A long season mercifully came to an end on Saturday for fans of the Boston College football team.
The 2011 football season had it all: unprepared players, humiliating primetime losses on national television, horrendous play-calling down the stretch of close games, new coordinators retiring for "medical reasons", the first losing record in well over a decade, and an endless string of excuses for all of it.
The light at the end of the tunnel this season was supposed to be that head coach Frank Spaziani would be ousted following the season. Coaches at less prestigious programs have been fired in a shorter time frame for a lot less, or so the thought process went. In fact, in the past few days, schools like UCLA, Illinois, Arizona, and Kansas all decided that mediocrity wouldn't be tolerated and their coaches were given their walking papers.
The criticism of Spaziani has mounted this season from all sides. First from fans of the program throughout the internet message boards and newspaper comments sections, and most recently from former players who co-signed a letter to the Board of Trustees stating that the decline of the program reflects poorly on the school.
Rather than take all that into consideration, Boston College Athletic Director Gene DeFilippo took the odd approach of telling the Boston Herald that what his fans think is irrelevant:
"It doesn’t matter," DeFilippo said. "I’m with Spaz every single day. Spaz is the best coach that we’ve had in the 15 years that I’ve been here."
To many, this sensational (and impossibly false) statement came as an unbelievable slap in the face. Despite declining attendance at home football games, a drop in donations to the Flynn Fund (the funding arm of the athletic department), and general discontent among his constituents, DeFilippo decided that the best approach was to tell them to effectively screw off.
Forget for a moment that DeFilippo thinks you're an idiot and just look at it from a logical standpoint. On what planet can a coach who inherited a back to back division champion and turned them into a sub-.500 doormat be considered the best coach during the last 15 years?
In the following days since the season ending win over a listless Miami Hurricanes squad, Gene has taken to the media to spread his message that his, not the fans, is the opinion that matters in the Yawkey Center. Whether it be through the Globe, the Herald, or even the MetroWest Daily News, the narrative has been the same. You as fans, simply don't "get it".
"They’re not here every day," DeFilippo said. "They’re not here all the time. Spaz and I work 24/7 and they just have to trust us and understand that this program is headed in the right way."
Translation: You're wrong. Everything is great! Ignore the wins and losses, ignore the downtrend in results, ignore the publicly unhappy players like freshman receiver Spiffy Evans, and ignore all the coaching turnover. Keep those donations coming and keep buying tickets, because we're on the way up!
Part of the reason that DeFilippo has become as tone deaf to the critics of the program as he has is simply because his power within the Athletic Department has been largely unchecked. Since shepherding the program through the gambling scandal that rocked the school upon his arrival, and then helping to spearhead the move from the black hole that is the Big East to the ACC, he's been granted autonomy to run the program as he's seen fit (via his automatically renewing five year contract) with little objection from the Board of Trustees and school president Father William Leahy.
Maybe the greatest example of Gene's influence within the program was the sham of a coaching search that netted Spaziani in the first place. Following the departures of Tom O'Brien in 2006 and Jeff Jagodzinski in 2008, it was widely held that a condition of employment for the next head coach at BC was that he retain certain staff members that DeFilippo was close with, namely Frank Spaziani as defensive coordinator (2006), Ryan Day as wide receivers coach, and Mike Siravo as the defensive backs coach and recruiting coordinator (2006 & 2008). It's also widely held that this absurd condition was a deal breaker for at least one potential coaching candidate.
In no way should an Athletic Director be allowed to dictate to a coaching candidate who he can or can not hire within reason. Only someone with no other head coaching options who was desperate for an opportunity to be a head coach would agree to such demands. Sound like someone we know?
DeFilippo has had a really bad year from a public relations standpoint. From his snide remark about Clemson fans being in their seats on time to his comments about ESPN's secret involvement in ACC expansion talks to his egotistical gloating about blocking UConn from joining the conference to his ridiculous views of the fans and the value of their opinions this past weekend, he keeps digging himself deeper into a hole. But, with the Board of Trustees and Father Leahy more preoccupied with the academic side of the school (as they should be), there has been little, if any movement to muzzle the little General as long as the money keeps rolling in.
Football is the engine that powers one of the largest athletic departments in the country. Without a successful, or at least respectable program, the school could not afford to maintain its incredible number of varsity level sports. It is in this aspect that the fans have an opportunity to send a real message to DeFilippo, the Board of Trustees, and Father Leahy.
DeFilippo can ignore the ignore the criticism of him and the football program at large, as he doesn't have to stand in front of his bosses and answer for the win-loss record of the team. But what he will have to answer for is a downturn in season ticket renewals, Flynn Fund donations, and other revenue streams provided by the football program (concessions, memorabilia, etc).
The schools motto of "Ever to Excel" has been replaced, at least in football, by the acceptance of mediocrity. The fans and alumni of the school have an opportunity this off-season to make heard the only voice they have that will impact a tone deaf Athletic Director like Gene DeFilippo: their wallets.
It's easy for DeFilippo to talk tough about the fans opinions not mattering when there are no more games to play at Alumni Stadium for another nine months, but in the end, no number of fluff pieces in the major media outlets or grandstanding after ugly wins over mediocre opponents can conceal reality. Poorly attended home games on national TV, a decrease in funding, and an ever growing frustration not only with the coach, but the Athletic Director as well will ultimately be his undoing.
You as fans have a voice. Don't let him tell you otherwise.