Skinner is out

BC decides that time is right to change coaches

By Michael Whitmer
Globe Staff / March 31, 2010

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In Gene DeFilippo’s mind, there wasn’t one thing — not an ugly loss, or a disappointing season, or an off-court incident — that led Boston College and Al Skinner to decide that Skinner wouldn’t return for a 14th season as men’s basketball coach. It was a number of things, all leading the BC athletic director to the conclusion that the time for action was now.

“Change is good sometimes,’’ DeFilippo said yesterday, during a press conference at Conte Forum officially announcing what had been determined six days earlier. “It centered on what’s the best way that we can get the future of this basketball program back to where we want it to be. It took me some time to figure some things out, because these decisions are never easy.’’

DeFilippo said that he and Skinner met twice last week: First on Monday, when the two discussed their philosophical differences, with DeFilippo expressing his concern for the future of the program; then a second time last Wednesday, with the two mutually agreeing that Skinner would not be back. According to DeFilippo, Skinner asked if the announcement could be delayed so he could seek another job. He interviewed at St. John’s for the position that was filled yesterday by former UCLA coach Steve Lavin.

“We thought that was the least we could do for him,’’ DeFilippo said. “We have great respect for Al. He has done a terrific job here in 13 years and we’ve had a lot of great wins and a lot of great seasons.’’

Not enough, ultimately. Skinner won 247 games in his 13 seasons at BC, the most in school history. He took seven teams to the NCAA Tournament, but advanced to the Sweet 16 only once, in 2006. His teams won Big East regular-season and tournament titles, and while they haven’t enjoyed the same success since joining the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2005, the Eagles did occasionally knock off Duke and North Carolina.

Skinner also graduated a high percentage of his players.

Why, then, was DeFilippo interested in replacing him?

“I think there’s a lot of aspects,’’ DeFilippo said. “Recruiting is one, marketing and promotion is one, seats in the stadium is one. Do our players play hard, do they identify with the BC community? Those are all things that I took a look at when I was evaluating the program.’’

Attendance at Conte Forum has declined for four straight seasons, with home losses to Maine and Harvard (twice) infuriating BC fans. DeFilippo may have offered a subtle jab at Skinner when he talked about what he’s looking for in the next coach, saying in part, “we want to be competitive versus local teams, and versus teams in the ACC.’’

According to BC sources, the administration was dissatisfied with certain elements in Skinner’s program. It felt the assistant coaches, other than Pat Duquette, who has been named interim head coach, were not ACC-caliber. It took issue with the character of some of Skinner’s recent recruits (although the Eagles didn’t sign anybody for this past season and had no freshmen on the roster). It also didn’t like that Skinner wasn’t very visible during the offseason, from April into October.

Next season also factored into the timing of this decision, the sources added. Assuming no players transfer as a result of the coaching change, the Eagles will bring back their top four scorers and top five rebounders, with forward Tyler Roche (7.2 points per game) the only graduating senior. With so much experience coming back, and a three-player incoming recruiting class signed in November, there’s a strong possibility that the Eagles improve on their 15-16 season.

If DeFilippo were inclined to switch coaches, the sources said, it might be more difficult if the Eagles performed well with Skinner in charge next season.

Efforts to reach Skinner and his agent, Dennis Coleman, were unsuccessful, and the BC players were not made available for comment. And while online polls and sports talk radio callers indicated that a number of fans supported the decision, some didn’t want to see Skinner go.

“My reaction is surprise and shock that another coach with a very good record has been let go by BC,’’ said Greg Barber, a former member of the school’s board of trustees. “We’re losing a very good person that’s been a very good employee and a great coach for BC. It’s puzzling.’’

Skinner came to BC after spending nine seasons as coach at the University of Rhode Island. His overall record of 385-291 includes nine NCAA Tournament appearances, three NIT berths, and 10 seasons of at least 20 wins.

He had three seasons left on his contract, with a buyout of more than $3 million if he chooses not to take another job. DeFilippo said Skinner and his assistant coaches will “be treated very, very, very fairly. We’ll pay them for a good time, or until they find a job.’’

The focus now turns to who the next coach will be. With a talented roster expected to return, the draw of a sports-crazed city, and the challenge of competing in the ACC, DeFilippo expects to attract qualified candidates.

Michael Whitmer can be reached at