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Column: In His Short Time At BC, Bates Has Been Learning

Sports Editor

Published: Monday, November 12, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01

Brad Bates is living out of his suitcase in a hotel. He’s been at Boston College full-time for three weeks, but Bates hasn’t had much time to think about the little things like buying a new house to live in. He has a few more important issues on his plate as athletic director on the Heights.

The first three weeks of Bates’ time have been filled with appointments to meet all of his coaches, the student-athletes, administrators, donors, alums, and even the local media. With all that in mind, it’s been a hectic start to life in Chestnut Hill for Bates, especially with the overlap between the fall and winter sports schedules.

While sleep has been at a minimum (“Sleep’s overrated,” he joked), Bates has been able to feed off the energy of those around him to keep him going through a crazy time of transition. He kindly took the time to meet with The Heights early last week to talk about his experiences so far.

“It’s been exhilarating,” Bates said. “This place, because of the people that are here and the people that were here, there’s an incredible foundation here. And we’ve got a lot of work to do, but there’s enormous potential here and that’s very, very exciting. The people that are a part of this institution and care about it and are passionate about it—they’ve just been fantastic. The welcome has been terrific.

“People have high expectations and they should, and that’s what excited me about coming to Boston College.”

The most important issue that everyone is expecting Bates to address is the football program, and he’s certainly been on top of his game with that. While many have been angered with his decision not to fire head coach Frank Spaziani during the season, Bates understands the situation.

“Football is going through adversity right now, so I’m being as visible and around that program as I can to show them that we support them and we care about them,” Bates said.

By my eye, Bates has done just that. He’s been at every single football game since he was hired, even when he was still wrapping things up in Ohio. Time after time, he’s stood at the door of the locker room to give his players a pat on the back after the tough games. Maybe it’s not exactly what the football team needs, but it’s all he can do at this point—be a visible leader throughout the tough times.

I’ve gone back and forth about whether I think Spaziani should still be the coach through the end of the season. After the loss at Wake Forest, I was all ready to fill this space with reasons why Doug Martin should be the interim head coach for the rest of the year. But what Bates said at his introductory press conference stopped me from doing so—his idea of not making quick decisions and instead looking at a “body of work rather than the emotional rollercoaster of every week.”

Sure, Bates knows about the downward trend of the football team in its years under Spaziani’s guidance, but he wasn’t here to witness it. There’s a difference between being on the outside looking in and actually immersing yourself in the program, and Bates is doing the latter now. Firing Spaziani midseason would have been similar to the Los Angeles Lakers’ decision to fire Mike Brown five games into the season. That’s absurd. I know BC is now 10 games into its season, but Bates has only been around the program for five.

Bates has adhered to his original promise of not making a decision in the emotional rollercoaster, and stood by that statement last week.

“I’ve actually studied this, mid-season coaching changes or announcements—you’ve always got to think about the students,” Bates said. “And maybe you get an emotional lift for a week, but after that when the authority has been diminished, it just isn’t the healthiest environment for the students. So the focus has got to be that week-to-week and game-to-game, we’re striving for excellence and we’re trying to win each week. So I think that if we’re always reminding ourselves that our goal is to maximize student development, then those decisions play out at the end of the season.”

He referred to a similar situation he encountered at Miami University, when the women’s soccer team endured a difficult season. Bates showed patience and wise judgment, and the result spoke for itself.

“A year ago, Miami’s women’s soccer program didn’t even make the conference tournament, this year they won the league, and they just won the conference tournament championship,” Bates said. “[When you’re facing] adversity, you want to gather as much information as possible, because if we’d just looked at a snapshot of one year of Miami soccer, you would’ve said get rid of the coach and get someone new. But here we are a year later and he went undefeated in the regular-season and never lost a game this year in the conference, and now he’s in the NCAAs.”

Sure, the situation is different, but Bates isn’t a stranger to dealing with head coaches. In doing so, he wants to make rational decisions while not squashing expectations for the program.

“We want to have expectations of excellence, ever to excel, but the role of the athletic administration is we’ve got to assess whether we’re providing the resources to our coaches so that they can maximize that student development through excellence and performance,” he said. “And so a big part of what we’ve got to grasp is that we’re investing in coaches—the coaches are the primary facilitators of this student development. They’re the ones that are spending a majority of the time as catalysts to the students’ development. As administrators, we’ve got to provide them with the resources that allow them to maximize their student development.”

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