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Bicknell Found His Place--Boston College

September 15, 1985|WILLIAM GILDEA | The Washington Post

And Jack Bicknell Jr., the team's center: "Obviously, nobody's going to tell me they don't like my father. But there's a good feeling on this team. It's hard to tell what it is. He's very honest."

Honesty paid for Bicknell when he took Flutie among his last picks his first recruiting year. "We didn't know what we had," Bicknell says, smiling at his unexpected good fortune. "We wanted two other quarterbacks--desperately. I figured Flutie was a good athlete, he might play free safety or wide receiver. But I promised him a shot at quarterback."

The promise fulfilled produced a Heisman Trophy winner. As a result, one of Bicknell's problems now is getting Flutie's successor, Shawn Halloran, to relax. No matter the sport, followers of legends tend to snuff the spotlight they step into.

Halloran "feels the weight of the world on his shoulders," says Bicknell. In the wake of Boston College's opening defeat by Robbie Bosco-led Brigham Young, during which Halloran seemed at times unsure, Bicknell says he told his new quarterback, " 'Don't read the papers. Don't torture yourself. I'll tell you when you're doing good and when you're not.' I've got to get the quarterback to realize he has my complete confidence. I don't care if he throws an interception. I'm not going to hold it against him. That's hard to convey."

Settling down, or settling on, Flutie's successor may be Bicknell's biggest coaching challenge, one that before the season ends could leave him talking to his horse. But at least he'd be familiar with the game's downside. His record in five years at the University of Maine was 18-35-1. That, at least in part, and to the utter amazement of some Boston College alumni with football ambition, and to Bicknell's own astonishment, got him the BC job. "I wouldn't have hired me," he says, puffing his pipe.

Somebody knew something: that Bicknell was an offensive strategist who fit into the school's coaching history, which includes Frank Leahy. Having played quarterback for North Plainfield High School in New Jersey, Bicknell received a scholarship to Rutgers.

A neck injury ended his career, but he studied the game when he wasn't reading cowboy books or going to Gene Autry films or hanging around horse auctions in the Jersey countryside. He liked Bud Wilkinson. "He appeared to be a classy guy, very much in control," Bicknell says. "He wasn't impressed with himself, wasn't an 'I' kind of guy. He seemed like a decent man."

While coaching high school in New Jersey, Bicknell patterned himself a bit after coaching masters Frank Broyles and Darrell Royal, and attended lectures and clinics given by Sid Gillman, professional coach and original thinker in pro offense. Bicknell says he's always thought offense, and he's become known for taking an occasional gamble when on attack. "I don't want our kids to play tight or scared," he says.

In 1968, Boston College hired him as its offensive backfield coach, and here he stayed until going to Maine in 1975. One of his offense-minded ideas is to "keep in the game strategically, not emotionally," which is why he can be seen on the sidelines with earphones in place, continuously sending arm signals that make him seem like a rush-hour traffic director.

Bicknell often is asked if shortly he might like to get his horse and head on off to the wide open spaces--someplace like, say, South Bend, Ind., should a coaching vacancy occur there. Of possibly quitting Boston College, he says: "I've never been a guy looking to leave. I've just been a guy looking to get it done. I've been living in New England for 17 years, and you only play 11 games. You better like where you live. . . .

"I don't feel driven to coach the pros," or jump for "career" purposes to some college better known than Boston College for football. "If a challenge appealed to me," he'd consider it. "But I wouldn't go for money, for $100,000 more than I'm making, just because of the money. I've never had a lot of money. I've got more now than I ever had."

When Bicknell had the opportunity to go to Miami for much bigger money, the story goes that his family gathered at the dining table of their modest home in Holliston, west of Boston: wife Lois, two sons, daughter.

"You can't leave Doug Flutie," his wife said.

"Never mind Doug Flutie, what about me?" said son Jack.

"Jackie, we're going to have you our whole lives," Lois Bicknell said. "We're only going to have Doug Flutie once."

Bicknell knew the answer, anyway. This cowboy was staying home.

'The big satisfaction for me here is that we've gotten to the point where a team really has to be ready to play when they play us. We can beat anybody on our schedule. We play hard every week; when I came here I couldn't guarantee that. Now I can. I worry about execution. I worry whether we're good enough'

--JACK BICKNELL

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