BOSTON (AP) — Jeff Hafley only had time for a quick meeting with the Boston College football team on Monday before a 9 a.m. news conference in an auditorium so packed with supporters that latecomers were diverted to an overflow room for the livestream.
From there, it was upstairs to a reception — with balloons and more applause — and then back to Columbus, Ohio.
“I literally am flying back and going to run onto a field and coach a football practice. I might still be in my suit doing so,” Hafley said after he was introduced as the new head coach at BC.
“I have to go back,” said Hafley, who will finish the season as the Buckeyes’ co-defensive coordinator before taking over in Chestnut Hill. “I wish I could stay here and begin right now, but I have to go win a national championship. I owe it to Ohio State.”
A veteran of both the college and NFL coaching carousel, Hafley choked up while thanking Buckeyes coach Ryan Day, who spent nine seasons as a Boston College assistant, and coaches he worked with at every stop on a 19-year journey from Worcester Polytech to Albany to Pittsburgh to Rutgers, and then over to the pros with Tampa Bay, Cleveland and San Francisco.
But now the 40-year-old, first-time head coach is going to have to wait some more.
The second-ranked Buckeyes will face No. 3 Clemson in the national semifinal at the Dec. 28 Fiesta Bowl, with the winner moving on to the College Football Playoff championship in New Orleans on Jan. 13. Watching film to prepare for the Tigers, Hafley found himself asking, “Is that guy back, is that guy back?”
The other coaches asked why.
“Because I’m going to have to play these guys” every year, Hafley told reporters.
Hafley will take over for Steve Addazio, who had a 44-44 record when he was fired the day after the regular season after seven years in which the Eagles never won more than seven games. Receivers coach Rich Gunnell will lead the Eagles in the Jan. 2 Birmingham Bowl against No. 23 Cincinnati.
Hafley said he hasn’t had much time to get to know the BC players. After spending his days preparing for the playoff game — or games — he plans to spend his nights on his future roster, which has some rather large needs.
Running back A.J. Dillon, who set school records while rushing for 1,685 yards as a junior, has declared his eligibility for the NFL draft. Quarterback Anthony Brown, who had season-ending injuries in two of his three years as the starter, has entered the NCAA’s transfer portal. (Hafley bumped into him on the way out of the news conference and they had a brief chat.)
“Some people are asking me how I’m going to do it. I see it as a blessing,” Hafley said. “Look at this, I get a chance to fulfill a dream and go work for a national championship. And at the same time, when I’m done working on that, I get a chance to work on being a head coach, putting together a staff in a place I really want to be.
“My wife might get mad because I might not see her very much or talk to her very much and I might not sleep, but I see it as such a great opportunity, not a challenge, and I’m just really excited to be able to do both.”
Hafley said he has looked at some of the team’s games and he sees good players on the field — even if he doesn’t know their names yet.
“This is not a rebuild. This is not something that is going to start from scratch,” he said. “They’ve done a good job with good players, and it’s our job to get it better. That’s one of the things that attracted me to this place.”
In spite of the Buckeye vibe at the news conference — BC athletic director Martin Jarmond was an assistant AD with the Buckeyes before coming to the Heights in 2017 — Boston College is not Ohio State.
College sports struggle to compete with the thriving pro scene in Boston, which has claimed 12 major championships since 2001. Alumni Stadium seats only 44,500 — less than half of Ohio State’s nearly 105,000-seat Horseshoe — and it fills up only for games against Notre Dame or top ACC rivals like Clemson.
BC’s greatest athletic achievements have come in hockey, and four years ago both the football and basketball teams went winless in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Before poking into The Associated Press Top 25 last season, the BC football team hadn’t appeared in the polls in a decade and last appeared in the postseason rankings when Matt Ryan was quarterback in 2007.
The only other time since World War II that the Eagles have finished in the top 10 was when Doug Flutie took them to the Cotton Bowl in 1984.
“I want this to be a top 25 program. That’s real. That’s the truth, and it can be,” Hafley said. “I want there to be magical moments and magical seasons like you guys have seen with Doug and Matt. We need to bring back those magical moments to The Heights. That’s why I’m here, and that’s what we plan on doing.”
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