By Kevin J. Stone
CHESTNUT HILL — As the media and others filed into the Yawkey Athletic Center on Monday morning for the introductory press conference for new head coach Jeff Hafley there was truly a festive atmosphere.
You could feel the winds of change (or maybe just December in New England) sweeping through the Heights.
Red and gold balloons and the Eagle mascot greeted those heading into the press conference while signs welcoming Hafley and his family were scattered outside of Alumni Stadium.
As the Yawkey Athletic Center began to fill, it quickly became apparent that the buzz surrounding the new hire would only get bigger. About five minutes before the scheduled 9 a.m. start time it was truly standing room only as countless alumni, including the likes of Matt Hassleback and a number of TV cameras quickly filled the black leather seats.
Athletic director Martin Jarmond spoke highly of Hafley before officially introducing him to a round of applause, and Hafley quickly made his presence felt with his incredibly impressive command of the room after a heartfelt opening.
“Thank you guys for coming. Martin, thank you for that. Wow, I appreciate you guys all being here. Very grateful for that," Hafley said.
"I want to thank a bunch of people, so please bear with me. It's not every chance you get to get up here and do this, and it's been a journey, and it's been hard, and it's been fun. Without these people, none of this would be possible. I wouldn't be standing here. So I'm going to be honest, I'm not going to read much. That's who I am. I think most of you guys will see that. This is going to come from the heart. So please bear with me.
"First, I want to thank Father Leahy, incredible opportunity he gave me. I had a great chance to meet with him, very much enjoyed our conversation, and I'm grateful for the opportunity. To the Board of Trustees, thank you, and to Martin, I appreciate it — first time AD taking a chance on a first-time head coach. I will not let you down. You have my word on that.“
Hafley went on to thank former WPI head coach Ed Zaloom who first gave Hafley a coaching job here in Massachusetts. Bob Ford at Albany, Dave Wannstedt and Paul Rhodes at the University of Pittsburgh and Greg Schiano at Rutgers all received thank you from Hafley as well.
Kyle Shanahan, Chip Kelly and Mike Pettine all followed as the list of impressive stops along Hafley’s journey seemed to grow and grow.
There was also one more staff and place that needed a bit of extra acknowledgment as well.
“Then the last coach I do want to thank is Ryan Day. I got to thank Ryan Day and Gene Smith and the whole Ohio State University for giving me the opportunity to be a defensive coordinator at a great place,” he said.
“I know Ryan loves this place. He talks really highly about it, and I get it now. I never thought that I would leave Ryan after one season. Quite honestly, that's not what I planned on doing, but when this one opened, it felt special, and it felt right, and that's why I'm here. Ryan Day is an unbelievable person, an unbelievable coach, and I'm very grateful for that opportunity.”
Before moving on to his family, Hafley had the room in the palm of his hand with an explanation as to why this opportunity means so much to him as he got a bit emotional again.
“I'm not the biggest guy. I don't look like I played big time football, and that's the truth. I've had to work really hard. I've had a chip on my shoulder. I've had to kick down doors. It's been hard, but it's been real, and it's been worth it, and I've had the support. I told Martin this, I have a list in my wallet of all the things that doubters have said to me my whole life.”
Hafley then began thanking his family, choking back tears.
“Thanks. To my mom, to my brother and sister, thank you for your support, your love, and for never doubting me. To my wife Gina, to (daughters) Leah and Hope —”
As Hafley paused to collect himself, an IPhone’s Siri feature in the silent room could suddenly be heard: “I’m sorry I could not find that...”
The room erupted in laughter and it seemed to help Hafley through the emotional portion of the day.
“I appreciate that, because whoever's phone that is, you're not going to get that again. Thank you. I needed that right now. That's a moment right there. So thank you. No doubt. So now that I actually feel better, to Gina and my kids — and there's one person that can't be here, my father, who passed away — I love you, and you're why I'm here.”
Hafley then told everyone in attendance that he had finally had a chance to meet with the team, telling them what he wants the program to be, but he also had a message for the entire Boston College community and fan base.
“But what I'd ask all of you, we need to lock arms,” he said. “I'd ask you guys in this room, everybody. I'd ask the alumni. I'd ask the faculty, the students. I'd ask everybody in the whole BC community. We have to lock arms, and we have to do it together, and that's my job to make sure we all feel that way because it's going to be hard. We're going to work, but it's going to be real, and you're going to hear me say that a lot.
"What do I mean by that? When you work hard and you believe in something and you do it together and it's real because it's done the right way, it's going to be worth it, and we'll be sitting up here. We'll be talking about a lot of great things because, in all honesty, I want to compete, and I want to win. I want to get better, and I want this to be a top 25 program. That's real. That's the truth, and it can be. I want there to be magical moments and magical seasons like you guys have seen with Doug and Matt. We need to bring back those magical moments to The Heights. That's why I'm here, and that's what we plan on doing.”
Before the rise back into relevance can begin, Hafley does have one little thing still left on his agenda — a national championship opportunity with Ohio State.
“I have to go back. I wish I could stay. I told Martin that in the whole entire process,” he said. “I wish I could stay here and begin right now, but I have to go win a national championship. I owe it to Ohio State, to Coach Day, and to the players, and I'm excited. So I'm going to go do that.”
Once Ohio State wraps up its title pursuit, there is a level of excitement surrounding the program that hasn’t been there in quite some time, and it’s only going to swell.
“I haven't really been able to take a deep breath and do much of anything right now. I'm going to get going as soon as I can. I literally am flying back and going to run onto a field and coach a football practice. I might still be in my suit doing so.
“But then after that, I'm going to take time, and I'm going to put a lot of thought into this, and I'm going to do it the right way. I just want to make sure that I'm patient and that I go about it how I've always done.”