Playing By His Own Rules
AT LEAST SINCE HIGH SCHOOL, Gene DeFilippo has been in control. He quarterbacked Northampton High—situated nearly two hours west of BC’s campus—where he was good enough to go on to start two years at nearby Springfield College. Lacking the athleticism to play at a higher level, he graduated in 1973 and took a job as a lowly assistant coach at the University of Tennessee. DeFilippo earned a master’s degree in educational administration at UT, but, perhaps just as important, forged a strong friendship with Phillip Fulmer, a freshman team coach who would go on to serve as the Volunteers’ head man from 1992 to 2008.
“Phillip Fulmer and I had always talked about, for years, me being the athletic director and him being the coach,” DeFilippo says. “Every day when I got up, I said, ‘You got to go in and work, because you’re one day closer to being the athletic director at the University of Tennessee.'”
After making coaching stops at Youngstown State and Vanderbilt, DeFilippo crossed into administration, first as director of administrative services at Vandy, then as AD at the University of South Carolina Upstate and associate AD at Kentucky. From there he went on to Villanova, heading its athletic department between 1993 and 1997. “And then I came to Boston College in ’97,” he says. “And by about the year 2000, I was hooked.”
Not so hooked, though, that when Tennessee’s AD position came open in 2003, he didn’t consider moving south. Despite publicly denying interest in the Vols job, DeFilippo interviewed for the gig. He ultimately pulled himself out of the running and signed a contract extension to stay in Chestnut Hill, but not before his interest in the position became known to the media.
Six years later, that flirtation allowed DeFilippo’s critics to paint him as a hypocrite in the wake of the Jagodzinski controversy. But a far more widespread complaint is that DeFilippo is an incurable micromanager, especially when it comes to the football team. Greg Barber, a recently retired Boston College trustee and longtime patron of the football program, has been a vocal and persistent detractor of DeFilippo’s. (The two had a falling-out about five years ago.) He says DeFilippo’s tight grip led not only Jags to leave, but his predecessor, Tom O’Brien, too. “When administrators start to do the coaching, you get problems,” Barber says. As an example, he contends that after O’Brien’s departure, DeFilippo alienated at least one potential replacement by mandating which assistants he could and couldn’t hire. DeFilippo denies this, saying he only “recommended strongly” some names. One of those strong recommendations, it should be noted, was that then–assistant coach Spaziani be retained.
DeFilippo, of course, ended up hiring Jagodzinski—a move that ultimately led to this winter’s showdown. The reason for the Jags ultimatum, the AD says, is simply that his aspirations were bad for BC football. “Nobody can convince me that when someone’s out there looking for a job, it doesn’t affect recruiting,” DeFilippo says.