Despite his assertion that his job was safe, with one year remaining on a five-year contract, Steve Donahue was fired Tuesday as Boston College’s men’s basketball coach.
Donahue’s termination came less than a week after the conclusion of a disappointing season in which the Eagles had a total of 24 losses — the most since they lost 21 games in the second year of Al Skinner’s 13-year tenure in 1998-99.
ESPN first reported Donahue’s dismissal.
Following a 78-68 loss in the regular-season finale at North Carolina State March 9, which left the Eagles with an 8-23 overall record and a 4-14 mark in Atlantic Coast Conference play, Donahue said he had the support of BC athletic director Brad Bates, with whom the coach spoke regularly, and the backing of the college president, Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J.
Evidently, the administrative support eroded, as Donahue, 51, finished 22 games below .500 (54-76) in his four seasons at BC after being hired April 7, 2010, as Skinner’s successor.
Not even a signature 62-59 overtime victory at top-ranked Syracuse Feb. 19, which dropped the Orange from the ranks of the undefeated, was enough to save Donahue’s job.
Donahue’s downfall was rooted in his inability to duplicate the success he had at Cornell, where in 2010 he guided the Big Red to an Ivy League title, an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament, and a run to the Sweet 16. Donahue faced a monumental struggle in the ACC, compiling a 24-44 regular-season record.
His Eagles finished no better than tied for fourth place in the conference and were over .500 in league play just once, recording a 9-7 mark in his first season.
BC made just one postseason appearance under Donahue, landing a berth in the National Invitation Tournament three years ago and getting eliminated in the second round.
Returning all five starters from a 2012-13 team that went 16-17 overall and finished eighth in the ACC with a 7-11 conference record, Donahue challenged his club by ramping up the nonconference schedule this season. He hoped to improved BC’s ratings percentage index, a metric the NCAA selection committee relies upon to help set the tournament field of 68.
But the strategy backfired when BC wound up going 4-9 in nonconference play, losing all five road games and going 1-3 at neutral sites. The lone victory was an 89-78 triumph over Washington Nov. 22 at Madison Square Garden.
When asked if he erred in taking on such an ambitious nonconference schedule, Donahue sighed and replied, “Yeah, I did.’’
Among the road losses were back-to-back setbacks Dec. 4 and 8 against Purdue and Southern Cal, teams that wound up finishing last in their conferences.
“This group, I didn’t do them any favors by doing that,’’ said Donahue. “I probably had the right reason at heart. I said, ‘You know what, if we’re going to get to the NCAA Tournament, we’re going to need to have a really good nonconference schedule.’ ’’
But that wasn’t the only factor that greased the skids for Donahue, who also struggled to recruit ACC-caliber players.
Olivier Hanlan, a guard from Aylmer, Quebec, emerged as BC’s best player, earning ACC Freshman of the Year honors in his first season and an All-ACC third-team selection as a sophomore.
But after the losses mounted this season, it became apparent that BC might lose Hanlan, who is considering leaving school early for the NBA. That could trigger an exodus that includes sophomore guard Joe Rahon of San Diego and junior forward Ryan Anderson of Long Beach, Calif., the team’s second-leading scorer, both of whom may be looking to get back to the West Coast.
Anderson was forced to play out of position at center the last two seasons after 7-foot junior Dennis Clifford was hampered by a knee injury.