Boston College Plays Hardball the Right Way

By Sally Jenkins
Wednesday, January 7, 2009; 8:10 PM

The occupational ethics of college football coaches have always been elastic, if not stretchy. More than one morally supple sham has noisily demanded commitments from his players, while failing to live up to his own, and Boston College coach Jeff Jagodzinski is hardly the first coach to treat a signed contract like a disposable tissue. But Boston College athletic director Gene DeFilippo, rigid conventionalist that he is, thinks a signature on paper ought to be binding.

Just when you're feeling like the whole world is the scene of an impending catastrophe and nothing seems worth sticking to, especially work, along comes DeFilippo with the steadying suggestion that a deal is a deal. More, he suggests that there is such a thing as keeping your word. Yesterday, he fired Jagodzinski for, essentially, dishonesty. The gesture should cause the pealing of bells at every university.

Two years ago, DeFilippo gave the 45-year-old Jagodzinski a huge break when he hired him to his first job as a head coach. Jagodzinski had knocked around the college and pro assistant coaching ranks for 22 years, at schools like East Carolina, and Northern Illinois, followed by stints with the Atlanta Falcons and Green Bay Packers in the NFL. He accepted the Boston College job with the understanding that the school was looking for a long-term commitment and didn't want someone who would play musical chairs. According to DeFilippo, he had a clear understanding with Jagodzinski that he would be the Eagles' coach at least through the 2009 season.

"We certainly expected it would be more than two years before he would look or accept an interview" with another team, DeFilippo said. "All contracts are different, as well as the spirit and intent of the contract."

This week after just two years on the job, Jagodzinski showed how grateful he was by accepting an interview with the New York Jets behind the back of DeFilippo, from whom he kept it a secret despite the fact that the men are supposed to be friends. Nor was this his only act of duplicity. According to reports in the Boston Globe, Jagodzinski on multiple occasions has solicited or put out feelers for assistant coaching jobs as well as head jobs in the NFL, apparently without the smallest pinprick in his conscience.

If Jagodzinski didn't mean a word he said, DeFilippo did. No sooner had Jagodzinski returned from being courted by the Jets than DeFilippo fired him. In doing so, hopefully he made the spine of every other athletic director and college president around the country a little stiffer.

DeFilippo did two things that were very hard. He fired someone who was popular and his friend. And he did it despite the fact that Boston College will have to eat some of Jagodzinski's contract, because he was technically let go "without cause." DeFilippo called it his most difficult day as BC's athletic director.

"We will find somebody who really wants to be at Boston College and will be here for the length of their contract," he said.

In his two years at Boston College, Jagodzinski recruited players and signed them to national letters of intent binding them to the school. The NCAA treats letters of intent as contracts, and if a player reneges without good reason they are penalized by having to sit out for a year. DeFilipo has no such recourse with Jagodzinski, the coach will press ahead in his panting efforts to ascend to a head job in the pros, while Boston College and its players have start again at square one. The only penalty Jagodzinski will suffer is the embarrassment of the public firing -- but that's something. At least, wherever Jagodzinski lands, his next employer will know the kind of guy they're dealing with.

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