Spaziani ready to make most of chance as BC's new head coach
The envelope, addressed to Boston College coach
It was not a highlight tape, per se. Mixed in with graduation moments and prom pageantry, the home video footage captured a true throwback from Arthur L. Johnson Regional High in Clark, N.J. The quarterback wore No. 14 and displayed a powerful arm. To gauge others' interest, Spaziani, then the Eagles' defensive coordinator, gathered his assistants in a meeting room, showed them the film and invited their evaluations. Recognizing their boss as a prep star some 40 years earlier, the coaches burst out laughing.
"None of them wanted me," Spaziani said after BC's April 25 spring game.
At least one recruiter kept a straight face while courting Spaziani in 1964. Then a 37-year-old associate coach with thin legs, thick-framed glasses and a penchant for procuring quarterbacks, Penn State's
As a freshman, Spaziani would play on the first-year team and participate in spring drills. As a sophomore, he would play varsity football in the fall and then baseball in the spring. But as Spaziani found out then, and kept finding out later on at BC, things don't always go according to plan. In Week 2 of that second season, the Michigan State defense knocked starter
By game's end, Spaziani had completed just 6-of-13 passes for 87 yards and rushed for -45 yards, a total which kick-started his career's downward spiral. Though Spaziani completed two more passes the rest of the year, Paterno asked him to focus on football that offseason. Spaziani refused, holding firm to his spring baseball ambitions, but made it clear he'd return to the gridiron in the fall. While pitching, though, Spaziani hurt his elbow and spent a silent spring away from both fields. "I needed Tommy John surgery before
His coaches presented Spaziani with two options: hold a clipboard or train that once-golden arm to perform swim moves against opposing offensive lines. "I went from being pampered to being thrown into the alligator pit and told to swim ashore," Spaziani said.
Used to shifting gears while driving his banana-yellow 1967 Corvette around campus, Spaziani silently switched to defensive end, swerving in and out of blocks, wrapping his arms around the new concepts, familiarizing himself with rush schemes drawn up so the ends could attack across the middle. "He was a true leader," said Paterno, who reached his first Orange Bowl in 1968 with Spaziani as a captain and his second in 1969 with his former player working as a graduate assistant.
Spaziani's team-first attitude did not go unnoticed. When
A free-spirited Spaziani arrived in Annapolis shortly thereafter. By then, the mustache he still sports had grown atop his upper lip. He befriended fellow assistant coach
The pair of twentysomethings got along famously. Walking into a piano bar, Spaziani would request
Welsh took the pair with him when he left for Virginia in 1982. As conservative as his flat-top haircut, Welsh instructed his assistants to dress up in shirts and ties and begin their workdays at 5 a.m. During many practices, Welsh felt Spaziani was the best coach on the field. He elevated him to be his first defensive coordinator in 1986. When Welsh decided to change defensive formations in 1990, Spaziani fled north for a five-year stint in the Canadian Football League during which his teams played for three Grey Cups. "We raised Molsons in his honor at a driveway tailgate," O'Brien said.
The two were able to cheer together again when O'Brien took the Boston College job in 1997. Spaziani came in as running backs coach, but found himself in a familiar position after O'Brien shook up his staff following his second year. Again shifting from offense to defense, Spaziani instituted his base sets as defensive coordinator, fashioning a winning outfit based on interchangeable parts. "He downplays being a genius, but it's no mistake that we're always positioned correctly," said ACC Defensive Player of the Year
On Thursdays, Spaziani worked on building team camaraderie. One week in 1999, Spaziani came upon graduate assistant
Ten years after coming to Boston, O'Brien left for NC State three winters ago. Torn at first, Spaziani decided not to follow, but rather to care for his elderly mother,
"Hip-hip hooray!" Spaziani shouted, pointing one finger in the air.
"Hip-hip hooray!" he repeated, continuing until all 10 fingers were in the air.
When Jagodzinski interviewed for the New York Jets coaching vacancy in January, DeFilippo dismissed him for disobeying orders not to seek employment outside his current contract. Then, he finally rewarded Spaziani's patience by making him head coach. Knowing Spaziani was a likely candidate for the opening, former players had gone to bat for him. "He was the perfect fit for what we needed," former linebacker
At a January basketball game against Wake Forest, BC introduced the 63-year-old Spaziani, whose mustache is now dusted with gray hairs, as head coach. "Usually I tell people that he is the best Penn State quarterback to ever ... be switched to defensive end," DeFilippo said. "This time I was a bit more formal."
Spaziani was a bit more formal, too. He wore a pink collared shirt, navy blue blazer, khaki pants and white sneakers, but his maroon tie, which features four quarterbacks readying to throw, stole the show. The coach received the tie as a birthday gift many moons ago when, walking the streets of New York City's Little Italy, he and a friend happened upon a street vendor selling merchandise out of a suitcase.
"You got ties?" the friend asked.
"Yes," the vendor replied.
"Ones with footballs on it?" the friend asked.
"Yeah, right here," the vendor said. "It's got 80 percent wins in it."
"I'll take it," Spaziani said.
The friend purchased it, and Spaziani still wears it regularly. "I guess we're about to see," he said, "how many wins the old quarterback has in him now."