In other outposts, places where college football resonates, the buzzards would be flying around the head coach who has lost 18 of his last 24 games. At Boston College, the place where sports are often treated as an abstraction, there appears no meaningful external pressure on Jeff Hafley, the coach in his fourth season.
Surely, there are spasms of bewilderment and besiegement on social media. Not much in the Boston media. Nobody really cares enough to ask fair and appropriate questions daily, questions that a 6-18 record in your last 24 games engender.
But the facts are the facts. BC is 6-18 in its last 24 football games. The Eagles aren’t just losing now, but they’re losing with an alarming lack of discipline. It invites the question: How did this get so bad?
It wasn’t long ago when BC football was among the most disciplined teams in the nation, evidenced by the COVID season of 2020. Other programs in the country lost enough players to imperil whether games were even played. BC’s daily steadfastness enabled it to lose but a handful of players and with no interruptions to its schedule. The Eagles posted an encouraging 6-5 record in Hafley’s first year.
In year two, the Eagles began 4-0. Two years ago last weekend, they defeated Missouri in overtime to start 4-0 (and 10-5 in Hafley’s first 15 games). Much of a sellout crowd at Alumni Stadium stormed the field. A subsequent injury to former quarterback Phil Jurkovec derailed the season, but not the vibes.
At the time, Hafley had led Boston College to qualifying for two straight bowl games (the Eagles ultimately declined to play in the COVID year.) In two seasons, his 12 victories as a head coach tied him with Michigan State's Mel Tucker for the second most wins among all Power Five head coaches hired in 2020.
Hafley and his staff signed the top recruiting class in school history in his first season. The recruiting class ranking by ESPN was the best in school history since the rankings began in 2006. Hafley’s name had been on the watch list for several recent openings at Power Five programs. It inspired then-athletic director Pat Kraft to give Hafley a contract extension through 2026 reportedly worth around $3 million per season.
This is all mentioned for perspective. If we criticize Hafley for current events, it’s mostly because of the hope and wonder of the recent past. Again we ask: How did such promise turn so bad so fast?
Boston College has not played like a well coached team this season, nearly 50 penalties now in four games. But as lopsided as the final score was Saturday in Louisville, Hafley did something early in the game that was symptomatic of what bad coaching looks like.
Two weeks ago after the penalty-riddled win over Holy Cross, Hafley passionately told the assembled media that while penalties happen, players committing the egregious ones - the mindless personal fouls - would meet consequences. Hafley said “they won’t play.”
And yet Saturday, the BC defense was set to force a three-and-out on Louisville’s first possession. Louisville quarterback Jack Plummer completed a short pass on third and long to a receiver surrounded by three BC defenders. The play’s outcome was ghastly familiar: Khari Johnson, in position with two teammates and with no need to go near the face, grabbed the receiver’s facemask and got flagged for 15 yards. Louisville scored a few plays later.
After committing that penalty, Khari Johnson was on the field for the next play.
That’s bad coaching.
If you are going to tell the media - and by extension the fans - that bad penalties have consequences, you must follow through. Because what kind of message does that send when there are no consequences at all? What motivation do the players really have to change when the tough talk is really just empty calories?
I don’t pretend to know one-twentieth of the football Hafley knows. But that one sequence Saturday told me everything. And it’s not encouraging. Put it this way: Loyalists of BC football are used to losing. But they’re not used to watching a product that is undisciplined and rudderless.
But then, are the people to whom Hafley answers demanding answers? I have no way of knowing that. What I do know is that as previously stated: In other places, external pressure has a way of making the comfortable appropriately uncomfortable. Jeff Hafley should be appropriately uncomfortable right now.
Several BC alumni chapters (Kentucky, Cincinnati, Indianapolis) attended Saturday’s game. An excellent turnout. Most left the game by halftime because there was nothing left to watch. And the far more concerning part: Many weren’t even mad. They were numb. And on the road to apathy.
Full disclosure here: I do not enjoy writing such things. Hafley seems like a good man. His first two years here had many of us worried he’d leave for greener pastures. But this? This is simply not acceptable one minute longer.
This is Jeff Hafley’s responsibility to fix. And it begins with holding his players accountable with more than words. It must start Saturday with a very winnable game against Virginia.
Mike DiMauro, a columnist in Connecticut, is a contributor to Eagles Daily and a member of BC’s class of 1990. He may be reached at email@example.com or @BCgenius