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Boston College Football: Has Hafley Been a Success?

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Florida State v Boston College Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images

The coaching carousel in college football has been entertaining as ever this week. Fortunately for us, though it of course doesn’t guarantee anything, Jeff Hafley has signed a contract extension through 2026. Most of the reaction from the BC crowd was certainly positive. Though our honeymoon phase with him is over after this season in particular, the trajectory and the general feeling around the program is headed in the right direction. Let’s take a look at Hafley’s coaching thus far, what we can put on him and his staff, and do some high-level talk about areas where we hope to see progress in the years to come.

Coaching

Overall Record: 12-11

ACC Record: 7-11

After a really impressive first year, finishing 6th in the uni-conference, the sky seemed like the limit. BC was a popular dark horse pick amongst many an analyst. Unfortunately, everything that could have gone wrong this year pretty much did. Injuries took their toll, and the lack of depth that any new coach is going to walk into was exposed big time.

In the first year of Hafley, we actually reveled at most of his in-game decision making. All of a sudden, we had timeouts at the end of halves, the clock was properly managed, and we were going for short fourth downs at a much higher frequency. This year, and the past few games in particular saw more questionable decision-making, but we shouldn’t forget that most of it has been pretty good.

The FSU game was the biggest culprit. Two timeouts squandered in the second half of a game that had all the makings of going down to the wire — one on a two-point attempt and another on fourth down. Both were already must-have plays, and if you use your timeouts, even more critical. Then there was the clock management at the end of the game. He may not call the plays, but he can surely chime in at that junction of the game as to play type. At Georgia Tech, we saw botched executions on special teams that all boils down to coaching. It just can’t happen. Throughout the season, the team lost discipline for a quarter and gave up explosive plays. Injuries aside, it boils down to details.

We saw many issues with in-game adjustments as well. How many times in year one was the team only able to string together one half of football? This year, we saw a similar lack of consistency. Looking at Georgia Tech and FSU again, stretches of inept offense, one overcome, one not. With NC State, a whole half where Zay Flowers didn’t touch the ball. Unfathomable. He’s a defensive coach, yes, but over time I would like to have him exert himself a bit more (assuming he wasn’t already).

This year saw a major improvement in penalties (41st fewest), after a horrid 2020 (118th worst in the country — although eight other ACC teams were down at the bottom so this may have been systemic @ACC). The improvement can’t go unnoticed, and props to coaching discipline.

Recruiting

Hafley and his staff’s efforts on the recruiting front have been absolute dynamite. They signed the top recruiting class in school history for ESPN and 247sports in only their first season. In the little time to round out the 2021 class, they brought BC from the #62 class all the way up to 37. The incoming 2022 class has improved further to 27th and good for 6th in the ACC. We’ve seen some of the highest rated recruits believe in what he’s building here. Not to mention the expanded geographical profile of the class.

Hafley took over a few months before COVID hit and still brought in really good players - players that had to step into action this season. It’s not exactly a good thing to have to start so many freshman, but credit for bringing in kids that were able to hold their own at times. The Eagles had a depth issue — but as he gets more of his guys in and develops them, the doomsday scenarios the team was faced with will be much more mitigated.

Staff

After a promising 2020, it was encouraging to see the entire staff came back this year. Continuity can be a huge advantage if the right buttons are being pushed— and I think the only real question heading in was on the offensive line. After the failed reshuffling last year, partly due to injuries, Matt Applebaum reverted things for this season. I think from what us fans saw, the performance still wasn’t up to snuff for such a highly touted group. I was surprised to see the grades and pressure numbers some of the lineman surrendered. There were a number of issues, but injuries certainly had a part, both on the line and around the offense. Opposing defenses keyed in, and BC’s play-calling didn’t adjust. Frank Cignetti did a poor job in utilizing a quick passing game, and instead it felt like the team was constantly searching for a deep pass. It can’t be all on the line when the quarterback doesn’t have or take a quick out. Players like CJ Lewis and Kobay White were sorely missed chain-moving.

As you can tell, I keep going back and forth. It’s easy to sit here and complain, but it’s just as easy as making excuses. Right now, I still probably feel changes need to be made, but I can’t say I’ll be too shocked if they don’t happen. We’ll reserve our right to make a final call after the bowl game, with time to prepare and get healthy. Credit where credit is due, however. The defense played well above expectations given the lack of depth on that end. Tem Lukabu and co. certainly kept the Eagles in games longer, particularly during that dark stretch, than they should have been. It’s hard to keep up great play like that when you’re on the field so often. BC was middle of the pack in time of possession, and I’m sure if you take out the early games, this drops significantly.

There have been a lot of bad buyouts in college football today. The ACC has had some notable ones recently with Justin Fuente this season at Virginia Tech, and Willie Taggert at FSU last year. BC caught a little bit of a break with Daz getting the CSU job. All that said, money is fake for BC. But on the flip-side, there are a lot of coaches that have had time to build programs.

ACC Coaches

School Head coach First season W L Record After 2 Seasons
School Head coach First season W L Record After 2 Seasons
BC Jeff Hafley 2020 11 11 11-11, 7-11
Clemson Dabo Swinney 2008 148 37 13-8, 9-4
FSU Mike Norvell 2020 8 13 8-13. 6-10
GT Geoff Collins 2019 9 24 6-16, 5-12
Louisville Scott Satterfield 2019 18 18 12-12, 8-9
Miamia Manny Diaz 2019 21 15 14-10, 11-6
UNC Mack Brown 2019* 21 16 15-10, 11-7
NC State Dave Doeren 2013 64 49 11-14, 3-13
Pitt Pat Narduzzi 2015 52 36 16-10, 11-5
Syracuse Dino Babers 2016 29 43 8-16. 4-12
Virginia Tech Bronco Mendenhall 2016 36 38 8-17, 4-12
WF Dave Clawson 2014 50 47 6-18. 2-14
VT
Duke

Throughout this season, Hafley has seemingly gone out of his way to talk about the likes of Dabo, and the Daves Doeren and Clawson. He lauds how they’ve had time to build a program, and doing it the right way and all that. On the other side of ‘should he have even gotten an extension’ is still the ‘well how long will he stay.’ Sure there’s a bit of coach-speak spattered around, but by and large, Hafley bouncing in a few short years just wouldn’t fit with how he sells himself. Sure, he may leave at some point. But in that case, he will have certainly left BC in a much better place than he found it.