Playing By His Own Rules
ONCE A WEEK, BOSTON College athletic director Gene DeFilippo goes for a walk with his new football coach, Frank Spaziani. With Boston’s skyscrapers rising to the east and BC’s Alumni Stadium looming to the west, they stroll around the Chestnut Hill Reservoir, discussing strategies and players. “He sees certain things,” Spaziani says. “You know, he might say, ‘Hey, how’s so-and-so doing?’ or ‘What’s your strategy on that?’ He likes to hear it, and he understands it.”
Now in his 13th year at the Heights, Spaziani was promoted to coach earlier this year in no small part for his loyalty to Boston College and, in particular, to DeFilippo. He likes the back and forth he has with the AD; they talk two to three times a day. But it’s easy to see how other coaches might chafe at that level of input from their athletic director. Few ADs discuss strategy with the football staff. Instead, most focus on—as their title suggests—administration, and pumping alumni for money.
DeFilippo does that, too, of course. Annual athletic giving at the school is up more than fourfold in the past decade, from less than $4 million to $17.4 million. Those numbers can be seen as a reflection of BC’s on-field success during DeFilippo’s 12-year tenure. The football team, the cash cow of the program, has gone from consistently sub-500 to winning close to 70 percent of its games. The men’s basketball squad has improved similarly. Both teams now make bowl games and tournament appearances annual affairs.
DeFilippo’s biggest accomplishment, though, was also his toughest: maneuvering the Eagles from the Big East to the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2005. The switch was unpopular with some alumni and fans, not to mention the four Big East conference schools that sued him over it. But thanks to TV contracts, DeFilippo says, BC has pulled in about $11 million from the ACC this year—$5 million more than it ever got from the Big East.
For all the success that he’s brought to Chestnut Hill, though, DeFilippo remains a polarizing figure in the Boston College community. The harshest criticism tends to come from the die-hard Eagles fans, who were outraged this past January when DeFilippo informed head football coach Jeff Jagodzinski he could either entertain an interview request from the New York Jets for their head position, or remain at BC. Jags interviewed. DeFilippo fired him.
The episode was an embarrassment for BC, which came off looking as if it considered its football program on par with the NFL. This fall will likely see more humiliation for the school. The Eagles start the season with their third coach in four years and are picked to finish last in their division. And yet, for all the drama over the Jags debacle and all the flak from the die-hards, Gene DeFilippo just might be the perfect man for Boston College.