Gene DiFilippo: Not That Dumb

Unless you've been living under a football rock for the past few days, you've undoubtedly heard that Boston College recently fired head coach Jeff Jagodzinski for having the gall to interview with the New York Jets organization regarding their vacant head coaching position.  This wasn't a surprising move, if only for the reason that Boston College AD Gene DiFilippo had told Jagodzinski that he would be fired if he took that interview.  Undeterred, Jagodzinski met with the Jets; has not been hired by the Jets; and was promptly fired from Boston College. 

The firing came as a surpise to most, including AD Gene DiFlippo.  He fought back tears during the press conference where he was quoted as saying "I love Jags" and "We're really good friends and this is a very difficult thing to do."  Add onto that the fact that Jags was fired "without cause" - meaning there was nothing in his contract forbidding him to interview with anyone - and it draws a huge WTF from nearly everyone.  The equation doesn't equal out:

Winning Coach + Liked by AD = Fired

WRONG

Most in the blogosphere have reacted as you can expect:  raising the WTF flag.  And they might be right.  Brian Cook at Fanhouse certainly doesn't hold back in his piece entitled "Gene DiFilippo: Worst AD This Year, or Worst in the History of Ever?" 

...as they've declared they'll fire Jeff Jagodzinski if he dares to interview with the Jets.

In a word: bats.

Brian goes on to say how no coach with ambition beyond coaching a mid-level ACC team would even think about going to BC now.  DiFilippo has, essentially, worked himself into a corner in terms of candidates.

Boston College blogger ATL_eagle at Eagle in Atlanta was on the same page, declaring that while he would continue to root for BC no matter what, the situation was "mismanaged" and, immediately following the firing, had this to say:

I will continue to defend Jags’ right to advance his career and continue to thank him for two great years.

These are two perfectly legitimate arguments; this is not a fisk job.  Many have, over the course of the past few days, given you the "why do they even sign contracts; Bobby Petrino; Rich Rodriguez; Bler Bler Bler" routine.  I don't want to go down that road.  However, I don't think BC is as screwed as some are saying.

Let's look at the meat in Brian's fanhouse post:

How are you going to hire a promising replacement when you've just fired a coach for daring to interview somewhere else? How are you going to recruit when you're on your third coach in four years and the previous two left suddenly? You won't, and you can't.

In theory, Brian's thought process works out fine: IF a school fires coaches for trying to get better jobs, THEN no coach with ambition (read: good coach) will go to that school.  The problem with that line of thinking is that there are so few top tier NCAA head coaching jobs that when one comes knocking you can't just turn it down.  BC was never going to get that all-star up and comer.  Even under the best of circumstances, a guy like Brian Kelly or Chuck Martin isn't going to go to BC to use it as a stepping stone to a top-10 school; they're just going to go to that top-10 school. 

Instead, BC's target coach, and the coach who eventually got the job, was/is so eager to get his hands on a BCS school's program that he doesn't give a damn what the support is/will be when he goes looking for the next, presumably bigger, job.  The AD - in this situation - holds the cards.  It's how the Lion's manage to find a head coach despite being the most mismanaged franchise is sport's history.  There are simply too few NFL head coaching opportunities to pass when one comes knocking.  It's the same, albeit on a larger scale, for BCS jobs.  DiFilippo wanted to send a message that at his school contracts mean something, and if he can't establish continuity in the program and have a coach who truly wants to be at Boston College, then he'd rather fire you and hire somebody who does.

This strategy has just as much upside compared to risk as the other strategy of positioning your school as a perpetual stepping stone.  On the upside, you now have a coach in Spaziani who knows exactly what he's in for.  Unless he is 100% certain that he has a job elsewhere, you'd better believe he is going to be at BC, working for BC, until the end of his contract at least.  Sure, he might not be the hottest up and comer, but he knows the program, knows the players, and - now - knows the situation. 

Compare this to a program at BC's level who played the "stepping stone" game and lost:  Michigan State.  Saban used MSU as a stepping stone, and MSU largely supported him in doing so (read: he wasn't fired for interviewing).  However, they failed to get that next hot-shot and hired Bobby Williams instead.  After that failed, they hired hot-shot John L. Smith.  That failed.  Hot-shots don't always work out, and if you're going to play that game, you'd better play it extremely well.  Instead, DiFilippo decided not to play; he's going to roll the dice with an assistant who knows exactly what will happen if he decides to look elsewhere.

If Spaziani fails, then DiFilippo will look like an idiot to be sure.  But say Jagodzinski left to go coach an NFL team, and DiFilippo had hired a hot-shot in the John L. Smith mold.  He would still look like an idiot.  But consider the up-side: If Spaziani works out, then he's got a coach who is at least more likely to stick around until his contract expires.  Whereas a rising-star coach who knows he's got the AD's support when he goes looking is much more likely to leave the program on a mayflower truck in the dead of night with recruits and players left in a lurch.  Recruiting when you're on your 3rd coach in 4 years is just as tough when those coaches leave for the NFL as when they leave for NC State.  At least Spaziani knows the rules now.

I can't say which strategy is better: I think they're both risky.  However, I don't think DiFilippo is the dumbest AD in history for pursuing this course of action.

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