When Boston College athletic director Brad Bates came to BC in October 2012, he inherited a basketball team led by Steve Donahue, a bunch of sophomores, and a pair of talented freshmen. Despite low attendance at games and a team that finished just below .500, Bates was hopeful that Donahue was close to getting the team and the program back to national prominence.
“Throughout last year, I was cautiously optimistic, especially in the way they finished the season, so like a lot of fans I was really optimistic heading into this year,” Bates said.
While the team got off to a shaky start, dropping four its first five, results picked up after a trip to Madison Square Garden, but a rough December ensued.
Although Bates gave Donahue what he labeled a “vote of confidence” around the season’s midway point, results began to falter-and that confidence did, too.
Nothing was changing. The team was coming close, but not close enough. Donahue kept saying the Eagles were close. He claimed the pieces to the puzzle were present in the process of being placed, but then ACC play began.
The meat of the schedule produced a close game with Clemson, an overtime defeat to Notre Dame, a loss on a buzzer-beater to Georgia Tech, and another four-point loss to the Fighting Irish. A pattern was established. Even though BC’s run of form was reversed when it beat Syracuse, the No. 1 team in the country at the time, that triumph was just a blip on the radar.
The body of work Donahue produced led to Bates’ decision to fire Donahue: the wins were not coming, and Bates had to make a change.
“In trying to project the future, you have to take what information you have at your fingertips and make a decision in the best interest of the program, and we’ve decided to make a change in our leadership,” Bates said.
The decision did not come without controversy. After his team’s loss in the first round of the ACC Tournament, Donahue said, “I can’t wait to get back on the court and get better and get ready for next year. I just think we are so darned close with all the things we discussed.”
A report last Thursday from Sports Illustrated’s Pete Thamel said that Donahue was set to return for another year as coach, but the school’s athletic department did not make an official statement, and players, students, and alumni went into last weekend with no definitive answer about Donahue’s future.
Rumors of an announcement came on Monday, but silence followed, until an ESPN report saying Donahue had been fired was released on Tuesday afternoon. BC Athletics was quick to confirm the report, and Donahue was left without work.
The hunt to find the coach that will bring titles to the program has already begun. Bates has a list of names in mind, he said, but is in no rush to make a decision.
“[There’s] no drop-dead date,” Bates said. “We’ve just got to do this right. When you have a decision of this magnitude, you got to make sure you get the right fit.”
Bates will have to compete with other schools in his search for a new head coach, as Virginia Tech, Washington State, and South Florida are all major programs with vacancies. He does believe that he has something special to sell at BC.
“At a school like Boston College there is clearly weight towards integrity, there’s weight towards winning and competitive success, there’s weight towards retention and graduation, but there’s so much more that goes into the leadership of a basketball program,” Bates said.
Recruiting will be an issue as well. Quite a few talented players from the area surrounding the school have passed on BC for opportunities at other programs.
“There’s certainly a context that would make recruiting challenging, I think, in the next year and a half,” Bates said.
In his search, Bates said that the style of play will not matter, as long as he can get a winner. Many argue that Skinner was, in part, let go due to the way his offense was run, and that Donahue was hired because his teams would produce a palatable brand of basketball. While Donahue may have led what was at times a deadly attack, the defense was not up to par, resulting in loss after loss.
Over the coming days, Bates will take the pulse of a program that has produced the faintest of heartbeats since Sean Williams’ goaltend in the waning seconds of a Sweet Sixteen overtime clash with Villanova. He will talk to each player, the strength coach, the trainer, the academic support, and anyone else who is involved with the program on a daily basis.
With the future of the staff up to the new head coach, and rumors of player exits surrounding the team, the new face of the program next fall will have a lot of weight on his shoulders to improve a floundering team and start building a new one. The next coach will inherit a team, just as Bates inherited the program. Bates made a change off the floor, and come November, it will become the new coach’s responsibility to make a change on it.