Boston College and women’s soccer head coach Jason Lowe parted ways on Tuesday, with Lowe’s firing being announced after the Eagles concluded a winless season in conference play and a 3-9-6 record overall. BC won just 4 ACC games in 5 seasons under Lowe, after winning 6 ACC games in 2018 alone, the last year under longtime coach Alison Foley who was fired by Martin Jarmond at the end of that season. By pulling the plug on Lowe and accepting the need for a rebuild, Blake James is taking on his first major reclamation project as athletic director.
James had to replace Mike Gambino after his departure from the baseball program, but that was hiring a coach to come into a good situation. This willingness to tackle a rebuild in women’s soccer is an encouraging sign, particularly given that the lack of fan pressure/interest around women’s soccer would probably give James cover to delay this decision.
The women’s soccer program is yet another example of a BC program that had a long period of stability and admirable success before falling by the wayside after replacing their longtime coach. Under Foley, the Eagles made 14 NCAA tournament appearances in 21 years, including a trip to the College Cup (Final Four) in 2010. BC also produced future USA World Cup player Kristie Mewis, French national team stalwart Laura Georges, and numerous other pros.
It’s not necessarily wrong to replace a coach who’s had extended success under the theory that the next coach can bring the team to the next level. But if you are going to replace a coach in that situation, you need to make sure you get the hire right. As we’ve seen with women’s basketball, men’s basketball, and (in various ways) football, the consequences can be dire if you get it wrong.
Instead of looking for a coach who’s going to shift gears from BC women’s soccer being a consistent NCAA tournament threat to a national contender, James will now be on the lookout for a coach who can simply bring stability and competitiveness back to the program.
While soccer is not really a sport that’s on the radar of fans at BC now, there’s no reason why BC can’t get back to being respectable in both men’s and women’s soccer. BC’s draw academically, the draw of playing in the ACC, and the fact that it doesn’t take a particularly strong record in such a stacked conference to be an NCAA tournament contender if you beat your nonconference opponents means a good coach should be able to bring the Eagles back to at least modest success.
To be clear, the next coach’s challenge is more difficult than those the program faced in the 90s or 00s. With the growth of the game in the US, more schools are taking soccer more seriously; the ACC is stacked in women’s soccer and only becoming moreso with massive programs Stanford and Cal joining the league; and BC faces weather and facility challenges just as they do in all outdoor sports.
But none of these challenges mean the current state of the programs is acceptable. While BC’s facility may not be the best in the league, they maintain a solid, purpose-built facility for soccer on Newton Campus - the same field/facility/locker setup that Acacia Walker-Weinstein inherited when she started building the women’s lacrosse program into a power.
Soccer is a fairly expensive sport to operate (particularly on the men’s side when taking into account Title IX compliance), so the need is there to take it seriously. And while the fans haven’t shown much interest in the programs (understandably), soccer on college campuses has become a popular sport drawing fans where the teams are competitive, and there’s every reason to believe BC fans could embrace a better performing team.
The men’s soccer season is not over yet, with the Eagles competing in the ACC tournament starting on Wednesday night - but they’re also in a difficult situation, posting a 3-8-5 regular season record including losses to Stonehill and Quinnipiac. We’ll see if James feels the need to make a change with both programs, or focus on one at a time.
Either way, James has shown a willingness to tackle a reclamation project of trying to repair damage that wasn’t his fault, inheriting a disastrous decision by Martin Jarmond that was heavily criticized in local media at the time and only proved worse with the benefit of hindsight.
We certainly all hope we don’t need to see a reclamation project in any of BC’s more marquee sports, but the way James approaches this should give us insights into how he’ll handle it should that situation arise. We’ll be keeping an eye on who James considers for this position and rooting for them to turn this program around.