By Mike Shalin
June 27, 2007
CHESTNUT HILL It's a warm June morning, just after 8. The door to the Boston College football building isn't even unlocked yet, but new coach Jeff Jagodzinski already has been at work for more than two hours.
Uh oh. Another football lifer? Another crazy coach who never goes home? Another guy who sleeps on his couch?
"I don't sleep very well," Jagodzinski said, offering an explanation on why he's "usually" in the building very early. "I'm just not a good (I'm an) insomniac."
In other words, he's not a sleeper.
"Not a good one, anyway," he said with a smile. "It's not because of that grinder deal, that grinder mentality when they talk about coaches. Not because of that. I just don't sleep very good, so "
So the 43-year-old Jagodzinski goes to work for the Eagles in the ACC, after spending last year as Mike McCarthy's offensive coordinator (McCarthy called his own plays, while Jagodzinski instituted his zone-blocking scheme) with the NFL's Green Bay Packers.
"Guys are working out this morning, so I got a chance to see them and visit with those kids, see how they're doing," Jagodzinski said. "Just hello, a how you doing?' kind of thing. You can't coach them."
Just visit with them. Let strength coach Jason Loscalzo handle their work.
There once was a time when it was special to have Boston College kids hanging around over the summer. Now, the whole team is in Chestnut Hill, and they're preparing to play for Jagodzinski. Tom O'Brien, the winningest coach in BC football history, left for North Carolina State (the second team on the Eagles' schedule this fall, if you're keeping track of such things) in December.
HUGE CHANGES FROM O'BRIEN
The BC kids, coming off the program's eighth straight bowl trip and seventh bowl win in a row, will be playing for a guy who is not one of those crazy, taskmaster-type football coaches.
O'Brien was a Navy graduate and a marine very regimented, very "his way or the highway." You get the feeling talking to the man they call Jags that he's not one of those guys.
Make no mistake, Jags is a football coach, and he's glad his new players are "busting their butts" in the weight room, but he might just be a bit different.
Heck, this guy played the harmonica at the ACC meetings in Florida in the spring. It's hard OK, darn near impossible to picture O'Brien doing that.
"We've had a real similar approach to coaching," said new BC offensive coordinator Steve Logan, Jagodzinski's old boss at East Carolina. "It can be fun, it's not a grind, it should be creative just all the things that we've done down through the years.
"I think there's a lot of coaches that don't do it that way a little bit more uptight than we are, I would say. But, believe me, we're prepared and we're going to play. We're going to send a football team out there that will be prepared to play hard. Always have and always will. But, again, just with a little bit different spirit."
It took Jagodzinski to get Logan to come back to college coaching, from his stay in NFL Europe. That's something Logan, who routinely had turned down other college-level offers since his ECU days, is quick to point out.
Defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani, who worked for O'Brien and coached the Eagles to their Meineke Bowl win over Navy after O'Brien accepted the N.C. State job, certainly can see the difference. That is, the difference between working for a former marine and working for well, not a marine.
"It's different. It's more different than similar," said Spaziani, the running backs coach under Jagodzinski the first time around. "I don't think that's abnormal. There's different personalities.
"I like to laugh and have fun and have a good time, too, and when I was working for Tom and (George) Welsh (at Navy) I had to make sure I knew when I was laughing and when I was having fun. They perceived it a little bit different. It's just a matter of personalities."
But, as Spaziani pointed out, "Winning is fun, alright? For all personalities, winning is fun."
BC athletic director Gene DeFilippo, Jagodzinski's new boss, likes what he sees of his new coach so far.
"He's full of vim and vigor," DeFilippo said. "He's positive. He's enthusiastic. He's been great so far in the six months we've worked together."
Said Jagodzinski: "I want kids to enjoy the college experience. I really do. I want them, when they come out of here, saying, Boy, BC was a great place because of the people I met. The football was fun, it was a great college experience.'"
JAGS APPRECIATES BC, TIMING
Jagodzinski said he knew a decade ago that he'd return to BC, where he was the offensive coordinator for O'Brien in 1997-98, as O'Brien undertook the gargantuan task of rebuilding a program shattered by a gambling scandal.
"To be honest with you, I always thought I'd be a college coach here," Jagodzinski said. "When I left here, I said I really enjoyed being here, because of the kids that I had and the type of place it was. That's what attracted me back here.
"I knew what kind of guy I was going to get, and I knew I was going to have a kid that was going to be smart, and tough, and you're always going to have a chance with kids like that. And I don't have a lot of off-field problems. I didn't want to do that. I had a pretty good (NFL job), but the opportunity to be a head coach and to be in a place like this I think it's very prestigious here, I really do.
"I told my wife that, as we were flying out of Logan (Airport) the first time. I told her, I said, Lisa, some day we're going to be back here. Don't know when.' But I've had my eye on this one for a long time."
He watched as O'Brien rebuilt, and as reports flowed in recent years that O'Brien was leaving. There was Georgia Tech. There was Arizona State. There was Washington. It just seemed that O'Brien was going somewhere, and soon.
"It ended up coming down, really, (to) all those other times weren't the best timing for me, but this one was," Jagodzinski said. "The timing was right for me to do this, and maybe a couple of years ago it wouldn't have been. Everything fell into place for this one, at this particular time."
HIRING PROCESS CRAZY BUT FUN
O'Brien's departure got Jagodzinski's attention, but his NFL season was still going on. Then, the call came.
"Probably about two days after this whole thing went down," Jagodzinski said. "Your head is buried so much in the sand at my last job. We're right in the middle of the thing, and we're trying to make a playoff run. (DeFilippo) had called me, and first thing he said to me was, I'm looking for a football coach.' I told him, I said, Well, you just found one.' That's what I said to him. That was our first conversation."
There was all kinds of talk at the time that former Massachusetts coach Mark Whipple, an assistant with the Steelers, would get the job. But Jagodzinski said he always had the feeling they wanted him. There was a private plane sent for him. He used it to travel to Boston to meet with BC president Father William Leahy. According to everyone involved, they had some great meetings.
"That whole interview process was a really good experience," Jagodzinski said. "I got a chance to talk to Gene, and Leo (Sullivan, BC's vice president of human resources) came to Green Bay. We had to fit it in between my schedules, because we were getting ready to play that Sunday versus, I think, Detroit. As soon as that game was over I think I talked to them on a Monday or a Tuesday, and then I flew to meet Father (Leahy) after that Detroit game on Sunday. So as soon as our game ended, I had a plane waiting for me in Green Bay. (BC) flew me here to talk to Father Leahy.
"We visited for about three hours. It was a really enjoyable experience with Father. I flew back, got home about 2 in the morning, and then we played that Thursday against Minnesota. So that week was tough. It was really hard. It was a tough deal, but I really was working more on adrenaline. I was fired up about the BC thing, and I was fired up we were going to be on the national ESPN game on Thursday night."
Jagodzinski also came armed with a special recommendation. He had asked Packers chaplain Jim Baraniak to call Leahy, which Baraniak did, leaving a long voice mail for the president that helped things move along. Leahy brought up the message in the interview.
But that was it. While Whipple was being proclaimed as the next BC coach by the Boston Globe and many fans, Jagodzinski was lying in the weeds, so to speak. There was no campaigning.
"I never worried about that," Jagodzinski said of the Whipple talk. "The thing is, I knew. I didn't worry about what was said in the paper. It didn't bother met at all, because I knew. I mean, I was right in the middle of the thing. I would know better than anybody."
DIFFERENT PRIORITIES, QUALITIES
He was hired with a five-year contract. He soon moved his wife and five young children back to Boston, where he said he hopes to stay for "a long, long time." This isn't intended to be merely a stop along the way for Jagodzinski, who looks at the football factories and their inherent headaches and treasures "the type of kid we have here at BC."
As long as the Eagles continue to win football games, all signs point to a long marriage.
"I want my kids to go through school. My goal is to not have to move them again," Jagodzinski said. "I want stability for them, and I think I can do that. At some point, you have to say, This is what I'm going to do.'
"Where else can I go from being a head coach? And especially if you've got good people surrounding you, which I think I do, and guys like Father Leahy and Gene that are in my corner, I feel really good about that. It's about people. It's not where. It's who. And I work with some really good guys. And it's working with these guys. We're all in this thing together.
"If it wasn't right for me, I wouldn't have done it. But it was like it was the right time in my life, in my career, that this was something I thought I could succeed at.
"The lure of Texas, you talk about all those big schools and they are, they're really, really good football schools. Those other things really don't impress me. If you're doing it strictly for the money, then you're doing it for the wrong reasons. In my opinion, other guys may feel a little bit different about that. I'm doing well here, and if you win you'll be able to stay. Everything was right for me, and for BC and for everybody involved. Everything just fell into place."
His old boss thinks it will work out just fine.
"I just think he has a number of the qualities that you're looking for commitment, knowledge, work ethic," McCarthy said. "I think he has a good personality for college and partnership with the gentlemen up there that interviewed him. I think those are key factors that will make him a good coach."
FAMILIAR FACES, HELPFUL AD
There was some talk at the time that Jagodzinski got the Boston College job in part because he was willing to hire Spaziani and linebackers coach Billy McGovern, two of O'Brien's top assistants, on the new BC staff.
Jagodzinski laughs that off. He isn't inheriting a 1-11 or 2-10 football team, and he knows it. That's another part of what made his decision easy. As he said, everything fell into place, including having the holdovers from the O'Brien staff. Jags took over a team that was only one win away from a shot at the BCS on three different occasions in recent years.
"My talk to (the players) is that, It's your turn,'" Jagodzinski said. "All these guys that have been here for the last three years have all experienced that.
"Now they're all seniors. I mean, I've got a bunch of seniors on this team. It's, Alright, let's go. It's your turn now. No one's gonna give it to you. You have to go take it. You ain't gonna roll those gold helmets out there and say, hey '"
His offense, which, under Logan's leadership, figures to be a bit more diverse than the O'Brien/Dana Bible attack, is led by senior quarterback Matt Ryan, considered the class of ACC quarterbacks. Jagodzinski's NFL resume, his latest big-name connection being Brett Favre, isn't lost on his new players.
"It's going to be great," Ryan said, "playing for a guy who has coached a lot of talented players."
Jagodzinski sees a lot of Favre in the type of kid BC signs every year. They're not necessarily highly recruited, but they love football, they work hard, and they can play. He sees Ryan as a "top-five quarterback" in the country.
While the offense will open up more, Jagodzinski insists that the old BC staple, the power running game, will still thrive, under a coach who can't recall not being around a 1,000-yard rusher. The defense, under Spaziani, is deep, talented and experienced, even without star linebacker Brian Toal, who doesn't figure to play this coming season because of injury problems.
With Jagodzinski's background in offense, he's apt to be more hands-on there, and with the blocking scheme, which he says will be firmly in place by the opener against Wake Forest. He'll leave the defense entirely to Spaziani.
There was a problem with new offensive line coach Jim Turner, a former Eagles captain who left the team abruptly during spring drills. Jagodzinski then brought in Jack Bicknell Jr., part of a great family name at BC.
"I'm really impressed with the staff he put together," DeFilippo said. "He put together one heck of a football staff. He really did."
Meanwhile, whereas O'Brien reportedly was at odds with DeFilippo because the AD was a football guy who may have offered too many opinions, Jagodzinski said he welcomes the input.
"One of the big factors for me," Jagodzinski said. "I didn't want to go to work for an AD who was just into (public relations) and marketing. He does it all. He knows, because he was a ball coach, he knows what it takes to win. He gets it, which is huge, and there's not a lot of those guys out there anymore."
DIRECTIVE: ACHIEVE GREATNESS
O'Brien didn't win any friends among the already scorned BC fans when he recently blurted out to the North Carolina-based media, "At BC, nine or 10 wins a year was about as good as we could do. The sky is the limit here (at N.C. State). We're not here to win nine or 10 a year. We're here to win more."
For a long while, Jagodzinski refused to respond to the O'Brien comments. The new BC coach later changed is mind.
"I've got a lot of respect for Tom, I really do," Jagodzinski said. "For what he did here, I have a lot of respect for him, because I think he is a good football coach. For the last three years, nine, nine and 10 wins, that's not easy to do, I don't care where you are. Maybe Coach felt that that was the ceiling.
"I'm going to see if we can get above that ceiling. That's the plan, but having a double-digit-win season, that's not easy to do. A lot of things have to go right for you, and they did last year for BC. They could have very easily been 7-5. They won two games in overtime. They beat BYU, and they beat Clemson on a missed kick. There was one other one, Navy. There's three games right there where they could easily have been 7-6."
Tipping his hat to O'Brien, Jagodzinski said, "It's very stable right now. The program is solid. You just have to build upon that."
BC and N.C. State will meet Sept. 8, during the second week of the season.
By then, Jagodzinski will have had a lot more time with his new team. He will be even more settled in his new life. He's getting used to the "delegating" one does as a head coach. He's having fun, and it will be even more fun when the football actually starts.
"I love it. I love it," he said. "It's a lot more delegation. You gotta let your coordinators handle a lot of the Xs and Os part of it. Obviously, I trust them, really all three of them all four of them, counting the recruiting coordinator that they're going to do a good job, and they are doing a real good job.
"There's always things to do. One, you have over 85 kids that you have to deal with. They've all got their issues, or they've got their wants and needs. You're really a dad figure to a lot of these kids. You have to make sure they're taken care of, plus your support staff. There's over 125 people that you have to manage."
Kids are often "coming up to the third floor" to see their new coach, and his door is always open.
"I never thought coaching is a beat-down deal, where kids are afraid of you," Jagodzinski said. "I don't think this is my opinion that kids perform at their best (when that's the case)."
It won't happen at BC.
Mike Shalin, a regular contributor to the ACC Sports Journal and ACCSports.com, is a former Boston College beat writer for the Boston Herald.