Saturday, February 24, 2024

Boston College coaching candidates: Dan Mullen, Jeff Monken among options to replace Jeff Hafley

Former Boston College coach Jeff Hafley is off to the NFL as to serve as defensive coordinator for the Green Bay Packers. Now, the Eagles have to replace a four-year head coach fresh off arguably the best season of his tenure after Hafley led Boston College to seven wins and a Fenway Bowl victory over a top-25 SMU team. 

It’s rare that a head coach leaves his active post for a coordinator job, though Hafley spent a large portion of his coaching career in the NFL prior to accepting the Boston College job. Whomever steps in for Hafley is taking over a stable situation — Hafley won at least six games in three out of four years — but also one that comes with its share of challenges. 

The ever-competitive ACC is set to expand in 2024 with the additions of Cal, Stanford and SMU. It’s an added layer of difficulty for a Boston College program that hasn’t won a division title since 2009. The Eagles probably won’t attract any big names, but it has been fairly good at identifying coaches outside the margins. 

Hafley was a 40-year-old career assistant with his most prolific job being co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State before he was hired at Boston College. His predecessor, Steve Addazio, coached at Temple for two years — with just four wins in his second season — prior to his hiring, and lasted seven seasons leading the program. 

Here’s a list of names that Boston College could target as it now joins what’s been a chaotic coaching carousel in the 2023-24 cycle. 

Dan Mullen: Let’s start with a real long shot, but it’s a call that should be made. Mullen gets listed for practically every head coaching vacancy, but there’s a reason for that. He’s a proven program builder and has a knack for winning with teams that have historically had trouble breaking through in their own conference — like Boston College. Take his work at Mississippi State, for example. Mullen inherited a team that had one winning season in the almost decade-long period leading up to his hire. He had them at nine wins with a top-20 ranking in the AP poll by Year 2. In 2014, Mullen and the Bulldogs were knocking on the door of the College Football Playoff before a late-season loss to Alabama precipitated a bit of a spiral. Still, MSU finished with 10 wins for the first time since 1999 and its highest finish in the AP poll (11th) since 1940. 

Mullen went to Florida in 2018 and won 21 games in his first two years with the Gators before taking them to the SEC Championship Game during a COVID-shortened 2020 season. He was fired in 2021 amid a 5-6 season and often draws criticism for his recruiting efforts, or lack thereof, but that wouldn’t be an issue at Boston College. The Eagles don’t necessarily have the resources to recruit like an SEC powerhouse, so the onus is on player development, the area in which Mullen excels. 

Jeff Monken, Army coach: Like Mullen, Monken is a proven winner in tough situations. He led Georgia Southern, an FCS program at the time, to at least 10 wins in each of his first three seasons as coach from 2010-12. In 2014, he was hired at Army and won a combined six games in two years. He has had just one losing season since, leading the Black Knights to four bowl wins and a ranked finish in the interim. More importantly, he has a winning record against Navy (6-4). In 2016, he broke the Midshipmen’s ballyhooed 14-game winning streak in college football’s most prestigious rivalry.  Army, given its obvious recruiting limitations and unique stature as a service academy, is a tough place to win. Yet Monken’s 70 victories are second in program history, and he’s been the most successful Army coach in almost 80 years. 

Al Washington, Notre Dame defensive line coach: Washington should be a very familiar name for fans around Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. He played defensive line for Boston College from 2002-05 before embarking on a coaching career that brought him back to his alma mater in 2012 as assistant special teams coordinator and defensive line coach. He stayed on staff through the 2016 season, coaching running backs in addition to his special teams and DL duties in that span, before a five-year run that saw him hold assistant coaching spots at Cincinnati, Michigan and Ohio State. He spent the last two seasons as the defensive line coach at Notre Dame. Washington is young and unproven, but his star is on the rise and he’s due for a bigger appointment. 

Jason Candle, Toledo coach: Candle is a Toledo guy through and through. He earned his first FBS coaching appointment in 2009 as Toledo’s slot receiver and tight ends coach. He’s been on staff ever since, serving in various roles — including offensive coordinator and associate head coach — leading up to his promotion to head coach in 2016. In the years since, he’s won two MAC titles, three MAC West division crowns and is a two-time MAC Coach of the Year. He took home that honor in 2023 after leading Toledo to its second 11-win season of his tenure. He’s only won less than six games once in a full season, and that was when Toledo went 4-2 in 2020. He’d also go a long way toward fixing some of the offensive issues that have plagued Boston College in recent years. Toledo led the MAC in total offense (419.1 yards per game) and scoring offense (32.3 points per game) in 2023. 

Kyle Flood, Texas offensive coordinator: Flood has gone through a bit of an image rehabilitation in recent years. He was the 2012 Big East Coach of the Year in his first season with Rutgers, leading the Scarlet Knights to a 9-4 record. Rutgers returned to the postseason in each of the next two seasons and won its first bowl game under Flood to cap a seven-win campaign in 2014. But several player arrests near the start of the 2015 season cast a cloud over Flood’s program, and a university-led investigation charged the former coach with improper conduct due to further academic policy violations. He was fined $50,000 and suspended for the first three regular-season games. Rutgers posted a 3-6 record upon his return, and he was fired shortly after the year wrapped. 

Flood was out of coaching in 2016 and didn’t make it back to the collegiate level until 2019 when he was hired as the offensive line coach at Alabama. He won a national title with the Tide and parlayed that into the offensive coordinator job at Texas. The Longhorns have steadily morphed into an offensive powerhouse with Flood calling the shots. They reached a peak in 2023, finishing top-15 nationally in both total offense (477.5 yards per game) and scoring offense (35.8 points per game) amid Texas’ run to a Big 12 title and College Football Playoff. 

Al Golden, Notre Dame defensive coordinator: Golden is an attractive option given his deep, deep ties to the Northeast. A native of New Jersey, Golden played tight end for the New England Patriots, was the offensive coordinator at Red Bank High School in New Jersey and coached linebackers at Boston College from 1997-99. He was the head coach at Temple from 2006-10 and, after 27 wins in five years, was hired at Miami. He won 32 games in the ACC and a share of the Coastal division title in 2012. Miami made bowls in 2013 and 2014, but Golden was fired in the middle of a 4-3 start in 2015. The guy who pulled the trigger? Current Boston College athletic director Blake James. Maybe James has been impressed enough with Golden’s work as Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator over the past two seasons to come back around on his former employee. 

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