Early on Sunday morning, a harvest moon set over Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. Also setting is the career of a man who spent the last fifteen years of his life managing Boston College Athletics. September 30, 2012 is the final day of Gene DeFilippo’s tenure as athletic director, but like the rising of the sun that followed, a new day at our school is dawning.
Soaring to Glory wishes DeFilippo a long, happy, and healthy retirement.
DeFilippo replaced Chet Gladchuk, who was athletic director from 1990 to 1997. During his tenure, DeFilippo has seen programs rise and fall and conferences come and go. Boston College football and basketball both experienced resurgences during his fifteen years, but also great tumbles. Boston College hockey became and remained a winner, thanks to Jerry York, who returned to Chestnut Hill three years before DeFilippo took over. He also took the opportunity to move Boston College from the Big East to the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2005, a move which looks better and better in hindsight. The ACC continues to grow with East Coast schools, building arguably the best basketball conference in the country, while the Big East has gotten bigger and more geographically expansive, but not necessarily better.
As DeFilippo exits the building today, there were certain positives to take from his career at this school. The move to the Atlantic Coast Conference is chief amongst them. Boston College’s continued excellence with student-athletes also speaks well of what DeFilippo and his associates accomplished, but it would require true blindness to say that his fifteen years were without incident.
There were issues surrounding the departures of certain coaches that remain mysterious. Cathy Inglese, Kevin Rogers, and Sylvia Crawley all come to mind. Boston College fans are well-acquainted with the expressed rationale behind Jeff Jagodzinski’s departure, though Inglese, Crawley, and Rogers just fell away (Crawley’s hire was probably a mistake in the first place, anyway). All of those personnel moves happened within the last four years or so, and some of them will never add up, such as Kevin Rogers’ “health reasons” abandonment, then taking a job at Temple shortly after the end of the season.
Despite there having been some good during Gene DeFilippo’s tenure in charge of Boston College Athletics, he has unquestionably damaged his legacy at this school thanks to the condition in which he left the football program. DeFilippo took over a department with a football program in turmoil, as Dan Henning drove the team into the ground and a gambling scandal further diminished the public’s opinion of it. DeFilippo and Tom O’Brien cleaned the program up, but fifteen years later, Eagles football finds itself with an overmatched head coach, hired for the wrong reasons, and a team that has not beaten ranked opposition in four years after having been a consistent, respected winner. Gene DeFilippo not only allowed it to happen, but flippantly dismissed the growing number of fans who desired change by publicly saying that their collective opinion “doesn’t matter.”
Things like tailgating restrictions and donor-based seating have also entered the consciousness of the average Eagles fan. Donor-based seating is not unique to our school, but the gameday experience in general at Boston College is not always the kindest and most pleasant. Enthusiasm and fan-friendliness need to be built around Boston College Athletics in the future, because that got away from the school during my time as a student and alumnus.
When it comes to Gene DeFilippo, who has at times been a controversial figure in the Boston College and college sports sphere, a fair assessment of his term will take the good and bad together. It is clear, however, that new leadership is needed to repair some of these areas, particularly the football program. As Boston College and Army kick off next week in West Point, DeFilippo will no longer run this department, and the job of restoring the football team to respectability will fall to his successor, but make no mistake, a restoration is required.
Boston College fans, over the last few years, have tied head coach Frank Spaziani to DeFilippo as a package deal. In many ways, their fortunes at this school mirror that. Both were generally well-liked early on, but as DeFilippo elevated Spaziani, the coach failed to deliver, and DeFilippo staunchly defended him, both of their legacies took a hit simultaneously. Several years of jointly presiding over the destruction of the foremost revenue sport will do that.
DeFilippo lost his fair share of fans in the last few seasons, but it is important to remember that his tenure was not all bad. He leaves Boston College today with a mixed legacy, but also with the promise that things may get better soon under fresh leadership.