Boston College's Bicknell feels pressure of 0-2 start

September 28, 1990|By Don Markus

He didn't lock himself in dark rooms, watching films from dawn to dusk. He preferred wearing cowboy boots, rather than coaching cleats. He could talk as easily about the presidential race as the race for the Heisman.

And what's more, Jack Bicknell's teams at Boston College won their share of games. From 1982 through 1986, the Eagles won 40 times, went to four bowl games in that five-year stretch and launched into the stratosphere of college football behind a quarterback named Doug Flutie.

Bicknell, 52, was one of the most respected -- and certainly one of the most refreshing -- coaches in the country. He enjoyed the game and its challenges, but he wasn't consumed by football.

"When we were winning, everyone was saying how unique that was," Bicknell said earlier this week. "When we've been struggling, they're saying, 'He's not focused.' I can't change the way I am. We're playing a game. We're not solving the crisis in the Middle East. We're not curing cancer."

It has been four years since Boston College had a winning record. The memories of the magical 1984 season -- when Flutie beat Miami on a Hail Mary pass, won the Heisman and led the 10-2 Eagles to a Cotton Bowl victory over Houston -- have faded.

And, with BC winless in its first two games this season, after going 3-8 and 2-9 the past two years, the whispers are getting louder that Bicknell's 10-year reign is coming to an end. Bicknell is not deaf to the rumors, nor does he seem particularly bothered by them.

"I feel personal pressure, put on myself by myself," said Bicknell, whose team will meet the Naval Academy (2-1) tomorrow at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. "I'm just tired of this [losing]."

What has happened to BC in the post-Flutie era?

Some of the team's problems are attributable to a decidedly more difficult schedule, which this year already has resulted in a loss to Ohio State and includes a trip to Miami later.

"We'd like to find a ranked team that we can beat," Bicknell said, "but we can't seem to find one."

He said the talent still is there, even though the Eagles don't XTC have a quarterback like Flutie, a running back like Troy Stradford, a flanker like Kelvin Martin or a defensive tackle like John Bosa. Only one BC player was taken in the National Football League draft last year.

"We're actually getting better players, but the schedule's not the same," said Bicknell. "And when you lose, you really have a problem getting any kind of momentum. I feel we're a lot closer than we appear to be. We're not that bad."

Tomorrow's game is crucial for the Eagles. Of all their defeats last season, the most difficult to swallow was a 27-24 loss at home to the Midshipmen.

"It's [the Navy game] very important," said senior tailback and team captain Mike Sanders, a former standout at Calvert Hall. "We could have won the first two games, but we didn't play like we're capable of playing offensively. We have to forget those games and make believe we're starting the season all over."

Sanders came to BC in the afterglow of Flutie. As a redshirt freshman, he watched the Eagles go 9-3 and beat Georgia in the Hall of Fame Bowl. Since then, he has seen the losses mount and the pressure build around Bicknell.

"A lot of people have been saying that this is Jack Bicknell's last chance to stay around," said Sanders. "I don't think that's the feeling on campus, or in Boston, but there is a lot of outside pressure. I don't pay attention to it."

The retirement of longtime BC athletic director Bill Flynn is considered a key factor in Bicknell's coaching future. There are those who think that Bicknell will lose his job security when Flynn retires next spring.

Although Bicknell still has some time remaining on his contract, he said, "I have some [financial] security, but if somebody wants to make a change, they wouldn't break the bank."

Bicknell is the first to understand how fleeting success can be in the coaching business. When the Eagles were winning, he was one of the most highly sought-after coaches in the country.

He was mentioned for several jobs, including the head coaching job at Notre Dame, for which Lou Holtz was hired. He said he was offered a couple of other high-profile jobs, but declined to discuss which ones. But the telephone has stopped ringing.

"I haven't gotten any calls the past two years," he said. "Sure, there are times you second-guess yourself, but my decision to stay here always made sense."

Bicknell said two years ago that he remained at BC because one of his sons, Bob, was about to begin school there. The youngest of Bicknell's three children starts at tight end for the Eagles.

Now there is a possibility that Bob Bicknell could finish his college career without his father as his coach. Although Jack Bicknell isn't looking that far into the future, he isn't ignoring the plain truth: BC probably needs a winning season for him to survive.

"I believe in what we're doing here," he said. "If it doesn't work, it doesn't work. But I'm stubborn enough to think that it will."

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