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Boston College Basketball: An Open Letter to Brad Bates

I'll always believe in BC, but your handling of the basketball coaching search challenged my faith.

Streeter Lecka

Dear Mr. Bates,

I am one of many concerned members of the Boston College community who is disappointed in your decision to hire Jim Christian as the head men's basketball coach. I'm concerned that the process leading to this decision was misguided. I'm concerned that your evaluation of Christian as a fit for the role did not adequately consider the most glaring needs of the program. Most of all, I'm concerned you don't understand what Boston College basketball has been and can be.

You're surely well versed in BC's history - the legends who've led the program, those who've played for it, the number of tournament berths, and so on - but your uninspiring decision to hire Christian leads me to believe you don't really know what BC basketball can be or what it can mean to the BC community. This would be understandable because you haven't been affiliated with BC for long and all you've witnessed of the program is a toxic combination of failure, disgust, and apathy. The fleeting upset of Syracuse this season excepted, you haven't witnessed or experienced the success most BC fans have, across generations.

Your predecessor is to blame for the program's current state, not you... but that's for another conversation. My goal is to explain what I and many fellow BC fans believe the program should be and explain our concerns with your handling of the coaching search, in the hopes of enabling a dialogue with you that ensures you understand our perspective, and that we may better understand your decision. There are sure to be points I miss that you may find readers of this site will articulate in the comments section below, which may also include voices who disagree with me entirely and support your handling and the conclusion of this situation. I hope you read this letter and the comments and consider the variety of perspectives of BC fans and respond to us accordingly.

That said, allow me to share my most fond and enduring memory of BC basketball. On February 19, 2005, my sophomore year, after starting the season 20-0 our Eagles - then ranked #6 in the country at 21-1 and led by Al Skinner, Craig Smith, and Jared Dudley - entered a pivotal matchup against #9 Syracuse. That evening, Conte Forum swelled with buzz and anticipation.

Not only was this rivalry contest key to our final Big East campaign, but also to that point the national media had only begun to take note of BC and most commentary was skeptical of the team's ability. At home against a lower-ranked team, we still felt like we were underdogs in the eyes of the college basketball world, which was focused on Conte that night and ESPN's national telecast.

You might be surprised to know that it was common for Conte to be packed during that time, especially the student sections; Skinner's teams were consistently a force, if not elite, made regular NCAA tournament appearances, and though we had recently won a Big East Championship during Troy Bell's time at BC, it felt like we were reaching new heights after an historic start to the season. This was a statement game. The basketball team and BC fans, especially students, turned out in kind.

The matchup exceeded the hype. As the see-saw, heart-pounding contest drew to a close, senior guard Jermaine Watson hit two clutch free throws with :12 left, ensuring a win by putting BC up 65-60. As Watson hit the free throws, the noise in Conte reached a crescendo; Jared Dudley waved his arms at the crowd and sent us into a frenzy. I was seated - well, standing, screaming, and jumping - in the student section on the floor behind the south basket where Watson hit those free throws.

As Dudley waved his arms emphatically in preemptive celebration, several members of the football team prepared our section to rush the court as Syracuse's Gerry McNamara threw up a hopeless three point attempt as time expired. Dudley caught the rebound, tossed the ball in the air as fans from both ends rushed toward the middle of the court. As we stormed the court, I remember the camera flashes throughout the building creating a strobe effect that rivalled any late night party in the mods; no college party could compete with the dance floor we improvised. It was pure euphoria.

My ears rang and my head pounded for the rest of the night and much of the next day - the hangover, this time, wasn't caused by Natty Light. We violated the rules of court-rushing but the college basketball world seemed to understand: this was our moment, we had arrived, and we wanted the world to know.

While that season ended in a heartbreaking upset in the NCAA Tournament to a Wisconsin-Milwaukee team led by a then-unknown coach and BC graduate, Bruce Pearl, that win over Syracuse will always epitomize for me what BC basketball can and should be: Relevant. Unifying. Thrilling. Excellent.

It saddens me to see how the program regressed to its current state of incompetence and irrelevance. It's especially aggravating because I know we can do better; I've seen it first hand. We must do better, given the current stakes in the ACC. I believe you understand this, but it seems you're unsure of how to turn the program around.

In fact and unfortunately, "unsure" is the best word to describe my perception of your handling of the basketball program.

You took nearly a week to part ways with Steve Donahue; it was even reported that he would be retained and has been reported since that it was your preference to retain him. Because of your inability to control the narrative on this matter, I'm unsure of what to believe. Aside from the quality of his character, what about Steve Donahue and the job he did at BC warranted the chance to helm the program for another season? Why did it take so long to come to this decision when you had ample time and evidence to evaluate his body of work? Is it true that you were overruled in the decision of whether to fire him?

During the press conference announcing Donahue's dismissal, you admitted that a basketball coaching search is not a responsibility with which you're generally comfortable. It has been reported that you enlisted the services of Eddie Fogler to guide the process. Is this true?

Fogler's record of head coaching placement is dubious; he brokered the recently terminated deals for Tony Barbee at Auburn and Darrin Horn at South Carolina, as well as that for Tom Crean, who's currently on the hot seat at Indiana.

What in Fogler's track record led you to believe that he was the right person to guide a coaching search at BC? Are you confident he understood the specific needs and unique characteristics of the BC program? What criteria did you task him with finding in the candidates he surfaced?

You also said during the aforementioned press conference that you would not "sacrifice long term substance in the interest of short term enthusiasm" in this hire. In my opinion, you've accomplished neither. While I am rooting for Jim Christian and sincerely hope his performance at BC will prove you right and me wrong, I have a number of questions about how he fits what BC needs right now:

  • You say he is "a proven winner." Christian has appeared only in two NCAA Tournaments, both one-and-done. In fairness, his winning percentage as a head coach is impressive, regardless of the conference in which it was amassed. Yet this success is, by his own admission, based heavily on two ready-made-to-win situations in which his predecessors did the heavy lifting in recruiting and developing players. In fact, again by his own admission, Christian fled the lone "rebuild" situation on his resume at TCU for the comfort of an already well nurtured program at Ohio. What makes you think he is up to the task at hand at BC?
  • Clearly, BC basketball is not in a "win-now" condition. There is a gaping talent disparity between our roster and those of our ACC competitors that can only be solved by recruiting. Christian has very limited big conference experience. He has only landed three 3* recruits his entire career. Despite his hollow claims of New England roots, he has no reputable recruiting ties to the area. Other candidates, like Mike Hopkins, have proven success poaching premium talent from BC's backyard. Even Al Skinner's staff had a difficult time retaining area talent. What makes you think Christian can a) recruit at an ACC level, and b) build a pipeline in BC's regional footprint? Recruiting was the biggest question mark on Donahue's resume and clearly his fatal flaw as head coach at BC. This hire was supposed to solve for that, but Christian brings the same risks to the table.
  • Understanding you did not want to gamble on "short term enthusiasm," what makes you think Christian views BC as anything other than a stepping stone? The day before the hire was announced, Christian - for all intents and purposes - lied about his job status at Ohio, from which his wife graduated. After leaving TCU, he never updated his twitter account to reflect his position at Ohio. What leads you to believe that he would show BC any greater loyalty should a bigger program call? While I do not fear someone with aspirations higher than BC, your stated goal in this process was "long term substance." If we're unsure of how long Christian will stick around, if successful, wouldn't a better option potentially be a marriage with Jim Calhoun similar to SMU's with Larry Brown (whose team just reached the NIT Final)? Or what about Hopkins, who can establish a local recruiting pipeline that we can sustain even after he would leave to replace Jim Boeheim at Syracuse?
  • You claim that Christian "emerged pretty early on" as a leading candidate. Donahue was dismissed on 3/18, Ohio's season ended 3/26, but Christian wasn't hired until 4/3. Was he your first choice? If you don't feel comfortable answering that, can you tell us how many other candidates were seriously considered for the role? Understanding - and supporting - the "deliberate and meticulous" approach BC takes to coaching searches, why did it take three weeks to replace Donahue if Christian was your leading candidate so early?
  • Given the coaching market conditions in college basketball this offseason, your search was expected by many BC fans to yield a hire with a more proven recruiting and/or power conference record. It is BCI's understanding that the Board of Trustees earmarked significant resources to potentially land such a coach. Is this true? If not, why not? If so, were more established coaches - like Ben Howland, Jim Calhoun, Ed Cooley, or Tommy Amaker - considered or contacted? If not, why did you focus the search on "second tier" candidates? If blue chip candidates were not interested, was their lack of interest related to anything (i.e. facilities, institutional support, etc.) that BC can actively work to change?
  • Clearly a vocal and sizeable portion of the BC fan base is uninspired by your decision. Did the generally negative response to Christian's candidacy influence your decision to hold a teleconference yesterday and delay a formal press conference until next week? Was this decision made with the hopes of "waiting out" initial displeasure with the hire, rather than address it head on? Please understand that the decision to announce the hire via a teleconference that was embarrassingly interrupted by a weather report seems incompetent at best, cowardly at worst.  It punctuated an arduously long process that did nothing to alter the perception that BC is both cheap and complacent in its ways. I understand and support the need to do due diligence and consider multiple candidates, but the secrecy in which your administration operated resulted in BC having lost complete control over the narrative of its own coaching search. Would you operate differently if given the chance to execute this search again? Going forward, will you consider being somewhat more open in your process, if only to help shut off a vacuum of information and dispel negative rumors?

I hope you can understand my skepticism, shared by many other BC fans, and that you will address as many of our concerns as you can. As indicated in my letter to Christian, I support our new coach and I wish him success and the best of luck. I wish the same to you as you continue your efforts to try to improve our athletics department and teams.

Most of all, I'm tired of watching BC basketball underachieve. I want our Eagles to surpass the highs of the past and finally reach that long elusive Final Four and win a national championship. I hope Jim Christian will lead us there. Go Eagles, and Ever to Excel.


Michael Sheehan