On college football

It was personal

By Mark Blaudschun
Globe Staff / January 7, 2009
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When they met this morning, much of the anger was gone, having been spilled out over the last three days. Jeff Jagodzinski and Gene DeFilippo had a meeting which lasted 25 minutes. It was not a confrontation between the athletic director and the football coach he would fire later in the day.

It was more personal than that. Much more personal.

Much has been written about the stance DeFilippo, BC's athletic director, took when he told Jagodzinski, the Eagles' football coach, that the meeting that Jagodzinski had scheduled with the New York Jets Monday would result in his termination.

Legal aspects have been brought up, moral questions about DeFilippo drawing a line in the sand, telling Jagodzinski that he needed to honor the five years of his contract -- a contract, with everything included, that would pay Jagodzinski more than $1 million per year.

None of that mattered. This was personal.

DeFilippo felt betrayed. Jagodzinski was his guy. His friend. They smoked cigars together. They lived in the same town. It was DeFilippo's first hire of a football coach and it was Jagodzinski's first job as a head coach.

They were going to take BC football to new heights. "We're having fun now,'' said DiFilippo last season as BC crossed a new threshold by winning the Atlantic Coast Confence Atlantic Division crown.

Gene and Jags. It was almost like a father-son relationship, as DeFilippo guided Jags through his first few months. There was a staffing problem. DeFilippo took care of it, replacing Jim Turner with Jack Bicknell Jr. as the Eagles' offensive line coach.

Inexperience. DeFilippo took care of it by surrounding Jagodzinski with talent and experience in offensive coordinator Steve Logan and defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani. Not to mention the pedigreed Bicknell Jr., who was coming off a long stint as a head coach at Louisiana Tech and was a former Eagles player and the son of the BC head coach who had found Doug Flutie.

Jagodzinski wanted players who would have had trouble getting admitted during former BC coach Tom O'Brien's 10-year tenure. DeFilippo worked with him on it.

It all seemed to be working so well. Jagodzinski and the Eagles won two division titles in two years.

DeFilippo felt it was the start of a long and solid relationship -- and friendship. He saw Jagodzinski as someone who would work hard to make BC the best it could be. Someone who did not have his eyes looking ahead to the future at a bigger program or toward the National Football League.

BC had such a person for 10 years in O'Brien. But O'Brien was not DeFilippo's hire, not his guy.

Jagodzinski was, and DiFilippo felt secure, despite the way this season ended with losses to Virginia Tech in the ACC title game and Vanderbilt in the Music City Bowl. He talked to Jagodzinski about the future, about next year and how to make things better.

He didn't talk to Jagodzinski about the NFL or another job. When he found out that the coach not only had talked to the Jets, but had set up an interview, he felt betrayed.

Initially, he felt like Michael Corelone in "The Godfather" when he learned his younger brother Fredo had betrayed him. Not only had Jagodzinski not told DeFilippo he had talked to people in the NFL, he was considering leaving the BC family.

And with that over the weekend, DeFilippo turned, especially when Jagodzinski did not return phone calls.

Remember the scene when Michael told Fredo: "You're nothing to me now . . . You're not a brother, not a friend"?

DeFilippo had to do that to steel himself for the firing he knew he had to make yesterday. "I made the decision,'' he said. " I asked for approval from the administration and they gave it to me.''

And when Jagodzinski returned to BC today, it was over. Jagodzinski explained his regrets, telling DeFilippo that he had more of a comfort level in the NFL.

It was time to move on -- for both men.

"We want someone who wants to be here for the length of the contract,'' said DeFilippo, who will meet with Spaziani tonight and will probably appoint him as the interim head coach. "We want someone who really wants to be at BC.'''

Internally, Bicknell and Spaziani fit that mold. Spaziani carries the fire in his belly for BC that DeFilippo wants. DeFilippo says he will talk to some external candidates as well, perhaps Richmond coach Mike London, who won a national championship this season and spent four years as the Eagles defensive line coach from 1997-2000.

BC football is not Alabama or Oklahoma or Florida, although it competes in the same venues and goes after the same prizes. It's a tough deal, and it takes a special coach to embrace that and succeed with that.

DeFilippo, who said this was the toughest day in his 11-year tenure at BC, thought he had that person in Jagodzinski. He was wrong.

Now he must find a BC guy, someone who can pick up the broken pieces and clean up the debris of the past few days.

Of all the candidates, Spaziani fits the mold the best, not only with his knowledge and experience, but with his passion.

What DeFilippo does next will determine whether the fun will return to the Heights. And whether it will stay.

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