Boston College Basketball: It’s Time for Steve Donahue to Go


Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

No later than the conclusion of this season, Boston College Eagles basketball coach Steve Donahue should be dismissed.

For a number of years, we have rooted for this man to succeed. There is no doubting that Donahue himself is a man of good character who has been a passionate, classy ambassador for our university. Furthermore, he believes in the school’s mission and that does count for something.

Unfortunately for him, wins count for more, and he has not delivered nearly enough of them.

We have been patient with Donahue as he has sought to rebuild the Eagles virtually from scratch, perhaps more than he deserved. It is clear that he cares about winning, but the coach has counted on the collective endurance of all the fans. Meanwhile, the resurgence of Boston College basketball has played out like an adaptation of “Waiting for Godot.” Mid-way through the third season of the complete roster reboot, it’s not coming.

In fact, the third year might be the worst yet. During the 2011-12 season, when key players such as Ryan Anderson and Dennis Clifford were freshmen, the expectation was for an ugly campaign. Last year, tangible progress was expected, but the Eagles were not figured to “arrive” just yet. It was, however, supposed to set up a breakthrough 2013-14 season. Instead, we have been treated to one of the saddest displays of basketball seen in Chestnut Hill in years.

At 4-10, there will be no NCAA Tournament for this group, and any postseason invitation at all seems laughable. Boston College is the worst ACC team by a mile at present, and when multiple national beat writers call your team the “most disappointing” in the country, there is a serious problem.

In 2010, after Al Skinner’s dismissal, with reservations I endorsed Donahue as the best of the candidate names we were offered. Concerns about his ability to recruit at this level stood out, but I found it impossible to believe four years ago that the program, a far better one than he inherited at Cornell, would crater under him. It has, and sadly I was wrong.

We cannot be expected to be patient anymore. It was beyond fair to give Donahue two full seasons to craft his team. He practically asked for it in saying it would take him “fifty games” to get this thing going. Now, it’s year three and time to perform, but the Eagles have done the complete opposite. In the crunch time that was December, Boston College lost all of its Division I games, and 25 overall losses is not out of the question. This team is nowhere near competitiveness, seemingly regressing across the board from last year’s thoroughly mediocre season and descending into a lack of toughness and emotion.

In admitting that Donahue cares about winning, another relevant question must be asked: Can he? Right now, with a relatively large sample size at our disposal, the answer would appear to be no. This is the reality which has confronted Boston College fans and may likewise be facing decision-makers in Boston College Athletics. At some point, assuming that this negative trend continues, personal feelings will have to be put aside and a business decision will have to be made.

Hopes were high when Donahue took over. After all, he led Cornell to the Sweet 16 and was always called a good “X’s and O’s” coach. He said all the right things and worked to directly appeal to the fans. Whether or not we thought he would, we all wanted Donahue to succeed. Even now, we still wish him well.

Unfortunately, the red flags started rising almost immediately thereafter. For one thing, several players and recruits left the program, including Brady Heslip, now a hot shooter for Baylor who would have been a major help to this offense. Second, aside from Joe Jones, a weak staff was assembled. When Jones left, no high-level recruiting prowess remained. Today, in 2014, the Eagles are getting beaten out by the likes of Western Kentucky for recruits.

Furthermore, the basketball philosophy being taught on this team is distressing. It is predicated almost solely on jacking jumpers, and was even before Dennis Clifford got hurt. This in itself is not necessarily a problem (though they’re not even that good at shooting), but it is when coupled with bad defense; this year’s team might be the worst we’ve seen yet on that end. Time and time again, opposing players have shredded Boston College’s non-existent interior defense for effort-free trips to the hoop while jump shooters have had a number of uncontested looks. The Eagles look uninterested in doing a thing about it and Donahue has been slow to adjust.

You’re not going to grind out wins in this conference if your team plays horrible defense and rarely scraps for the ball. Based upon what this team is doing now, knowing that defense will be an ongoing issue and that the offense will be nothing better than streaky, it is time to admit that Donahue’s brand of basketball is not going to work here, if only because of his roster. You can win with some decent shooters at Cornell against poor Ivy League defenses, but in the ACC, regressing offensive talent and invisible defense is a recipe for disaster. Without toughness, grit, and complementary talent, it’s simply not sustainable.

Fan apathy has existed as part of this program for years, but it’s still growing. Well-meaning attempts to get the students interested in the team have largely failed, not surprisingly because the product has been unpleasant for most of Donahue’s tenure. Students are not going to crawl out of their dorms on cold winter nights to watch a bad basketball team, and the locals will likewise stay home. At the end of the day, while incentives are a noble idea that should ultimately be commended, the most effective way to get fans to the games is to win.

In the end, Donahue is losing big with a team that was expected to be good and the talent prospects for the future via recruiting look bleak. After several years and little or no net progress, it is about time to pass judgment on Donahue’s performance: he has over-promised and under-delivered.

At this stage, Donahue cannot be retained even if the Eagles look better in ACC play but still miss the postseason. We do not need a false sense of hope just to do this all over again next year. With the same players, staff, and philosophy as in the previous three uninspiring seasons, there is no reason to believe 2014-15 would turn out much differently, easier schedule or not.

After the VCU loss on December 28, Donahue said that the tough non-conference schedule – which he wanted – got the team off to a slow start and “chopped into” their confidence, and they have not recovered. The problem is that as the head coach, it is Donahue’s job to maintain their confidence and focus. By complaining that the tough schedule threw the Eagles off the rails, he is tacitly admitting that he cannot rally his team, or that his team is mentally weak. If a coach has lost his team, he cannot continue. Donahue knew what he was getting himself into this season, and just because they played a hard schedule does not mean it’s okay for them to repeatedly lose horribly. Further complicating matters for him, Donahue has essentially not had any success here, making the NIT with Al Skinner’s players and then losing the rest of the way. There must be accountability.

Speaking of accountability, while there must be a coaching change, most of this team has acquitted itself very poorly. One does not need to go to Netflix to see “The Walking Dead,” because almost every Boston College game is a live performance. At the same time, the assemblage of soft, leaderless players you see on the court was put together by Donahue and his staff. The players are what they are and they are not going to change, to our collective detriment. In a just world, Donahue would not be the only one to walk the plank, as this is not all his fault.

Calling for a coaching change is not something we do lightly, but Boston College basketball is heading in the wrong direction once again. Donahue is a good man, and it is sincerely disappointing that things have come to this, but our loyalties are to the school and the program, not a person. This is not personal, just business. We want Eagles basketball to be better, but Donahue is in over his head. The experiment has failed, and it is now time to find someone else to fix it.