BC’s AD is a man for all seasons

AD Gene DeFilippo was scarce during BC’s run to the hockey title game — for good reason. AD Gene DeFilippo was scarce during BC’s run to the hockey title game — for good reason. (Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff)
By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Staff / April 11, 2010

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DETROIT — Gene DeFilippo was at Ford Field last night to watch the Boston College Eagles win another NCAA hockey championship. His first order of business was to apologize to his coach for being a little scarce during BC’s march through the tournament field.

“I called Jerry [York] and told him I really feel badly that I haven’t been around as much as I’d love to,’’ said the BC athletic director. “He’s a coach and he understands.’’

DeFilippo had a busy couple of weeks. While the Eagle skaters were shredding the competition, the BC AD was relieving Al Skinner of his duties and searching for a new basketball coach. DeFilippo closed the deal when he hired Cornell’s Steve Donahue Wednesday.

“When you’re hiring a football or basketball coach, it’s all-consuming,’’ said DeFilippo. “Nobody really enjoys that process. Lee Fowler, the athletic director at North Carolina State, told me he lost 20 pounds hiring a basketball coach.

“People don’t realize how consuming it is. You put a lot of pressure on yourself, wanting to make sure you hire the best person for your school.’’

The Skinner-Donahue swap came just 15 months after the chaotic departure of con man Jeff Jagodzinski as football coach. DeFilippo wound up promoting Frank Spaziani after firing Jags for interviewing with the New York Jets.

“In my first 14 years as an athletic director, I never had to hire a football, basketball, or women’s basketball coach,’’ said DeFilippo. “In the last three years, I’ve hired two football coaches, and a men’s and women’s basketball coach. We had coaches here for eternity and then all this just happened in a row.’’

Every big hire is accompanied by volumes of noise from local sports pundits. We are not a major college sports town, but any time BC changes coaches in a major sport, the Eagles are thrust into the sports news. Some of the stuff is harsh and a lot is uninformed. In the words of Terry Francona, “Not having information doesn’t keep you from having an opinion.’’

DeFilippo chooses not to answer the critics.

“The people making comments don’t work at this 24/7 and they have no idea what goes on on the inside,’’ said the AD. “It’s not a fun part of the job, but I know that’s just part of being athletic director.

“You make a decision and people can either agree or disagree. But they don’t have all the facts. I do the same thing. I’ll see a manager take out a pitcher and the reliever gives up a home run and I’m like, ‘Why didn’t he leave his starter in?’ ’’

DeFilippo has been on the job since 1997. His biggest move was taking BC to the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2005.

On Thursday, one day after he hired Donahue, he signed a three-year deal to put Holy Cross back on the basketball schedule. Nobody ever said much about it, but we’re pretty sure that Skinner didn’t like playing the Cross.

BC’s football and basketball teams have enjoyed a lot of success on DeFilippo’s watch, but hockey is where the Eagles fly highest. Last night was BC’s fourth final in five years.

“I used to say Jerry was the best coach on the planet, now I say he’s best coach in the universe,’’ said the AD. “Jerry recruits really good students, kids with strong character.

“When you look at hockey programs around the country and ask who’s in the top five, BC would be in there every time.’’

BC fans were significantly outnumbered by Wisconsin folk last night. Ford Field was awash in Big Red.

Like a lot of us, DeFilippo wishes the Frozen Four were held in a smaller venue. The Eagles won the 2008 NCAA championship at the Pepsi Center in Denver. Joe Louis Arena would have been just fine last night.

“I would rather have basketball and hockey be played in places like the FleetCenter,’’ he said. “In those places, the fans are closer to the ice and there’s more excitement and you have the noise factor. It’s just more intimate.

“We’re going to have 30,000 empty seats here in this building and it’s just kind of a hollow feeling.’’

. . . unless you win the national championship, of course.