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Basketball Banter: Reacting to the Earl Grant hire

Our writers’ panel shares its reactions to the hire of Earl Grant as the next BC men’s basketball coach

NCAA Men’s Basketball - Duke vs Boston College - February 14, 2007

Curtis Flannery: Alright, so after doing some research, I don’t necessarily hate this hire. I’m just mostly confused.

Grant seems to have done a decent job at Charleston, but there are plenty of other candidates BC could have waited to interview that have much better resumes. What gives?

Peter Caliguri: My two cents. Firstly, I am glad that BC hired a young, up-and-coming coach that is looking to make a name for himself in the basketball world.

He has had some success at Charleston in getting the program into the NCAA tournament and the NIT. It’s evident that he is hungry and that he wants to take his skillset to a higher level.

Where I am cautious and hesitant is the conference crossover. Going from the CAA to a much more intense division like the ACC brings with it a lot of responsibility and a hefty workload. If he is driven and can prove successful in this conference, then kudos to him.

Just having gone through seven years where a MAC coach struggled to adapt to the ACC, I just think BC could have done some better recruiting. I would like to see where Grant was on BC’s wishlist, and if it was simple a pencil in since all the other candidates were taken.

Curtis Flannery: Grant has been an assistant in the ACC before - given it was only 4 years at Clemson, but he’s at least got an idea of the landscape and what it takes in this conference.

I also am a fan of the young and hungry hire, even if it’s risky. If this program needs anything, it’s energy. My only concern there is that we went for a much less proven young guy. If we couldn’t get a better young guy like Gates or Miller, this may have been time for a boring steady hire like Mark Schmidt or someone similar. This is gonna be a long rebuild and more high-level experience may have been the way to go to get us back to at least .500

Laura Berestecki: I’m definitely still digesting this hire, but this strategy of hiring a young up and comer seems to be working for Joanna Bernabei-McNamee and the women’s basketball team. They had a tough year due to injuries and COVID pauses this year (which it sounds like Earl Grant actually did too at Charleston), but overall recruiting and performance have really improved under a coach who was a bit of a risk. A fresh approach and new energy to the program made a world of difference.

Granted, she did already have a really strong recruiting background, and her teams showed only upward trajectories in the past - whereas it looks like Grant’s teams have had a bit of a downward slide over the last couple of years.

Joe Gravellese: They have, and I think that fair or unfair the reaction would have been different obviously if C of C was coming off its NCAA tournament year, even if Grant had the same overall record. What’s key here is whether you think the last two years were a blip (especially this weird year) or a trend. If you read the tea leaves of people like Gene Sapakoff who follow the Charleston program, they seem to think it’s more of a blip - losing one of their most talented players ever to the NBA, then losing another high-end talent to injury, and then having all the weird COVID stuff happen this season.

Curtis Flannery: Yes Laura, I would definitely tend to agree with that assessment. JBM was/is a young up-and-comer, but her experience at high-level schools like Maryland very much outweighs the experience of Earl Grant. The same could be said for Jeff Hafley in football, coming from Ohio State. Grant just doesn’t have the same pedigree as those other successful (so far) hires. They aren’t comparable except for all being young coaches.

Laura Berestecki: Definitely a good point - a couple years assisting at Clemson is quite different than what we’ve seen with hires that Jarmond made.

Will Bagnall: I wonder if they just wanted a stark contrast with Jim Christian, who it really seems like wasn’t able to get the roster he had to achieve to its full potential. Maybe BC is hoping the players will get behind a guy who is out to prove himself.

Joe Gravellese: I mentioned this in a comment on another article, but I think it’s important to say that I don’t think it’s fair to evaluate this hire based on the comparison to Jeff Hafley.

Think about where BC football was when they hired Hafley, vs where BC basketball is now. There’s really no comparison.

Football was coming off 5 winning seasons in 6 years (say what you want about the low level bowl games - the general perception of BC was as a solid middle of the road program). The Fish Field House had already been open for a year as a state of the art facility – not just to help with recruiting, but also to help in the every day tasks of player development - a world-class weight room, great place to practice and have team meetings, etc. We had just hosted GameDay. We weren’t totally off the national map.

On the other hand, BC men’s basketball has been at the bottom of the barrel in the ACC basically continuously for 10 years, with the exception of the one NIT year. The new facility is in the works, but there isn’t a shovel in the ground yet, so it’ll be a few years before it really directly impacts the program day to day. So not only are you asking a coach to invest several years in roster-building, you’re asking them to wait a few years before the facilities are in line with where they need to be, too, because this isn’t SimCity - it takes time to build things.

And then in terms of player development, BC MBB has had basically had two players to write home about since Skinner left - in fact, College of Charleston has had more players drafted than BC did over the last 6 years or so.

So you can’t compare where one program is vs the other in terms of desirability of the job, and I think people need to consider that context at least.

It’s a lot more accurate to compare BC basketball to where BC football was when they hired Addazio after firing Spaz - but even then, under Spaz, BC was only 4 years removed from being a contender – not a decade.

A coach of Jeff Hafley’s caliber wouldn’t have come to BC without the progress that had already been made stabilizing and investing in the program. Hafley even specifically said in his introductory press availabilities that one of the great things about this opportunity for him is that it wasn’t a total rebuild - it was a retool, a team that he thought could make some adjustments and win right away. I’m sure Grant will say the right things about the roster he’s inheriting, but let’s be honest - any coach taking this job knew you were looking at a multi-year rebuild, without the benefit of the new facility being on line yet - and all of this in a world in college sports where patience grows thinner and thinner every year.

My spiciest take is probably that if we look back on Grant as someone who roughly did what Addazio did - went around .500, made some NIT and CBIs, and maybe gave us a few good memories along the way, beat the bad teams, never cracked into the very top, did OK but eventually ran his course after 5-6 years - that that would be a pretty solid result, given where the program is now.

I’ll give you Coach Mac, who definitely had a stronger pedigree including working with a national championship Maryland team before becoming the BC WBB coach. But I think we all get that there are structural reasons that make the task of building BC into a contender in men’s basketball probably a tougher nut to crack than in women’s basketball.

Curtis Flannery: I largely agree with all of that Joe!

BC basketball and football should not be compared. And it’s a reason I made it a point to not mention Hafley in any of my previous writing about this hire. The two programs are just in vastly different places.

But I will say that, despite the very poor shape of BC Basketball, Kraft still probably could’ve landed someone with a better resume. I mean, they didn’t even wait for the NCAA tournament to start before making this hire. You have to at least have some interviews of head coaches and assistants that are in March Madness right now.

Laura Berestecki: I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a lot of criticism surrounding the timing of the hire for that very reason. It makes it seem like Kraft really wanted to snag Grant before anyone else could? Which okay I guess?

Also re: Joe’s point - It definitely can’t be understated how important the new facility is going to be to success. It will be great to get a real solid schedule for that because that’s going to make recruiting a heck of a lot easier.

(Also re: Joe’s point, obviously rebuilding WBB is a much easier task, I fully admit that)

Joe Gravellese: I’m not denying that there might have been better candidates out there, Curtis - I’m just saying, compare apples to apples. A LOT of things about the BC football job made it much more desirable in the pecking order. Including the fact that there’s a much bigger gap between the P5 and everyone else in football than there is in basketball, in terms of desirability of the job. You can build a ‘midmajor’ program into a national success in basketball; in football the system is specifically designed for you to not be able to do that.

So it’s fair to say ‘any coach would drop anything for a chance to coach in the P5 in football, even for a less desirable job,’ whereas I’m not sure that’s really the case in basketball.

Again, none of this is to say that BC couldn’t have hired more of a household name, nor is it to say whether this was a good hire, etc. etc.

I feel like the way this conversation has been played out, I’m casting myself into the role of being the ray of sunshine, but in reality, I’m mostly like “who is this guy?,” just like the rest of you. I think I’m driven to take the sunshine role by seeing people line up to dive off the Tobin over a guy I guarantee 99.9% of us have never watched coach a game, while heartily demanding, someone like Gates, who 99.9% of us have also never watched coach a game. Or when people start using tired lines about BC won’t pay for a coach, blah blah blah.

BC has obviously shown with the investment in facilities across the board that they are working to rebuild these programs that were struggling in the ACC - and several of them, football, baseball, WBB - have shown positive signs of improvement. That’s a good reason to give their process here a chance. They obviously knew this choice wasn’t going to generate a ton of fan or media buzz but felt strongly enough about what they could tell about his coaching and recruiting to make him the guy anyway. And the idea that after spending $50+ million on a field house, $50+ million on a new rec center, however many million on the new baseball facility, and committing to do the same for a basketball facility, that somehow the determining factor in what coach we hire would be an amount of money that is functionally a rounding error, is silly. The Pete Thamel article about Grant’s hire talks about how part of the deal BC offered is ramping up the resources available for assistant coaches, facilities, etc., just like they did in football — Thamel is well-sourced at BC.

To echo something I think Peter said earlier, I think in order to really properly judge, I’d love to learn more about the process, who else was considered, etc.

Like if we found out Beilien or, like, Ed Cooley was in communication with BC and BC decided not to move forward with those conversations because they were locked in on Grant from the beginning based on Kraft’s previous search at Temple, that would be one thing.

But if they were choosing between a group of midmajor coaches and assistants - people like Schmidt, or Coen, or Gates - it would be hard to say definitively that one of those guys is better than the other. And I think anyone who’s trying to make that statement definitively is being a little dramatic. Remember, all the message boards thought Bob Diaco was the next football coaching god.

Curtis Flannery: Definitely. Maybe they interviewed some local candidates that aren’t in the NCAA tournament, like John Becker or Bill Coen, and it just ended up that Earl Grant had a great interview and BC was already sold. I’m a lot more ok with that kind of situation, though I’m still not thrilled.

But the timing of this hire makes me doubt they did a full interview process, because I think they would’ve liked to wait to interview at least Howard Eisley. I’ll wait to speculate too hard on that, though.

Will Bagnall: I think Joe has a point about not comparing where the programs are and I’m not sure if this adds to or conflicts with his point so I’ll let him respond. As somebody who was a Christian supporter for a while I will argue that this team had the talent to at least be a mid level ACC team. This year even with COVID taken into account it was clear that the team was not being maximized.

So if I’m a coach coming perhaps I see that this roster was better than its record.

Not saying this was a top 5 ACC team but they were better than 3 wins.

That being said everything that has been said about the speed to hire somebody is off, to complete the process before March Madness. I’m guessing they started interviewing right after they fired Christian.

Laura Berestecki: The timing this is certainly interesting considering this is Kraft’s first big move at BC (well, second I guess if you count firing Christian), and you’d have to imagine that he would foresee some criticism on that front when he ended up hiring an underdog so quickly. I think this fan base (understandably) doesn’t want to trust somebody that doesn’t have a proven record of success at an ACC caliber school, but here’s to hoping that we’re all pleasantly surprised.

Joe Gravellese: You’re right and I think they obviously must be confident in the hire to go with someone out of left field.

That said, there was nobody on the board who had a proven record of success at an ACC caliber school. If the scuttlebutt is to be believed, Eisley and Schmidt were two other candidates near the top of the board. Neither one of them is a sure thing - Eisley has never been a head coach, Schmidt has been good at Bonas but it’s been a process, not a miracle.

The closest any names floated were to having proven success at this level would probably be Thad Matta and Beilein. We know according to the Athletic that BC reached out to Matta and he wasn’t interested, that he’s pretty happy living on a beach right now and didn’t want to move to Boston and take this job. We don’t know if Beilein was ever discussed this go around, so I guess that would be interesting to learn more about. But other than those two guys, everyone else being floated was a lottery ticket. Donahue was ‘the guy’ coming out of the midmajor ranks like Porter Moser is now, and we see how that worked out.

If I have one major criticism of the process itself, I think it would be that Kraft, if reports are to believed, was too laser-focused on only considering candidates with previous head coaching experience. I get why they want a sure and steady hand, but I think if you’re going to go with a steady hand, you’d want someone with a longer sustained record like Coen or Becker — if you’re looking at rolling the dice on an up and comer, Eisley’s profile, with his NBA ties, seems enticing to me. He was the candidate I probably most wanted.

But I like what I’ve read about Grant since the hire, and think it’s noteworthy that he produced more NBA draft picks at C of C than BC did in the same time frame. I am pretty much on board with where Bill came down on ATLEagle - more optimistic than most. Whoever the next coach was was always going to be staring down a difficult rebuild. Let’s hope the new guy is up to the task.