Boston College Basketball and the Donahue Disaster


Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Boston College basketball head coach Steve Donahue was getting fired, until he wasn’t.

Then he was coming back, until he wasn’t.

Now, Eagles hoops is in disarray as, following one of the worst seasons in program history, the school’s message on the status of the coach has been mixed.

This is the essential, abridged timeline of the events in Boston College basketball this week:

  • Wednesday night: Boston College loses to Georgia Tech in the ACC Tournament, ending their season at 8-24. 63rd loss for the junior class, Donahue’s first recruiting class.
  • Thursday: What few Eagles fans had not tuned the program out after an unprecedented amount of losing anxiously awaited word on the dismissal of Donahue.
  • Thursday night: SI’s Pete Thamel runs a story saying that Boston College decided to retain Donahue for next season. CBS Sports went on to claim that the school would make an official statement on Friday. In their shock and anger, donors and fans loudly protest. Rumors surface that the decision to keep the coach came from above athletic director Brad Bates’ pay grade.
  • Friday afternoon: Former Boston Globe adversary Mark Blaudschun says that no decision has been made on Donahue’s status. Eagle Action claimed that Boston College would not make a statement on Friday about Donahue.
  • Friday night: No statement had been made by the school by this point. Rumors continued to abound that Donahue himself was Thamel’s source, that Bates did not make the call himself, and that the school was not ready to make an announcement when Thamel ran his story.
  • Saturday morning: Boston Globe’s Michael Vega runs a story confirming that no decision has been made, with an actual quote from Bates from Friday night denying the initial reports: “When we’re ready to make a public statement in the best interest of the program, we’ll do that.” Notably, Bates also said in the article that as a program, Boston College hoops is “not where we want to be.”

In essence, either the initial stories were always inaccurate, or they were accurate, but their existence caught the school off-guard and triggered a disruption in the process. It also sounds from the most recent report that Bates is not gung-ho for the status quo, which is why it’s important that the fans let him do his job and the process play out.

There is one unlikely but not impossible additional theory as to this confusing situation: the Thamel release could have been a trial balloon to see the reaction of the maroon and gold hoi polloi. Even if it wasn’t, Boston College could have used it as one and taken advice from it. If they were wise, they would make note of the overwhelmingly negative fan response to the Thamel story and say “maybe we should rethink this,” if they had actually committed to Donahue again at all.

It is at their peril that Boston College ignores the fans, as the donors and/or season-ticket holders fall into that category. Money talks, and when the donors are pissed, it’s pretty much game over for those in positions of authority. Now, it could not be more clear that the fans who were not outraged on Twitter on Thursday night or Friday have voted with their feet and wallets on the Donahue tenure with a mostly-empty Conte Forum. Not that they necessarily would have, anyway, but the fans are not going to flock back to watch a team that’s done nothing but lose since the minute they got here with their wounded, shot-credibility coach steering the ship.

Especially after this fiasco, short of a miracle season next year, Donahue has probably lost the fans for good. Also, frankly, the thought that these same Eagles are going to simply put it all together next year after three years of little or no tangible progress is an idea not based in objective reality.

This situation is embarrassing for Boston College, but the reasons are manifold. First, the obvious, in that the Eagles had allegedly decided to keep a coach who has lost big throughout almost his entire tenure on the Heights. Second, in that conflicting media reports and rumors, unfounded or not, are making the school look divided and (based upon some reports) with priorities incongruent with building a winning basketball program. Third, in that it has given some national media types with short-term memories a forum to claim that Boston College basketball has never been a good program and that we’re cheap and eternally lousy and small potatoes and that’s how it is. That is demonstrably false, but it has happened.

At this stage, because of the turmoil it has caused, Boston College will have to address the Steve Donahue situation directly. If they announce Donahue’s retention, they had better come up with a good excuse, because the boosters are owed some sort of explanation for why the coach is not being held accountable for his body of work. If he is dismissed after all, the need for a statement goes without saying.

We may never have answers to all of the questions this has raised, directly or not, but one clearly needs to be answered. Unfortunately, even if the school clears up the matter, keeping Steve Donahue will not settle down what’s left of the fan base, especially after all this. That is why a potential fifth year for the coach could get ugly.