If you are looking at the job of an athletic director from a football perspective, Boston College and Clemson cannot follow the same type of blueprint when it comes to hiring their next leader.
There is no doubt the job description for athletic directors in the country has changed over the past 10 years. Business savvy and fundraising skills generally trump on-the-field credentials. You can bet Boston College and Clemson will have those two items as prerequisites.
But what has not changed -- athletic directors remain inexorably linked to the success or failure of their football programs. And Boston College and Clemson are in radically different spots right now.
Just as an example, take a look at the five finalists for Sports Business Journal's athletic director of the year. Winner Mark Hollis (Michigan State), Bill Bradshaw (Temple), Jeff Long (Arkansas), Ian McCaw (Baylor) and Dave Brandon (Michigan) not only oversaw fundraising endeavors and facility expansion projects. They all are in charge of football programs that had either banner or turnaround years in 2011. In fact, each has won wide praise for their football coaching hires.
Look even deeper at Long, who faced a major crisis this summer. Nobody much cared about all the other things he had done for the Arkansas athletic department when Bobby Petrino crashed his motorcycle, opening up a box of secrets and lies. How Long handled that football decision would make or break him.
So let us get back to Boston College and Clemson. Outgoing Boston College AD Gene DeFilippo did some pretty great things for the Eagles during his 15 seasons at the helm, stabilizing the athletic department after a gambling scandal while eventually steering the program from the Big East to the ACC. But the football program has been in a steady decline since going to back-to-back ACC championship games in 2007 and 2008.
After that season, DeFilippo fired coach Jeff Jagodzinski for interviewing with the New York Jets after warning the coach he might lose his job if he did so. He then hired Frank Spaziani, and the program's win total has declined in each of his three seasons and recruiting has been just average. Its 12-year bowl streak was stopped in 2011.
Spaziani enters this season on the hot seat after a 4-8 campaign, and will no longer have the protection of the man who gave him his first head coaching job. Whoever is hired as the new athletic director must look at the direction the football program is headed and evaluate whether Spaziani is the right man for the job. Given how critical football success is to the stature of an institution, Spaziani must impress his new boss from the outset.
New athletic directors have been known to try and put their stamp on a program through football. Having a good working relationship between the athletic director and football coach is huge. Ask Randy Edsall about his time working for Jeff Hathaway at UConn.
As for Clemson, outgoing athletic director Terry Don Phillips has done his share of facility upgrades, but he also has made the right coaching moves, particularly with Dabo Swinney. The Tigers might still be smarting over that Orange Bowl loss to West Virginia, but there were plenty of positives to take away from the season.
Clemson won its first ACC title since 1991 and appears to be in great shape moving forward. Recruiting has been a huge boon as well. Swinney has been given the luxury of paying top dollar for his assistants, particularly coordinators Chad Morris and Brent Venables. Combined, they make more than Swinney. The next athletic director must continue to provide the resources Swinney needs, while making sure the football program does not take a step back. Because as it stands now, football appears to be in great shape.
Whenever Clemson and Boston College make their hires, the ACC will have seen six new athletic directors hired since the summer of 2010. DeFilippo and Phillips are among the longest tenured, leaving the ACC with only three ADs who have been at their institutions for more than 10 years -- Ron Wellman at Wake Forest, Jim Weaver at Virginia Tech and Craig Littlepage at Virginia.
Change is coming, and as always, football is a priority.