Social media speculation is ablaze already with potential replacements for Jeff Hafley at Boston College. This is a predictable, inevitable part of the process. And so while athletic director Blake James dips his toes into the river, he needs to understand that any and all candidates must embrace the New World Order of college sports: the transfer portal and its spouse, Name-Image-Likeness.
Straight up: If Coach X balks at dealing with the transient nature of athletes now, Coach X is not a viable candidate, even his Coach X happens to be named Lombardi. The new BC coach must be more than a name. He must be willing to take a full body dive into the morass. And like it.
This has been reported as a reason for Hafley’s departure. ESPN’s Pete Thamel quoted a source suggesting Hafley got tired of NIL, fundraising and recruiting that left “little time to coach football.” It is surely understandable that Hafley wanted to return to the more X-and-O-centric NFL.
Hafley left the program better than when he arrived, cleaning up Steve Addazio’s creaky cupboards. Hafley’s 22-26 record doesn’t merit a statue next to Flutie’s, but the Eagles had just won a bowl game, return most of their roster and used the portal to get transfers from Ohio State, Kansas State, North Carolina and Texas Tech. If they all stay – and that’s certainly an “if” right now – BC’s talent next year will be better than it’s been in years.
But now Hafley is prologue. This is about moving forward. And college football (all of college sports, really) reflects the portal’s marriage to NIL. When in doubt, human condition generally gravitates toward the concepts of “the grass is always greener” and “show me the money.”
That means transience is inevitable. You get kids, you lose them. Except that BC has a chance here it has never, ever had in all its years of college football. Its growing NIL collective “Friends of the Heights” can keep it competitive in the portal. Think about it: The transfers coming from Ohio State, North Carolina, Kansas State and Texas Tech didn’t give BC a second look during the normal recruiting process. But showing them the money (NIL) makes the grass look greener in Chestnut Hill. It’ll keep happening, too.
Hafley apparently grew tired of it. That’s not a character flaw. But if the press conference introducing Hafley’s successor doesn’t reveal a guy perfectly willing to deal with the portal, NIL and all its layered tentacles, then BC will have made the wrong hire, even before the guy begins.
James surely realizes this. And he must have assurances – not lip service – that the new coach and his staff have a detailed portal plan, understand NIL and use both of them deftly and smartly moving forward. College coaching in 2024 is more than the mastery of Xs and Os. Put it this way: If Nick Saban thought he had the same advantages moving forward with player procurement and player retention, he’d never have retired.
If indeed BC suddenly has access to talent through the portal it never had before, the odds of the whole “stepping stone” narrative might evaporate. No, BC can’t pay a coach what LSU or Michigan can. But the right guy here might enjoy a beautiful place to live, elite academic setting and expectations that aren’t 11-1 or bust every year.
My initial reaction to Hafley’s departure included most of George Carlin’s “seven words you can’t say on television.” That was mostly tethered to wondering how many kids might transfer and whether this program – again – must start over. A few hours of reflection, though, offered some clarity: If Hafley grew tired of the portal and NIL, then he wasn’t the right guy here.
Our individual opinions of how college sports might be a bigger cesspool than ever are irrelevant. There are new rules. And BC is about to get a new sheriff. If Blake James finds somebody willing to embrace the rat race, the Eagles might have a hit on their hands.