Over the years, Al Skinner became Boston College basketball. BC basketball was sometimes very good, sometimes average, and sometimes mediocre. But always, like Skinner, it was unspectacular. In the eyes of the Boston College administration, and particularly athletic director Gene Defilippo, that wasn't a good thing anymore. And as a Boston College graduate that cursed Skinner and his boring flex offense a hundred different times during my time in Chestnut Hill, I say that's fine.
But if BC thinks getting rid of Skinner is the end of their problems, they'd better get real. The problem with Boston College athletics is Boston College, and for a lot of years, Al Skinner was the solution. Recruiting his ass off and unearthing gems like Troy Bell, Craig Smith, and Jared Dudley. Using that flex offense to methodically break down opponents, consistently beating more talented teams, surpassing everyone's expectations. Winning with class, never asking for credit, and never making excuses when they fell short. That was Al Skinner, and he fit Boston College perfectly.
Because while BC trumpets itself as a sports powerhouse, that only goes so far. They don't have the facilities of a powerhouse, the academic standards are higher than a powerhouse, and when it comes down to hiring a big time coach to take them to the top, Boston College isn't willing to pay the price to be a powerhouse. This isn't the rant of some frustrated college fan, either; I was never diehard about BC athletics, because how could you love a program that won't do what it takes to win?
I mean, really win. Boston College was always happy just being competitive.
And that's what Skinner gave them. Despite all the handicaps mentioned above, Skinner kept churning out winning basketball teams, even flirting with an Elite Eight appearance at one point. Miraculous as it seemed, none of that was a fluke. Skinner wasn't merely a "good guy" getting rewarded for doing things "the right way." This was by design.
Seeing the recruiting disadvantages at Boston College, Skinner went deeper and found the star players that nobody else wanted. Then he brought them to Boston and put them in an offense that, when run correctly, made the team better than the sum of its individuals. Say what you want about Al Skinner and the Flex offense—and BC fans have said plenty—but it was a definitive system, which is more than most programs can claim. And for the talent they had most season, it worked.
Except for the past few years... Which brings us to the end of Al Skinner. Since moving to the ACC, Al Skinner just couldn't quite measure up. After all the handicaps that he'd weathered in his time at BC, recruiting in the ACC, and competing, proved to be just a little bit too much to overcome. And that's not necessarily Boston College's fault, but they better not fool themselves into thinking it's Skinner's.
Recruiting kids from New York and Boston and New Jersey and Philly—all feeder states for the Eagles—became much harder when Boston College went to the ACC. Those players grow up with dreams of playing in the Big East. The rivalries, the tradition, the close proximity to all their competition. That's always been part of the draw. And when Boston College left, they got tons and tons of money, and a guest pass in a conference where, as any fool can see, they don't really belong. Their closest conference opponent is 450 miles to the south, in Maryland.
And we're supposed to blame Skinner for failing to stockpile talent under those circumstances? He's recruiting in a Boston hoops vacuum, at a time when the Big East has become the premier conference in America. If YOU were a high school basketball player in New England—like Jeff Adrien, who played high school basketball ten minutes from BC campus—would you rather go to Uconn or Boston College? Adrien chose Uconn, along a hundred other recruits every year that don't give BC a second thought. It's not really surprising that Skinner failed under these circumstances.
To succeed, Boston College needs to break the bank for someone with enough clout to keep talent home, and make BC a destination, regardless of the strange conference affiliation. With a magnetic personality that can draw talent, it could work.
Boston College won't pay for that, of course, because that's not how their athletic program works. Boston College's problem is Boston College. And in a few years, they'll be right back where they started, looking for a fresh start and a new coach. Someone that can make the most of limited resources. A coach that can recruit kids that'll perform in the classroom, too. In other words, they a coach exactly like Al Skinner. Boston College had their man.
The school moved to the ACC for money, and that's okay. But after firing Skinner, they've just ended an era where they were more successful than they ever should have been. And if they ever want to get back to that level in college basketball, they'd better use some of that ACC football money. It's going to cost them.