Wednesday, March 03, 2021

The challenge with Dennis Gates


There's no perfect candidate for Boston college. The ideal candidate would be young yet experienced as a head coach, have ties to BC and/or the ACC, be someone who can recruit, run a staff, manage a game, develop players once they get on campus, sell the program, be charming with the media, have time for social media, and serve as another face of Boston college. Oh, and it would helpful if he were black and Catholic too. If this man existed BC would give him all the money in the world. But since he doesn't exist, Pat Kraft is left to figure out what categories are the deal breakers in his search.

From what I've been told, head coaching experience is a must. That hurts popular names like Howard Eisley, but I understand the position. We have had eleven seasons of futility. This is not the right time to have a rookie coach learn on the job. We need a sure thing, or at a minimum, someone who can keep us competitive annually in the ACC.

One name, who has become popular of late, checks many of the boxes on the wish list: Cleveland State Head Coach Dennis Gates. He is young. He is doing well in his second year as a head coach. He proved himself as an ACC level recruiter while an assistant at Florida State. However, Gates has two major issues. The first is making the jump from the Horizon League straight to the ACC. As we’ve seen with our most recent hires from the MAC and Ivy, coming into the ACC can be a hard adjustment. Gates’ time at FSU mitigates that a bit, but it would be a big leap of faith to assume he could come right into the ACC and win after two COVID interrupted seasons in the Horizon.

The biggest issue with Gates is not the Horizon League. It is his marriage to BC assistant AD Jocelyn Gates. Gates is the No. 2 person in the department with a variety of areas of responsibility, including HR. Hiring her husband for our second biggest revenue sport would present a ton of messy conflicts. BC has a very specific nepotism policy: From the BC EEO portion of the Employee Handbook Employment of Relatives Employment of relatives is permitted, except in circumstances where an appointment would place related people in supervisory and subordinate roles within the same office or department, or in a situation where influence could be exerted, directly or indirectly, on future decisions concerning the status of employment, promotion, or compensation.” 

If Dennis Gates were hired, Jocelyn would presumably have to leave the Athletic Department, or BC would have to create a series of specialized protocols to deal with the numerous conflicts to arise. Is Pat Kraft really going to use his goodwill on his first hire on a complicated situation involving his No. 2? I don’t think so. It would be a HR nightmare and would also send a strange message to the fans and those in the industry. The guy had an opportunity to make a program-changing hire and a “nation-wide search” and ended up with the husband of the woman whose office is down the hall. Who knows? Maybe Dennis Gates is the next great college basketball coach and BC is letting him pass by because of perception. But I think Kraft wants this hire to improve the basketball team but also send the right message and energy to the fans and the college basketball world. It won’t be a hire when the first question will be “how is this going to work?”

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Porter Moser: another guy everyone mentions


As soon as BC hired Pat Kraft, speculation kicked in that this meant BC would eventually hire Porter Moser to replace Jim Christian. The gossip made sense. Christian entered the year a lame duck and Moser seemed like a perfect candidate...who also had a history with Pat Kraft. (Kraft worked at Loyola-Chicago prior to Temple.)

There is a lot to like about Moser. However, I do have some concerns. There are parts of his profile that remind me of Steve Donahue. While that might not be fair, I will explain the comparison.

First, the good stuff:

Moser took Loyola-Chicago to the Final Four. Even if it was just lightning in a bottle, that accomplishment will always be impressive. If you include his CBI win, it speaks to an ability to coach his team through unique matchups and a good grasp for strategy and Xs & Os. He would come to BC with a long record as a head coach. While not perfect (Illinois St. fired him after three out of four losing seasons), he has been competitive at every stop and built a really good program at Loyola. He played at Creighton and coached at Loyola, so he understands the Jesuit community and would seemingly be comfortable at BC.

My concern:

Like Donahue, Moser has won with a very specific blueprint that works great at Loyola but would have to undergo major adjustments at BC. He currently recruits heavy in the Midwest and has had most of his success with tweeners and under the radar guys from Illinois and Indiana. (His current roster has three southerners, two international and the rest from the Midwest.) That is great for him and clearly a great model for Loyola-Chicago. However, BC is a different pitch. While we have also thrived with under the radar types, we need guys with a bit higher ceilings and we usually have to recruit nationwide. If Moser comes to BC, he can't make the same mistake Donahue made of thinking he can out scheme the ACC talent with a roster constructed like his old ones. 

If Moser ends up being the hire, it would say a lot about the faith Kraft has in him. That would be a nice endorsement. I hope they have the type of relationship -- and Kraft understands BC enough to help his former colleague adjust his midmajor, midwest model to Boston and the ACC.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

The challenge with any first time head coaches


Michigan assistant and Boston College alum Howard Eisley is another recurring name in this BC coaching search. Eisley has a lot going for him. He is a key assistant at an elite program. He had a long NBA career and then transitioned into NBA assistant roles. He is a proud BC guy looking for his shot. Oh, and it also helps that he has a son who is an elite prospect. But I don't think BC should hire Eisley or any first time head coach this time around.

I am sure Pat Kraft will talk to some guys who have never bee head coaches. Names floated include Celtics assistant Jay Larranaga, Gonzaga's Tommy Lloyd (who I advocated for in the past) and Villanova's Kyle Neptune. All have great resumes and promising upsides. The issue is we don't know their downsides.

BC is in a better position than it has been with regards to basketball hires. We have more money. We have facilities upgrades close to becoming official. We are in the elite conference yet there is potential to break into the top half of that conference. We don't need to take a risk on an unknown. Pat Kraft can go out and show BC is serious about basketball and get a proven winner. 

There is always the risk that the proven winner might not win at BC and that one of these assistants we pass up goes onto great things. I am okay with that potential trade off. I want BC to get back to respectable and fun basketball. Let's go find as close to a sure thing as we can.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Getting the Cooley and Coen talk out of the way

BC should have hired Bill Coen or Ed Cooley when they fired Al Skinner. BC also should have hired Bill Coen or Ed Cooley when they fired Steve Donahue. Now for the third time in just over a decade, BC has a chance to hire either of the former Skinner assistants. While there are numerous reasons why it won't happen again, I still need to address both and advocate why I think both are better than 90% of the names being floated this time around.

The case for either

While much has changed and the future looks more promising than the last decade, BC remains a unique job. A coach who is familiar with the institutional challenges and strengths has a huge head start on most candidates. Due to their previous time at BC, both coaches know what can work at BC and understand how to recruit and coach at BC.

Both have accomplished enough since they've left to prove that they are their own men and not just two guys who were in the right place at the right time with Skinner. Now the fact a decade later neither are at some basketball power would lead some skeptics to say "BC didn't miss out on anything with those two." I would argue the opposite. Both have improved their respective programs and done it through multiple recruiting cycles to show that it wasn't a fluke. The fact that both stayed in the region is a bonus as they wouldn't have to rebuild recruiting connections nor even make difficult decisions about uprooting families.

Some fans will argue that both are limited and neither would take BC to the next level. While I am optimistic about both, I understand this concern. But my belief is that even if neither ever win the ACC or get us to a Final Four, they both would provide stability and credibility and leave BC in a better place than we are now.

The case against 

As soon as I post this, Providence fans will immediately start saying that BC can't afford Cooley and he will never leave. I know that BC can afford him because we have much more money than Providence athletics. In fact any school that didn't play football this fall is seeing their athletic revenue in freefall. Cooley makes more than Christian did, so BC would have to pay him more than we've ever paid a basketball coach. It can be done. Will it? I don't know. BC is talking big about budgets. Would Ed leave? I don't know. Villanova showed that you can win a National Championship from the Big East. Would the chance to go to the ACC make a difference? It doesn't hurt to ask.

Aside from the Cooley will never leave crowd, there are those Cooley critics who think he is all about recruiting and will never get the most out of his rosters. I understand that, but still think his track record and fit will be better than most of our candidates.

With Bill Coen, the question is not whether he would take the job. He would. The question is can he win at BC. His Northeastern record is pretty good, but not dominant. He also works the transfer market hard for his talent. That sort of strategy is harder to pull off in the ACC. But my belief remains that he is better than most of the names floated and better than nearly all of the guys who only have mid-major experience.

Will it matter?
BC didn't hire these guys before, so odds are not great they get hired this time. But if I am Pat Kraft, after I talk to the big names, I don't go further down the list than these two. BC needs to get to respectability first and both Cooley and Coen can provide that type of basketball.

Monday, February 15, 2021

A reminder about the media hammering BC for the Christian firing

BC fired Jim Christian Sunday and immediately some national basketball guys started ripping the decision given that it is midseason, COVID and all the other extenuating circumstance. All the shots at BC are silly and shortsighted and done because the media guys tend to be coach and agent friendly. That's it. They liked Christian and have been carrying his water for his entire tenure at BC. He was unceremoniously dumped and so they are using social media to stick up for one of the "good guys." But it means nothing in the long run.

What matters now is what Pat Kraft does with the extra time and his own media friendly type (look for Pete Thamel to get most of the scoops). 

The media will shit all over the opportunity and say that no one wants this job. That happens every time. However, things are a little different this go around. The basketball facility -- while not officially announced -- is much closer to a reality than it has ever been. The ACC will remain daunting but Duke, UNC, Syracuse, Miami and FSU are all likely to go through coaching changes during our next basketball coach's tenure. That is a lot of shake up and a lot of uncertainty and opportunity. (And if all those schools don't make changes then our new coach will be going up against a series of coaches in their late 70s, which is highly different from prime Coach K and Roy.) I also think the player friendly rules the NBA is taking on development will change the landscape of college basketball in a good way for a place like BC (I will explain that in a future post).

For now, sit back and watch what Kraft does. This is his first big decision and it looks like there are plenty of good candidates in the mix. 

Thursday, December 10, 2020

BC decides not to go bowling


Dating back to TOB, BC placed importance on being "bowl eligible." The emphasis always seemed like a hedge for the day when BC was eligible yet not selected due to our travel reputation. This year BC is once again "bowl eligible" but for the first time ever decided to skip the postseason and call it a day. 

I personally am disappointed because I would have gladly watched the game from the comfort of my home surrounded by my family, basking in the afterglow of Christmas. I am not the one who would have crammed in game prep with exams and then missed Christmas with my family for a random game in Tampa on December 26. And that bowl was the optimal choice at this point. BC could have been sent to Boca during exams or even Annapolis. 

In normal years and normal conditions bowls are a reward. The players get money, gifts and swag. The team travels for multiple days and is hosted by the city. None of that would have happened this year. It would have been like a normal road game -- fly in, play, fly out. The team -- which has been in isolation since June -- would carry out COVID protocols for another two weeks just for this TV game. And looming over any commitment is that the game could be cancelled at any minute if something breaks down with the host city, the opponent or even BC. Is that fair to the kids? Is that even fun?

All the bowls outside the playoffs are sort of pointless. I know from experience how hard it is to justify these games. Last year I had to give my family pep talks to stick out the rain delay in Birmingham. AJ Dillon wasn't there. Why were the Maloneys?

Maybe COVID and an expanded playoff will kill the minor bowls all together. I love the novelty of seeing BC play a random opponent in a strange city. I want the players to get paid (even if it is non-cash) and have an "experience." And as I always say, more BC Football is a good thing. But this year maybe more is not better. 2020 was a great year for BC Football. There was hope for the future and excitement in the present. Why ruin that memory, that feeling and that momentum for a pointless game that the players' don't want? They gave us their heart this year. We should give them their Christmas.

Monday, December 07, 2020

Haf full

As frustrating and disappointing it was to lose to Virginia Saturday, I was a bit surprised by the number of people online who are upset about the season. I am not. In fact, I think this season was a huge success.

Every transition is different. This was not like TOB to Jags or Jags to Spaz, where we had lots of staff carryover and kept whole units consistent. This was a whole refresh and more like the transition of Spaz to Addazio. We changed Offensive and Defensive philosophy. We found a new QB. We put transfers all over the field. And we installed all this new info without a full spring and with all sorts of new restrictions due to COVID.

While six wins seems too familiar to BC fans, you have to remember we exceeded the oddsmakers', computers' and media's expectations. This was also six wins out of 11 games and this was the first time we ever played 10 P5 schools in one season. This schedule doesn't even compare to any we've faced since Henning's second year (and even Henning had Temple and Rutgers on the schedule).

But beyond the win total and dealing with the pandemic, I loved how Hafley handled games. We saw comebacks. We saw aggressiveness. We saw an emotional passionate coach, but not one who was not a bully, loudmouth or a goof ball. 

Was it perfect? No. There were a few issues that have been well discussed. Some units that were supposed to have been our best and deepest (Oline and LBs) looked to have taken a step back. Was is position coaching or scheme or overestimating the talent on hand? I don't know. It will certainly be something to follow going forward. The penalties were also inexcusable. Hafley admits he doesn't mind aggressiveness that results in penalties. That's fine. But there were plenty that we purely stupid. He's got to find a way to cut down on those. He has shown the can instill discipline. Look how he handled COVIP protocols. Now he just needs to use those same tenets to make sure the players play smart.

But why I am more optimistic about Hafley than I've been about any first year coach in my time as a BC fan, is that he showed strengths in game management, game planning and program management. Those are the things that are so hard to improve. Too often coaches are stuck in their ways or old school thinking, or are just not good at that stuff.  The stuff he needs to fix -- position coaches, talent, depth. Those things are fixable. Never getting a feel for a game is not.

All of this is still speculative. Hafley might never be much more than Addazio. But I am betting otherwise. I think this season was just the start and I see more great things to come.