Column: Bates Is Just What BC Needed
Published: Thursday, October 11, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01
This is exactly what Boston College needed. When Gene DeFilippo announced his retirement as athletic director back in August, he said that it was the right time for “new leadership” at the AD position. It was time for a change on the heights. Brad Bates brings just that—and much, much more.
It was a hectic 24 hours before the official announcement was made on Tuesday afternoon, with potential candidates’ names flying around, seemingly changing by the hour. But when all was said and done, I truly believe the right man was sitting in between University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J. and Associate Athletic Director for Media Relations Chris Cameron at the introductory press conference.
Bates brings with him an outlook that is incredibly positive, a wealth of experience leading at Miami University and Vanderbilt University, and a gratitude for the opportunities that the combination of academics and athletics can provide.
“That’s what makes BC special,” Bates said about the mix of education and athletics. “This is an unbelievable product. Are you kidding me? The graduation rates that we have at one of the top-ranked institutions in the country, competing at the highest level of the NCAA and, oh by the way, you’re in one of the great cities of the world and you’re surrounded by all these tremendous professional athletes? I think we can sell that.”
Selling BC as a product will be a major challenge for Bates, as the University has always tried to find ways to market its athletic programs in a city that is all about professional teams. It will no doubt be a difficult task, but Bates seemed truly excited about taking on the challenge. He’s not going to just sit back and think there’s nothing he can do to change the city’s perception. Instead, Bates talked about how he planned on immersing himself in the community right away and figuring out the best way to make the necessary changes.
That immersion process will also occur with Bates and the students, coaches, fans, alumni, and everyone else involved in the unique community that is BC. He emphasized his desire to get started in building relationships, something that I think will be a major strength of his.
“The first priority is developing relationships,” he said on Tuesday. “In the next couple of weeks, just really developing relationships of trust is a huge component—whether it’s with our student athletes, our coaches….”
Just as Bates was talking about this process, we saw it live in action. Quarterback Chase Rettig made his way through the flood of reporters that surrounded Bates, and introduced himself to his new AD. There was a sense of excitement and eagerness in Rettig’s voice and mannerisms, but I heard those same emotions in Bates’ actions too.
Soon after Rettig left, Bates took some more time to meet officers from the Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), and genuinely wanted to know each of their stories. The three athletes were members of the sailing, skiing, and fencing teams, but Bates showed the same excitement in his conversations with them as he did with Rettig. He even made a promise to go out with the sailing team one morning to see what it’s like.
It’s the small glimpses like the one we got of Bates Tuesday that has me excited for the future of BC athletics. Of course, some might think that what we saw and heard from Bates was just an act, and that he obviously was ready to say and do all the right things to please those listening and watching. And there is no doubt that Bates will have to back up his talk and promises in the coming weeks, months, and years in Chestnut Hill.
In my own opinion, he passed his first major test on Tuesday by saying the right things about the struggling football program. There were many cries for the new AD to come in and fire head coach Frank Spaziani right away. Yet Bates handled the situation with grace, explaining that he needs to wait till the end of the season to evaluate a full body of work, instead of making a snap judgment based on what he called the “emotional roller coaster of every week.”
Yet there’s one story in particular about Bates that tells me he will be true to his word. His biggest talking point on Tuesday was his wish to maximize student development at BC. Fortunately, Bates is wired to do just that, after he learned from legendary football coach Bo Schembechler during his time at Michigan as a walk-on.
“There’s probably not a day that goes by I don’t use something from Bo Schembechler,” Bates said fondly. “He’s special. There are so many things. Bo was obviously very intelligent, incredibly passionate, and he was very, very smart. He engaged the people around him. He certainly believed that collective efforts far surpassed individual attempts. All those experiences that our coaches are facilitating now are the same type of things that I take with me every day.
“We’re one of the only countries in the world that combines our sports with our educational systems. If it’s not inherently developmental and educational for its participants, how can you possibly justify it being on a college campus? And so at the core of what Bo did, was teach us.”