The view from the top of a coaching staff is a bit different. More responsibilities. More decisions. More attention.
It provides enough curveballs to fluster the hardest-charging young assistant. Boston College hopes plugging in a steady old hand is an even better bet.
The Eagles have won two straight ACC Atlantic Division titles, both under a first-time coach (Jeff Jagodzinski) whose wandering professional eyes earned him a pink slip in January. Almost immediately, career assistant Frank Spaziani finally was handed a program of his own.
And things certainly are different.
“I guess the closest answer to that is you come in every day and there’s anywhere from one to five things on your desk that you hadn’t anticipated anymore, and you’re the guy who has to decide what to do about them,” Spaziani said. “It hits you pretty fast. And often. And daily. And sometimes nightly.”
All too often, at least in the last eight months. No other school in the conference has endured tumult quite like the Eagles, whose anticipated finish in the ACC tumbled by the month.
Jagodzinski’s dismissal was only the beginning of a bizarre offseason for a program that has churned out eight straight seasons with at least eight victories. Spaziani had to hire four new assistants in the weeks after taking over. Quarterback Dominique Davis encountered academic issues and left school, taking the Eagles’ limited experience under center along with him.
And senior linebacker Mark Herzlich, last year’s ACC defensive player of the year, will miss the season while undergoing treatment for Ewing’s sarcoma.
For all the turbulence - from trying to revamp a defense that loses Herzlich and elite defensive tackles Ron Brace and B.J. Raji to potentially plugging in a quarterback (Dave Shinskie) who has thrown far more fastballs than footballs in a seven-year sabbatical from the game - the decision to turn to a Boston College institution might turn out to be the best thing for the Eagles.
Spaziani, 62, is old enough to be one of Joe Paterno’s recruits - when Paterno was still a Penn State assistant. He knows the cold realities of coaching, with his replacement as Virginia’s defensive coordinator after the 1990 season and subsequent stint in the Canadian Football League an unanticipated career path.
But a dozen years at Boston College, the last 10 as defensive coordinator, permitted Spaziani to find professional stability.
“He brings experience and confidence to the team,” center Matt Tennant said. “He’s not a nervous guy and not a huge yeller. He knows what he wants and we need to give it to him.”
It’s also a chance that nearly never came.
Spaziani was Boston College’s interim coach for the Meineke Car Care Bowl in 2006 after Tom O’Brien left for N.C. State. The Eagles, however, hired Jagodzinski, and Spaziani remained on as defensive coordinator.
“The longer I went, there wasn’t too much assuming,” Spaziani said. “There weren’t too many opportunities out there. Certainly after the transition the first time, I wasn’t chosen as the head coach, but I loved BC and I wanted to stay there. They decided they wanted me there, so the fit was right. Who could anticipate that situation would arise again? I’m fortunate.”
Well, except for his current situation. The Eagles were picked to finish last in the Atlantic.
“I wonder why you picked us so high,” Spaziani joked last month to reporters at the ACC Kickoff event. “What is it that [President] Kennedy said when he took office? My biggest surprise when I became head coach was to find out the problems were as bad as I was telling everybody they were.”
Except the Eagles don’t view the season as doomed from the start. Boston College returns much of its offensive line and tailbacks Josh Haden and Montel Harris. Defensively, the scheme remains the same.
And now it’s Spaziani’s turn to maintain the quietly efficient program, even if he is learning a different vantage point so late in his career.
“It’s been energizing,” Spaziani said. “I guess there’s two ways [to look at it]. I have a friend who’s very successful in business, and he said there’s two ways to go with it. There’s, ‘Whoooooa, man.’ Or you can go, ‘Wow,’ and attack it. I think I’ve got the best view of it. Hopefully, I have the right answers.”