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Your Boston College Football Coach, Jeff Hafley: A Roundtable

The football writers react to the new hire

New Boston College Football Head Coach Jeff Hafley Photo by Nic Antaya for The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The reaction to the Hafley hiring has been exceedingly positive. Do you have any concerns about the new head coach?

Will: The hire does not ease my concern about the offense moving forward. Hafley has a reputation as a coach who initiates quick defensive improvement, especially with the secondary, which was BC’s weakest area in 2019. Yet, Hafley’s appointment does not assuage my concerns on what this team will look like offensively. The defense was weak this year but we knew it was going to be before the season, considering all the talent that was leaving. The offense had talent but sputtered in a very limited scheme. Nothing in Hafley’s background suggests he’ll breathe some life into this offense and it will likely depend on who he and Martin Jarmond select as offensive coordinator.

Niraj: No reservations. My only concern before was how invested he was in coaching college football. He seems like a prototypical NFL guy through and through and I bet he’d have a lot of success. He answered those questions though, and I loved his explanations. I have strong faith in him bringing in an offensive staff that works and shows a willingness to make changes when necessary.

Rich: Nothing beyond the uncertainty that would come with any first-time head coach. As Will and Niraj alluded to, there’s a lot riding on who he brings in to coach on the offensive side of the ball. It sounds like Hafley is pretty well regarded by his peers, so I’m excited to see him build the staff out. There’s been talk that this could be a stepping stone job for Hafley, but that assumes at least a few years of success, and I’d happily take a few exciting years over a long tenure of mediocrity.

Grant: I think that given the information we have right now, Hafley was the best possible hire. Yeah, we don’t know exactly what we’re going to get on the offensive side of the ball, but that’s just part of the process. By all accounts Hafley has been given the keys, and I think it’s reasonable to trust him in his staff decisions. A good coach will make good hires.

What excites you about Hafley, and in what ways do you hope he’ll differ from Steve Addazio?

Will: It’s incredible what can be accomplished in 48 seconds. That was the length of the clip I saw from Hafley’s press conference and it did impress. Hafley said all the right buzz words I wanted to hear and I think we all wanted to hear: a desire to build a top 25 program, the need for the team, school, fans, media, etc to buy in to what he wants to build, evoking the names of Matt Ryan and Doug Flutie.

Now that’s what a new coach is supposed to do. But a coach is also supposed to at least have the decency to say, I don’t know, return a friendly greeting, especially if it’s from Andre Williams? First impressions are important, and even from a cynical perspective, Hafley is doing his best to make a good one. I never got the sense that Addazio cared much about the fans, the students, the media, especially us at BC interruption, so I hope Coach Hafley will take a much more welcoming approach. It’s much easier to back a coach when he gives people reasons to like him, when he makes people feel respected, I think we as fans all would appreciate that. None of this equals wins, but just the fact that Hafley is making the effort already gives me plenty of reasons to give a shot and maybe be optimistic.

Niraj: I echo a lot of Will’s sentiments. It’s become a bigger and bigger priority as we’ve all reflected on the Daz era and how I just never got BC vibes from him. I want Hafley to continue to embrace the community and get people excited. He’s barely been on campus and he seems to already be doing that.

Apart from that, he needs to be able to manage a game better than me playing Madden, would love to see a winning ACC record, and while we’re at it, win eight games.

Rich: More than anything, I’d like to see him get this team to compete against top tier opponents. Addazio preached how every week should be the same, but I’d rather feel like we’ve got certain games circled on the schedule, like we’re looking forward to taking our best shot at the Clemsons and Notre Dames. Under Daz we usually just seemed to roll over, then pummel a sub-par team the next week. We don’t have to be a top 15 team, but it’d be nice to put a scare into some top 15 teams.

Grant: I don’t say this in order to be harsh on Addazio -- I genuinely appreciate Addazio’s time at BC and his efforts put us in a position to make this hire -- but I get the impression that personality-wise, Jeff Hafley is the kind of guy that Steve Addazio tried to come off as. Both appear passionate, both appear to want to be tough, both appear to recognize the importance of the “people” and mentorship aspect of coaching, but it just works so much better with Hafley’s presence. I’ve only seen his press conference and a couple videos, but you get the sense that he is a formidable guy. At times it just felt like you couldn’t 100% take Addazio seriously, and that sounds mean but I don’t really have another way to put it.

A lot has changed since we made our projections for next season in the wake of the Addazio firing. So with a new coach in place, AJ Dillon headed to the NFL, and Anthony Brown in the transfer portal, what would a successful 2020 season look like?

Will: 7-5. Brown’s uncertain future (will he go? Where would he go? Does he want to go home to Rutgers? To Colorado State with Daz? Will a Power 5 school better than BC take him?) makes BC’s prospects a little less certain. True, David Bailey looks like he’ll be, at the very least, a reasonable replacement for AJ Dillon, and it looks like Kobay White will be back along with Zay Flowers, so the Eagles will have playmakers. Yet, the most important position is a bit up in the air. BC has tough road games against Florida State, Virginia Tech, and Wake Forest. Plus, I’m wary of Syracuse and NC State rebounding back from bad seasons, the Tar Heels looked good at times with just a true freshman at QB, plus Kansas and Purdue are not going to be cake-walks...I think 7-5 would be a very reasonable first season for Hafley, but I’m not going to expect a pound of flesh if he doesn’t reach that mark. So many questions still need to be answered in the offseason for me to make a more confident prediction.

Niraj: Not too much has changed for my expectations and definition of success. I think we expected AJ to declare, and whether or not Anthony Brown would even be healthy was a legitimate question. I still would put the bar at 8 wins to be considered a success. Martin Jarmond and now Jeff Hafley have nothing made it a point of emphasis in calling this a “retool” and not a rebuild. If that’s the case, we know the hurdle.

Rich: I definitely perked up when Hafley said, “This is not a rebuild. This is not something that is going to start from scratch.” There was no lowering of the bar due to youth or a lack of his own recruits. The offensive production will likely dip next season. Bailey is great, but there is no easy way to replace the best running back in school history. There are certainly some big questions at quarterback. Still, I think any offensive regression will be offset by an improved defense under Hafley. In Niraj’s interview with Land-Grant, Holy Land, their writer mentioned that OSU’s tackling improved dramatically after Hafley arrived. Tackling! Can you imagine? I think 8 wins is doable.

Grant: I was prettttttty optimistic going into next year even with Daz at the helm, because we have a lot of good pieces coming back on offense and the defense should be better just by virtue of the fact that they can’t be worse. I’m not worried at all about losing Dillon, because we’ve had a revolver full of excellent running backs for years and years now -- we’re just about to see who the next Heisman candidate is going to be.

Losing Brown would concern me, but I’m not entirely sure that he’s out the door. I could see him coming back because BC slam-dunked the coaching hire. If not, I’d like to see a graduate transfer at QB, if one is available, otherwise that’ll be a huge question mark. So having said all that -- 8 wins is definitely doable. What “success” will be depends on exactly how much Hafley has to tweak the team in Year 1. So even if we only go 6-6 or something he’d get a pass from me provided we see a boom in Year 2.

Much to the bewilderment of the author of these questions, Martin Jarmond has caught a lot of flack in this website’s comments section. Turning Gasson into the Sistine Chapel was a stroke of social media genius, his statement about allocating more money for assistants was reassuring, and securing Hafley appears to be a good move. So how would you grade the AD’s tenure at BC so far, and what would you like his next move to be?

Niraj: B+ I honestly have been shocked by many some of the outlandish takes on MJ. Stop. Sure, he could have made this decision earlier from some points of view, but it isn’t easy moving on from an established thing, and not having a plan in place puts you in a precarious situation. He’s young and it might not have been fair for him to come in and make sweeping changes. His hires in other sports have been fire, and I really don’t have time for those that think that means nothing. Maybe he shouldn’t have gotten into it with the twitter world on some recent issues though. But I’ll give him some points for the openness as well. I would like him to honestly asses men’s basketball right now, and I can guarantee you he is doing just that. One big decision at a time, people.

Grant: B+ from me. I’m going to be honest here, the whole shutting-the-band-down thing in favor of a DJ and piped in music and getting rid of the fight song at hockey games was and is really embarrassing. Yeah, I’m a former band guy, so this bothers me more than it probably bothers most of you, but it’s a serious black eye. Put a college football game on TV from any other school, and it’s just a completely different viewing experience. The band is mic’d up for TV, and it just makes for a great production. You cannot possibly tell me that ESPN or whoever wants BC to be using PA music in its stadium instead of mic’ing up the band and piping that through to people’s homes. Aside from the fact that ESPN probably can’t send the music from the PA through to TV for licensing reasons, it’s just boring.

Anyway that’s enough of a rant on that topic. That has and does bother me, but Jarmond has bought a colossal amount of goodwill with this football head coaching hire. As I said earlier, with the information we have available to us right now, it’s hard to imagine BC could have made a better hire. Jarmond ID’d his guy, went out, and closed the deal. That’s impressive. And the non-revenue sports hires have raised an eyebrow or two as well. His head coaching target M.O. -- basically, big time assistants at big time programs in the sport in question -- seem to be working out so far.

Rich: I’ll go A-. He stepped into a program where the head coaches of the major revenue sports were already on the hot seat, and the fanbase was restless (rightfully so, it’s been a pretty bleak decade for basketball and football). I personally prefer Martin’s enthusiasm and presence over the buttoned up approach of Brad Bates and GDF, and he also seems more willing to shake things up in terms of the gameday experience. Maybe that doesn’t always work out (see above), but I feel like Jarmond is capable of getting things rolling in the right direction. Perhaps the Hafley hiring was the big push we needed (no pressure, Jeff).

While the basketball team is 2-0 in the ACC right now, I’m not exactly optimistic about their chances going forward, so we’ll see if he’ll make a change there as well. If he does, I’m definitely more confident that he’ll find the right person following the football hiring.