Setting Expectations For Boston College's Head Football Coach

Jeff: There are a lot of people in the #FireSpaz camp, and a few people in the do not #FireSpaz camp including obviously those who ultimately #FireSpaz or not. I think the decision ultimately comes down to expectations. If our expectations are to be Alabama, then we #FireSpaz without question. If our expectation is to be Harvard, then we do not even consider to #FireSpaz. We all know the expectation is somewhere in between. But where? What are and what should be the expectations for this program under Spaz?

Brian: Hmm. Comparing BC to Alabama and Harvard ... where have I heard this before? (Side note: while BC has recovered to finish 90th in Jeff Sagarin's latest college football ratings, 32 spots higher than Harvard, the Crimson did finish 9-1 this season. BC just 4-8).

As you mentioned, expectations fall somewhere in between being Alabama and Harvard. But I might surprise you by saying as a football program, Boston College should be much closer to Alabama than Harvard, and here's why.

Rushing to Spaz's defense, DeFilippo cites the fact that the football team was terrible in the decade before his own arrival in 1997. Three winning seasons in 10 years before, 12 consecutive winning seasons after. But it's not like BC was some college football charity case waiting to be rescued from the evil clutches of a gambling scandal and poor non-conference scheduling. BC is a proud football school, one with a rich history, a proud tradition of winning and even a Heisman trophy winner. It's not a stretch to say that BC is a school whose identity is tied first and foremost to college football.

Historically, BC is a .587 program -- 629 up, 443 down and 36 ties. That's good for 35th best in history, ahead of every other ACC program except for Florida State, Miami, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Clemson (and including Syracuse and Pittsburgh). The W-L records in the ACC over the last seven seasons more or less hold to this trend, with only Miami massively underachieving (and likely to fall further off the pace after the NCAA is finished with the program).

Three of those top five programs are on the other side of the conference. As such, from a historical perspective, I fully expect BC to be in the upper half of the conference and no worse than third in the Atlantic Division every season (this year, we finished in fifth place).

I don't think it is an unrealistic expectation for a program like BC to handle schools like Duke (doesn't prioritize winning football), Wake Forest (smallest school in BCS), N.C. State (famously not North Carolina, Duke or Wake Forest), Virginia (fans don't care), Maryland (broke) and North Carolina (good at other things not football) with regularity, and expect the Eagles to challenge Florida State and Clemson for the Atlantic Division title in most seasons.

The problem as I see it is this: Boston College has desperately fallen behind the upper echelon of the conference in terms of coaching, recruiting, facilities and fan/alumni support. Further, the middle and bottom tiers of the ACC are catching up.

Virginia is getting better (last weekend's result notwithstanding) and finished within one win of a Championship Game appearance in Mike London's second year. Wake Forest continues to overachieve despite the program's limitations under Grobe. N.C. State has the potential to disrupt the balance of power in the Atlantic given the size of the school, facilities, etc. with the right coach. If North Carolina lands a big-time coach to clean up the Butch Davis mess, the Heels can continue to build. Duke is getting better under Cutcliffe. Well, maybe not, but they did leave Chestnut Hill with a win this season (which I guess is a positive, right?). There's even reasons for optimism at Syracuse and Pitt under new, more youthful and energetic head coaches.

 

Jeff: Just as a little side note on Virginia. We've seen them be within a game of the ACC Championship Game recently under Al Groh and then fall the next season when expectations are high. So I'll believe Virginia is completely on the upslope in a year or two if that holds true.

I think your expectations are very fair. Be a top 35 program most seasons and finish in the top half of the ACC most seasons while competing for the championship at least some years.

BC has not finished as a top 35 football team under Spaz so he has failed there. But in terms of within the conference, Spaz is at least not far off. In the past three seasons, conference regular season wins rank as follows:

Virginia Tech 21
Clemson 16
Georgia Tech 16
Florida State 15
Miami 13
Boston College 12
N.C. State 11
North Carolina 11
Wake Forest 9
Virginia 8
Maryland 7
Duke 5

Using that simple analysis, Spaz is not performing real well, but he would not be in jeopardy of losing his job either. I think an expectation needs to be mapped out for rivalry games as well. At every school, there is one or two games on the schedule that the fans would rather win than all the rest. For us, Notre Dame certainly tops that list and you can probably throw in anytime we play in prime time, and bowl games up there also. In that category, Spaz is 0-for. While GameDay did come to the Heights in 2009 and BC beat Florida State that day, it was a 3:30 start with regional coverage. What should the expectation for big game records be?

Brian: On Spaz's ACC performance, while that might not be enough to lose his job, it's not pretty, either. BC ranks sixth on that list which is in line with my expectations for BC. However, if you look at the three-year ACC win totals from 2006-2008 (one year with TOB and two with Jags), and compare against the last three seasons, this paints a very different picture:

Increased Conference Win Totals: Miami (+4), Duke (+4), Virginia Tech (+3), Florida State (+3), Clemson (+2), N.C. State (+2)
Even: Georgia Tech (0)
Declining Win Totals: North Carolina (-1), Boston College (-4), Virginia (-5), Maryland (-5), Wake Forest (-6)

Taking just a cursory glance at this trend leads one to believe we are falling woefully behind Florida State and Clemson and possibly even N.C. State in the Atlantic Division hierarchy. The only thing seemingly propping up the Eagles in the Atlantic Division the past few seasons has been a similar decline in College Park and Winston-Salem.

As for rivalry games or other important games (bowls, ACC Championship Games, etc.), Spaz has accomplished next to nothing. Maybe even nothing.

He's 0-3 against three very beatable Notre Dame teams ...
He's 0-3 against Virginia Tech, in three mostly non-competitive showings ...
He's 0-8 against teams ranked in the AP Top 25, when his predecessor owned ranked teams (5-1), and ...
He's 0-2 in bowl games as head coach, non-interim variety.

Of Spaz's 19 wins, just five have come against teams that finished with a winning record and two of those were of the non-AQ (Central Michigan 2009) or I-AA variety (Weber State 2010).

Spaz is the only coach in BC history to lose three straight against Notre Dame. As you said, plenty of casual fans only care if we beat Notre Dame or Florida State or Clemson every year, and going 0-3 against the Irish will have a negative impact on fan support and attendance. At a minimum, the BC football head coach should probably go .500 against the Irish and 2-2 at a bare, bare minimum in non-conference play (but 3-1 more often than not).

 

All that said, it's the blatant disregard for recognizing that the rest of the conference is gaining on our stagnant football program that I've almost entirely gotten over the whole #FireSpaz thing. Clearly "it doesn't matter" what the customer wants in this case. And frankly, I don't want the current AD to pick the next football head coach.

So let Spaz have another year or two as we continue to enjoy 6-6 (4-4 ACC) football seasons (Spaz's three year run-rate), continue to go winless against Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and our third-tier bowl game (if there are any) and watch as our football program continues to fall behind the rest of the conference. Given the alternative -- watching the department whiff on another head coaching hire and being subjected to more football mediocrity -- I honestly feel that this is a less cruel fate.

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