BC’s Donahue steps up from Ivy League to ACC

After thrusting Cornell into the national spotlight with three

straight Ivy League titles and a trip to the Sweet 16, Steve

Donahue has an even tougher task at Boston College.

He needs to make the Eagles relevant in their hometown.

The former Cornell coach was introduced at BC on Wednesday –

first to the media, and then at a campus pep rally to the students

who’ve yawned through seven NCAA tournament berths in nine years

and a switch to the Atlantic Coast Conference that was supposed to

bring big-time college basketball to Boston.

“This program is yours,” Donahue told several hundred BC

students and staff who filtered onto the Campus Green on a hot

afternoon. “My job is to give you a great basketball experience.

Yours is to do your best to make Conte Forum the hardest place to

play in the country.”

Donahue received a six-year deal.

“He has plenty of time to build here, and build it in the right

way,” said athletic director Gene DeFilippo, who had said he

wanted a coach who would be more involved in – and more marketable

to – the BC community. “If you can’t feel it on the campus then

you are really, really missing something.”

Taking over a program that has struggled to compete with the

four pro sports teams in town – and even the college hockey team on

campus – Donahue dressed his children in BC gear and did his best

to fire up the crowd. He drew the winning tickets in a raffle,

waded into the crowd to shake hands and pandered to the Boston

ethos with an obligatory but believable – he’s from Philadelphia,

after all – slap at the New York Yankees.

“People asked me what would it take to leave Cornell. I said it

had to be a home run,” he told the crowd. “I’ll tell you what

Boston College is: It’s a grand slam, over the Green Monster,

versus the Yankees, in Game 7. And trust me, I hate the

Yankees.”

Students roared and the pompon squad cheered. After the pep band

played one more rendition of the fight song, “For Boston,”

Donahue went into the crowd and spoke to Billy Flutie, a member of

the football team and BC sports’ first family, and Danya Abrams,

who was on the 1994 Eagles team that went to the NCAA regional

finals.

Even Pat Chambers, coach of rival Boston University, showed up

for the news conference and gave Donahue a hug before it began.

(Chambers’ brother, Paul, played for Donahue at Penn and the

families have remained friends.)

DeFilippo read a list of college basketball bigwigs – from

Digger Phelps and C.M. Newton to John Calipari and Bruce Pearl –

who recommended Donahue. “Every one of those people had great

things to say about Steve as a person and as a coach,” the BC

athletic director said.

Donahue led the Big Red to a 29-5 record this season – the most

wins in Ivy history – and the school’s first ranking in The

Associated Press Top 25 in 59 years. Cornell, which had never won

an NCAA game, beat favored Temple and Wisconsin to become the first

Ivy team to reach the Sweet 16 in more than three decades; they

lost to No. 1-seeded Kentucky 62-45 in the East Regional

semifinals.

DeFilippo held up an issue of Sports Illustrated with a picture

of three Cornell players diving on the ground for a loose ball

during the tournament.

“We wanted somebody who is a great person. We wanted somebody

who is a teacher, not a schemer,” DeFilippo said. “We wanted

somebody who was going to have a team that is exciting and play

hard, take charges and dive on the floor for balls. And we were

going to play an exciting up tempo game. We were going to have some

real fun.”

Donahue replaces Al Skinner, who in 13 years in Chestnut Hill

was the winningest coach in BC history. But he was fired after two

losing seasons in three years, with attendance at Conte Forum that

declined in each of the past four seasons.

Donahue thinks he can change that.

“It’s the most passionate sports region in the country. We play

in the best conference in the country,” Donahue said. “We want

everyone on board. … I find it hard to believe if we play (an

exciting) brand of basketball, and do it in the ACC, that we won’t

fill the building.”