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Hafley Hire Not Without Risk

By Dave Holcomb
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Is Jeff Hafley the man to get Boston College over the seven-win hump?

Four straight seasons with six or seven wins finally left the Boston College athletic department singing “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction,” but following the hire of Jeff Hafley, the Eagles faithful might be humming “Mixed Emotions” by the same legendary band.

On paper, hiring Hafley makes sense. In just one season at Ohio State, he turned the Buckeyes defense into one of the most dominating in the country, and for his efforts, he was a finalist for the Broyles Award this year.

But his hiring at Boston College comes with risk and should leave the fanbase wondering how Hafley is really the right man to get the program over the seven-win hump.

Hafley joined Ryan Day’s staff last offseason as co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach. In Urban Meyer’s final season last year, Ohio State finished 10th in defense in the Big Ten, allowing about 403 yards per game. With the help of Hafley, Ohio State transformed its defense back into what it always should be at a program with the type of resources the Buckeyes possess.

Ohio State finished with, by far, the best defense in the Big Ten, yielding 247.6 yards per contest. That was the second-best mark in the nation to Clemson (I guess there might not be many yards in that playoff game).

Boston College would like to see a similar transformation for its defense next year, and simply put, that’s why Hafley is the Eagles’ next head coach.

In 2015, Boston College finished first in the ACC in total defense, allowing just 254 yards per game. That was almost 60 yards per contest better than Clemson, who finished second in the conference in yards allowed that season.

Since then, though, the Eagles defense slowly deteriorated under former head coach Steve Addazio and defensive coordinator Jim Reid. In Reid’s first season as DC during 2016, Boston College was the ACC’s second-best defense. The Eagles fell to middle of the pack defensively in 2017 and 2018 and then this past season, they finished dead last in the conference in yards yielded per game.

The Eagles were more than 15 yards per game worse than the second-worst ACC defense. Essentially, Boston College is on the opposite side of the defensive spectrum than where the program was four years ago.

Can Hafley repeat his 2019 magic with the Ohio State defense at Chestnut Hill? It’s honestly tough to say for several reasons, especially because fixing Boston College’s defense is a much bigger task.

What Hafley did at Ohio State is his biggest career accomplishment, but he’s had other success, mainly in the NFL. From 2012-18, he served as secondary coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers.

None of those teams posted winning records, but it wasn’t the fault of their secondaries. Hafley coached pretty strong units with some of those bad teams. In 2014 under Hafley, the Browns were eighth in pass defense and second in interceptions. His 2013 Buccaneers secondary finished third in interceptions that year.

Last year, Hafley led the 49ers defense to 11th in passing yards allowed although a league-worst two interceptions overshadowed San Francisco’s overall pass defense. While Hafley can’t take full credit or blame for either statistic, he played a part in both.

The defense was certainly a problem for Boston College this past season, but should Hafley fix that side of the ball, there are major questions the program still needs answered.

Even when Boston College had an elite defense in the middle of this decade, the Eagles still didn’t win more than seven games. Boston College hasn’t won at least eight games since 2009. In order to take the next step, the Eagles need to fix their defense and modernize the offense and not in that particular order.

With that in mind, Hafley’s success seems tied to who he hires at offensive coordinator. That’s something Addazio never seemed to get right.

Hafley’s success will also be tied to who he can land at quarterback in recruiting. The last time Boston College was a real contender in the ACC, Matt Ryan was the program’s quarterback in 2007.

That’s not a coincidence. A dominating pass game has only become more important over the last 10 years, and without an elite signal caller, it almost doesn’t matter how great a program’s defense can be because the team won’t be a real contender, especially in a division with Clemson.

Hafley will have to answer these concerns not just as a first-time head coach but with just one year of coordinator experience. After early National Signing Day, Boston College doesn’t have a signal caller signed in the 2020 recruiting class.

It became clear this fall that the Eagles had plateaued under Addazio. So despite the possibility of four straight winning seasons (if Boston College wins its bowl game), it was time to make a change.

But it’s not yet clear if Hafley is the man to take the program to the next level.