It was only five years ago that the Eagles were ranked #2 in the nation. It was only four years ago that they made it to their second consecutive conference championship game. We somehow arrived here.
Three years ago, on January 19, 2009 to be exact, the Frank Spaziani era started on the Heights and the downward spiral began. Before the team even played its first game that year, starting quarterback Dominique Davis was suspended for academic reasons and decided to transfer. The starting quarterback position was eventually won by Dave Shinskie, a 25-year-old ex-minor league pitcher who hadn’t played football since high school. Despite the inexperience at QB, the Eagles went a respectable 8-4 before losing in the Emerald Bowl to USC. Montel Harris ran for 1,457 yards and 14 TD’s on the way to an All-ACC Second Team selection.
The next year got off to a rocky start, with underwhelming victories against uninspiring opponents in the first two games before an embarrassing shutout loss at home against Virginia Tech on parents’ weekend that cost Shinskie his starting job. In a move that some felt should have come at the beginning of the year, 19-year-old true freshman Chase Rettig found himself the new starter. Making his first career appearance against archrival Notre Dame in primetime on national TV, Rettig played well before being injured and replaced by Mike Marscovetra. However, instead of sticking with Marscovetra while Rettig recovered the next week against NC State, Spaz went back to Shinskie in a questionable display of indecision that led to a 44-17 shellacking.
It would be five straight losses for the Eagles until, on his 21st birthday, Montel Harris led the team to victory on the strength of 142 rushing yards (remember this picture?). The game launched a five-game winning streak that salvaged the season but resulted in another bowl loss, this time to Nevada. Montel Harris was selected to the All-ACC first team, but did not play in the last two games of the year due to injury.
Harris was not healthy to start the 2011 season, and the Preseason ACC Player of the Year made only two appearances in a disastrous season that saw the team finish 4-8 and miss out on a bowl game for the first time in over a decade. His absence obviously played a big role in the decline, but so did the graduations of key players like Anthony Castonzo and Mark Herzlich and the injuries to veterans like Ifeanyi Momah and Donnie Fletcher.
Yet the complete debacle that followed exposed the flaws of Frank Spaziani as head coach. Whether a failure of recruiting or coaching, the vaunted O-Line U failed to make up for the loss of starters Castonzo and Thomas Claiborne and consequently allowed Chase Rettig and the revolving door of Montel’s replacements to take violent beatings on a weekly basis. The injury to Momah exposed shortcomings in the receiving corps. One of the starting safeties was dismissed from the team in late August, and the other departed the team voluntarily. An injury to Donnie Fletcher meant that Jim Noel was the only opening day starter with any significant experience in the secondary. Obviously it would not be realistic to expect new players to step in without hiccups, but it’s the coach’s job to minimize those growing pains and Spaziani did nothing of the sort.
While some critics have called Chase Rettig underwhelming during his first two seasons as BC’s starting QB, more of the blame should fall at the feet of the coaching staff. In 2012, Rettig will be working with his third offensive coordinator in as many years. It’s ridiculous to expect Rettig, or any offensive player for that matter, to realize his potential when he’s learning a new system every year. Since Spaziani became HC, offense has been a problem for the former defensive coordinator. Rather than take responsibility, the OC has been made a sacrificial lamb each year. It will be interesting to see where the blame will fall this year when the best defensive player in BC history isn’t there on the other side of the ball to bail out the team anymore.
As we head towards the 2012 season, the biggest positives on Spaz’s head coaching resume are “starting Kuechly as a freshman” and “recruiting Kevin Pierre-Louis.” The negatives are a bit more numerous: a continuously declining winning percentage as the roster is made up of more and more of his recruits and less and less of O’Brien’s and Jag’s (his predecessors); 28 straight games that BC has failed to score 30 points against an FBS opponent – and counting; the departure of the team’s starting quarterback and now its all-time leading rusher for disciplinary reasons, as well as the unheard-of forgoing of the senior season by its most valuable player. We could go on.
Whatever Montel Harris did to get booted from the team, he chose to do himself. But for a school that prides itself on graduating its athletes and recruiting “the right kind of players,” it’s an unmitigated disaster. Forget that Montel is one of the greatest players in school history and forget that “How do you allow a player that important to get into that much trouble?” is a legitimate question to ask. Since that last ACC Championship, the only other BC football news this big was Mark Herzlich’s comeback, and for reasons that transcended the quality of the team’s performance.
Most of BC’s current SuperFans saw BC competing for ACC Championships as they filled out their college applications. But instead of having the chance to participate in celebrations like this, they get to pay $140 to watch the team get smacked around on its home turf by “powerhouses” like Wake Forest and Duke in remarkable displays of playcalling incompetency. Frank Spaziani has proven that he can’t maintain the level of success that was expected of Boston College football when he inherited the head coaching position. His own former players have even taken to calling for his replacement on Twitter. As a rising senior, I don’t want my last season in the student section to cost $359,803 per win. Montel Harris’ dismissal is just another sad chapter in a head coaching career that has already lasted too long.
[Update: In response to this article, The Committee for a New Direction in Boston College Athletics contacted The Gavel with a link to a petition demanding change within the Athletic Department. That petition can be found here.]