Back on job, BC's Tranquill at peace

By Mark Blaudschun
Globe Staff / April 23, 2009
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The blackboard in the meeting room on the third floor of the Yawkey Athletic Center is filled with what you would expect in the epicenter of a football office. Diagrams of plays, which give a glimpse into the mind-set of Boston College offensive coordinator Gary Tranquill.

But Tranquill, who used to break down tapes for some of his coaching friends as a hobby in two-plus years of retirement, is asking his students to think about more than the X's and O's of a game he has been a part of for more than 40 years.

Sitting in front of him in a recent meeting were Dominique Davis, Justin Tuggle, and Codi Boek, listed as quarterbacks 1, 2, and 3, respectively, on the BC depth chart during spring practice.

Tranquill concedes he has never dealt with a situation like this, where all of the quarterbacks are relatively untested. At 69, Tranquill is older than Davis, Tuggle, and Boek combined, and the advice he is offering is different.

"I was more philosophical with them," said Tranquill after the meeting. "I talked to them about Bernie Kosar, who was probably the smartest player I've ever been around. With him it was always an exchange of ideas. He wasn't the best athlete, but he could look at a tape and fill the board with ideas of what to do. I like guys who have a little bit of give and take."

It is what Tranquill has been doing most of his career, which has included stops at Navy, Virginia (twice), Virginia Tech, Michigan State, North Carolina, and NFL Europe. Three years ago, he decided to retire and spend time with his grandchildren.

"It was a way of life, but I was a little bored," said Tranquill. "I missed football. The players, the camaraderie."

So when Frank Spaziani, an old friend, was named head coach at BC, and called to ask him to be the Eagles' offensive coordinator, Tranquill didn't hesitate.

"If I didn't have the energy, I wouldn't do it," said Tranquill. "I still have the energy. This is my 46th or 47th season. That's a lot of kickoffs."

Despite all that experience, Tranquill concedes that this spring is different than any other. The BC quarterback portrait is almost a blank canvas. Davis has three career starts; Tuggle, who redshirted last season as a freshman, has none; and Boek was the No. 2 fullback on the depth chart last season.

"I've only had one QB with experience at times, but I can't remember a situation starting with untested people," said Tranquill, who watched with Spaziani and the rest of the coaching staff last week during a scrimmage, hoping that one would emerge as the leader. And in the second half, Davis threw touchdown passes to Billy Flutie and Rich Gunnell, and Boek threw scoring passes to Justin Jarvis and Clyde Lee.

"We're moving ahead by inches," said Tranquill.

"It's a soft 1, 2, 3," said Spaziani of the depth chart. "We've got a lot of work to do."

Tranquill said some things haven't changed in all his years of coaching. Football remains a game of basics. "You'd better be able to block the other guy and you had better be able to tackle the other guy," he said.

In terms of coaching quarterbacks, Tranquill welcomes input.

"I always ask them, 'What do you like to do.' If they don't like to do something, I'm not going to do it, even though I might like it," he said. "I try to match the player with the system. At this point in time, we have installed way more than we will ever do with them this fall. They have done a good job of absorbing it, but some of it doesn't exactly play to their strengths. So, we are going to have to tailor some things to whomever the QB is going to be. But it's an ongoing process.

"I can coach a lot of things, but I can't coach people on how to make decisions. Some guys have the ability, but can't make decisions. Some guys can pull the trigger real quick, but do make the right decisions. I've seen both sides. There are a lot of variables. The question is who can manage the team and make the right decisions. It is a bottom-line deal. You have to have a feeling one way or another about looking for a guy who can do the most things. Hopefully, his best is good enough. If it isn't, you've got a problem."

Tranquill watched last week as Davis, Tuggle, and Boek tried to make the right decisions in a controlled situation. The annual spring game will end this phase of the process.

After that, the coaches will evaluate what they have seen so they can begin summer camp with a more solid depth chart at what remains the team's biggest question mark.

Tranquill will continue to mix coaching with insight and hope a quarterback emerges.

"It's enjoyable, especially when you see someone coming from here and going to there," he said, pointing low and finishing high. "That's much more enjoyable than seeing someone just take a step or two."

The bottom line is that someone still has to do the job, manage the team, and make the right decisions.

It is also why Gary Tranquill is back at work.

Mark Blaudschun can be reached at