If you were unable to pull up Thursday’s podcast with former Boston College football head coach Jeff Jagodzinski, we’ve got you covered. We put together the full transcript of our interview with Jags. Enjoy!
Joe Gravellese: Welcome to BC interruption radio; Pardon The BC Interruption. We have a very special guest, former Boston College head football coach Jeff Jagodzinski. Grant Salzano is also with me today. This is Joe Gravellese, editor-in-chief of BCInterruption.com. And on behalf of the readership and pretty much everyone who watched BC football in 2007-2008, let me just say it's so exciting to have you, we really appreciate you taking the time, and we miss those days. Those were some good times.
Jeff Jagodzinski: Yeah, you know, wasn’t that a blast? That was so much fun. I mean the campus and the town and the whole nation was watching BC football and it was great. I loved it. Thanks for having me on.
JG: Yeah it was. Those years definitely hold a special place.
I’m going to turn it over to Grant to ask a few questions to start us off and we’ll get into some things people are looking forward to hearing about.
GS: Yeah, Coach, it's really great to talk to you. Joe and I both graduated in 2010 so we were there for really BC’s prime years of being at the forefront of the national conversation, which sounds crazy to say now. We've got people telling us “Oh, BC’s got no future” we always say “well, we were number two in the country when they were students, and we ended up number 10 in the country… So it can be done.” As Joe said we have a lot of pretty fond memories of BC football from back in those days.
Well first and foremost, how are you and your family? We understand you to take some time off this fall from coaching Georgia State.
JJ: I did, you know I've been coaching ball now for about 31 or so years. And sometimes priorities take place. I've got a daughter, I don’t know if you are aware, but she's an epileptic and she's severely autistic, and she was not doing well. We had some surgery done to try to stop the seizures and I just thought that trying to get a first down this fall probably wasn't as important trying to take care of your family. So I took off this fall, and things are going a lot better with Jaci.
She was at the campus school when we were there and we thought as a family, my wife Lisa and I, we thought that that was probably the best thing that we had going for our family, having a place for Jaci to go to school. The way it was set up was the [BC nursing students] that were interested in special needs, they went to that school. So they really had a vested interest in really getting good at that and getting close with the kids. And the teachers were phenomenal. At lunchtime I could just go right across the field and go up to the campus school and go see her. And so there were a lot of grant things for Jaci at that school, especially the campus school, they really do a great service there, and I think we could have taken that to an even higher level… but it just didn't work out that way.
GS: Yeah, I remember back when you were here you spoke a lot of the Campus School and that in particular seemed to be a good fit for you and your family.
I'm sorry to hear about your family but hopefully things go better, and it’s nice to hear you taking some time off to take care of business.
JJ: Right. And you know the thing is, again, you know, it’s just priorities that had to be done and I’m glad I had the opportunity to do it. So things are going better and we're just moving in the right direction now.
GS: We're glad to hear it.
You're the assistant coach now, taking time off but assistant coach now at Georgia State. Do you plan to become a head coach again?
JJ: I do. I do, and I'm really looking forward to that next chapter in my coaching profession. Yes, I really do, I'd like to run my own team again. They're not doing real good this year, I'm not with them, but last year we took an upstart program and got them into a bowl game, which is really rare. We ended up going 6-7, but we ended up having the fourth or fifth ranked passing game in the country. We had two 1,000 yard receivers that were coming back, but they're really struggling in this year. But it was fun. We had a kind named Nick Arbuckle we took out of California, a junior college kid, he did good his junior year and his senior year he really understood what we were trying to get done. We just lit people up in the passing game. It was a blast.
GS: In looking up a little bit about how things have been going for you, I saw that Georgia State’s offense had kind of impressed for the program that it is. I think the first couple of years you were there I want to say you were top 25 in in passing offense, got up to maybe the top 10 or something like that.
JJ: Yeah I think we were like fifth or sixth or something like that, I don’t know. But we were throwing the ball all over over the park. Nick’s up in Canada now playing, and he had a tryout with Steelers. If we had more time with him we would have won this year again, but they're not winning now. But I really believe this, if you have the right type of kids and the right type of coaching and you can really develop kids -- like we took this kid Nick Arbuckle, nobody wanted him, and he ends up being sixth in the country or so in passing. So you can do it, it can be done.
GS: It seems, following you on Twitter a little bit, like you still follow BC. What do you what do you think of BC’s current situation?
JJ: Well, I'm not I'm not real familiar with the personnel, and I just watch them from afar. I mean, I'm still a huge BC fan. I want them to do well and I would like to see them get back into the national scene. And there's no reason that they can't.
It seems to me that the defense, obviously, is really, really good. They’re, what, number one in the country right now, which, I mean, that's impressive. And the offense is just nowhere to be found. They’re like 116th or something in total offense.
The type of kid that goes to Boston College, it’s a consistent type of kid they've got. There's a disconnect there, and I don't know what that is, but if they could just be halfway decent offensively, they'd be probably a 7 or 8 win team. But they're really struggling moving the ball.
GS: Yeah, that was what everyone was saying last year too. Every game it was “it’s criminal how much this defense is getting wasted with how poor the offense is performing,” and they've both kind of regressed a little bit toward the mean this year. The defense isn't quite what it was last year, the offense isn't quite as bad as it was last year, but it sort of seems like the same sort of story. You just feel like if the offense did get something going they would be halfway decent with how the defense is.
JJ: Just take an example, like Nick Arbuckle. I mean nobody even knew who this kid was. But if I could go ahead and insert Nick Arbuckle up at BC, we would be a top 25 team in passing. I'm sure of it. I'm sure of it, because the receivers that we had here at Georgia State that were both 1,000 yard receivers weren't even recruited. We took one kid, Penny Hart out of a summer camp that we had. He was just the best kid at the camp. He was 5’ 8” and he had like 1,100 yards last year. And we had another kid that we took that was going to a Division II school, his name is Robert Davis, and he came to camp, he was 6’3”, 210 pounds, vertical 42 inches, and runs a 4.45. They weren't even recruited. And you can put those two kids together.
The thing is that Boston College, you are recruiting those guys. You can find them. I never used and I never worried about stars. In fact I really hated them. There was a guy, he calls himself a senior analyst or something now for Rivals, he's in my office and I forget what the kid’s name was... But I said, “Hey, have you ever taken a kid and just gave them stars because of what somebody said?” He goes, “well, yeah.” “You never watched film or nothing on the guy?” He goes “no,” and I go “well, how do you do that?” “Well, you know, coaches just tell me and I just do stars!” [laughs]
So I never had any kind of use for the star system. I just never did, because really at BC we had – well, I’ll give you an example, we just talked about those wide receivers at Georgia State and the quarterback, they were two stars, maybe? I mean, they weren't even on anybody's radar. So they're out there. The thing I think you have to do is you have to evaluate the talent that fits what you want to do, and don't care about what anybody else thinks.
A great example of that is when we want to see Dominique Davis. It was Steve Logan, myself, and Donny Yanowsky. Donny was recruiting down in the Florida area for East Carolina at the time. This kid was at Kathleen High School, and we walked in and Dominique is 6’ 3”, about 120 pounds, remember how skinny he was? [laughs]. But we watched him throw, and as I said “Logan, what do you think of this kid?” And he said “I think we could work with him.” And I said “all right.” And we had just gotten there so we didn't have any time to recruit a quarterback or really any players at all. And so we ended up taking Dominique Davis and the son of a gun ends up going to East Carolina and just lighting it up for like 9,000 yards. He ended up having a problem at BC academically.
I will tell you this -- there would be absolutely no way that would have happened with Logan with him. It wouldn’t have happened. Because Logan would have been on top of that kid constantly. He'd be having him over at his house for study hall. But that's the way Logan was. He wouldn't let a quarterback like that go. And I really think that we would have been able to keep winning with Dominique Davis. I mean, again, the guy threw for 9,000 guards. He came in as a freshman when Chris Crane got hurt. That second year we ended up winning the division championship with Dominique Davis. We went down to Wake Forest and beat them down there, beat Maryland at home... So, there are players out there, but you just have to be willing to not worry about what anybody thinks and take the kids that fit what you want to do.
Another great example of that was Anthony Castonzo. Anthony was a kid that was in Chicago, and he was skinny. He was at 6’ 6”, 229 pounds, and nobody recruited the kid. Nobody, I mean he didn't even get a Division III offer out of high school. No one wanted him. And I told [recruiting coordinator] Mike [Siravo], I said Mike, look, this is the kind of offensive lineman I want. I want a guy that's that athletic, I don't care how big he is right now, and a big frame, that can move. That's all I'm looking for. And he said, well, there's a guy down at Fork Union [Military Academy] and Don Yanowsky saw him when he was at East Carolina, and he said, “Jags, this is the kid that you're looking for, this Castonzo kid.” And I said “all right, let's go ahead and get this guy going.” So we started recruiting him, and no one was on him. Donny was on him at East Carolina, and he fell off of him because he came up to BC with us. And Temple was also a school that was starting to look at him. Well as soon as we offered Anthony Castonzo, Alabama offered the kid. It was like the next week, because what we did is we validated the kid. That “this guy’s good player.”
Anyway, interesting story about how we got we got Anthony in the school. I was at, like, a social mixer, and Anthony was really smart, he was like a 36 ACT, maxed it out, really, really a smart guy. Wanted to be a cancer doctor. His grandfather had cancer, so he wanted to be a cancer doctor.
So I hit Father Leahy up at a mixer. We were having drinks and everything, and there’s a bunch of boosters and stuff around, and I said “Hey, Father,” I said, “I've got a guy that really wants to come to Boston College” -- and see, at that time, they never had anybody come in mid-year. They just didn't do it. And I said, “well, you know, Notre Dame does it…” And it hit him perfect because of all the boosters, and he goes “oh, if Notre Dame’s going to do it, we’re going to do it too!” And I said “right on, Father!” [laughs]
Just funny stories like that. But we got kids that nobody really wanted. They really didn't. And people get all hung up in recruiting stars and all that, I mean, I just never did.
JG: Did you enjoy recruiting?
JJ: I did. I really did.
JG: Well I'm sure you know that that's one of the rumors about when you left, that’s what people say, and maybe you want a chance to respond to that.
JJ: That I don’t like recruiting? Yeah, I like recruiting. We had a great time on the road. The one thing about recruiting that's really changed is I think there is a lot of entitlement of kids now. And things have changed even more where you're recruiting 9th graders now. They just got their first ten speed and you’re recruiting them, you know what I mean? So it’s been different, but no, I enjoy recruiting. I like recruiting. Right at the end what would be frustrating was kids would take a different place because they thought it was shinier, newer looking, you know what I'm saying? I knew that it wasn't right fit for that kid. And he ended up going there and really didn't flourish.
But those were the types of things that frustrated me about recruiting. But I like recruiting, you know, going to homes and everything, Kuechly’s visit was awesome, Castonzo’s visit, it was snowing sideways in Chicago when we were visiting him, and his mom and dad had an Italian restaurant, so we were buddies by the end of the night [laughs]. So no, it was fun. Oh yes. I had a good time with recruiting.
JG: You mention the importance of knowing what you want and in recruiting to what you want. I do feel like that's been something that BC’s struggled with in recent years. It seems like there's not a consistent methodology of what they're trying to do, and that kind of leads into my next question, which is in the medium term, do you think BC could get back to where they were in 2007-2008, and what’s the blueprint, how can they do it?
JJ: Can BC get back... Again, I don't know really know what those guys are after. I don't know what they want it to look like, I don't know that. You know I mean? So it’s kind of hard for me to say. But can you get it back to ’07-’08? Absolutely. Absolutely. And I'd be bold enough to say that I’d have that thing back in three years the way I want it to look. I really believe I could.
JG: Let's get into the BC years a little bit. You already touched on some of the recruiting. Something that I was curious about -- at what point in ’06 when the job opened up did it get onto your radar, what made you interested and decide to apply?
JJ: Okay, here's the deal. Nobody knows these stories.
I was at BC back in ’97-’98 on Tom O'Brien's first staff. And I ended up getting a job at Green Bay as a tight ends coach, and that's where I'm from. But I told my wife, we were flying to Green Bay and we were sitting on the runway at Logan, and I looked at her and I said “I want you to know that we're coming back here some day and I'm going to be the head coach.” BC was the only college job that I was ever interested in doing because I knew what type of kids that I was going to get at BC, and I thought I could be successful there.
So I always knew I was coming back, and Gene and I forged a relationship the minute he got there. I remember he came in, I think he had just gotten the job, and we were playing Rutgers at Rutgers and Gene introduced himself after the game. But Gene and I, we had a great relationship. So it wasn't like applying for a job, it wasn't like that.
I was sitting at my desk in Green Bay and Tom had left, and Gene called me and goes “I'm looking for a football coach.” I said, “Well put the phone down, because you just found one!” [laughs]
That was the one I always wanted to have was Boston College. But I knew back in ’98, I told my wife. And I said “I’m going to be back here someday as the head coach.”
A lot of people people don't know that kind of stuff. I got to the NFL for a while there and that was fun. But there was no, like, applying, or “on the radar.” Every time I thought Tom was going to leave, I thought, all right, here's my opportunity, this is what's going to happen. And then he never did. Then he went to NC State, and then I got a call from Gene and then we just started talking.
JG: How involved was university administration in the interview process? There was the search firm the last time with Addazio. Other than Gene, were some of the trustees or Father Leahy involved in the process, or was it more delegated to an external group?
JJ: Here’s what happened. I was at Green Bay in ’06, I was the coordinator there. And the job came open, and Gene and Neil Solomon, who was the HR guy, he's pretty powerful, really a good guy, Gene and Neil flew to Green Bay and their luggage was left in Chicago so they didn't have anything.
So anyway we started meeting. The thing is with the interview process, Gene already knew me. So it wasn't like “hey, tell me about yourself.” But what we talked about was the direction of the program, and where did I think it could go, and I never said “hey we're going to win the national championship.” Because that's what guys always say in an interview. “Gene,” I said “I promise you this. We will always compete to be ACC champions. And whatever happens after that, happens. But I promise you we will always compete for a championship in the ACC. That's what I can tell you. I can assure you that.” And that's what we did.
So they came, and we were right in the middle of the season so McCarthy goes “look, I don’t want you spending a lot of time on this whole thing.” So I said “just let me talk to these guys” and all that.
So a week later we're playing the Detroit Lions and after the game they flew a jet into Green Bay and flew me to Boston. It was on a Sunday and I got a chance to meet with Father Leahy. And again I knew Father Leahy from the first time that I was there. And Father Leahy used to be the president at Marquette University which is in Milwaukee which is where I'm from. So we hit it off right away. And then we talked about the direction of the program and how I saw it being part of the university and the whole thing, and Father Leahy was great.
But those were the only three people that were involved in the hiring process, that was it. There was no board of trustees or nothing.
JG: In the interview process, and also when you were at BC in general, how much conversation was there about the facilities and what kinds of things would have to be done to compete at the ACC level?
JJ: When I was there they had really just finished building. I never said anything about the facilities. I’ll say thi about Gene, whatever I wanted or if I needed something -- I mean, I wasn't extravagant, but if I needed something Gene would always give it to me. And the only thing that I felt that Boston College needed was an indoor facility. Being up in the northeast in the weather, that's a real problem. And that's the one thing. I said Gene, we really, really need one of these things here. I know they put the dome on the stadium afterwards there were times during the season where we had to go down to the New England Patriots and use their facility a couple of times when I was there.
But the problem you have there is you’re so landlocked. Where do you want to take off? Where the baseball field is, or… I don't where you are going to put it. That was it. That was a problem.
But I never complained about facilities. I'll tell you this, I really didn't care. I didn't care about facilities. I mean, they were nice and they were very functional. So our weight room wasn't 80,000 square feet, I didn't care about any of that stuff. None of that mattered to me. All I cared about was that I had good guys, a good staff, and guys that would fight. That's all we care about it.
GS: That indoor practice facility has been the thing talked about forever as far as what BC needs. Since you were there it’s kind of been in the works, so hopefully it actually does get completed at some point.
So when you and Steve Logan walked in and you took a look at the roster when you got to BC, what sort of changes did you think needed to be made to get the most out of Matt Ryan and that BC offense?
JJ: The first time I met Matt, I just got introduced for the job. I met my team, and Matt came up to my office and he walked right in the door and we just started talking. I got on the phone with Logan, I said let me tell you what we’ve got with this kid. He’s Matt Hasselbeck, same type of guy, but there's something special about this kid.
You know, you talk about “it” factor -- he had that. And you need people that have that. You just go “there’s something about this guy that he's going to be very good.”
Here's the thing about Logan, too – he had different guys, he had Rohan Davey, he had Marcus Crandell, he had David Garrard who was a pro-bowl quarterback, Jeff Blake was a pro bowl quarterback, and those guys were all completely different.
But we had a plan to surround Matt and give him the autonomy to go and operate the offense. I'm really big with the offensive line, that's really my background, and I knew the type of offensive linemen that we had at BC. And for them not to be dominating right now is kind of strange. Because when I left there, we had two number one tackles. There was Gosder [Cherilus] and Anthony [Castonzo] with a third round center in [Matt] Tennant, and all the other guys when I left, all five of those guys were on an All-ACC, whether first, second, or honorable mention. So that was just the way it is here at BC. It is O-Line U, I don’t know if they call it that anymore, but it used to be.
JG: We still have the name, it hasn’t quite lived up to it the last couple years. But the reputations is still there, and you’d think we’d be able to bring it back.
JJ: Yeah. I remember Charlie Weis, he wasn’t one of my favorite guys, just really kind of an arrogant guy, right? Before the game, he was just kind of being Charlie, and I got kind of tired of the way he was being, and our offensive line came running out there, and I go “Charlie, get a load of these guys!” And then I walked away. [laughs]
Man, I didn’t care. We were going to beat the hell out of Notre Dame anyway, it didn't matter to me. Just the arrogance on him. The first time that we played them in ’07, we could have scored again, but I just took a knee. I thought, you know, I don't want to start anything.
Notre Dame, they sucked, they were like 115th in offense at the time. If you're a Notre Dame, how are you 115th. And it’s the same thing at BC. BC should be in the top 50 at least… at least.
I mean, Matt Ryan was a pro-style quarterback, which was just perfect for what I wanted to do because just coming out of Green Bay in the system we ran, we ran the same system that the Green Bay Packers ran. And I don’t know if you guys knew this, but Matt was a fourth round projection. So he went from a fourth round projection to almost a number one pick.
The first time we ever did a two minute drill, Matt said “well, what do I call?” Logan looked at him and he goes “call whatever you want to call, make it work!” He never had that structure, and it was kind different from the way Tom ran it, really regimented, and Steve wasn’t like that.
Steve could make any quarterback work. Like, what have you got, that Towles kid? Yeah, we’d be fine with him.
JG: One of the questions that we had to bring up was that in ’08, it was a total different approach. You didn’t have Matt Ryan anymore, you had two guys in Chris Crane and Dominique Davis, and you kind of had to reinvent the offense a little bit. What were some of the adjustments?
JJ: Well, Matt was a spread guy, I mean, that's that was just ridiculous. I mean, he was going to do that. In fact, one time we were played Wake Forest in the first game that I was there, and we were just running the ball out in the four minutes there, and I said Matt, just keep it, just keep it, just take it and don’t even tell anybody.
He does, and he boots out and he gets tackled for like a two yard loss, right, and he comes back to me and goes “Hey, Jags, I’m not Mike Vick!” I go “no shit!” [laugh] “No kidding, man!”
But Matt had his qualities, and Chris Crane was more mechanical. He didn’t anticipate like Matt could. And Steve took him and he did some things, like we went down to NC State with Chris Crane and he threw for like 450 yards one night, I don’t know if you remember that. He just lit it up.
But we ran some spread stuff. I think looking back, I probably would have tried to do a little more drop back with Chris. Chris was a pretty good athlete.
We were playing Florida State down at Florida State and we ran the same play, we ran like seven minutes off the clock in the fourth quarter, just running one play, and then Chris would pull it a couple times, so that worked.
He was different, he just wasn’t the same, but I knew I had a really good defense so I really didn’t worry about that as much. We did did good enough on offense for enough points but our defense was really, really, really good.
JG: Speaking of the defense, obviously [Frank Spaziani] was the coordinator at the time, and went on to be the head coach. What was your relationship like with Spaz and how did you work together?
JJ: When I first took the job, there were only two guys that I really wanted to keep -- it was Spaz and Billy McGovern. Just those two guys, because the defense was a top ten defense, and I didn’t want to change that, and I knew that offensively, we could shape it any way we wanted to shape it. But defensively, I felt that I was one up because the defensive terminology and the two main coaches were there and I didn’t have to change anything.
I remember watching the Navy game and I saw [BJ] Raji and Ron Brace and they’re, like, 370 pounds, and I said that’s not going to work. So I told those guys, “hey listen, you guys have to get down to 330.” I said “and you will not get a uniform until you are. So if you come back here in the summer and you’re like 350, I’m not going to give you your uniform until you get it to where you need it to be.” And they both were 330 and they were a lot better players.
I’m going to say this, Spaz is a good defensive coordinator. That's what Spaz is. And this isn't taking anything away from anybody. He's not a head coach. If he was a head coach he would have gotten the job before I got it.
But he was a really good defensive coordinator, a real good technician. We blitzed a little bit more when I was there, I didn't want him sitting back as much. But some guys are really, really good coordinators, and not good head coaches. That's just what you are. I think I'm a better head coach than I was a coordinator.
JG: What kind of personality traits make you a head coach more than a coordinator?
JJ: I just think that I had a really good feel for putting the right people in the right spots. I surround myself with some really, really good people, and I think that my personality showed, with my team. I never played tight, never. And I always told our guys, listen, we are always going to play to win, and never play not to lose. You know I'm saying? And that was the mentality that I went into it with.
And you know what the thing is? I never thought we'd lose. I remember sitting at the ACC meetings down in North Carolina, wherever they were, the head coaches’ meeting, they had [Bobby] Bowden there, [Ralph] Friedgen, and all these guys, and I remember sitting around the table, and I go “I wonder which son of a bitch we're going to be playing in the championship game.” I swear, “I wonder which one of you guys we’re gonna be playing.”
And that's just the mentality that I had. And that's the mentality our guys had. I never thought we would lose. Boy I hated it when we did, but I never went into a game thinking “man, we don't have a chance here.” Never, never, never.
GS: That 2007 ACC Championship game, that really did sting. Do you ever replay that in your mind? Do you think things could have gone differently if one or two plays went different? We relive that game all the time.
JJ: Well, I tell you one thing that I would have done. We went for it on fourth down twice and didn't get it. What I wanted to do was I wanted to take those big guys on defense, those two tackles, Raji and Brace, and I had a personnel grouping, I was going to call it “Buffet.” It was going to be those big guys in the backfield and Andre Callender. And you know what, I talked myself out of it, and I even remember in the middle of the game, I go “Logan, why did I talk myself out of doing that?” He goes “I don’t know, I gotta call plays!” [laughs]
And there was one snap that I think was the defining factor in the game. We threw a slant, and I can’t remember the kid’s name, he was in the open field, and he had five yards on everybody, and all of a sudden he got engulfed by the secondary of Virginia Tech. But I just go “shit, there it was right there.” That was the defining play. Because if we had like a real deal guy that caught that snI goshit I said yes I go there it was right there. That was the defining play. Because if we had like a real deal guy that caught that slant… I can't remember what that kid’s name was, he was a little guy [ed. note: it was Kevin Challenger on that play]. But he just didn’t have that burst to run away. He had the secondary split, but he didn’t have the jets to get through it.
But that was it, it was the fourth downs, not putting the Buffet package in, and that slant pass. I remember saying to Logan “there it was right there,” “I know it” he says. We just didn’t have that guy to finish it.
GS: You said that package was going to be called “Buffet”?
JJ: Yeah, buffet, like all-you-can-eat.
GS: That’s fantastic.
JJ: Yeah, buffet, man. I looked at those guys and I said those guys look like all you can eat at the buffet. And I said well there’s your personnel grouping right there!
Yeah, I will say one thing, guys, I had so much fun. It was the best job I ever had. And I really thought I was a great fit for those kids, the type of guys they had there. I just felt that it was a perfect fit for me. And I think it was a perfect fit for them. I was totally the opposite of Tom O’Brien. Tom was real methodical and real stern, and I was all “here’s the fun guy, let’s go!”
JG: You think that maybe the difference between the two of you had an impact on how the kids responded in ’07?
JJ: There’s no question. I liked Tom, I knew how he ran the program, and he did a great job, he built that thing up and did a fantastic job. But I told those guys, the first thing I said to them was “Boys, I know one thing: Football’s going to be fun again around here.” And they all started cheering.
I said “this is how we’re going to do it.” And there was never a time where those players didn't know where I was coming from, never. They’d never go “I wonder what Jags is thinking?” They knew.
We had fun. Life's too short not to have fun playing college football. I did a thing on ESPN, it was a Thursday night deal. And I said to them “I don't want football, when these guys finish, to go ‘was that just the shittiest deal that I ever had to go through?’” But I guarantee if you ask those kids from that ’07, ’08 team, that’s probably the best time they ever have playing football in their life.
JG: It was the best time I ever had watching football, I’ll tell you that.
The elephant in the room.
JJ: Go ahead!
JG: The way it all ended. Just talk me through it. Obviously the Jets job became available, how did you get connected with that?
JJ: Okay. Again, there's a lot of things you don't know.
Let me just point this out also – the first year, after ’07, I got two calls. I got one from Washington, they go “we want to fly out and talk to you,” and I go “well I’m not interested.” They go, “no, this is the University of Washington.” I said, “I know, I’m not interested.” It was a blank check, guys. They were redoing the stadium and they were doing the whole thing. I think they were 0-12, they just lost to Washington State who was like 1-11.
But anyway, I said “I’m not interested, don’t even bother.” That’s how the start of that phone call went. The money was incredible. And then the other call was Auburn. They fired Tommy Tuberville. And they actually called Gene, and Gene said, “hey, listen, the AD at Auburn wants to talk to you. I go “I’m not interested, Gene.” He goes “well, that’s what I thought.”
So, guys, there were other opportunities but I told you in the beginning when I started talking to you guys, there was only college job that I wanted. That was it. I had no desire. I was telling you, Boston College, the way it was run, the type of kids it had and the type of football that they played fit me perfectly. And I fit them perfectly.
So anyway, there were other opportunities out there that I just told them “I’m not interested.” And they were four times the money. So it wasn’t money, money was never, ever a factor for me. Winning was. I wanted to win so bad. That’s all I wanted to do. And we were winning big at BC. I was telling these guys, we’re going to win and look good doing it. We did [laughs], we looked really good doing it, man.
So anyway, how the New York Jets thing happened. Mike Tannenbaum was the general manager of the Jets at the time. Ron Wolf, I don’t know if you guys know the name, hall of fame GM, he was the GM of the Green Bay Packers when he rebuilt them. You know that name? Ron hired me to come to the Green Bay Packers from Boston College, and he’s the guy that got me into the league.
Mike Tannenbaum, Ron Wolf’s his mentor. And I hadn’t been with Ron in years, because Ron had retired, he was done. Ron Wolf told Tannenbaum, he goes, “look, I don’t care who you hire. It doesn’t matter who you hire, you make sure that you interview [Steve] Spagnuolo and Jags. Just interview those guys.” That’s how that came about.
I didn’t even know. And then what ended up happening was a reporter called me and he said “I heard the New York Jets are interested in interviewing you.” I said “well, I don’t know anything about that.” But as soon as that phone call was made, I called Gene, because I didn’t want Gene hearing that thing second hand. And he said “well, are you interested in doing that?” I said “well I’d like to go interview for it.” He goes, “you shouldn’t,” and I said “why not?”
We went and had a meeting at his office and we were talking and I said, “Gene, it’s the New York Jets! It’s one of 32 teams, I just want to go through the process on the thing.” I didn’t think I’d get that job, but it was just the opportunity to go. And he goes “well, if you do, you’re fired.”
I go, “are you serious? Do you know what we just did here?” Eleven games, when was the last time we did that, 1942? I don’t know, when was that? I said, “all I want to do is just go through the process, Gene, it’s one of 32 teams in the whole country,” and he goes “I don’t care.”
Well, they called me back, and I called him back, and I said “I want to go do it.” And he goes, “well, you’d better get it because you don’t have a job here.” And I said again, “are you serious?” So that’s kind of how that whole thing went.
JG: Did you feel like there was a chance to salvage it? When you went through the process, did you think maybe he was bluffing? Did you think that maybe in the next few days it could get back to where it was?
JJ: No, because what had happened, it was leaked to ESPN, I don’t know if you guys remember…
JG: Oh, I do… [laughs]
JJ: I’m going to say something, you guys – I didn’t [leak it]. Why would I?
So it ended up getting out. I’ll say this about Gene: Gene and I were good friends. I really respected Gene. He did everything he could to help the program. And he was really a good friend. We were really good friends. It ended up becoming almost personal, rather than business, you know what I mean?
So it was really unfortunate because Gene and I, we worked really, really good together. He was kind of like the general manager. Our relationship was like general manager and head coach. We were really close, we would play golf on Friday mornings during the season, every Friday morning. I would take my kid to school and we’d meet up and we’d have a cigar and we talked about the program. Every aspect of the program, every week.
He was really good to me. But for whatever reason, guys, that thing got sideways, and it’s one of the biggest regrets that I’ve got. Because if I could go back and just say “okay, I won’t,” I’d do it, and I’d still be the head coach at BC right now. I believe that.
And let me tell you something, the fans would be having a ball. We have Clemson coming into town this week? Oh baby, here we go! Again, I don’t think that we’d lose. I just don’t.
But that’s what happened with Gene. I think Gene is a really good man, I really do, and I think he’s a really good athletic director. So we got sideways, and then when I came in after that interview the next morning, we looked at each other and it was like your brand new Ferrari just got pushed off a cliff. Because it couldn’t be repaired. I think he knew, and I knew, this isn’t good for the program.
JG: I was going to say, and I think you kind of answered it, do you think he regrets it too? Do you think he really strongly regrets his choice?
JJ: I don’t know, I mean, you’d have to ask him. But the thing is, nobody won, and it set back BC football a decade.
JG: Yeah, hopefully it’s just a decade…
JJ: Again, Gene and I were good friends, and it became more personal than business. And it’s unfortunate. There wasn’t a thing that Gene didn’t give me.
And I’m grateful for having the opportunity to have been a head coach at Boston College. It was a great honor. It was the best thing that I ever had in my 30 years of coaching, being able to do that, it’s just it was too short-lived. If I could do it over, that’s the only thing I would change. Because it’s changed a lot of lives, that decision. A lot. Changed coaches’ lives, players’ and fans’ and boosters’, and it just started going south.
And they ended up taking Frank, and like I said, great D coordinator – he’s not a head coach. He’s just not. Just having a presence in front of the media. They always had fun, I always had fun with it. And that’s what I wanted to do.
But I always made sure that BC was always out front as far as the media, because people never gave us credit. We kind of snuck up on people. We started out 8-0 that year, no one could believe it.
JG: I definitely remember, I remember even with Tom O’Brien, but it amplified under you, it always felt like BC, every year, people would predict, “well, this is the year they’re going to go 4-8, this is the year they’re going to go 5-7,” and they would come out and have another solid season, and nobody believed that they could be a top ten team or make the ACC championship game, and they did it. Certainly as fans we absolutely miss those days.
Have you had any communication with Gene since then?
JJ: A time or two, not really. I respect Gene. The thing is, it ended up bad for everybody. It ended up badly for everybody involved. People also say, “oh, well you had a contract.” There was nothing in my contract saying I couldn’t do this. Nothing. Like I said, there were other opportunities for me at other places, but I had no desire to do that. Washington and Auburn are pretty good places now. But I thought Boston College was a better college job than that – for me, personally. For Jags, it was the perfect job for me. But that’s what happened.
JG: It’s a shame, it definitely is.
JJ: Is that the way you thought it went down?
JG: Yeah, I mean, that’s pretty much what was reported. There’s almost a sense of disbelief, I think, that it could really have been as cut and dried as that, that it really could have been one phone call saying “I’m going to do this,” “well, if you do it, you’re fired.” I almost, in my head, assumed that there must have been some steps leading up to that, some sort of tension, some sort of threat.
JJ: No, I was kind of taken aback by it. Like I said, I said, “Gene, look at we just did here!” No one expected that, I mean we were a couple plays away from going to the Orange Bowl back to back!
But I respect Gene, I like Gene. He gave me an opportunity. It’s just sad that it is the way it is, because it didn’t have to be. And if I could go back and take two seconds out of, I remember, like, January 2nd? I remember, because my daughter’s birthday was on January 4th. And I got let go on my daughter’s birthday, andd I went “well this sucks, this ain’t good.”
But if I had just said, “okay, I won’t.” I think what would have happened, we would have kept winning, and I think other offers would have come in for the pro deal. But, I don’t know.
I think I could have stayed there a decade. Right about this time, you guys would have just getten tired of Jags’ ass, you’d be saying “you gotta go, we gotta get some young guy, we’re tired of winning. You’re only winning like 8 or 9 a year.” [laughs] “We need to take it to the next level!”
JG: Well, I appreciate the candor. I think it is unfortunate. I’m curious as to what your thoughts are. I do think that at the time, even though what happened set the program back and was very damaging and was going to make it tough for BC to go into the job market, I do feel like if they had found the right person, it didn’t have to all completely fall apart. I’m curious as to your thoughts on this, and obviously it’s going to be colored by the fact that you believe in your heart that it should have been you and that you were the right guy for the job.
JJ: I was.
JG: Was there another guy out there that BC could have kept the winning momentum going with after you left?
JJ: Yeah, Logan wouldn’t have missed a beat.
JG: Do you think he wanted the job?
JJ: Probably, I would think. I don’t know. I thought Jackie Bicknell would have been great too, you know, a legacy. Jackie was a head coach before, successful at Louisiana Tech, a BC guy.
The Spaz deal, he wasn’t a head coach. Went from 2nd in the country, 10th in the country, to “can’t win a game.” That’s not good. That wasn’t good for anybody.
I know this, guys, I’m telling you, because I know what kind of players and the way you have to handle the players at a place like BC, I’d have this thing back rolling in three years. Three years, and they’d be back.
I used to always tell the guys, I brought a schedule into a meeting one time with all the players. You know how people start looking at it like “okay, we can win this game, and I don’t know, that game…” And I said “guys, let me tell you what’s happening around the ACC. People are looking at their schedule and going “oh, shit, we play BC, we’ve got these guys on the schedule…” And that’s the mentality I always wanted to have. I wanted other people to be going “damn, we’ve got them, I’m not going to go ahead and put the W on that one…” You know what I mean?
But anyway. You guys have any other questions? You wanted to get that Jets deal out of the way didn’t ya?
GS: [laughs] Well, it was something everybody was interested in. Like Joe said, everybody kind of thought “well there must be more to it.” And it’s good to hear it from one of the people involved. It was obviously the big question on people’s minds.
I guess to kind of wrap up, any thoughts that you have on BC generally, not necessarily the program are the AD, but the school community. There’s critics to everybody, but a lot of people really still greatly appreciate what you did for BC in the two years that you were here.
We did a teaser post for this interview which will be posting on Thursday, we posted on Facebook saying “hey, we’ve got Jags coming on BC Interruption Radio, keep an eye out for it.” You go into the comments, and it’s just “bring back Jags!” “Hire him!” “Is he going to stay after the interview to finish the season?” Obviously it’s kind of been a struggle the last couple years and it’s getting people frustrated, but like you said, it really was fun while you were here. We graduated in 2010, we were here for those big years, and some of the best days of our lives were the Virginia Tech game, and I was in the band at the Clemson game to make the ACC Championship Game. So, any final thoughts that you have just on the school and the community.
JJ: Well, I was there back in ’97, ’98, and I really, really liked the type of kids that we had. I loved the type of kids that we had. I was coaching the offensive line and I was a coordinator back there in ’97, ’98, and I remember we had all these offensive linemen and the year before we were there, they were bad. I mean, they gave up like 60 sacks or something. And the coach that was there before, and I don’t know him or care what his name was, but it was kind of like a beat down on these guys. And they just weren’t having any fun at all.
So we doing a drill, we always did it in the corner, the offensive line, in the end zone, and I pulled these guys together, and I said “you guys, there’s no less than seven NFL players.” And they all looked at me like I was crazy. And you know, it was [Damien] Woody, it was [Doug] Brzezinski… I mean, we had seven guys that played in the League. Danny Collins was in there, [Darnell] Alford was in, I mean we had a bunch of guys, and we kind of started that thing up again.
I really enjoyed the type of kids that BC has. I was talking to one of the alumni that played at BC, and I asked him “what’s the deal?” He goes, “Jags, you’re getting the same players there, it’s just you’ve got to know how to manage them.” And Steve [Addazio], you know, I’m sure is doing the best he can.
It was a great place. Mary Ann’s was off limits, that was the first thing I said and they all laughed at that.
GS: That’s smart… [laughs]
JJ: It was a great place. Father Leahy was really, really good to me, Gene was really good to me. The administration was awesome.
Is Father Tony still the team priest?
JG: He’s the chaplain for the hockey team.
JJ: For the hockey team?
JJ: He couldn’t watch BC football anymore! [laughs]
GS: It can really test your faith [laughs]
JJ: Father Tony would stand next to me on the sideline, right, and he was right behind me, and I’d look back and go, “Tony, get up here, what do you want to do? You want to throw this one?” I tried to keep things loose. He goes, “Jags, well, I like the tight end,” and I go, “well I do too!” [laughs]
But that’s the kind of thing that happened on the sideline with him, just a lot of fun. Just good people. Just like you guys, you know, you guys are BC guys.
What’s a BC guy? He’s smart, he’s tough, he gets the big picture, he’s relentless in his pursuit of whatever he’s looking for. And that’s what you win with. You’re recruiting the same guys. It’s just you gotta find a way to get it done.
JG: Well, I think that’s the hope.
I think that’s a great way to wrap it up. Hopefully BC beats Clemson on Friday. I’m not counting on it, but you never know…
JJ: When’s the last time they beat Clemson?
JG: Actually it was I want to say 2011 [ed. note: it was 2010], one of the years when we were really terrible and randomly beat Clemson even though they were like 4-8. Am I remembering it right, Grant?
GS: There must have been one in there, it feels like there was.
JG: But other than that, not enough.
JJ: All I remember is ’07.
JG: Yeah, that was a good one.
GS: I remember it very, very well, I was there.
JG: Yeah, Grant was there.
GS: I was with the band for that game, it was something.
JJ: I’ve got one last story for you and then I’ll let you guys go. Just one of the favorites I have.
So we’re going down to Tallahassee, and they’re having a “black out,” right, with their black shirts and whatever. And I had a poster made up, kind of like a flier, and I said “alright you guys, did you realize that they’re having a party down in Tallahassee?” And everyone looks at me like I’m crazy, and I said, “no, listen, they told people just to wear black, and we weren’t even told about this. So, like, we’re not even invited on this whole thing.”
I said, “I tell you what we’re going to do. We’re going to go ahead and wear black shirts under our unis. And we’re going to crash this party. They’re not even going to know what’s going to hit them. And in the fourth quarter we’re going to go ahead and take our pads off, we’re going to go ‘alright, we’re here, we’re at the party, and now the thing can begin.’” And the guys went crazy.
So we went down there and we beat them, and we were beating them pretty bad, and the guys wanted to take their pads off, but I wouldn’t let them do it, I’m like “oh, we can’t do that, we’ll keep that between us.” [laughs]
It was fun with those guys. But we had stuff like that, every week we had something going.
Well hey, guys, listen, I appreciate you guys giving me the opportunity to talk to you guys, and hopefully BC can get this thing turned around. And if they can’t, call old Jags, we’ll get this thing turned in three years.
JG: We can only hope. Thank you so much. I really appreciate you taking the time.
JJ: You owe me a cigar!
JG: Oh I know, you know what, when you’re in Boston next, let me know, it’s on me. Stanza, I assume that’s where you used to go with Gene [in the North End].
JJ: Yeah, we had to go walk down the stairs…
JG: …Yep, you got down the stairs, past the statue…
JJ: It used to be a speakeasy in the 20’s right?
JG: Yeah, and they’ve kept that vibe going.
JJ: It was a nice place. Hey, when I sign my next contract with those guys, I’ll buy you the cigar, how’s that sound?
JG: I like it, alright, we’ll make that happen. [laughs]
JJ: Alright boys.
JG: Alright, take care.