There may be nothing more painful than watching someone or something you care about struggling and knowing you are powerless to help.
Doug Flutie, perhaps the most famous product of Boston College athletics, had that feeling in recent seasons watching the Eagles scuffling in Alumni Stadium.
The team desperately needed a change, and new athletic director Brad Bates recognized that and moved to remedy it. He fired former coach Frank Spaziani, a longtime BC employee as an assistant and then the head coach, and hired Steve Addazio to take his place.
Soon after Addazio took over in Chestnut Hill, Flutie said the two sat down. The 1984 Heisman Trophy winner, former CFL and NFL quarterback and current college football analyst for NBC Sports -- making the media rounds recently in support of the Capital One Bowl mascot challenge -- knew then that Bates had found the right match.
“He is exactly what BC needed,” Flutie said of Addazio. “I love Frank Spaz, we’ve been friends since my CFL days. But they really needed a change in attitude and that’s what [Addazio] brought.
“He busted [the team’s] tails in the offseason. He lit a fire under their tails. Chase Rettig and I have talked a little during the year, and he said, ‘Everybody’s buying in.’ They love the coaching staff. They’re playing much better football and they’re much tougher because of it.”
Toughness is a key word for Addazio. He felt that the Eagles had gotten away from their identity as a physical, power team led by their offensive line and their defense and endeavored to fix that.
“Look at the end of the Wake Forest game,” Flutie said, referring to BC’s 24-10 win in Week 2. “They lined up in three tight ends the whole fourth quarter and just hammered the football. It was a mindset, an attitude, an identity.”
The difference in personality from the laid-back Spaziani to the fiery Addazio couldn’t be starker, and Flutie said while the latter isn’t for everyone it seems to be working for BC.
“They’re polar opposites. For me personally, I loved playing for the Spaz type of head coach,” Flutie said. “Jack Bicknell was easy-going. I liked a head coach who had so much confidence in me and I could just go out and let loose. But like I said, this team needed Steve. They needed a guy who’s gonna be fiery, emotional and get in their faces a bit. He’s done a phenomenal job of that. It was the right situation for it.”
Recruiting seemed to stagnate during the last seasons under Spaziani, leaving the roster lacking depth and with few playmakers. Addazio has made recruiting his first priority since taking the reins, and while he had some early success in that arena it remains to be seen if his larger-than-life persona will translate into more top recruits signing with BC.
“I don’t know [how well he can recruit] and I don’t know how you measure that until it actually happens,” Flutie said. “But obviously he has that personality to be out there and make an impression on the kids. His background of being in the SEC, maybe he’s got connections. All you need is one or two or them, those caliber athletes.”
Flutie, who threw for 10,579 yards in his career at BC, praised senior QB Chase Rettig for dealing well with the constant change in offensive coordinators he’s had to deal with. He said he’s been impressed with the work he’s done.
“The job he’s done this year has been outstanding,” Flutie said of Rettig. “It’s been phenomenal. ... It just gets tougher and tougher every time there’s a change. Learning a new offense is like learning a new language every year. For him to do what he’s done is amazing.
“I just wish I could’ve seen what he would have done in a solid situation for four years. You get to a level of comfort where you know an offense like the back of your hand, and he’s never had that luxury.”
Rettig is 83-for-130 for 1,083 yards, 10 touchdowns and four interceptions in 2013. After throwing for 3,055 yards, 17 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in the pass-happy offense Spaziani and offensive coordinator Doug Martin installed in 2012, Rettig has uncomplainingly ceded the spotlight to the run game under Addazio and Ryan Day.
“Trust me, I like throwing the ball more than anybody,” Flutie said. “I think running the ball is a waste of time most of the time.”
But he understands that sometimes you have to lean on your strengths, and the power run game is definitely BC’s strength in 2013.
“What is the identity of the football team?” he asked rhetorically. “Can we be a team that spreads it out and throws it 40-50 times and keeps up with the Clemsons and FSUs? I don’t know. But we can get the big offensive linemen and pound people. Sometimes you have to get back to who you are.”
Flutie said Andre Williams is proving he’s as talented a back as the Eagles have had in recent seasons.
“Some of the runs, stepping through tackles and being physical as well as explosive, no doubt, he’s as good as there’s been,” the former QB said. “The one question mark with him always was toughness when dealing with injuries, knowing when you’re hurt and when you’ve gotta go. I think he kind of woke up and realized what he’s capable of.”
Williams leads the ACC in attempts (157 -- 41 more than Virginia’s Kevin Parks in second), yards (838 -- 266 more than Miami’s Duke Johnson in second), attempts per game (26.17 -- 6.84 more than Parks) and yards per game (139.67 -- 25.27 more per game than Johnson) through midseason.
All together, Flutie said, Addazio and the new coaching staff have done a remarkable job of reconfiguring the puzzle pieces and beginning to put the picture back together.
“Looking at the schedule going into it, I thought 6-6 would be an exceptional season for this group,” Flutie said, asked if he thinks the Eagles can realize their preseason goal of returning to bowl eligibility. “It’s a tough road, they’ve gotta win every game they should win. I think they can do it, I think they can get bowl eligible. I think they’re playing a lot better than anyone expected this year.”
Slowly but surely, the pain of the past few seasons is being replaced by something new, something better: hope.
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.