You know why Al Skinner was successful? Because he didn’t give a damn what anybody said about him. He didn’t care if big-time, big-scoring Duke was in Conte Forum to face his team, he didn’t care who Coach K was. He didn’t care that there weren’t fans in the stands, and if there were, he didn’t notice.
Now some may say that this was Skinner’s downfall. That his stubbornness in keeping with the flex offense – his reluctance to switch to a more-smooth style of ACC play from the rock-’em, sock-’em Big East style – was what created the slow-moving games and the uninterested fans. One person in particular who’s saying this is BC athletic director Gene DeFilippo.
Now, I’m going to call out some people, so excuse me if you’re one of them, but don’t we, as fans, deserve some culpability in this? Yeah, I’m talking to you, the girl who waited in line for season tickets only to go to the Duke game and maybe a few others if her friends were going. Or you, the middle-aged bald guy I had to listen to berate Al during the URI game, after he told his son that BC wouldn’t win one game in the ACC (excuse me sir, but at that point in time they had already beaten Miami, so get your facts straight).
I began my tenure at Boston College in 2002, a short time after BC had won the Big East tournament. A time when Troy Bell was still revered among the basketball elite. A time when people STILL weren’t filling the 8,000-plus-capacity Conte Forum.
My freshman year, we didn’t make it into the NCAA Tournament. We watched the selection show in the locker room, waiting to hear our name, and then walked out to a bunch of news cameras and reporters wanting to know what it felt like. Awful. That’s how it felt.
My sophomore year we beat defending-champion Syracuse in the Big East Tournament, and lost to Pitt the next day in the semi-finals. We lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. My junior year, although we weren’t the best team in the country, we got out to a 20-0 start, and a high national ranking. We beat Syracuse on our home floor, and the fans rushed the court. We beat UConn that year too, our last season in the Big East. Again, we lost in the second round of the NCAA’s.
The 2005-2006 season was one that dreams are made of. The combination of Craig Smith, Jared Dudley, Tyrese Rice and Sean Williams, not to mention Louis Hinnant, and Sean Marshall, was magical, and it was one of those times in your life when everything is just clicking. I’m pretty sure Al was still running his flex offense then. I’m pretty sure it knocked some of those ACC teams on their asses. And I’m pretty sure those seats were filled for almost every game. So it’s not the flex offense that’s really the problem here, is it Gene? It’s because Boston College wasn’t winning big games, and the fans want wins.
I think DeFilippo has made a grave error here, not necessarily in the firing of Al Skinner, because good things can’t last forever, but for letting the students and the fans dictate how he’s going to do business. You know what you just told Steve Donahue, Gene? That if he doesn’t put people in the stands, his job is at stake. Donahue’s reign as the head coach at Boston College rests in a 21-year-old’s ability to get himself out of the Mods for a noon game in the middle of January. Good luck with that Steve.
As much as we alumni don’t want to admit it, Boston College is notorious for it’s fair-weather fan-dom. Even when the football team is successful, it’s bowl bid grossly undermines this success, because BC fans don’t travel. It doesn’t matter what sport, fans stroll in minutes after the game has already begun. Maybe it’s traffic, maybe it’s weather, or maybe it’s just apathy.
For years students have been complaining that Skinner didn’t have a Midnight Madness celebration. Many said that something like that, something that gets the student involved, would get more people in the stands. I once heard someone say that Tyrese Rice should stand out in the Quad and high-five people to get them to go to his next game. Well, this road works two ways my friend, so don’t make promises you can’t keep. What happens when a mediocre BC team plays a bad Ivy League team towards the end of December and you can choose to go home early for Winter Break or go to the game? Are you going to saddle up in the first row of the yellow chairs in Conte Forum because Midnight Madness was so much fun? I don’t think you will.
We can go on and on about how much we hate Duke, but you know what? Duke’s fans show up. It doesn’t matter if they’re playing an exhibition game against the School for the Blind, Duke fans will be there to cheer their team on, because that’s their school. That’s their team. And they have pride in that, win or lose.
Maybe I just don’t understand that winning is supposed to come easy – that we’re all supposed to have it served to us on a silver platter. I grew up an Army football and basketball fan, and I sat through more losses than I can count, truly. I’ve seen the worst losing record in Division I football history. I’ve seen worse losses than BC’s losses to Harvard. The Army men’s basketball team has never been to an NCAA Tournament in my lifetime. But I still cheer. I still go to each game with the (maybe unreasonable) hope that this game will be the one where luck changes. Where everything starts to click. Where magic happens. BC fans have to change their perspective, or no coach or team is ever going to be good enough.
I hope Steve Donahue is the answer to this problem, I really do, because I too enjoy rooting for a successful team. But if he isn’t, what then? Do we go looking for another person who will be? Gene has to know that he just set a precedent.
I wish Steve Donahue a long, successful career at the Heights. I just hope there are people there to see it.
Read it again, at BC Interruption.