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A two-week break, then it's off to races in BC coach search

The race to find a replacement for Boston College football coach Tom O'Brien can slow down after this weekend. College football goes into a two-week hiatus over the holidays , which sets up the weekend of Jan. 5-7 as the first crucial weekend of the recruiting season.

Whether it is Pittsburgh Steelers quarterbacks coach and former University of Massachusetts coach Mark Whipple, or a late-closing selection who gets the BC job, a staff be must be hired and functioning smoothly by then, and the decision should be made in the next 72 hours.

When O'Brien left for North Carolina State two weeks ago, he left a cupboard that was filled, but not full. BC has the talent to survive and perhaps thrive next season, no matter who is sitting in the coach's office.

BC is at a crossroads. The Eagles can hire someone who can maintain O'Brien's level, with the hope of climbing a step higher, or it can hire someone who thinks 8-4 and 9-3 seasons and a steady diet of MPC Computers, Meineke Car Care, and Emerald bowls is not good enough. But that climb can't be made at the expense of BC's strong academic standards.

Athletic director Gene DeFilippo has been searching for the right fit. But it was a search for a face for a program that needs one. It needs a coach whose style and personality have a strong "wow" factor.

As solid as O'Brien was in rebuilding the Eagles from scandal and disappointment over the last 10 years, the cocky attitude that all great teams have rarely, if ever, surfaced. The Eagles still had a tinge of doubt, often playing not to lose.

Whipple is the front-runner in confidence and accomplishment. Every coach BC talked to has solid credentials. BC defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani is ready to be run the show, BC officials love him, and the transition would be smooth and many of O'Brien's staff would probably remain. Richmond coach Dave Clawson, whom DeFilippo has known since their days together at Villanova, is similar to Whipple, but he has not done what Whipple has done -- win a national championship and be part of a Super Bowl-winning team.

And then there is Green Bay Packer offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski, who was on O'Brien's staff a decade ago and has added to his résumé. DeFilippo reportedly was impressed with Jagodzinski's vision of the future and of the staff he wanted to bring to The Heights.

When asked about the "wow" factor in a coach , DeFilippo said, "I want that not just in press conferences, but on the field."

Whipple however has won at every level. He got an Ivy League education at Brown and won there as the coach.

When Notre Dame hired Charlie Weis from the Patriots two years ago, Weis recruited with his Super Bowl ring prominently displayed. His message to the blue-chip athletes he was chasing was this, "If you are good enough, you want to play on Sundays after you're done playing on Saturdays. I know about Sundays."

So does Whipple.

But it is his attitude that makes the difference. In the last decade, DeFilippo worked hard with O'Brien to get the Eagles soaring. The AD did his part by scheduling teams such as Buffalo, Maine, Ball State, and Central Michigan.

That brought wins, but little else. Whipple's attitude will be to say if we want to be the best, we need to play the best. And if we don't win all of those games, we will win in the Atlantic Coast Conference and still get to the next level.

BC needs to expand its fan base. The Eagles are going to Charlotte to play their bowl game against Navy in a couple of weeks and don't expect more than a couple thousand BC fans to be traveling with the team, which will just reinforce the Eagles' reputation as a team that does not "travel" well.

The solution is to make it impossible for the Eagles to be denied major bowl opportunities because they will have won a title.

BC will hire a good coach in the next few days. But in Whipple they can hire a great coach who just has not had the opportunity to show it yet at the Division 1-A level.

And if that happens, watch the interest level in BC football start to climb.

Low Tide
When did the University of Alabama suddenly turn into Alabama-Birmingham? The Tide's embarrassing -- and that is the right word here -- search for a replacement for Mike Shula has people shaking their heads. Coaches from Rutgers, West Virginia, and Wake Forest have already rejected the Tide. Again, this is Alabama, not UAB, that is searching for a coach . The first question that must be asked: If you are going to fire a coach -- and Shula's biggest crime was that he couldn't beat Auburn -- then shouldn't you have a pretty good idea the coach you want is going to say yes? But Alabama, as it did four years ago when it hired Shula, goes on these search missions and is shocked when coaches don't get on their knees when 'Bama comes calling. Those days are gone. Too many coaches have million-dollar-plus deals and Alabama plays in the Southeastern Conference, arguably the toughest in the country . . . When the recruiting season kicks into gear the first weekend in January, the turf battle between new Tar Heels coach Butch Davis and Tom O'Brien at N.C. State for players in North Carolina should be worth watching. Carolina has a built-in edge because it is the signature state university, but O'Brien has strong connections in the area, dating to his days as an assistant at Virginia and has a wider admissions door than he has ever had . . . If Whipple is hired as the next BC coach, don't be stunned if UMass coach and Whipple's former defensive coordinator with the Minutemen, Don Brown, gets a call to gauge his interest in being the Eagles' defensive coordinator.

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