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Headfirst into the new job


AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. -- Jeff Jagodzinski is sitting on a couch in the bar of the posh Ritz-Carlton Hotel. The Atlantic Ocean is churning 100 yards behind him. It has been a day filled with work (morning meetings) and play (afternoon round of golf).

For the newly minted coach of the Boston College football team, barely five months into his job, it is entry into an elite neighborhood of 65 schools from the six conferences whose champions gain automatic admittance into the coveted Bowl Championship Series games.

It is a world Jagodzinski says he is enjoying, a challenge he is relishing.

"I'm a very competitive person," said Jagodzinski. "I hate to lose in anything I do. If you're doing it, you might as well try to win. Winning is more fun. I don't think you get to this level if you're not competitive."

That competitiveness is in Jagodzinski's nature, which is one of the reasons BC athletic director Gene DeFilippo was drawn to him last December when he was hunting for a coach to succeed Tom O'Brien, who left for North Carolina State after 10 years at The Heights.

And while it is much too early in the process to make any judgments about the Jags Era at BC, he has gone through a spring drill and shown glimpses of what the Eagles and their fans can expect starting Sept. 1, when defending ACC champion Wake Forest comes to Alumni Stadium. Following that, the Eagles face conference foes North Carolina State and Georgia Tech -- a quick immersion into the deep and turbulent waters of BCS football. No other BCS school this season will dive into its season with three straight league games.

Jagodzinski says he is bothered by none of this. It has been very much a "play it as it lies" start for the 43-year-old Jagodzinski, whose career has weaved back and forth through the collegiate and pro ranks for almost 20 seasons. After starting at Wisconsin-Whitewater, where he was both a player and a coach, Jagodzinski has made stops at Northern Illinois, Louisiana State, East Carolina, and BC (twice). In the NFL, he worked for the Falcons and Packers (twice), including his latest stint as Green Bay's offensive coordinator.

"I haven't been surprised at all," Jagodzinski said as the evening traffic of coaches, athletic directors, and conference and bowl officials swirled around him at these ACC spring meetings. "I knew what I was getting into."

Jagodzinski said his biggest transition has been in taking on less work, not more.

"The hardest part is delegating," he said. "I used to do so much on my own."

With that in mind, Jagodzinski, who was the offensive coordinator at BC in 1997-98 on O'Brien's staff, has tried to build his own support staff.

"I wanted to get guys with a lot of experience, which I did with my coordinators [Steve Logan and Frank Spaziani]," he said. "But I also wanted to get a bunch of go-getters. I've got a good blend of those two. I think the thing that has helped BC the most is getting into the ACC because of the exposure."

Springing ahead
Jagodzinski said being a head coach always has been a dream. Growing up in West Allis, Wis., he dreamed of being head coach of the Packers. Now that dream has moved East.

"I thought I would be a head coach from Day 1," he said. "When I left [BC the first time], I told my wife that someday I'm going to be back here as a head coach. I went into this thing with my eyes wide open. I just felt it was time to come back here."

Jagodzinski is back with a team that returns 16 starters, won 10 games, and went to a bowl for the eighth straight season (and won for the seventh straight time).

"Tom did a fantastic job here," said Jagodzinski. "He got this program on real stable ground. BC has been one game away [from the BCS mix]. I'm telling the players, 'It's your turn. You want it, go get it.' That's my message to them. 'You have the opportunity to finish off what you started. Now it's your turn.' "

This spring has provided hints of what will come. It was a period of adjustment, to new faces, to a new system. It also included some speed bumps, one of which was offensive line coach Jim Turner resigning midway through spring drills. Jagodzinski adjusted quickly, though, hiring Jack Bicknell Jr., another assistant with head coaching experience.

Jagodzinski said the spring was a "foundation builder."

"I think we accomplished what we wanted this spring," he said. "We had 15 practices. In the summer, we will have 28. That should be enough. I set up how we want practice, do our drills, stuff like that. Now people have an idea."

His style of coaching is more aggressive than passive.

"I'm a hands-on coach," he said. "I've got the whole team coming back here for summer school. We can do a lot of things working out together, training together, bonding together.

"The more things we can do together, the better off we are. You can't do it with one guy, you can't do it with five guys. You have to have 11 guys doing it the right way all the time. That's how you win."

Recruiting strategy
Jagodzinski said his style of recruiting is to sell the school, not himself and his NFL experience, which can be a draw to some players.

"I tell them I'm not interested in the NFL," he said. "I tell them, 'You haven't gotten to this level yet.'

"Football is the second thing we talk about. I tell them, 'If you weren't a good player, I wouldn't be talking to you.'

"I don't think BC is a hard sell at all. It shouldn't be. It has three things: the school, the environment, and football. I don't know where you can get a better common experience.

"If a kid comes here because we have the best weight room, we're recruiting the wrong kid. I tell a kid, 'If you just want a 'factory thing,' I tell him this is not the place. I want a kid to come to BC because it's the best place for him."

Jagodzinski said his team will be a reflection of him.

"I'm a blue-collar guy," he said. "That's the type of team we're going to be."

He is already anticipating the opener against Wake Forest.

"They say we have a tough schedule," he said. "I would like to think the teams we play will look at their schedule and see us and feel that's going to be tough for them."

He concedes, however, that the opener will be emotional.

"I want those kids to go out there and have a great experience and have fun," said Jagodzinski. "For me, it will be a proud moment. It will be the culmination of what I've done to this point.

"I look back, and it's more than 20 years since I've gotten into this. There will be a feeling of accomplishment."