After the firing of Jim Christian in February, Athletics Director Pat Kraft said he and his team were looking for an energetic leader, a dynamic recruiter, and someone with experience rebuilding a program to fill the head coach void for a struggling Boston College men’s basketball program.
Did Kraft and BC find the right guy in former College of Charleston head coach Earl Grant?
In the 2014-15 season, Grant’s first at Charleston, the team went 9-24 overall, including 3-15 in the Colonial Athletic Association. In 2018, the Cougars improved to 26-8 (14-4 CAA), won the conference tournament, and received an NCAA Tournament bid, the program’s first in 20 years. In the tournament, Grant and the Cougars fell short to No. 4 seed Auburn, losing 62-58 in the round of 64.
This past season, however, was a let down for Grant and Charleston. The Cougars finished 9-10 and 6-4 in the CAA, with the limited number of games played largely due to COVID-19 concerns. This change does raise some eyebrows, as Grant will be moving to a far superior ACC conference next season with the Eagles.
The ACC is not the CAA. The ACC is arguably the best conference in college basketball year in and year out, which is clear from the fact that seven ACC teams earned bids to the NCAA Tournament this year. For the past 10 years, BC has finished in the lower half of the conference. The Eagles last posted a winning conference record in the 2010-11 season.
Rebuilding a program doesn’t happen overnight. It would be unrealistic to expect Grant to take charge and instantly make BC (4-16, 2-11 ACC) the powerhouse team it once was when it was in the Big East. It’s going to take more than a new head coach to turn this BC program around.
“It all starts with finding a group of committed people,” Grant said in his first press conference. “Then we can start climbing the hill.”
The climb for BC won’t be easy. As a fan of the program, watching the last few years of BC basketball has been hard, put simply. From a fan’s perspective it is clear that energy is what the program is lacking most. While it’s been made apparent that a change in personnel is not the end-all-be-all answer to BC’s struggles, an energetic leader will certainly help to rally the team, fans, and BC basketball community.
Grant can be that guy. He’s 39 years old, 10 years younger than Christian was when BC hired him in 2014, and eight years younger than Steve Donahue was when he was hired in 2010. In 2019, Grant was a finalist for the Skip Prosser Man of the Year Award, which honors a coach who not only achieves success on the court but also displays moral integrity off the court. Grant seems like a genuine person and a coach who is just getting started making his name known. Having a head coach who is easily likable will be huge for overall fan support and for recruiting purposes.
A major problem with BC basketball for the last 10 years has been commitment: from the players—BC lost two four-star recruits last season and another three starters after this past season—to the staff—Grant will have the ability to hand pick the people he best sees fit, according to Kraft—to the administration—which has indicated it is willing to make significant improvements in facilities and nutrition. Not to mention the fact that the alumni, the student body, and the fans haven’t had much to get excited about in recent years.
By no means was Grant one of the biggest names in the pool of rumors swirling around the newly vacant position. Neither was Christian when BC hired him seven years ago. And neither was Al Skinner, the last coach to lead the Eagles to a winning season. In fact, Grant said in his press conference that he didn’t even apply for the BC job.
Grant does, however, have experience coaching and recruiting in the ACC, serving as an assistant coach for four years at Clemson before taking the head coaching job at Charleston.
During his time at Clemson, Grant helped recruit future NBA players Jaron Blossomgame and 2014 ACC Defensive Player of the Year K.J. McDaniels. In 2019 and 2020, Jarrell Brantley and Grant Riller became the third and fourth College of Charleston players to ever be selected in the NBA Draft.
Recruiting is huge in college basketball. If you don’t consistently have good players wanting to play—and stay—in your program, you do not succeed. At BC, recruiting really shouldn’t be all that hard.
“We want to evaluate guys who would be excited to be in one of the best cities in the world, playing in the best conference in the world, at a school that’s hungry for success,” Grant said.
Seems simple enough.
Building a strong foundation is how you attract the right guys: guys who are hungry and committed to winning. To Grant, it all starts with his current players and his staff. For Grant to effectively do this, he’s got to identify the players on the current roster who are committed to BC’s program.
“The players I have on this roster are very important,” Grant said. “I’m excited and anxious to start building my staff, as well as developing the players that I have.”
Unfortunately, some of BC’s better players from this past season will not be returning for Grant’s first year as head coach. Standout senior Steffon Mitchell declared for the NBA Draft on Tuesday, forgoing his extra year of eligibility. The following day, Jay Heath, who led the Eagles in scoring this past season, announced his entrance into the transfer portal. Mitchell and Heath join Wynston Tabbs and Rich Kelly as the latest Eagles to wave goodbye to BC this year.
Grant and his staff will have some work to do. It’s time for everyone—players, staff, and fans—to commit.
Once Grant finds his committed team of staff and players, the next step for the Eagles comes on the court.
“We got to be gritty, not pretty,” Grant said. “This is a gritty, chip on your shoulder type of place. This is a fighters’ job.”
Featured Image by Orlando Jorge Ramire / USA Today Courtesy of BC Athletics