jarmond said. “Pro town. Hard to get fans. It took me a while to see what that meant, and I understand that better.
“I look at it as recruiting. Fan engagement is very similar to how we recruit. Any successful program that starts well, you start at the home base. So you’ve got to recruit with the people that have an actual inclination to your product or institution. That’s how I look at our fan engagement.”
Jarmond said his priority is a BC alum within a 5-mile radius that hasn’t been back for a game. From there it’s people in the Chestnut Hill and Newton areas.
“I can’t control what people do,” Jarmond said. “I can control who I try to spend as much time and energy attracting to our games. We’ve got enough fans that we’ve got to get back in. You’ve got to start there because they have a connection with you.”
The next step, he said, is continuing to look at leadership among the programs in the athletics department. That started with parting ways with Addazio after seven seasons and hiring Hafley. Having the announcement made on ESPN’s “College GameDay” was very much by design.
“I wanted to make sure we showed the country this is a big deal and we’re getting a guy that’s got a lot going for him,” Jarmond said. “We have to be the driving force to make sure that Boston College is in the national conversation and is looked upon by our fans and our community as going in the right direction and hopeful for the future.”
The next question is whether Jarmond might make a change with the basketball program. Jim Christian is in his sixth season as head coach. After going 14-17 last season, the Eagles are 8-6 thus far.
“We’re all professionals, we have a job to do. I tend to evaluate at the end of the season,” Jarmond said. “We take data points throughout. But they’re long seasons, you can see ups and downs, that’s just natural. But we just take one thing at a time.
While BC has had its share of successes in other sports, football and basketball drive much of the conversation and engagement around BC athletics.
“I knew going into this year, this was an important year,” Jarmond said. “Football, obviously, is critical to our success. It’s how a lot of people nationally — fans — view us and I understand that and I get that.
“So I think when you look at the year, we’ve had some great moments this whole calendar year, but we’ve also had some challenges.
“I’m really proud of the effort from a lot of our teams. But also, too, we’ve had some times where we kind of stubbed our toe a little bit,” Jarmond added. “With football being such a big, important piece of the overall feeling about Boston College athletics, I just felt like it was important to look at that and see where do I think where we should be, where do I think we can go, and what’s the best way to do it. That’s why we’re here.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.