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BC out of place replacing Skinner

Posted by Christopher L. Gasper, Globe Staff  March 30, 2010 02:09 PM

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Mutual or not, Boston College's parting of ways with coach Al Skinner is a classic case of a college that doesn't know or understand its place in the hierarchy of big-time college hoops, an affliction that can also be described as UMass-itis.

The Eagles want someone sexier than Skinner -- on and off the court. Someone who is going to "sell" BC basketball. But what exactly is this new coach proselytizing?

It's not tradition -- Butler and George Mason have been to more Final Fours than BC. It's not fan interest -- Conte Forum will never be confused with Rupp Arena. It's not a superior education to every school in the Atlantic Coast Conference -- Duke is at the head of the class.

BC is not Duke. The Blue Devils are roundball royalty. BC is part of the proletariat. The Eagles program can experience intermittent periods of excellence and national competitiveness when they have the right coach, a few recruiting coups, and the stars align.

That happened in 2005-06, BC's inaugural ACC season, when Skinner led BC to the Sweet 16 and a school-record 28 victories with future NBAers Craig Smith and Jared Dudley. It happened in 1994 under Jim O'Brien, another loyal and successful coach run off by BC, who took the Eagles to the Elite Eight with Howard Eisley and Danya Abrams.

If you're BC and you push out the all-time winningest coach in the history of your program, the man who resurrected your program out of the shambles of the O'Brien admissions imbroglio, a coach who took you to the NCAA tournament seven times last decade and won 60 percent of his games, then you've either identified the next John Wooden or you're completely delusional about the potential of your program.

(A tip of the cap to BC, however, for holding off on the announcement long enough to let Skinner seek the St. John's job with some leverage.)

Look, last season wasn't fun for anyone associated with BC basketball, but a program of this ilk is going to have seasons like that in the ACC. It is inevitable and even acceptable if you understand your place in the cabal known as the NCAA.

A year removed from 22 wins, the Eagles limped to a 15-16 mark. The talent cupboard definitely looked a little bare without 2008-09 All-ACC guard Tyrese Rice, and it's fair to say that Skinner hasn't recruited as well since trusted assistant Bill Coen went across town to take over at Northeastern.

But even basketball bluebloods like North Carolina and iconic coaches like Roy Williams stumble once in a while. A year removed from winning a national title and with Tyler Hansbrough and Ty Lawson now playing in the pros, the Tar Heels tumbled to a 16-16 regular-season mark and a 5-11 ACC record. The Eagles actually finished a game better than UNC, which they beat during the season, in the ACC standings.

UNC got an invitation to the NIT because it's UNC. BC got to watch the NIT on TV because it's BC. (Updated on 3/31: Some comments have stated BC was not eligible for the NIT because they had a sub. 500 record, but an NIT spokeswoman, Christine Fallon, confirmed via email that there is no rule that a team has to be above .500 to be selected to play in the NIT.)

BC's administration and imperious athletic director Gene DeFilippo felt they could do better than Skinner. DeFilippo has put his stamp on BC athletics since taking over as AD in 1997, but one area he hasn't been able to do that is men's basketball. Skinner was hired five months before DeFilippo became the school's athletic director in 1997.

Some of the names reported to be potential successors to Skinner are intriguing. The Eagles have asked for permission to speak with Cornell coach Steve Donahue, who led the Big Red to its third straight Ivy League crown and first ever Sweet 16 appearance this season, and Richmond's Chris Mooney, who played at Princeton and employs the Princeton offense at Richmond, which finished third in the Atlantic 10, a game back of co-champions Temple and Xavier.

But if the message is that what Skinner did in his 13 seasons, which included three regular-season Big East crowns, is not good enough, then BC is a no-win situation.

It's one thing to turn around a program in the Ivy League or the A-10. It's quite another to be expected to lift the one at The Heights to the apex of the ACC, especially when it is at a distinct geographical and talent-base disadvantage.

Unlike Duke, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Maryland, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, BC is not going to be enticing highly rated recruits with tradition and NBA opportunity. The BC administration is never going to allow a coach to recruit one-and-dones like Kentucky's John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins. Good for them.  

Even Virginia, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Miami and Florida State have an advantage over BC because they can attempt to draw on fertile basketball talent in their backyards. Basketball may have been invented in Massachusetts, but from a Division 1 talent standpoint the state is an airball.

This lack of homegrown talent can't be underestimated. There are institutions of higher learning like BC that have honest to goodness student-athletes and either are or have been successful -- Duke, Stanford (with former coach Mike Montgomery), Vanderbilt, Georgetown, Villanova -- but all either have a warmer-weather campus, tradition, or tremendous local talent bases, with 'Nova (Philadelphia-New Jersey) and Georgetown (Baltimore-Washington) benefiting from the latter.

BC has none of those.

That's why the BC job has always been and will always remain a steppingstone to something better for the type of charismatic, capable, slick bench boss the Eagles now desire.

One reason that Skinner is BC's all-time winningest coach is that the other esteemed coaches in BC history didn't stay long enough to compile 247 wins.

The late Chuck Daly, Dr. Tom Davis, Gary Williams, all once coached at BC. None stuck around.

Skinner did because, unlike his ex-employer, he recognized his place.
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The word

Christopher L. Gasper riffs on the news


...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.

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