Spaziani cool under pressure

NEWTON, Mass. -- The difference could not have been starker.

A year ago, in his media day meeting with the Boston media, Frank Spaziani sounded like a man certain his team was ready for bigger and better things.

"We're at Boston College and we're not trying to be 34th in the country, we're not trying to be 16th in the country. We're trying to be the best that we possibly can be," he said then. "We want to win the Atlantic Division in our conference, in the ACC, it's a tough conference. We want to win that. We want to go to the championship game in Charlotte on Dec. 3. And then we want to go to the Orange Bowl, and we want to win that."

This coming after his team stumbled through the early part of the 2010 season before finishing with a five-game win streak to qualify for a 12th consecutive bowl game.

Considering the high hopes his words helped hoist onto fans in Chestnut Hill, the 2011 season could only be classified as a major disappointment for Spaziani and the Eagles, who finished 4-8 (3-5 in the ACC) and failed to qualify for a bowl game for the first time in 13 years.

And when Spaziani took the stage for media day earlier this month, it was clear that things had changed. Gone was the talk of ACC championship games and Orange Bowl victories, and in its place ... a fungo bat?

In a lighthearted gesture, the fourth-year head coach came to the news conference carrying a baseball bat and then opened his remarks by quipping that he brought it for batting practice and of course there should be no curveballs or forkballs thrown.

"We have a great staff," he said, getting down to business. "The players have adapted real well to the new coaches, the new systems on offense and defense. So we're excited to get started."

Spaziani's choice of prop was appropriate, even if his reasoning was off a bit. Fungoes, of course, are used for fielding practice, not batting practice, and the coach was soon fielding a variation of the question that many have asked this offseason: Is your seat getting warm, Frank?

Asked if he felt this season will be a pivotal one for himself and the program, Spaziani wasn't flustered. He's heard this one enough by now.

"Lemme say this: The trend with wins and losses is very obvious to everybody, but the program is going north, not south," he said.

Since he took the reins in 2009, the Eagles' win total has gone from 8 to 7 to 4. In the two seasons prior to his hiring as head honcho, the Eagles won 11 (in 2007) and 9 (in 2008) games.

"There were a lot of situations that have occurred -- I'm not going to revisit history -- but I understand where we're at and I understand that we want to win," Spaziani said. "That's what we want to do. The players understand that, and we know where we have to go."

There have, in fact, been quite a few situations at BC recently. Some of them, like the incredible amount of turnover on the offensive coaching staff -- Doug Martin is the fourth offensive coordinator in the past three years, and will lead an entirely new offensive crew this season -- can be directly attributed to Spaziani. As the head coach, ultimately he has to bear the responsibility for making good hiring (and firing) decisions on his staff.

Some of the situations, like season-ending injuries to wide receiver Ifeanyi Momah, defensive tackle Kaleb Ramsey and all-time leading rusher Montel Harris -- who has since been dismissed from the team for a violation of team rules and transferred to Temple to join the passel of former BC assistants now coaching there -- Spaziani had no control over.

Just this week, ESPN.com senior college football writer Mark Schlabach included Spaziani on a list of coaches entering the 2012 season on the hot seat.

But in typical BC fashion, no one at the Heights wants to pay too much attention to who's on what list. The Eagles just want to put their heads down and get to work.

No one is denying that it's an important season for the Eagles. The players have said they believe Spaziani is the right man for the job and that they are closer to reaching their goals than it might appear.

So is it a pivotal year for the direction of the program?

"Definitely," starting QB Chase Rettig said, "for the direction of the program and obviously for me, as well. Different pieces of the puzzle have to come connected, but just being the quarterback you take on such a big responsibility. I think this is a year that we grow toward what I wanted to do when I committed to BC.

"I'm just gonna put my best foot forward to getting BC back to [where it was in] '06, '07."

And if the Eagles reach anywhere near those heights again, one thing's for sure: Spaziani will be fielding a totally different type of question.

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com.