Boston College coach Bill O’Brien eager to embrace challenges in Year 1 leading Eagles

NCAA Football

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Boston College athletics

Bill O’Brien knows how hard you think it is to win at Boston College. He’s heard it left and right since taking over the BC program in February. After spending last season as the New England Patriots offensive coordinator, O’Brien was slated to take the same role for Ryan Day at Ohio State before the Boston College job opened up late in the cycle. Jeff Hafley’s decision to leave BC for a defensive coordinator job in the NFL prompted many to wonder whether more college coaches will ditch the headaches of the transfer portal and name, image and likeness for the professional ranks.

Many of those problems are compounded at a place like Boston College, which doesn’t boast the same kind of resources many blueblood programs can pour into their teams. For O’Brien, it was the challenges that attracted him to the job.

“Without a shadow of a doubt, it’s a motivating factor for me,” O’Brien told CBS Sports. “All I hear is what a tough job it is. But Boston College is a very special, unique place to me and my family. I’m from here and when I was a kid, I grew up dreaming of being the head coach at Boston College. I watched Jack Bicknell, I watched Tom Coughlin when I was younger and then Tom O’Brien as I was coaching what they did here. 

“Every job I’ve ever had has been tough. I had the Penn State job right after Joe Paterno. I had the Houston Texans job in the National Football League. (Also) working as an assistant in the NFL with the Patriots — those aren’t easy jobs.”

O’Brien is told that no one has ever described working for Bill Belichick and Nick Saban as easy, either, and he’s quick to laugh and agree.

“No doubt,” he said.

The Boston native takes over a Boston College program that went 7-6 last season under Hafley, including a Fenway Bowl win over soon-to-be ACC opponent SMU. We recently caught up with O’Brien to discuss what he inherited at BC, lessons he learned working for Saban at Alabama and more. The conversation has been lightly condensed and edited for clarity.

CBS Sports: You were at Alabama for the start of NIL (2021-2022 seasons) and then spent last season with the Patriots. In just the year you were away from college football, how much did things change?

Bill O’Brien: Things change really fast. When I was at Alabama, we had Bryce Young and he was probably the first guy relative to NIL that could take advantage of NIL and rightfully so. He was a great player (and) Heisman Trophy winner. But there weren’t many guys like that at Alabama. There were a couple: Will Anderson (and) Bryce Young. Now all these kids have an idea of what it means and how it works and things change fast. 

I think at Boston College we’ll never be all about the NIL. We are part of the NIL world, but we have a lot of things to sell at Boston College relative to the Jesuit education (and) the community involvement that we have here. Things have changed but BC is still what it is. It’s a great academic school that plays really good football.

CBS: Does a revenue-share model with a salary cap help Boston College by removing some of the pressure of raising all the NIL money and, in theory, leveling things out a bit?

BO: I think that helps everybody. I definitely think it helps BC if there’s a level playing field, there’s no doubt about it. That’s the thing with the NFL, there (are) 32 teams that play under the same rules. (They have) the same salary cap rules, same draft rules, same free agency rules (and) same roster rules. There (are) only 32 teams and there (are) a lot more teams in Division 1 college football, but, to me, that’s a really good place to start relative to evening the playing field for everybody so that it doesn’t become a game where you have the haves and the have-nots and there’s a huge space in between. I don’t think we want that. (All of the teams) in college football have such a great history and tradition.

If you look at Boston College, we have a great tradition (and) a great history here of playing good football when we’ve had great quarterbacks. Doug Flutie, Matt Ryan, so on and so forth, this has been a team to reckon with. I don’t think college football wants to go away from that. 

CBS: You start the season with Florida State. That might not be ideal but is there any benefit to playing a really good team in Week 1 and having all offseason to prepare for it?

BO: No doubt. That brings a lot of these guys that we have on our team, they’re very focused. They know that we’re playing one of the best teams in the country to open the season. They finished last season 13-0 and (they) are probably going to show up in a bad mood when they play us because they want to prove they deserve(d) to be in the playoff. We need to be ready and I think that helps us in the offseason when you have a team like that (on the schedule). Just the mention of that team can improve your practice intensity (and) your weight room intensity. Nobody was late to a meeting this spring, I promise you. And a lot of that has to do with our opening opponent. 

CBS: I remember Lane Kiffin once saying no one was better at getting a team ready to play Week 1 than Nick Saban. Was there anything you picked up from Saban on that or what you think he did so well that his Alabama teams never lost Week 1? 

BO: There are so many things I learned from Nick Saban. He’s the greatest coach of all time. One of the things he did a great job of was preparing his team for every game. (Preparing for) that Week 1 game (with) the way he set up training camp practice, summer practice (and) the preparation that went into June and July leading up to training camp had a lot to do with why Alabama was so prepared. Plus the fact (that) when Nick got in front of that team, you could hear a pin drop. He was great at speaking to the team. There are a lot of different things I took from Nick across the board.

CBS: What do you think Nick Saban the media personality is going to be like?

BO: I think it’s great. I think any time you have a guy like Nick Saban who is going to be out there educating the public on football, I think it’s fantastic. I think it means a lot to the game. I’ll say the same thing about Bill Belichick being on the Manningcast and Pat McAfee Show. I think it’s great. I think Nick Saban has a great voice for college football. 

CBS: Who are the guys on your roster that fans need to know about and deserve more attention?

BO: Let me start on defense. We have a really good defensive end Donovan Ezeiruaku, he’s very good — good pass rush ability, good against the run (and an) excellent player. We have two linebackers that are really good players who had good springs. We have a corner, Amari Jackson, who I think is going to be really good, and then a safety named KP Price who is very good. Defensive tackle Cam Horsley I think is a very good player, going to have a good year. 

On offense, Tom Castellanos is our quarterback. He had a really good spring. We have a really good running back in Treshaun Ward. (We have a) really good offensive line upfront – Ozzy Trapilo, Drew Kendall our center, Logan Taylor our guard, left tackle Jude Bowry.

Lewis Bond, the receiver, is really good (and) Kamari Morales the tight end.

There’s a lot more guys. I actually think we have a good, decent football team and we just need to stay healthy and be ready to go when the season starts. 

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