When word got to Jerry York that his new boss wanted to be at Conte Forum to see Boston College’s ice hockey team raise its national championship banner before their season-opener, York wasn’t sure it was doable.
Brad Bates’s plate was full already. He was still getting his bearings in Boston after leaving Miami (Ohio) University to become the Eagles’ new athletic director. There were the endless meetings with students, faculty, administrators, alumni, donors, department heads.
Bates also had loose ends to tie up in Ohio. He planned on being in Oxford for Miami’s hockey game against Providence that Friday. On top of that, he wanted to be in Atlanta the next day to see BC’s football team face Georgia Tech. Kickoff was at 3 p.m. The hockey game was at 7. The commitments were stacked on top of each other like Jenga pieces.
“I thought it’d be an impossibility,” York said.
Bates made it work. He flew from Oxford to Atlanta Saturday morning and stayed long enough to see the first half of the Eagles’s 37-17 loss before hopping a flight to Boston. By the time he got to Logan, he was pushing it. A police escort rushed him from the airport to Chestnut Hill. He made it in time to hoist the banner, and York still doesn’t know how.
“He must’ve had a Superman cape on or something,” York said. “That was an impressive first impression for all of us.”
For all the hands he’s shaken, the smiles, and the casual banter, it’s the actions that have mattered most in the seven weeks since Bates became head of the Eagles athletic department. He starts his day at 7 a.m. and spends the next 12 hours pushing through a schedule stuffed with faces to know, people to meet, impressions to make.
He inherited one of the finer programs in the country at one of its most pivotal stages, with the football program struggling, the basketball team rebuilding, and York’s hockey team all the while waving the flag for the school. He studied the challenges before he arrived. But once he got here, the key was showing people he was committed to meeting those challenges no matter how impossible they seemed.
“A big part of the first two weeks is to try and develop trust,” Bates said. “It’s very difficult to develop trust during crises. It’s much easier to have that trusting relationship, then go through a crisis together. So that becomes very significant.
“In time I think people around here will quickly realize that I love Boston College athletics and the focus on excelling, performing, graduating, all those things go hand in hand.”
A father’s influence
Those aims are in his genes. Over 50 years, his father Jim carved out a hall of fame high school coaching career in Port Huron, Mich., that influenced the way his oldest son saw the game. With three boys and a girl, there were always balls bouncing in the Bates household. There was a television, too. But no cable, so whenever Bates’s father watched film, “which was all the time,” Brad recalled, it would screw up the signal. It left a young Brad with limited options. So he’d find himself checking to see what his dad was working on.
“I’d go down, sit on his lap and watch film and he’d tell me what was going on and it showed me the level of complexity and sophistication in the sport,” Bates said “At a very young age, I had an appreciation for the intellect required to really think about how you approach a game.”
When he got to high school, their father-son/coach-quarterback relationship came naturally.
“He listened and he learned,” Jim said. “He was a good leader. He was the kind of guy you would actually want to coach even if he wasn’t your son.”
He soaked in more than just his father’s game plans. He watched the way his dad thought about the game on a larger scale, the life lessons they taught — competition, sportsmanship, intelligence, teamwork.
“He really approached athletics as a curriculum and he did it in very meaningful ways that developed students into leaders,” Brad said.
It was no different in Bates’s case.
“He loved sports so much,” Jim said. “Everything he did revolved around sports. You kind of had an inkling that he would head in that direction.”
When Bates went to Michigan in 1977, he was nobody special. He wasn’t a quarterback anymore. He was a walk-on cornerback trying to grab whatever opportunity legendary coach Bo Schembechler had for him.
“I applied to the university just like every other student at the institution,” Bates said. “I got my dorm room like any other student at the institution. I wasn’t assigned in a particular dorm that the athletes were assigned in. I was the last person to get equipment when I was there.”Continued...