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Spaziani, BC face major challenge

By Mark Blaudschun
Globe Staff / July 23, 2012
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GREENSBORO, N.C. — Frank Spaziani is a veteran now, no longer one of the new kids on the block, even though he moved into the neighborhood at 62, hardly the usual age for a head coach to make his debut.

When the Boston College football mentor looks around the room Monday morning at the Atlantic Coast Conference kickoff event, he is sixth in seniority among coaches — in the middle of the pack.

If BC can win enough games this season, Spaziani, beginning his fourth season as head coach, probably will be able to exhale and continue rebuilding the Eagles to what they were when Spaziani took over in 2009 — a team that at the least can contend for the ACC Atlantic Division title and be a perennial bowl participant.

But as Spaziani and the Eagles begin to focus on the season opener against Miami on Sept. 1, there are no guarantees — how could there be for a program coming off a 4-8 season that was filled with injuries and speculation about turmoil? BC’s record was its worst since 1995 and it wasn’t invited to a bowl for the first time since 1998.

Spaziani’s name is on almost every preseason list of coaches on the hot seat.

“The seat is always hot,’’ Spaziani says, shaking his head and laughing, knowing that in his profession the amount of time for doing enough good things to keep your job is shrinking each year. Spaziani knows last season’s tumble by heart.

He recalls the stunning home losses to Northwestern and Duke in September and the second-half collapse at Central Florida that turned a 9-3 deficit into a 30-3 loss in that same month.

He recalls the turmoil in the program that came from that defeat and resulted in then offensive coordinator Kevin Rodgers taking a medical leave of absence for the remainder of the season. He recalls an offensive line with a patchwork of players in and out of the lineup each day during practice, not to mention on Saturdays, and a defensive line that also was wrecked by injury.

And then there was BC’s all-time leading rusher, Montel Harris, shutting it down for the season after recurring injuries.

“That’s football,’’ said Spaziani with a shrug.

Spaziani’s job security — he still has a few years on his original pact when he went from defensive coordinator to head coach when Jeff Jagodzinski was fired — hinges on his ability to turn the Eagles back into a bowl team this season. But Spaziani is not a quick-fix guy, and at age 65 and after a coaching career that began as a graduate assistant at his alma mater, Penn State, in 1969, he is not going to change his style.

“I want to build a program here, or rebuild a program,’’ he said. “And I’m telling you, we’re getting close in some areas to being good, really good.’’

What he will not say or cannot say is whether he will be around to see the finished product. The team that will take the field Sept. 1 has the usual balance of veterans and youth, but the answer to the question of how good that mix will be is murky at best.

Certainly, there is a optimism after Spaziani cleaned house on his staff, bringing in offensive coordinator/QB coach Doug Martin, offensive line coach/running game coordinator Jim Bollman, running backs/special teams coach Sean Desai, receivers coach Aaron Smith, assistant special teams/assistant defensive line coach Al Washington, and head strength and conditioning coach Mike Poidomani.

Whether word came down to Spaziani that he needed to make some changes or more drastic moves would be made is uncertain, but the Eagles certainly will have a new offensive philosophy this season with Martin and Bollman running the show.

Spaziani will focus on defense, along with defensive coordinator Bill McGovern, trying to fine tune a unit that will have to adjust to the departure of All-America linebacker and first-round NFL draft choice Luke Kuechly.

At Sunday’s ACC media event, defensive tackle Kaleb Ramsey, who lost most of last season to a foot injury, and Emmett Cleary, who will move into Nate Richman’s slot at left tackle, talked about the attitude they want to create at BC. They also didn’t want to hear any talk about Spaziani’s job status.

“I definitely hear it, and it’s largely a media invention,’’ said Cleary. “When the players aren’t playing well, it’s always the coach’s fault. If we win nine games this year, coach will be Coach of the Year and all that [stuff] goes away. ‘’

Ramsey, a 6-foot-3-inch, 302-pounder, remembers the frustration of watching from the stands as his teammates suffered through such a tough season.

“The worst year of my life,’’ said Ramsey, who said he is 100 percent healthy.

Spaziani knows how he wants BC to play. Training camp is two weeks away, the season starts in five weeks. He knows the clock is ticking. So do his players.

“There’s as much young talent in the program as there has ever been,’’ said Cleary. “We have waves of guys coming back.’’

Mark Blaudschun can be reached at blaudschun@globe.com.

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