- Mike Reiss, ESPN New England Patriots reporter
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CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- The toughest question that new Boston College men's basketball coach faced Wednesday afternoon was how he envisioned his team garnering attention in a passionate sports town known for its pro teams.
Steve Donahue's answer was a slam dunk.
In his early years at Cornell, there was a fire drill during one of the games. Normally, that would be the cause of a logistical nightmare, but not that season. Not when only 100 people were in the arena.
Times had changed in recent years at Cornell, with sellouts of 5,000 the norm and the team most recently competing in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.
Donahue's point was this: He had helped build something that people took notice of at Cornell and now similar work begins at Boston College.
Wednesday marked the first step, with Donahue officially introduced by athletic director Gene DeFilippo at the sparkling Yawkey Athletic Center. The press conference began with DeFilippo pinning a silver eagle on Donahue's suit jacket and ended with Donahue, who signed a six-year deal, reminding everyone to support the Eagles' hockey team in the Frozen Four on Thursday night.
"There are few, if any, jobs in America that embody everything I believe in better than being basketball coach at Boston College," said Donahue, dressed appropriately for the occasion in a maroon and gold tie.
"When I think about the great coaches that have been in this program, the history, it's humbling to think that now I get the opportunity to lead this basketball program. When I think about the level of play in the ACC, the history of this program, the great players that have worn the uniform, and the passion I know Gene has for all his teams, I get so fired up to take this journey and take the basketball program to the next level."
This was a day for new beginnings at BC, the school holding a pep rally for Donahue later in the day complete with the band and cheerleaders.
DeFilippo said Donahue was the first coach he interviewed for the job, and he quickly realized he'd be a top choice.
DeFilippo was focusing on finding "a teacher, not a schemer" and someone whose teams would feature an up-tempo style with players who would "take charges and dive on the floor for balls." During the interview, when DeFilippo asked Donahue how he would describe his philosophy, the coach showed him a picture from a recent edition of Sports Illustrated. The picture, under the headline "As Good As It Gets", showed three Cornell players diving on the floor for a loose ball in this year's NCAA tournament.
"At that point, I knew he'd be tough to beat," DeFilippo said.
Donahue said Thursday that BC will "take a backseat to no one" and decisively said that he believes the Eagles can be a perennial contender for the national championship. The first question he was asked was whether he could recruit at the Atlantic Coast Conference level, a big jump from the Ivy League, and he responded confidently that he could do so.
He promised an exciting style of play that will be built around players who want to be on campus and buy in to that brand of basketball.
"We're going to play fast," he said, adding that a goal would be to average 75 to 80 shots per game. "I believe in playing before the defense is set. If we have a great shot early on, we're going to attack it. The other thing I would say is that we shared the basketball [at Cornell] as well as anyone in the country."
One statistic that Donahue stresses is assists per basket, which Cornell ranked in the top 10 in the country, while also noting that his team led the nation in 3-point shooting.
"We will continue to recruit kids who can do all of those things -- at fast speed," he said.
Donahue then sounded the call to the BC community, specifically the student body.
"Obviously we want alumni and we want staff, but more important, this is your program, the students," he said. "I want them to feel a part of us, to be proud."
With his wife Pamela and three of his four children in the room, Donahue choked up briefly when discussing how difficult it was to leave Cornell after 10 years. He said he would only do so for an "unbelievable opportunity." Donahue also said that he believes fans will fill the arena to see those who play the game with passion.
If anything can be taken from Wednesday's introduction, it seems clear that BC has found a passionate coach to lead the charge.
Mike Reiss is a reporter for ESPNBoston.com.
Steve Donahue will try to do at Boston College what he did at Cornell.