It took Director of Athletics Brad Bates 24 hours after Boston College’s final football game of the 2012 season-a year in which the team posted a disappointing 2-10 record-to officially announce the firing of then-head coach Frank Spaziani. The team was told the news around 5:30 p.m. the day after the game, and Bates addressed the media 30 minutes later. He was direct and forthright about the decision and his reasoning. Nothing was unclear to the rest of the department, the players, or the BC fan base.
The same cannot be said about the way Bates and BC Athletics have handled the current situation with head basketball coach Steve Donahue. Donahue’s team significantly underperformed this year, winning just eight of its 32 games despite lofty expectations that even included a potential spot in the NCAA Tournament. For the past two months, a vocal crowd of alumni, students, and fans has been calling for Donahue, who holds a career record of 54-76 at BC, to be fired.
Donahue was told last Thursday that he would return next year, according to Sports Illustrated, but as of press time there has still been no word from the athletic department about the coach’s status. Although it is debatable whether Donahue deserves to keep his job next season-with sound arguments to be made on both sides-there is no denying that BC has handled the days since the basketball team’s season-ending loss last Wednesday very sloppily.
If Sports Illustrated‘s report is true and Donahue is returning next season, Bates should have made a statement affirming that news either immediately after the loss to Georgia Tech on Wednesday or, at the very latest, by Thursday afternoon. A decision regarding a coach under contract returning for another year deserves comment from the AD in this situation, despite arguments to the contrary. Keeping Donahue would be an extremely controversial decision from the athletic department, and it is one that requires a strong stance for the sake of the program, its players, and Donahue’s recruiting ability. There did not necessarily need to be a press conference or even an official statement, but Bates could have spoken directly to a few choice media outlets about the decision. Perhaps Donahue and Bates are working to restructure the coach’s contract and are waiting to make an announcement until that work is done, but at this point the statement would come too late. If he does remain, this delay sends the message to the players, fans, and recruits that Donahue was hanging by a thread, which could negatively affect the team dynamic as it enters next season.
If the Sports Illustrated report is false and Donahue is either being fired or a decision hasn’t been made, the situation will soon get unnecessarily messy. Bates acted quickly after the final football game in 2012, and there’s no reason basketball couldn’t have been handled the same way this year. BC’s performance in the ACC Tournament-whether it was a quick loss or a few surprising victories-should not play a major factor in the decision about Donahue’s status. The athletic department has had months of discouraging play and three straight losing seasons to consider when determine its response. If Donahue is fired this week, it will show that there was likely some miscommunication or indecision in the department-the opposite of the way Spaziani’s case was handled.
Now, whether or not Donahue returns is a much smaller issue compared to BC’s clumsy handling of the situation. Every day that goes by without comment from Bates is another day in which the department looks worse and the standing of next year’s basketball team is further jeopardized.