Monday, June 22, 2020

Let's hope BC and its fans keep calm if there is a COVID outbreak

BC Football players are back on campus. That's great. The team and staffers are all wearing masks publicly and seemingly taking COVID-19 seriously. That's great. However, given what has happened at Alabama, Clemson and Kansas State, it is highly likely that BC will have players test positive for COVID-19. They are living in a communal environment and getting tested often, so asymptomatics won't slip through the cracks.

BC has a plan for an outbreak. If or when one happens, let them manage it and please avoid the knee jerk reaction of cancelling sports, cancelling school, or cancelling whatever. We are in a different position then when we were in March. Outbreaks amongst NBA players, NFL players and European soccer stars, reinforce that athletes are at an extremely low-risk for any repercussions and most have been asymptomatic. 

I know this is easy for me to say. I don't have a player on the team. But if I did, I would let him go back to campus and play. All three of my kids now are back playing youth sports and the reasons we love sports are even more profound when you haven't had them for months. BC Football is an economic engine and cynically that is most likely why it is back. But I hope what comes of this is how BC Football is also an important part of the community and a life changing opportunity for the players on the team.

Monday, June 08, 2020

Meet Pat Kraft...sort of

Monday was a first for BC fans, as the traditional introductory press conference was moved to a zoom call. Our new Athletic Director Pat Kraft -- still in Philadelphia -- did his best to bring the right sort of energy and emotion to the event. It was awkward, but probably a better test than most press conferences because Kraft handled the predictable and the surprises with ease and did it all without being able to “read the room.”

The hot button issues of COVID and student voices related to BLM both came up, and he provided perfectly appropriate and generic answers. With COVID, he doesn’t know BC’s specific plan but will deal with it immediately. He has been part of the national football planning committee so he has a good feel for what all schools are doing and planning and thinks there will be football this fall.

With regards to student voices amidst the BLM discussion, Kraft said he thinks it is important to listen to students and for students to be heard. Does this mean anything? I don’t know, but he came off as sincere. The guy hasn’t even been on campus yet, so for him to speak with any specificity about what BC student athletes feel, what the university is doing and what the mood among the BC community is would be inappropriate.

He seemed enthused about Jeff Hafley. That is probably most important. If Hafley is going to be special and build something special, he needs an AD who will do everything he can to support him. Kraft has worked with young, first-time head coaches before. He knows what they need and how to make them better.

He says he is committed to all sports. This is going to be a hot topic everywhere as sport after sport gets cut at other schools. I will post for another time, but I think BC needs a diverse and successful sports program as part of their pitch to be an elite residential focused college.

There was no reference or mention of Jim Christian. Christian is one of the few basketball coaches around the country whose job was actually saved by the pandemic. Kraft knows this. After getting the school year off to a good start, this will be top of mind. Is Christian a lame duck? I have no idea, but it was smart for Kraft to not tip his hand in the first zoom.

Finally, Kraft addressed his desire to be at BC. This was a natural segue due to Jarmond’s short tenure. It is sort of the natural over-correction to any hire. People were upset that Jarmond left early, so it makes sense that his successor exclaims BC is his destination job. I am unconcerned. Like Jarmond, I wish Kraft a successful tenure and happy time at BC. If he is so great at his job a bigger school comes calling, that is a nice problem to have.

Press conferences are important in that they often set the mood and expectations. Because this one was so atypical it was reassuring to see Kraft roll with it and still come out ahead. Maybe that ability to adapt to new circumstances and still succeed is the biggest takeaway of the day. Best of luck to him and at this point I have every reason to think he will succeed.

Please stop with the "BC shouldn’t be in the ACC" nonsense

I am breaking my Pat Kraft press conference reactions into two separate posts because the supposed controversy of “BC being in the ACC” has nothing to do with Kraft and everything to do with some BC fans and critics and the Northeast Media who still harp on BC being in the ACC.

Steve Buckley of The Athletic brought up the topic during the press conference and shielded himself (knowing it is a stupid debate) with the preface that criticism is often repeated in the comments section of any article he writes on BC. There is so much stupidity with this debate, I don’t even know where to begin.

First, some reminders. This is our 15th year in the ACC. That is longer than our history in the Big East as a Football Conference (1991-2004). If you want to talk history and ties, BC’s ties to the ACC are now deeper than they were to Big East Football. But for all of those who long for the good ol’ days, I would also like to remind you that fellow Big East members Pitt, Syracuse, Miami, and Virginia Tech are all in the ACC, as well as one of the teams that replaced us in the Big East (Louisville) and Notre Dame shifted its partial membership from the Big East to the ACC. The ACC is the old Big East! Only with more geographic diversity, better TV deals, more access to growing recruiting markets and places our Alumni live. The ACC also helped improve our school brand in regions where 20 years ago people were still confusing BC and BU.

For those who feel we might have been disloyal, let me remind you that every original member of Big East Football, aside from Temple, voluntarily left the conference. All, aside from Temple, ended up in Power 5 conferences. We did what was in the best interest of Boston College and its student athletes.

For those who long for the days of Big East basketball, I would like to point two things out. First when BC was good in the ACC, the intensity of the games and interest in the product was as good as it ever was in the old Big East. When we finally fix BC Basketball, the ACC basketball will be fun too. Second, the old Big East is not what the current Big East is. Don’t be fooled by UConn’s desperate move back into the conference. As fun as a game against Georgetown or Villanova might be right now, we have zero history with current Big East teams like Butler, Xavier, DePaul, Creighton, or Marquette. Are those the games you long for? Would those games fill up Conte?

If you want that (and I do think we need to play Providence annually), then BC can schedule lots of Big East games. Based on the current trends and speculation, lots of sports are going to revert back to regional non-conference scheduling, so games against UConn, St. John’s and Providence are more likely than they were pre-COVID.

For those who think the old Big East or AAC would be a better fit for our non-revenue sports, I don’t really understand that argument. The current Big East (or even the American Conference) would still require lots of travel. The competition might be weaker making it easier for BC to compete, but we would probably be on a level playing field with those schools if we had Big East budgets instead of ACC budgets. Also, all those sports are less stable outside of the ACC, so you would never know when one of your peer programs would face cuts.

If football is important to you as a BC fan, than the current ACC was always our best home. We are in the only Power 5 conference with more than two private schools. We are aligned with schools that share our values, problems and challenges. While we have not broken through to become a power program within the ACC, I still believe it can happen. It will take the right coaches, incredible fundraising and improved fan support. Look at the difference in Clemson in one decade. BC can have that sort of breakthrough. The first step is to ignore the people whining about the old Big East.

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Why Pat Kraft makes sense

BC hired Temple Athletic Director Patrick Kraft as its new AD. Although the media floated Kraft early, the process was quiet. A discreet search is BC’s preference under normal circumstance. Running a search during Corona and national civil unrest allowed the whole process to fly under the radar even more so. The fact that this hire was so matter of fact and predictable might be just what BC needs. The school is trying to replace a shooting star in Jarmond and facing incredible uncertainty with the future of college sports and the future of the college model itself. A low risk, solid hire is probably the right move. And Kraft’s track record only speaks to what BC needs and should emphasize in the coming years.

He is a football guy. If it wasn’t clear before COVID, it is certainly clear now that College Football is the only sport that truly matters in college athletic. The sports is critical to the operations, fundraising and marketing of any school playing in a Power 5 conference. (If that is a even healthy is another discussion entirely.) BC has a new coach that needs the full support of the Athletic Department. He needs an AD who can get him every resource he needs, fight every political battle in the conference and at the school, and work with him on everything from scheduling to recruiting. Kraft -- a former Big Ten Football player -- has hands on experience and success doing just that at Temple. Temple’s ability to get better under Matt Rhule and then maintain that success under successive coaches is a great sign. Few ADs have done that anywhere.

He is a fundraiser. We are in the middle of an Athletic Department capital campaign. It will be up to Kraft to help BC exceed its goal and then work to determine how the funds will be allocated. One of the things that Jarmond understood and embraced was the need for the AD to be the face of the program to donors and to be aggressive with the asks. Sales and relationships are a huge portion of the job. Given his track record and what others are sharing, it seems Kraft understands this. His short stint at Loyola Chicago should also give him some insight into raising money at a private Jesuit school versus a big state school.

He needs to fix basketball. BC Basketball is an embarrassment. Everyone has an opinion on why or how we got here, but we can all agree the last decade has been a waste and it is time to fix it. The only person who might not realize how pathetic it has been might be Father Leahy. Although he is a football guy, Kraft is an Indiana grad and worked at Loyola Chicago and Temple. All of those places are “basketball schools.” He understands the importance of basketball and how it can drive plenty of the attention and goodwill that football brings. A change was coming before the sports world got turned upside down. Kraft brings a new set of eyes, a fresh start, no attachment to Jim Christian. He is a new voice to tell Father Leahy: “this needs to be fixed.”

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Using an Executive Search firm is not a big deal

BC engaged Collegiate Sports Associates' founder Todd Turner to run the Executive Search for our new Athletic Director. This sparked some indignation from some BC fans. Most were upset at the notion that the firm that employs Brad Bates is involved, but others view the whole exercise as a waste of money. I think the whole kerfuffle is silly.

1. COVID-19 makes a search that much harder and an Executive Search firm fills in some gaps. These firms can do a lot of the due diligence on candidates that BC doesn't have the time or resources to perform under current circumstances. Because of travel challenges and budget issues, BC can't do a private jet tour meeting all the potential folks interested in the job. The candidate pool will have to be funneled down via calls/zooms and past relationships. That's what CSA/Turner will do.

2. All the big College Sports Search firms are conflicted in one way or another. For better or worse, College Sports is a small, fraternal business. You don't want to work with a company that employs Brad Bates? Fine, the next in line is one that employs Gene DeFilippo. Or maybe we should use the one that UCLA just used to hire away our AD! Or the one that gave us an AD who left after three years. There is no ideal. But Turner has lots of ACC connections and Bates can add background to the BC position that not many can.

3. This is different from the football search. Jarmond proudly replaced Addazio without using a search firm. It was a shroud move. However, it was a different circumstance from this search. Jarmond had a long time to research candidates before the season even began. Plus he was looking from a much more narrow pool of eligible candidates. Father Leahy and the Board shouldn't be expected to know all the mid-level ADs around the country or people from the sports or business world who might be a good fit. There are hundreds of potential candidates. Jarmond only had to research a few dozen and even then probably had four or five that he really liked.

4. The money is not wasteful. I don't know the specifics of the Turner deal, but assume at a minimum that BC will be paying over six figures for their services. It is likely much higher than that. But given the Athletic Department money at stake, this is not a waste. The new AD will have to make the call on millions of dollars of spending (and likely spending cuts). He or she will be critical to the University's future marketing and growth plan. The money spent on the search can be justified, especially if it is done in a professional manner.

5. BC makes the final decision, not the search firm. There is a perception that Brad Bates used a search firm for the Jim Christian search and that the firm basically picked BC's coach. You can debate if that is a fair recollection, but I don't think it would ever apply to anything Father Leahy signs off on. Whoever Turner identifies as the ideal candidate, it won't just be rubber stamped by Leahy. That's just not the way he has worked with our last AD searches. So don't worry about the firms influence. This will be Leahy and the Board's call.

Hiring in general is a bit of a crap shoot. If the search firm improves your odds that much more, it is worth it. BC fans should not focus on the firm. They should focus on who we hire.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

The early names floated as Jarmond replacements

Martin Jarmond is now officially gone, so the BC side of the question is “who is next?”

BC is expected to name Vaughn Williams the interim. Williams was a long-time assistant AD under GDF and returned under Jarmond. He will probably be a candidate for the job full-time, but I would be surprised if any internal candidate got the job.

Based on speculation and gossip, I think Father Leahy and the Board still understand the importance of the role. While Jarmond’s time at BC was short, he validated their decision to focus on fundraising and being the face of the Athletic Department. In the midst of a Athletic Department Fund Raising Campaign and the most economically uncertain time in the last 50 years of college sports, I think they will still remain focused on someone who can be the face of the program and get people to open their wallets. These are some of the names already being floated. A few things to remember:

  1. Jarmond was not one of the early names leaked last time, so it is very possible our future Athletic Director is unknown to all of us. 
  2. BC has a history of over-correcting on a hire based on the previous hire's flaws. Gene was a bit dictatorial and had rubbed key people the wrong way, so they go with Brad Bates, who was not a big personality and was deferential. Bates was bland and a drag on fundraising, so they bring in a high-energy sales guy like Jarmond. The knock on Jarmond is that he wasn’t here for the long run, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see them hire someone who wants to be at BC a long time.

Vicky Chun, AD at Yale
Pros: Very experienced Athletic Director and fundraiser at private schools.
Cons: No experience at Power 5 programs.
Bottom Line: The Jarmond process showed that BC wanted to look beyond the traditional candidate pool. Don’t be surprised if they do it again by looking beyond the “boys club.”

Matt Hasselbeck, ESPN
Pros: Passionate about the job and the institution. Has the ability to be the face of the program yet is more than just a "rah rah" guy. He can switch hats to evaluate coaches and deal with the financials.
Cons: Zero experience.
Bottom Line: Matt’s supposed strong interest is intriguing. The timing is also intriguing as he was asked to help Jarmond during the Hafley process because Jarmond had rubbed a few influential people the wrong way. I don’t know why Hasselbeck would walk away from ESPN, but this is supposedly the one opportunity that would do it. I always liked him, but think the politics of this process will kill his candidacy.

Mark Jackson, AD at Villanova
Pros: From Boston, so this would/could be a final stop. Has been a big fundraiser and understands the importance of basketball. Also worked for Raiders, Patriots and USC, so he knows football.
Cons: You could claim he was in the right place at the right time for Villanova. USC, which knew him well, passed on him when they had their opening.
Bottom Line: He checks nearly every box you would want in a BC Athletic Director, but the obvious choice never seems to survive this process.

Graham Neff, Deputy AD at Clemson
Pros: CFO and business head of the biggest cash cow in the ACC. Deep ACC ties. Understands the financial implications ahead as well as anyone.
Cons: No history fundraising at a private school. Never made a coaching hire.
Bottom Line: He will probably be a P5 AD within five years and does keep BC firmly tied to the ACC decision makers, but he is still very young and has no ties to BC or any school like BC.

Zac Selmon, Sr Associate AD at Oklahoma
Pros: Like Jarmond, he is a young fundraiser from a football power. Has deep ties to the ACC (played at Wake, worked at UNC).
Cons: Has never made a coaching hire.
Bottom Line: His profile and career trajectory is close enough to Jarmond's that you can understand BC’s interest. But as I wrote, we tend to over-correct on hires, so I would be surprised if we hired Jarmond 2.0.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Thank you, Martin Jarmond

Per multiple reports Martin Jarmond is leaving BC to be the next Athletic Director of UCLA. I wish him nothing but the best of luck. While his time at BC was relatively short, he installed an enthusiasm and optimism missing for nearly a decade. He didn't reshape the department but did make some critical decisions, most notably firing Addazio and hiring Hafley.

There are plenty of people who feel he is leaving too soon or are disappointed he didn't do more. My response is that it is hard to do a lot in three years in a big bureaucratic position where embracing the status quo is needed so often just to get through a respective season. BC is a political place and he managed the politics better than Brad Bates and better than the latter half of the DeFilippo era. As for leaving, how can anyone be surprised? When you hire a young, ambitious person, he or she is going to want to move onto the next challenge.

BC is in a better place than it was and finding his replacement won't be hard. Ever to excel and good luck to Martin.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Why I am not worried about Don Brown's raid of Massachusetts recruiting

When Don Brown left BC for Michigan, I considered it a loss. After suffering through the growing pains as we transitioned from Spaz's zone heavy conservative D, to Brown's aggressive blitzing scheme, we finally had an elite unit. Brown also did a great job of identifying defensive backs who would thrive in his system. The Defense hasn't been the same since he left. I thought he would have success at Michigan (and he has, for the most part) and expected him to thrive with higher profile recruits in his system. Yet due to comfort or trusting his own eyes and network, he has continued to heavily recruiting New England and Massachusetts. This year he is really going hard after Massachusetts kids and has flipped some BC verbals and is targeting other potential BC kids. While this should be worrisome, I am not really concerned. There are a couple of different issues, but in the end I think it is a mistake for Michigan and maybe BC is dodging a bullet.

The factors (BC-centered first)

1. I trust Hafley's recruiting and talent evaluations. Hafley had offers to these local kids, so he and his staff thought enough of them that they should be part of the program. Losing a recruiting battle sucks, but it is to be a bit expected when Hafley is a new head coach. He doesn't have the local connections or trust Brown has yet. It will take time, but Hafley has shown that he can find talent anywhere. He has done it at every stop. Even if his first two classes are light on local recruits, I am sure that in the end, he will fill the roster with players as good as the ones committing to Michigan now.

2. The development timeline and environment are very different at the two schools. BC probably plays up the "diamond in the rough" recruiting narrative too much, but it is based on some truths. We have a history of finding late bloomers, tweeners and guys with chips on their shoulders who blossom at the Heights. That is often because given the lower expectations around the program and around the recruiting ratings, we can take the time to develop these players. If they can play as freshmen, great. But we also don't wash them out if they can't like many of the top factories. That probably hurts BC's depth, but once a player has been around the block at BC, you often see a huge leap in performance and Football IQ. I don't have the same familiarity with Michigan's development process, but it seems like it is much more sink or swim. While a low-level three star might surprise in Day 1 at a big program like Michigan, more likely he will be lost or a step behind. Given their needs and the desire to knock off Ohio State, Michigan is probably best to get as many full developed stars as possible and let the best of the best play from Day 1.

3. I don't think Massachusetts talent justifies Michigan's investment. I have been hoping for a Massachusetts boom in football talent for two decades now. I thought the Patriots' success would create a whole new crop of football loving kids in our backyard. It hasn't. The grassroots level still pale in comparison to what you find in Ohio, New Jersey and even Michigan. There are not enough kids, not enough dedicated time to football, not enough good lower level coaching and not enough competition to make these youths better. Are there still good football players locally? Yes. But not enough to fill BC's class, and certainly not enough to fill 20% of Michigan's annual recruiting class. Just take a look at the number of players from the Bay State who have gone to Power 5 schools since 2013 (when Brown came in with Addazio).

2020 -- 11 Massachusetts commitments to P5 programs (3 to Michigan, 2 to BC)
2019 -- 5 Massachusetts commitments to P5 programs (1 to Michigan, 1 to BC)
2018 -- 7 Massachusetts commitments to P5 programs (0 to Michigan, 4 to BC)
2017 -- 9 Massachusetts commitments to P5 programs (0 to Michigan, 4 to BC)
2016 -- 7 Massachusetts commitments to P5 programs (1 to Michigan, 3 to BC)
2015 -- 13 Massachusetts commitments to P5 programs (0 to Michigan, 7 to BC)
2014 -- 10 Massachusetts commitments to P5 programs (0 to Michigan 8 to BC)
2013 -- 7 Massachusetts commitments to P5 programs (1 to Michigan, 2 to BC)

Addazio, for all his faults, had a good eye for talent and loved New England kids. If there had been more local talent, he would have recruited it. And how many kids in the last decade have truly slipped under the radar? It is not like Mass kids are filling up and staring at lower level FBS programs. When considering the negligible success that many of the Mass P5 kids that "got away" from BC, I think we know that there is not some sort of untapped goldmine locally.

4. Who is not recruiting these kids. BC offers local talent in its backyard. That makes sense. Don Brown leads a push by Michigan for these same kids. As we outlined, I would expect him to aim higher, but still makes sense. Ryan Day (and Al Washington) and Steve Addazio know these schools, know these coaches and probably know many of these players. They are not bothering recruiting them. That should tell Michigan all it needs to know.