One year ago, Boston College played Clemson in football at home in a 45-31 losing effort. The loss dropped BC 1-4, creating an environment of inevitability that would end with a second consecutive season without a bowl game berth. What was once a rite of passage for the Eagles was reduced to a ghost of the past, a memory long dissipated in the winds of Matt Ryan, Mark Herzlich, and Luke Kuechly.
But out of the fog that was the loss to Clemson arose a change. It had been previously announced that the Clemson game would be the final athletic event in the long reign of Gene DeFillippo. The man who shepherded Boston College into the ACC was over, ending with tumult after years of a businesslike hope and promise. In his place was a man from the MAC, a man who helped develop the "Cradle of Coaches" at Miami University in Ohio.
Brad Bates paused this week to reflect on his first year, which got many of us thinking about just how far Boston College has come in the last 12 months. It involved some of the highest highs, including Jerry York's tying and breaking of the all-time wins record in college hockey. It included the rise of the men's basketball program with a run to the ACC Men's Basketball Tournament a year after they failed to win ten games. And it included a regime change in football that changed the entire culture surrounding Boston College athletics to one involving passion, family, and undying determination, symbolized in the majestic, beautiful bird that graces the Boston College campus for football games.
There's been the new Eagle Walk, the new video presentation, and the new initiatives for fans. There's been the whole fundamental change of the gameday experience, the site of an athletic director shaking fans' hands, and the appreciation of welcoming people back to the Heights. There's no more Groupon deals, but there's no need for them anymore. There's been nationally televised showcases for BC with fireworks, flames, and smoke. There's an acceptance of what they currently are with the striving for tomorrow to be what they can be.
It included the renewal of the Boston College Strategic Plan, with hopes for new facilities and athletic missions. Brad Bates refers to Boston College athletics as a "sleeping giant," and he couldn't be more right. It feels like BC has always had the potential to make college athletics truly matter in New England, built around a great hockey program and recognizable football brand. For the past few years, BC's gone into hibernation, walking in the shadows of what they could be. Bates came to Chestnut Hill, not with a promise but a vision and the determination to work with that vision.
Throughout it all, though, he has never abandoned Boston College's Jesuit roots and Catholic traditions of service. Coach Steve Donahue continues to excel in endurance runs for cancer research, and there have been no major issues involving Boston College athletes. Where other schools have recruiting scandals or players running afoul of the law, the last year has brought out what's so great about BC. They've rallied in a fight against ALS, honoring people like Dick Kelley and Pete Frates for their courageous fights. And they've continued to remember people like Welles Remy Crowther, "The Man in the Red Bandana," with things like the naming contest for the live eagle.
But if there's one thing that Boston College should always be remembered for in Bates' first year, it's the way the campus bound together in the wake of the horrible terrorist attacks of the 2013 Boston Marathon. After watching the city of Boston go into a form of lockdown, after catching terrorists in a shootout and manhunt up the street from Jerry York's house, and after watching fear and chaos grip its city, the entire Boston College community bound together to form "Mile 21," fundraising through t-shirt sales and a charity walk through the Chestnut Hill Reservoir to raise money for Boston Marathon victims.
In just 12 months, the entire culture around Boston College changed. BC went from a school with a reputation of apathetic students, downtrodden teams, and overrated programs to a school with hope, liveliness, and success. Bates' first year has exceeded the expectations of die-hard fans who just wanted to see mild improvement and instead have been blown away. And as the perfect bookend, there's the almost-upset of the #3 Clemson Tigers in Death Valley. Last year, surrendering 45 points and losing felt like it was what it was, met with a shrug of the shoulders. This year, the loss is met with excitement that BC is starting to awaken. While people still aren't showing up for kickoff, they are still showing up, which is more than what we can say for the way things used to be.
Congratulations to Brad Bates on a successful first year, and we look forward to all that you have in store for Year #2.