For much of the past decade, both Boston College basketball teams have found themselves in the same downward spiral. After Gene DeFilippo had Cathy Inglese “resign” in 2008 and fired Al Skinner in 2010, both teams went on to losing season after losing season.
When Martin Jarmond hired Joanna Bernabei-McNamee to take of the women’s program in 2018, the team hadn’t put up a winning record since 2010-2011. In her second year behind the bench, she coached the Eagles to a 20 win season and a program-best 11 ACC wins. She has also already started recruiting top players - this year’s freshman class was the 21st best recruiting class in the country, and that isn’t even counting Ally VanTimmeren (a top 20 recruit in her position) and Allie Palmieri (Connecticut’s 2020 Gatorade Player of the Year) who joined the team a semester early due to COVID shutting down their high school seasons.
Meanwhile, the men’s basketball program hasn’t had a 20 win season since that same 2010-2011 season, and has had only 1 winning record since then (going 19-16 in the 2017-18 season). The lowest point for the Eagles was 2015-16, when they went 7-25 overall and won 0 ACC matchups.
This season hasn’t been quite the highlight that last year was for the women’s team, due to the strength of the ACC this season, injuries and COVID, and just the youngness of the team (sorry, it’s actually true here). But there is still a lot Pat Kraft can take away from Joanna Bernabei-McNamee’s success at BC as he begins looking for replacements for Jim Christian.
Look for the rising stars.
Chances are, an established superstar coach isn’t going to want to take the BC job. Just like with the women’s basketball hire, the new men’s basketball coach is going to have to revamp this program from the ground up. Additionally, that basketball facility we keep hearing about isn’t being built yet, so a new coach will have to recruit with the facilities BC currently has to offer which are ... not on par with other ACC schools. Add to that the lackluster fan atmosphere (which has fed off of the team’s struggles), and recruiting to the team isn’t an easy proposition.
So when established names are off the table, Kraft should be looking for rising stars in the field, just like Joanna Bernabei-McNamee. This doesn’t even necessarily need to be a current head coach like JBM was.
When Jarmond hired McNamee, she was in her second year as head coach at SUNY Albany. Not exactly a huge name in women’s basketball! But McNamee had taken a mediocre Albany team and led them to 2 straight 20 win seasons. Previous to that, she spent 3 years as the head coach at Pikeville, turning them from a losing record team into a 20+ wins per season team. All this after leaving the coaching profession for 4 years while her kids were young.
Taking a chance on a coach from a less well known school can certainly be a risk, but looking for coaches who have shown the ability to turn teams around in the past is a good guide for Kraft as he searches for this new hire.
When McNamee was hired, one thing that stood out about her was that everyone you asked had nothing but glowing things to say about her. No hint of scandals, no rumors of locker room strife, nothing but respect. From the AD at Albany to former coworkers from other school to BC staff involved in the hiring process, everyone seems to say that she’s truly a “better coach and an even better person.” (Which certainly sounds familiar to people who have spoken to anybody in the hockey world about the GOAT, Jerry York.)
Sure, sometimes coaches with bad reputations can get wins out of teams, but since the rumors suggest that the locker room lost faith in Christian a while ago, which is similar to the women’s basketball program under Erik Johnson, finding a coach with a stellar reputation who is genuinely liked by both players and industry peers is a must.
Anyone watching the women’s basketball team since McNamee took over can easily see how close this squad has become. Even when they’re losing, they’re supporting each other and never giving up the fight. And they are constantly hanging out together off the court as well. Even players who have transferred this season are constantly supporting their former BC teammates on social media. By all accounts, there was a lot of toxicity in the locker room for many years prior to 2018, so this has made a huge difference.
Kraft needs to seek out a coach who can bring this same sense of unity and community to the men’s basketball team. This program needs to be united as a team, but they also need to feel like they can trust their coaching staff. They’ll be much more willing to put in the work for a coach that they genuinely like and respect.
Seek out someone with a strong recruiting background.
McNamee’s recruiting ability makes it clear that even if it takes a few ups and downs to get their, the women’s basketball team is headed back to the top. From players like Ally VanTimmere, who has made an immediate impact for the Eagles, to recruits like JoJo Lacey, who is guaranteed to make a big splash as she gets healthy and settles in, to transfers like Cameron Swartz, who has become a central part of BC’s offense, McNamee has nailed recruiting across the board. She has also developed some under-recruited players into burgeoning stars, including Erik Johnson recruit Marnelle Garraud and previous Albany commit Makayla Dickens, who McNamee brought to BC.
This recruiting strength didn’t come out of nowhere. McNamee was a recruiting coordinator in many of her assistant coaching positions, and she helped to bring in 4 nationally ranked recruiting classes at Maryland. She knows how to sell her school and how to get players to want to play for her.
This is a pretty obvious one as it relates to men’s basketball. They need someone with a history of recruiting and keeping a mix of 5-star players and underestimated diamonds in the rough.
Tough love works.
McNamee is pretty much the definition of a tough love coach. She expects the best from her players, and she’ll let them know when they have work to do. During this weird COVID year, color commentators have loved to repeat the fact that McNamee told the team that she was going to try to be softer with them this year because of the pandemic, but that they all know that isn’t really her and don’t expect her to change. And although she is tough (but fair) with her players when it comes to basketball, she also fosters communication and team bonding off the court. She’s tough when it’s time for basketball, but she lightens up when the team is having fun.
The men’s program would benefit from a coach with a similar approach. Someone who will call them out on sloppy plays, who will be tough on them when they struggle with fundamentals, and who expects them to win. But also someone who is fair, and who listens to what the players are feeling. BC needs a coach that the players will respect, not someone they will walk all over but also not someone they fear.
Ask the players what they want.
When Martin Jarmond was searching for a new women’s basketball coach, he talked to the players and asked them what they wanted. And they wanted a coach that would push them, a coach that would prioritize fundamentals and strength & conditioning, and a coach that would just generally work them hard in practice. So Jarmond went out and he found someone that had a proven history of doing those very things.
Similarly, Kraft should ask the men’s team what they want from a coach. These guys know that the team isn’t living up to its potential. They know where their weak spots are. And their input into what will help turn the program around is important. Not only will the give Kraft good insight into the team, but it will make the players feel heard in a way that they maybe haven’t been for the past few seasons as Christian has continued to stick around.
Look for a coach who can bring strong assistants with them.
A coaching staff is made up of more than just one person, and the assistants that a new coach might bring with them are worth thinking about when searching for a new hire. McNamee’s assistants are a strong bunch overall, and all of them seem to have great connections with the players. But perhaps the most impressive assistant that McNamee brought with her to BC is Yolanda Griffith. Griffith has many years of experience as an assistant coach, but she is also a WNBA legend. She played in the pros from 1999-2009 after being chosen 2nd overall in the 1999 WNBA draft. She is a seven-time WNBA All-Star, was the Finals MVP when her team won the WNBA Championship in 2005, and was honored in 2016 as one of the top 20 players in WNBA history.
Obviously a similar caliber NBA player isn’t going to want or need to take an assistant coaching job at BC, but finding a coach who has assistant coaches that add to the school’s profile and recruiting ability would be wonderful.
Obviously the coaching market on the women’s side of the NCAA and the men’s side of the NCAA aren’t identical, but looking at what worked for a similarly broken women’s basketball program a couple of years ago is a good guide for Kraft as he heads into making his first big BC hire.