On college football

Feeling of betrayal triggered move

By Mark Blaudschun
Globe Staff / January 8, 2009
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When they met yesterday morning, much of the anger was gone, having spilled out over the last three days. Gene DeFilippo and Jeff Jagodzinski had a meeting that lasted 25 minutes. It was not a confrontation between the Boston College 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 took when he told Jagodzinski that the meeting the coach had scheduled with the New York Jets Tuesday would result in his termination at BC.

Legal aspects have been brought up, moral questions about DeFilippo drawing a line in the sand, telling Jagodzinski he needed to honor the five years of his contract - a contract that, everything included, would pay the coach 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 neighboring towns and played golf together. It was DeFilippo's first hiring 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 the AD last season as BC crossed a new threshold by winning the Atlantic Coast Conference Atlantic Division crown.

Gene and Jags. It was almost like a father-son relationship, as DeFilippo guided Jagodzinski through his first few months.

There was a staffing problem. DeFilippo took care of it, replacing Jim Turner with Jack Bicknell Jr. as offensive line coach.

Inexperience. DeFilippo took care of it by surrounding Jagodzinski with offensive coordinator Steve Logan, defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani, and Bicknell, who was coming off a long stint as head coach at Louisiana Tech and was a former BC player and the son of the coach who had discovered Doug Flutie.

Jagodzinski wanted players who would have had trouble getting admitted during the 10-year reign of his predecessor, Tom O'Brien. DeFilippo worked with him on it.

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

DeFilippo felt it was the start of a long and solid relationship. He had found someone who would work hard to make BC the best it could be. Someone who did not have his sights on a bigger program or a return to the NFL.

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

Jagodzinski was, and the AD 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 season and how to make things better.

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

Not only had Jagodzinski not told DeFilippo he had talked to people in the NFL, he was considering leaving the BC family.

DeFilippo seethed, especially when Jagodzinski did not return phone calls. The AD then steeled 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."

So when Jagodzinski returned to BC yesterday, it was over. Jagodzinski offered his regrets, telling DeFilippo 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 met with the staff last night and will appoint Spaziani as interim head coach. "We want someone who really wants to be at BC."

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

DeFilippo made it clear he wants a commitment to BC from his next head coach. He thought he had it from Jagodzinski. He was wrong.

Yesterday, DeFilippo conceded, was the toughest day in his 11-year tenure at BC.

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 takes a special coach to embrace that and succeed.

DeFilippo thought he had that person in Jagodzinski, who he said yesterday was still a really good friend. 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 the candidates, Spaziani best fits the mold, not only with his knowledge and experience, but with his Jersey guy passion.

What DeFilippo does will determine whether the fun returns to The Heights.

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