There are no pictures on the walls of the office of new Boston College football coach Dan Henning. A series of small holes indicates that a lot of pictures used to hang from those walls, but the pictures belonged to the previous occupant. Henning's walls will probably stay blank for awhile. "If pictures could block and tackle, we'd have 'em here tomorrow," says the 51-year-old Henning. "But right now they aren't exactly a priority."
Most coaching changes on the major-college level are made shortly alter season's end. That gives the new staff the winter to become acclimated, to institute whatever changes it wants before spring practice begins. At BC everything has to be accelerated. Named to head the program on March 2, just 10 days after Tom Coughlin abruptly resigned to coach the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars of the NFL, Henning works at a hurry-up pace that leaves little room for frills.
Frills? He doesn't even have time to find a place to live. He is staying in a hotel while he hires a staff, looks for a quarterback to replace a four-year starter, tries to meet the current players, attempts to keep a highly regarded recruiting class calm and prepares for both a spring practice that starts in less than a month and a 1994 season that opens on Sept. 3 at Michigan. Michigan? Whew. "It's interesting," Henning says with understatement, "working a filled agenda into a time frame it doesn't fit."
Indeed, Henning is trying to bring order to a suddenly chaotic situation. The 47-year-old Coughlin had been the architect of a football revival at BC, capped by a 9-3 finish last season that included a 41-39 upset of No. 1-ranked Notre Dame. Everything seemed to be rolling according to schedule. Coughlin had helped the Eagles attract a top-10 recruiting class, and his constant pleas for a larger stadium were finally being answered. His departure came as a surprise. A year ago January he had rejected an offer to coach the New York Giants and had deflected later approaches from both the Atlanta Falcons and the Phoenix Cardinals. Four days before he accepted the Jacksonville job he was talking about BC's future to an alumni group, asking, "Why can't we have the greatest program in the country?"
He received a reported five-year, $4 million contract to lead the Jaguars into existence and took five assistants with him. "Tom told me about the offer on a Saturday night," says BC athletic director Chet Gladchuk. "On Sunday he told me he was taking it. On Monday he was being introduced at a press conference in Jacksonville."
Gladchuk had to move quickly. The image that filled his mind was of the opening game in Ann Arbor, of BC running through the tunnel onto a field surrounded by 100,000-plus hostile fans. He decided he wanted a coach with big-time coaching experience, someone who wouldn't be intimidated. He also wanted an offensive coach, someone who liked high-scoring football, a part of BC's reputation. Henning, a longtime offense-oriented NFL assistant was fired from his job as the Detroit Lions' offensive coordinator in December, met those requirements. Once a head coach with both the Falcons and the San Diego Chargers, he said he was tired of the egos and the business of pro football. He hadn't coached at the college level since 1975. "I think you'll see more people move from the pros back to the colleges," he says. "Lou Holtz, John Robinson. Bill Walsh. Pretty good company."
Adding to the confusion at BC is the expansion of Alumni Stadium, a controversial move that finally was approved by the city of Boston in January. Reconstruction has begun. The view from Henning's pictureless office is of cement mixers and hard hats surrounding a football field. "Everybody told me, 'Don't worry, everything will be ready on time.' " He can only hope his team will be ready as well.
Boston College's new football coach has a lot of heavy lifting to do before next fall.