Boston College athletic director Gene DeFillippo announced on Friday that he would retire, effective on September 30, 2012. Ending a tenure spanning 12 years and two conferences, he will be replaced on an interim basis bycurrent senior associate athletics director John Kane until a successor is named.
DeFillippo took over at The Heights in 1997 and would go onto make a mark on the program that included academic success in addition to on-the-field excellence. 21 of Boston college’s programs received a perfect Graduation Success Rate, the most teams of any team that competes in football at the Football Bowl Subdivision level. He combined that with a number of successes in different programs, with nearly every “major” sport qualifying for the NCAA national tournament in their respective fields. Most notably, BC is one of three programs to have never been convicted of a major NCAA violation in any sport in the past 12 years (with Stanford and Northwestern).
Since arriving, success most notably included four national championships in men’s ice hockey, their first titles since the mid-1900s. It also included 11 national championships for the sailing team either as a unit or individually; 88 wins as a football program, which ranks 11th overall with Auburn and Southern California; national power rankings for the men’s and women’s basketball programs, and the first national tournament qualification of baseball in decades. The soccer teams rose to prominence, especially after joining the Atlantic Coast Conference.
That move to the ACC will typify DeFillippo’s entire tenure. After rebuilding the Boston College brand at the regional level, he was able to help secure the Eagles a spot in college football’s first round of realignment back in the mid-2000s. Boston College became the third Big East team to defect from the league after Miami and Virginia Tech, and since joining, the Eagles attained their highest national ranking since their national championship season of 1940.
On campus, he was instrumental in developing the athletics portion of the college’s 10-year plan. Renovations to Alumni Stadium included the installation of high definition video boards, new turf, and a rebranding of the stadium as the premier college football venue in the northeast. He spearheaded the development of the Yawkey Center attached to Alumni Stadium, now housing football development and training offices. And he developed the stadium as a year-round facility by placing a weather-proof, climate-controlled dome bubble during football’s offseason in the winter and spring.
But while DeFillippo did more than anyone to raise the profile of the Eagles athletic department, his reputation was always tempered by a love-hate relationship with his constituents. While he brought the Eagles to a period of unparalleled success, he couldn’t escape a profile that viewed the fans as money-makers and his success measured only by dollars and cents. As the school’s national footprint expanded, there were times BC faced potential losses of its homegrown attitude, one that centered around a very “homey” experience. In the process, BC sports suffered attendance failures when on-field success fell to mediocre levels. That battle culminated with the lowest attendance figures in the football’s team’s history since Alumni Stadium expanded its capacity to 44,500 last season.
It continued when the basketball team bottomed out under youth, and DeFillippo couldn’t escape the opinion that the coaches he brought in were nothing more than “good company guys” who pledged loyalty over on-field success. The disastrous exit of Jeff Jagodzinski and the inability to keep baseball’s Mik Aoki led to knocks against “GDF,” especially as he praised current football coach Frank Spaziani as being his “best hire of the past 15 years” while the team fell to 4-8 and missed out on a bowl game for the first time in his tenure.
The search will now begin for the Eagles for a new athletic director, one who can take them to the next level after the doors were opened by DeFillippo. If DeFillippo is the man who ushered in this era and raised the profile, then the new hire will need to take that ball and run with it to another level, one where merely competing isn’t good enough and now must challenge the upper-tier for supremacy. The challenge will be to transpose the success of the non-national sports like hockey (which, while huge in New England truly lacks the national exposure of basketball) onto the other programs such as baseball, basketball, and return the football program to its top rankings. It will also need to continue the expansive renovations of BC as a whole, the ones that give the aura of modern buildings built with the classic, classy approach.
As it stands, DeFillippo’s retirement will become effective on September 30, 2012. As it stands, his last game will be against Clemson. As a juxtaposition of his reputation and legacy, Clemson is the perfect example. The Tigers are an ACC power, one of the new rivalries BC forged since coming into the new conference. The two will play for the McFadden-O’Rourke Trophy, a new trophy linking the two, but it’s one that’s become hotly contested throughout their brief rivalry. The Boston College of the late 1990s would never have this type of rivalry, let alone one where they’d compete with the ferocity they have since its young inception.
But at the same time, DeFillippo memorably tweeted last year that it was “great to see the stands full before a game” when Clemson hosted BC. The perceived slap to BC fans brought negative feedback and backlash to the athletic director with complaints of why fans aren’t in their seats before the games. But now, Clemson will represent his last act, and the post-GDF era will begin.
The full release from the BC website is available here.