Donahue’s Time Almost Up

You might not know it, but Boston College used to be a pretty good basketball school. Before Steve Donahue took over in the 2010-11 season, Al Skinner served as our basketball coach for 13 years. In addition to compiling a 247-165 record, he presided over seven of our school’s 18 NCAA Tournament appearances, had 79 more wins than any other BC coach, and of the eight teams in BC’s history in which the Eagles were ranked in the Top 25 at year’s end, he coached four of them.

Skinner had replaced Jim O’Brien, who in his 11 years at BC went 168-166. O’Brien kept his job after seasons in which BC lost 17, 18, 19, 19, and 20 games. Yet after Skinner finished 15-16 in the 2009-10 season, the all-time winningest coach in BC history was unceremoniously fired.

The move would come to haunt BC. Despite the down year, the Eagles were primed for a solid 2010-11 campaign. As Skinner recently told The Boston Globe, “The goal [for 2011] was ACC Championship or bust … I was really excited about the upcoming year.”

BC was well equipped to make a deep run into both the ACC and NCAA Tournaments. The main reason the team dipped below .500 in 2009-10 was the loss of star player Troy Bell*, who had averaged 21 and 17 points his junior and senior year seasons. The 2010-11 team was set to return 10 players, including future NBA guard Reggie Jackson, who is currently averaging 13 points a game this season for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

But because of the surprise firing-Skinner also told The Boston Globe he “felt blindsided”-the team never had the chance to live up to its potential. In addition to losing the head coach who recruited them, two players set for meaningful roles transferred once the news hit about Skinner’s departure-Rakim Sanders averaged 17 points a game his first season at Fairfield, and Evan Ravenel played 17 minutes a game for an Ohio State team that made the 2013 Elite Eight. Further hurting the program, recruits Brady Heslip and Kevin Noreen de-committed from BC after Skinner was fired-Heslip is now playing for Baylor and is averaging 11 points a game while shooting 48 percent from three.

Despite the losses, Donahue guided the team to a 21-13 record in his first year, largely helped by the stardom of Jackson, who averaged 18 points on 50 percent shooting. With the junior guard leaving early for the NBA, the combination of transfers and graduating seniors made sure the next recruiting class would be BC’s biggest in years. For new coach Donahue, it was the perfect time to lay the groundwork for the BC program that now belonged to him.

Yet here we are three years later, and the results are not there. Donahue’s initial seven-man recruiting class made up the youngest team in the nation during the 2011-12 season, and the Eagles finished 9-22. No BC team should ever have a season that poor, but the record was somewhat justifiable due to the extreme youth, but also exciting potential, of the team.

The Eagles looked to be on the right track after the 2012-13 season. The team’s record improved to 16-17, which included one-point losses to No.4 Duke and eventual ACC champion Miami. With stellar performances by freshmen Olivier Hanlan and Joe Rahon adding to a solid, if unspectacular, sophomore class, the common thought was that BC had a strong chance to make the NCAA Tournament in the 2013-14 season.

Despite the team’s being a year older and not losing any significant players, though, this season has been an absolute disaster. After Tuesday night’s loss to Georgia Tech-who came into the game with a 1-4 conference record-BC now stands at 5-14 with a 1-5 record in the ACC. While it’s true that the Eagles have played an exceptionally hard schedule-one that ranks fourth in the country-the team has still lost an abundance of winnable games. Sports Reference‘s Simple Rating System, which takes into account point differential and strength of schedule, ranks BC as the 147th best team in the nation. BC’s ranked 134th in ESPN‘s version of the Ratings Power Index (RPI), which also includes strength of schedule.

Tuesday’s game provided a great example of what’s gone wrong during Donahue’s tenure. The Eagles opened lifeless while Tech jumped out to a 16-5 lead. After the game, Hanlan stated, “We came out with no attitude or really any effort,” and added, “We didn’t play with a lot of passion.” The fact that BC, with a chance to gain an ACC win, and Donahue, with his job on the line, came out flat says all there is to know about the team.

Additionally, the game included defensive lapses and a stagnant offense, which was especially egregious in the final minutes. After getting back to within one point with four minutes to go, BC was held without a field goal until the game was already decided, and GTech went on an 11-2 run to assure the victory.

So where does the program go from here? Looming in 2015 is a huge recruiting class to fill, as Donahue’s initial recruits will be graduated seniors. Combine that with the likely loss of Hanlan to the NBA after next season, and there could be at least eight scholarships available for the class of 2015. A major decision needs to be made by Athletic Director Brad Bates: will he give Donahue one more year with his guys, hoping that they improve to where keeping the embattled head coach at the Heights is possible? Or will Bates choose to fire Donahue and hire a coach who will look to fill out the 2015 class with quality players of his own?

I believe the answer is obvious. Donahue has shown he can neither recruit nor coach at an ACC level. His hiring from Cornell was a mistake, a move based on his team’s making the Sweet 16 in 2010, when instead his 74-117 record to start his career at Cornell should have been examined more closely. Firing Skinner and hiring Donahue set the team back at least five years. It’s time for BC to accept the mistake and begin looking for a new head coach.

Editor’s Note: The views presented in this column are those of the author alone and do not represent the views of The Heights.

*These statistics are actually in reference to Tyrese Rice. Troy Bell graduated from BC in 2003.