Friday, August 18, 2006

Outside opinion No. 2

Bob Ryan doesn’t think BC football will ever be more than it is. Some wonder if our Athletic Department and Coaching Staff feel the same way. On the opposite end are the diehards like me who are growing frustrated and just want one season where it all comes together. Obviously I think BC has the potential for a breakout season. But my perspective is clearly skewed. So in an effort to get an educated but unbiased opinion, I’ve asked Kanu for Dodgy at Best to give his thoughts on BC and college football in New England. I figure he has the perfect pedigree: raised in Boston, but went to school in SEC country, plus he is a really good writer (check out his blog for more on Arsenal, Horse Racing and Golf). Here is what he had to say:
Kanu is not a fan of the angry chicken hat

First off, thanks for lobbing these questions my way.

Full disclosure: I was born & bred in Natick, MA; also the hometown of Doug Flutie, which should give me some street cred here (for a paragraph or two anyways). Moved to Georgia during HS and then attended University of Georgia for undergrad & grad school. Bounced around ATL for a while then moved to SF in 2005. Went to most UGA home games and have seen them play all over the Southeast as well. In recent years I have gone to less games in person and watched more games from around the country at the house. The last 5-6 years I’m the guy with Gameplan and multiple TVs who watches all the games every Saturday for 12 hours. I probably see 6-8 BC games a year, although “watching” some of them sometimes involves watching 7 concurrent games on 2 or 3 TVs, so it is certainly a more casual viewing than what y’all do.

As far as BC is concerned, I consider myself pretty neutral. In a vacuum I neither pine for them to succeed or root for schadenfreude-inducing failure. I share your frustration about the losses to FSU last year and Miami at home in 2001 on the helmet deflected 100 yard fumble return, because I had bets on BC to cover those days, not to mention the inexplicable tank job against Syracuse 2 years ago that cost you a BCS bowl and cost me some money. On the other hand, they have got me some good covers in the past few years as well. I do respect the program that TOB has built up there. That being said, I think that white hat he wears with that absolutely ridiculous new-school redesign eagle logo is horrid.

Something you said in your intro caught my eye: “diehards like me who are growing frustrated and just want one season where it all comes together”. I know exactly what you mean, but understand that the diehards of every program that have not won a national championship in the last 10 years feel the same way. What I mean, is, as a BC fan, your statement may mean that you look at a school like Georgia and wish that you could get to that level – playing for & winning conf titles, BCS bowls, 4 top 10 finishes in a row, etc. The trick is that UGA people, while they appreciate the success that we have had, feel exactly the same way you described. We feel like we want the one season where it all comes together and we play for the whole ball of wax. As good as it has been, we are frustrated that it could easily have been even better (2005: 2 reg. season losses by 4 to UF without Shockley and by 1 to AUB on a 4th & 31 conversion with an 80% Shockley; 2002: 1 loss thanks to turnovers & 3 missed FGs in 7 pt loss to UF, finished year ranked #3). Even a team like Texas, who enjoyed way more success than UGA over the last 10 years, felt just like you did until this past January – for them conference championships, 10 wins, and BCS bowls were frustratingly not enough. I understand your comment because key injuries have left BC with feelings of “what if” and “so close” over the past few years. After thinking about it I think almost all teams at all levels feel this way. It’s kind of like golf: You shoot 100 and wish it would all come together over 18 holes so you could shoot 88 and break 90 for the first time. You wish you could be in your buddy’s shoes: he shoots 80-85. The trick is that he feels the exact same way you do, and is frustrated that he can’t shoot in the upper 70s consistently, and he envies your other buddy who is a 5 handicap, who himself is frustrated that he is not scratch. It’s here nor there, but know that you are not alone in the frustration that you describe – we all feel that way, except probably fans of Texas, USC, LSU, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Miami, FSU, and Nebraska. *

*I’m not being hubristic about UGA vis a vis BC, just trying to make a comparison. I readily acknowledge that UGA lost to BC in the Gaylord Bowl a few years back and that UGA also lost to Big East team WVU in the Sugar Bowl last year.

Now then, let’s do this.

1. Do you think Tom O’Brien would be under more fan and media pressure if he was producing these results in the SEC or Big XII?

Is he under media & fan pressure in Beantown? [Editor's Note: Not really] Obviously I don’t follow the program as closely as y’all, but I have never heard of him being heavily criticized or on the proverbial hot seat.

Depends on the school: In the SEC are you talking about a UGA or LSU or a Vandy or Kentucky? In the Big XII are you talking about A&M or Baylor? I think you mean in a comparable situation, a middle-to-upper tier conference team. As far as sociologically, the answer is yes, but that is more down to how much more important CFB is socially in SEC or Big XII country vs. a pro sports town like Boston (see question #2). As far as results, it’s hard to give the man too much grief or pressure given his track record. Six straight bowl wins, back to back 9 win seasons (1st time since 83-84 per Steele), no losing seasons, consistently developing NFL talent, running a clean program, staying out of trouble. He seems to have raised the level of the program but also made it consistently good, which is much more impressive than programs who have a great year and then slide back into obscurity for a while before having another great year (say, Maryland). And he seems an all around respectable and good guy who goes about it the right way, which is an underrated point of pride – if I had to choose, I’d rather be a BC fan than an Auburn fan, where they might be seen as better/more successful but they only seem to succeed when they cheat and are always on probation or under investigation. I think overall TOB is doing a great job given the resources and academic standards available to him at BC and shouldn’t really be under too much pressure if he were at BC or at a mid-level school in the SEC or Big XII. I think if y’all stick with him you are more likely to eventually have the breakout season you desire then if you ditch him for someone else. That being said, fans and media always tend to take for granted what they have and demand more.

2. Can you ever envision a scenario were BC’s fan base grew in Boston? And I don’t mean to the Red Sox level, but more than the occasional bandwagon group that tunes in for the Notre Dame game.

Every fan base fluctuates up and down with success or lack of it, thanks to the bandwagoners, but my honest answer to your question is no. You are in a professional sports town where college football clearly comes after the Sox, Pats, Celts, and Bruins. College sports just isn’t sewn as deep into the social fabric in the Northeast because the cities there have so many other things to follow, specifically professional sports teams. In the South you have a near or total lack of pro teams, and in many places there is literally nothing else to follow sports-wise, so entire regions and states follow college football, and not just hardcore football fans either. If you think about it, the only 2 college football programs in the Northeast that have developed a big following like those in the South or Midwest are Penn State and Syracuse. What do these two schools have in common? Both are away from big cities with professional sports teams and have little competition.

The only way I could see a huge BC breakthrough would be a perfect storm situation that involved 3 things happening concurrently: 1) Somehow landing a player who turned out to be so special that he becomes must see TV for all college football fans, that once in a decade player that people are compelled to watch to see him do unbelievable things that they have not seen before. I’m talking about a Deion Sanders, Michael Vick, Reggie Bush, or Vince Young type player that will generate a huge buzz and get everyone around the country tuning in to every BC game to watch him do his thing 2) The Patriots need to be in a down period or flat out suck, as they did in the early 80s, so that football fans in general in New England would be more likely to follow BC and ignore the Pats. It sure wouldn’t hurt if the Red Sox, Celtics, and Bruins also sucked at the same time. 3) A season where they go undefeated, or at a minimum are ranked in the top 6 late into November with a chance to realistically play for the national title , and win their conference championship. Follow-up success the season after this would go along way as well. If these 3 things happened at the same time then I could see the fan base expand significantly, but even still it is tough to see them doing a full-on Va. Tech or K-State because of the big city thing I mentioned above – those two program buildups happened in rural areas as well.

3. A lot is made of the difficulty of building a winner in New England (weather, population, mediocre high school football). I think having the whole area to yourself (and UConn) outweighs the drawbacks. What is your take?

Well TOB technically has built a winner. I don’t buy the weather thing – the weather sucks ass in Ohio and Michigan, not to mention Syracuse (historically of course, they sure have been shite lately). I do buy the talent pool argument though: MA/CT/RI just produce so much less talent than bigger states, not to mention NH/VT/ME. The only way to overcome this is to become such a power that you can recruit nationally (like ND does), but you need the blue chip recruits to become the powerhouse, so it is a bit of a catch 22. Another thing that is extremely significant is the university’s commitment to athletics as well as academic standards. BC seems like a school that is not going to accept questionable kids that Clemson/FSU/Miami/VT are, just to name a few other ACC teams. That, more than what you mentioned, puts you at a competitive disadvantage. Lastly the fact that UConn is making a serious investment and effort to have a go at big time football can’t help any; every good football player they sign from New England is one that 10 years ago would probably end up in Chestnut Hill. So I think that the drawbacks definitely outweigh having the “whole area to yourself”, given that the area is not extremely talent rich to begin with.

4. I know this might not come for another five year, but what do you think BC should look for in their next coach when Tom O’Brien leaves?

I would look for two things: a proven winner, and most importantly, a coach who is one charismatic dude. So charismatic that he can go into living rooms and convince kids to go to BC instead of schools that are perceived as bigger & better programs. In short, you need a great recruiter and a great coach, one or the other won’t do (for example, Ray Goff at UGA in the early 90s was a great recruiter but didn’t develop the talent once he got it into the program – he wasn’t a good coach). Someone who can recruit nationally but also coach up a storm. Weis would be a good fit with is time in Boston, but we all know that is not going to happen. Jeff Tedford at Cal is the coach who I always mention in our theoretical “what if Richt takes the FSU job when Papa Bowden retires and UGA needs a new coach?”, but I think there are very, very few jobs that he would leave Cal for. “The next Urban Meyer” is what you want, a good coach with some results who also has a certain charisma and personality that makes people really believe that he can do big things.

A lot of this comes down to timing, to what is out there and available in the year when you change a coach. For example, if Florida had given Ron Zook one more year, then Urban Meyer would be somewhere else today, so the biggest aspect of coach replacement is timing and availability.

So there you go. I feel like I just rambled and didn’t say anything profound, but thanks for the opportunity to ramble. I hope for the BC fans that they next time I am in Boston and I dial up some sports talk radio to listen to the epic hardcore Boston accents, that “Maahk from Aahlington” calls up wanting to talk about how BC is kicking ass rather than how “Gabe Kaplah is a gamah and should definitely be on the playoff rostah.” Best of luck to BC in the upcoming season, and to you if you have to drive through the Ted Williams Tunnel. Oh, and please pass the hat and get TOB a proper hat for gameday.

Thanks to Kanu for taking the time. It is not what we all want to hear but that was the reason I asked his opinion. Sometimes we (or maybe just me) get so wrapped up in this that it is hard to see the big picture.


Kanu said...

I forgot one thing:

Good luck in The Beanpot, although unfortuantely for y'all BC vis a vis BU in the Beanpot is like UGA vis a vis Florida in football the last 15 years.

Also, many apologies that I failed to work in the word WICKED even once. I'm wicked retahded for that.

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Jerry Gene said...

I really like your writing style. Such a nice Post, Can’t wait for the next one.

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