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Greater heights expected

Down season for BC doesn't alter big picture

FRANK SPAZIANI ‘There is a foundation’ FRANK SPAZIANI ‘There is a foundation’
By Mark Blaudschun
Globe Staff / December 10, 2011
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The awards portion of the program at Sunday’s breakup banquet was over, for the most part. So was the dining. Now it was time to digest, not only the food, but the words that were coming from Boston College football coach Frank Spaziani.

Spaz is a Jersey guy down to his toenails. There isn’t a whole lot of fluff. Ask a question and you will get an answer - whether you like the answer or not.

When you are the coach of a team that went 4-8, as the Eagles did this season, you get a lot of questions. When you coach at BC, where the underground chatter overwhelms the public utterances, you can easily be swept away.

This season, some of the feedback was downright vicious, coming from all areas, including the student paper, whose sports editor wrote a sermon-on-the-mount column telling Spaziani and the local media what was wrong with the way things were being run at BC.

“I view it as my duty, therefore, to keep the administration honest, especially when The Globe and The Herald refuse to do so,’’ wrote the editor.

“With the football team struggling through its worst season in over a decade, the two most prominent papers in Boston have accepted the excuses of head coach Frank Spaziani and athletic director Gene DeFilippo at face value. They have chalked up the team’s record this year to injuries, youth, and bad luck. Neither The Globe nor The Herald has criticized the decisions from the sideline.’’

Other criticism comes in Internet chat rooms, where it is easy to throw grenades without attaching a name to them.

Some critics are as disenchanted with DeFilippo and the administration - which began charging seat licensing fees and limiting tailgating - as they are with Spaziani.

It has been a tough year for the AD, whose public utterances have created a firestorm in some quarters. Much of it has come from DeFilippo simply telling the truth.

It could be a dreary winter at BC, with both the men’s and women’s basketball teams looking like bottom-feeders in the ACC. Even the men’s hockey team, which has national championship trophies on display, has hit some speed bumps.

But BC does one thing as well as anyone. It brings in good kids who become better adults. For the most part, it turns out poster boys for everything a parent wants in a child, people such as Matt Ryan, Luke Kuechly, and this year’s Scanlan Award winner, Ryan Quigley.

One thing DeFilippo did right this season was make it clear that Spaziani would remain as coach. He said it early and he said it late. No doubts, no regrets.

Go 4-8 next season, and it’s a different ballgame. Spaziani knows this as much as anyone.

He also knows that the talent pipeline is ready to produce the way it did under Tom O’Brien.

Oh, not four- or five-star recruits; BC rarely gets those. But players such as Kuechly and Ryan, or a Nick Larkin or a Mike McLaughlin or a Billy Flutie emerging from the system to develop and contribute.

But to have that development, you need stability at the top.

Were mistakes made? Of course.

Dubious coaching moves during games caused some inner turmoil. The issue of fan treatment is ongoing. But BC fans are different than their brethren. The core base is loyal beyond belief and needs to be treated with extra tenderness and consideration.

The student body can be indifferent to the point of distraction. Let’s face it, BC athletics is not the only game in town, unlike many other college outposts. Not even close.

But the bottom line for BC is that Spaziani is the man in charge, and he sees a big picture that many outsiders - and even insiders - do not.

“I see everything,’’ said Spaziani. “And I have a plan. I know where we are going.’’

At Sunday’s banquet, Spaziani talked to his players about that plan. It is a tale worth telling, because it tells a lot about Spaziani and about BC.

“In this world, as you go forward, success is important,’’ said Spaziani, who in three full seasons at BC has compiled a 19-19 record. “It is the barometer that everybody measures you with.

“Success is subjective. It is someone else’s measuring stick for what you did. That’s the way the world works. We have to function in it.

“Fans, alumni, administration, yourself, myself, we’re all disappointed. No one is more disappointed than myself.

“But there is nothing to be discouraged about. You shouldn’t be discouraged. There is no room for gloom and doom. The future is bright.

“You have demonstrated a lot of things.’’

Spaziani then paused.

“Let’s reflect on the year.’’ he said. “There are no excuses. We discussed our goals. Undefeated. The Orange Bowl, the championship game, a bowl game.

“We didn’t make our goals.’’

Spaziani pointed out that the second half of the schedule - regarded as the tougher part - produced a better record than the first half; the Eagles won three of their last five games.

“You got the edge,’’ he said. “You got better. You worked. You learned things about yourself you didn’t realize you had.’’

BC will probably lose Kuechly, the All-America linebacker and Butkus Award winner. But the odds are good that running back Montel Harris, the school’s career rushing leader, will be granted a medical redshirt waiver. Wide receiver Ifeanyi Momah is applying for a sixth year of eligibility after a knee injury wiped out most of his senior season.

There will be issues, of course. Internal staff changes could be coming.

But Spaziani says he sees a clearer picture than anyone else. He sees a foundation being laid for not only next season but the year after that and beyond.

“To the guys coming back,’’ said Spaziani, “you’ve seen the edge. Why did we get better? You kept working and you started to get an edge. You need to keep that edge.

“Step back, nonbelievers. There is a foundation here.

“In four years, we won’t be talking about 4-8. We won’t be talking about who is in the Orange Bowl. We will be talking about what we did.’’

In an era when coaches are fired after two years, when critics call for their heads after only one season, BC is different. Give DeFilippo credit for having patience under fire - heavy fire in some quarters.

Changing head coaches would mean more turmoil. Four coaches in seven years is not the way to build a program.

Frank Spaziani knows that. And while there are no guarantees that things will improve dramatically next season, there is nothing to say they won’t.

Mark Blaudschun can be reached at

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