THE MEINEKE CAR CARE BOWL:
Boston College (9-3) vs. Navy (9-3), Dec. 30, 1 p.m., ESPN
By Mike Shalin
December 21, 2006
CHESTNUT HILL Boston College football fans pictured this Christmas much differently than it turned out.
Even though their Eagles didn't get as far as they'd hoped, the faithful thought the team had done enough to escape the plight of the mediocre bowl. They thought they had a shot at the Champs Sports Bowl, a respectable No. 3 in the ACC pecking order after the league champion's automatic bid into the BCS.
As usual, though, the Eagles didn't get to go where they wanted to go. And this time, the annual shafting of the program came with a new twist the coach wouldn't be going with them.
In a courtship that apparently took only a matter of days, Tom O'Brien, the man who was about to lead his BC program into its eighth straight bowl game and try for its national-best seventh consecutive bowl win, was gone. Poof. Just like that. The rumors of the past were all a distant memory. The coach finally was leaving and he was going to a school in the same conference, the same division even.
In Boston, there was widespread surprise. Not shock. Among the BC faithful, there was kind of a collective shrug. The general feeling, as much as such things can be measured? Oh, well, let's give someone else a try.
O'Brien never was truly appreciated for what he did in Chestnut Hill. At a private school with high admissions standards and a relatively small fan base, he won almost nine games per year over the last five seasons, graduated the overwhelming majority of his players, and ran a program rife with discipline and integrity. Then again, he also got his team to a certain level a very respectable level but then couldn't get it over the hump.
The coach's critics, including some in the university administration, pointed to the last three years in particular.
In 2004, all BC had to do was beat a bad Syracuse team that was about to fire its coach, and the Eagles would have won the Big East title in their final year in the league, thus going to the BCS. What a way to go out. Oops, they got blown out, at home. Granted, starting quarterback Paul Peterson wasn't playing, but BC was forced to settle for a four-way tie and the first trip to Charlotte.
Last year, the Eagles lost a late-season game at North Carolina. They ended up tied with Florida State for the Atlantic Division title, but they lost a tiebreaker and didn't go to the ACC title game. They had lost to FSU, but a win over a mediocre UNC team would have meant Jacksonville in the first year in the new league. The reward? Boise.
This year, BC went 9-3. All three losses were games that got away, but the finale, at Miami, could have put the Eagles in the title game. As it turned out, it wouldn't have mattered anyway, because Wake Forest, which beat BC, won, but the Eagles again lost the game they had to win.
There were always rumblings that O'Brien and athletic director Gene DeFilippo didn't get along, that they butted heads often, that they weren't frequent dinner or golf partners. There were rumors that DeFilippo wanted assistants replaced and O'Brien wouldn't do it, that DeFilippo, a football man, wanted some things done differently on the field. Then there were the seemingly endless rumors of O'Brien looking to leave for Georgia Tech (true in 2000), or Washington (true in 2004), or Arizona State, or Stanford, or UNC (true in November) or N.C. State.
DeFilippo said all the right things about O'Brien after the coach left. And, if he hadn't gone, they would have gone on together. Why shouldn't they? They were winning. But the coach left, and defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani will coach the Eagles in Charlotte.
"The mark of a coach or an administrator is, did you come in and leave the program in a better state than when you found it?" DeFilippo said. "In Tom O'Brien's case, the answer is yes. He left the program in a lot better shape than the program he found. We're going to our eighth consecutive bowl, we've won six in a row, and Tom did a wonderful job here, and I'm thankful for that."
What happens next?
Things are in place for the new coach to win eight games in 2007. The program, which appeared to be shattered by a gambling scandal before O'Brien's arrival, was in fact crumbling under a pro coach (Dan Henning) who just didn't know the college thing. Before that, Tom Coughlin had things rolling. O'Brien brought the Eagles back, and they likely will continue to win.
Similarly, O'Brien probably will succeed at State. A no-nonsense personality to the core, he may not like all the meet-and-greets, especially after being able to exist in relative obscurity in a pro sports town. Then again, he might thrive in his new, and very different, job description and environment.
Either way, he's gone. His accomplishments at BC can't be forgotten, his leadership and class a blueprint of how it should be done.
The new guy will inherit a very stable team with significant potential. BC has built a new football facility that connects to Alumni Stadium and brings the program up to date. The Eagles have won. They have a strong, young nucleus. They just shouldn't have trouble winning.
They have better athletes at the school than ever before, and there was a feeling of frustration in some that O'Brien never turned all his weapons loose, that he and offensive coordinator Dana Bible were comfortable with what was safe. O'Brien even was described recently on ESPN as the man who coaches not to lose rather than to win.
The new guy will reap the benefits of the work O'Brien did in getting the new building built, of the work he and his staff did on the recruiting trail. But he also will have and this may well be the most important thing a school, a city and a tradition (note, path to the pros) that now comes along with the job.
In short, the new guy will have a much easier task ahead of him than O'Brien had when he took over 10 seasons ago.
Even if it was time for a change, the old guy set things up pretty nicely for the new guy, whoever he may be.
CB Larry Anam, RG Josh Beekman, SS Ryan Glasper, WR Tony Gonzalez, LT James Marten, FB Mark Palmer
FB J. Survival Ross, WR Taylor Sele
2007 Returning Starters^
Pos. Name Ht./Wt. 2007 Class
QB Matt Ryan 6-5/218 Sr.
RB L.V. Whitworth 5-11/216 Sr.
WR Kevin Challenger 5-9/178 Sr.
TE Ryan Thompson 6-4/259 Sr.
LG Ryan Poles 6-4/295 Sr.
OC Kevin Sheridan 6-3/290 Sr.
RT Gosder Cherilus 6-7/318 *Sr.
DE Brady Smith 6-2/285 So.
DT Ron Brace 6-3/335 Jr.
DT B.J. Raji 6-1/340 Sr.
DE Nick Larkin 6-4/250 Sr.
LB Tyronne Pruitt 5-11/220 Sr.
LB Jolonn Dunbar 6-0/233 Sr.
LB Brian Toal 6-0/232 Sr.
FS Jamie Silva 5-11/208 Sr.
CB DeJuan Tribble 5-9/190 *Sr.
Special Teams (2)
PK Steve Aponavicius 5-10/175 Jr.
P Johnny Ayers 6-0/186 Sr.
- has utilized redshirt season
six/more 2006 regular-season starts
Other Tested Returnees
OG Tom Anevski, RB Andre Callender, QB Chris Crane, DS Jack Geiser, OG Ty Hall, WR Clarence Megwa, PK Ryan Ohliger (2005 starter), TE Ryan Purvis, WR Brandon Robinson, RB/KR Jeff Smith, KR/PR DeJuan Tribble
LB Kevin Akins, DE Alex Albright, SS Paul Anderson, SS Marcellus Bowman, FS Wes Davis, LB Robert Francois (2006 co-starter), DE Austin Giles, LB Mark Herzlich, LB Mike McLaughlin, CB Taji Morris, CB Razzie Smith, DT Keith Willis
Year BE/ACC Overall Postseason
1997 3-4 (5) 4-7 None
1998 3-4 (5) 4-7 None
1999 4-3 (3) 8-4 Insight.com Bowl (L)
2000 3-4 (5) 7-5 Aloha Bowl (W)
2001 4-3 (3) 8-4 Music City Bowl (W)
2002 3-4 (4) 9-4 Motor City Bowl (W)
2003 3-4 (5) 8-5 San Francisco Bowl (W)
2004 4-2 (1) 9-3 Continental Bowl (W)
2005 5-3 (1A) 9-3 MPC Computers (W)
2006 5-3 (2A) 9-3 Meineke Bowl
ACC: 10-6 (.625)
Overall: 75-45 (.625)
Team 2006 Record^
Florida State 6-6 (3-5)
Miami 6-6 (3-5)
N.C. State 3-9 (2-6)
Wake Forest 11-2 (6-2)
Massachusetts 13-1 (8-0)
Clemson 8-4 (5-3)
Georgia Tech 9-4 (7-1)
Maryland 8-4 (5-3)
Virginia Tech 10-2 (6-2)
Notre Dame 10-2
^ regular season only (conference)
NOTE: Finalized dates/times TBA.