Fall, Football, Sports, Column

Bergamini: What Has Happened to BC Football?

Two years ago, amid a 3–0 start where Boston College football outscored its opponents 124–31, Jeff Hafley made a proposal to BC students before the Eagles’ heavily anticipated Week Four matchup against Missouri. 

“Tailgate early,” Hafley said. “If you don’t want to wake up early, don’t go to bed. Just come out right from the night before and be there and be loud because we felt you last time, and we need you again.”

BC ended up defeating Missouri in overtime on a walk-off interception. Alumni Stadium roared, students stormed the field, and “bring on Clemson” was a legitimate claim for the Eagles and the great state of Massachusetts.

How far have Hafley and co. fallen? Well, it’s hard to say exactly. But it’s no secret that BC football has taken a nosedive in years three and four of the Hafley era. 

Personally, I’m in a unique situation. I cover half of the games in the press box and am a normal student for the other half, watching from the bleachers at Alumni Stadium. 

After leaving Saturday’s game against Holy Cross when the lighting delay was announced, I returned two hours later to a feeling I hope to never experience again. Alumni Stadium had been taken over by Holy Cross fans, sporting a student section that showed no intent of backing down, stationed behind the north endzone. But when I turned my head to the right, I saw a measly three rows of BC students representing our school. For the first time since coming to BC two years ago, I felt embarrassed wearing maroon and gold. 

I am aware that fans were asked to leave when the delay occurred. But once the game resumed, those three rows grew to four, five, maybe six. Crusader fans likely outnumbered BC six to one. Obviously those fans had no dorms to go back to. But the damage was done. And that’s without mentioning BC’s third-quarter delay of game penalty due to Holy Cross’ rowdy and passionate fans, which put the Eagles under pressure to get the snap off.

The Holy Cross takeover really put into perspective the state of BC’s football program. Yes, students should stay for more than two quarters—most live right here on campus. Most students left at halftime against Northern Illinois last week too. But can you really blame the students when the product they’re watching is in such a discombobulated flux?  

Holy Cross didn’t come to Chestnut Hill on Saturday scared. Holy Cross fans didn’t come to Chestnut Hill on Saturday thinking they would handily lose like they have the previous nine times these programs have met. And I’m not sure a single “true” BC fan thought the Eagles would win after the two-hour and 10-minute delay, which resumed with Holy Cross having the ball on the 25-yard line with a chance to win the game. 

But one more unforced error could have very well cost the Eagles the game on Saturday. A 33-win streak against FCS opponents would have been snapped. Holy Cross fans would have probably stormed the field.  

What would have been Hafley’s explanation after that? 

The real question is, can BC football be fixed? Can Hafley, once thought as someone who would lift the Eagles above mediocrity, revive his coaching career on the Heights this season? 

Hafley is 6–16 since that Missouri game. Hafley won three games last season. Hafley also couldn’t make a definitive decision on who to roll with at quarterback for Week One after an entire training camp. 

There are third-year coaches who haven’t survived a 3–9 season like Hafley had last year. Coaches at Stanford, Arizona State, and Colorado all departed after finishing with three wins or less last season—ASU and Colorado fired their coaches mid-season.

But BC isn’t like most schools. It’s a university that undoubtedly values academics and character first. On multiple occasions, Hafley has said that himself in response to questions about the transfer portal.

Sure, BC got unlucky with injuries last season and didn’t have the coaches, or depth, to help them win. Former offensive coordinator John McNulty and offensive lines coach Dave DeGuglielmo got dismissed. Defensive coordinator Tem Lukabu also departed for a job in the NFL. 

Heading into the 2023 season, Hafley hand-picked his guys, hiring everyone from within (besides linebackers coach Paul Rhoads) and preached that BC had more depth than last year. Hafley and his players dubbed Emmett Morehead as the leader of this squad, and the staff was determined to forget their disastrous 2022 campaign. 

In came the 2023 season: Morehead wasn’t named a captain and he wasn’t playing after two drives. BC was back to disappointing against inferior, non-conference opponents after months of promise that this year would be different. Sure, Thomas Castellanos has proven to be the better option going forward. But the plan to open the season with two quarterbacks was jarring. 

This year’s team may be different according to Hafley, but on paper, it was mostly the same. To the average student, we’re simply underwhelming.

And yes, the Eagles did win on Saturday, and they’re officially .500 on the season. Yes, BC did showcase some promise—the offensive line looked vastly improved from last season and Castellanos certainly has promise. But if there’s a definition of a bad win, Saturday’s win was as close as you’ll get. 

So what exactly has changed from last year? 

For one thing, the defense looks worse. Giving up 27 and 28 points to Northern Illinois and Holy Cross speaks for itself. Hafley’s defensive background has not been showing. And if that’s not showing, what is Hafley bringing to the table that’s unique? I’m not sure I can pinpoint anything.

The penalties have also been excruciating. Nineteen flags across two games, including a mind-numbing taunting penalty called on Castellanos on Saturday, have plagued the Eagles. Seeing Hafley amped up about BC’s penalties during Saturday’s press conference was welcoming, but when will we see a difference on the field?

The pressure is clearly mounting onto Hafley. He is, after all, the highest-paid employee at BC. He should know he hasn’t achieved what he set out to achieve. Receiving a contract extension through 2026 two years ago has ultimately proven to be a premature move—one that could cost the University millions of dollars if Hafley doesn’t complete his contract. 

Overall, Hafley is a genuine person who’s always a pleasure to speak to in press conferences, and it’s nothing but unfortunate what his tenure in Chestnut Hill has come to.

I’m merely worried that Hafley has lost the locker room and there’s no coming back. 

Nothing I’ve seen this year has proven to me that this is a different team. Nothing I saw on Saturday proves to me that there have been any major changes from Week One to Week Two. And if no changes are made for Saturday’s game against No. 3 Florida State, it will not be pretty.

I truly want to go back to that feeling of the Missouri game. The excitement was unreal, and BC football had true promise. Fans showed up and stayed, alumni were bought in with spirit and vitality, and the sky was sort of the limit. Just two years later, it’s not crazy to say that was the pinnacle of the Hafley era.

September 10, 2023