What Did Hafley Say During the FOX National Championship Watch Party?
It was a roller coaster and controversial season for an Ohio State team that claimed its 39th Big Ten title, made its fourth College Football Playoff appearance, and upset No. 2 Clemson before falling flat in Monday night’s National Championship, 52-24, as Nick Saban and Alabama collected their seventh national title in 16 years.
“I know people say, ‘They only played this amount of games, that amount of games,’ but, at the same time, I don’t think [Ohio State] ever got into a real rhythm,” said Jeff Hafley, Boston College head coach and former Buckeyes co-DC, during the fourth quarter of FOX College Football’s National Championship watch party.
“[Not] playing with the same starters, with the same D-Line, the same O-Line. I mean that’s hard.”
Hafley stayed on with FOX Sports’ Joel Klatt and Reggie Bush for more than a half hour as Monday’s season finale wound down, with Matt Leinart joining the conversation along the way. Hafley discussed his impression of the Crimson Tide, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day’s influence on him, and topics such as CFP expansion and bowl opt-outs.
Time to crown a Champion! 🏆@JoelKlatt & @ReggieBush are joined by special guests @JoeyB, @JalenHurts and more as they react live and answer your questions during the CFP National Championship between Alabama & Ohio State!— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) January 12, 2021
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Overview of Alabama’s offense:
Naturally, Hafley heaped praise on Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith, who piled up 12 catches for 215 yards and three touchdowns in just one half of play Monday night.
“It started with No. 6,” Hafley said. “I didn’t really get a chance to watch him play much this year. Didn’t see much crossover tape obviously with everything in conference. But wow, he’s incredible.”
He highlighted the Crimson Tide’s offensive line, which he said was “all in sync,” both in run blocking and pass protection. That led to him mentioning running back Najee Harris. Before he could elaborate about the smashmouth tailback, he interrupted himself.
“I would have liked to have played this team with the defense that we had last year,” Hafley said. “I think that would have been fun when I was with that other squad. A couple of the guys were texting me tonight kinda saying the same thing. Good team, though. Really good team.”
Perspective on Mac Jones and Justin Fields: When asked about the title game’s signal callers, Hafley noted that Alabama quarterback Mac Jones doesn’t make many bad decisions. The redshirt junior finished with 464 passing yards and five touchdowns Monday night. Hafley was particularly impressed with not only Jones’ arm accuracy but also his ability to make some plays with his feet.
“He’s just so efficient,” Hafley said. “Gets rid of the ball so quickly. He doesn’t force things, and that’s just the one thing I noticed, too. It’s almost like every time he’s been throwing the ball tonight, you look up and—with the TV copy—it looks like it’s gonna be caught. He’s so accurate. It looks like he sees the game really well. He doesn’t panic back in the pocket.”
Hafley lauded Crimson Tide offensive coordinator—and now Texas head coach—Steve Sarkisian for his play-calling, especially his decision to chew clock and limit Ohio State’s possessions. As a result, the Buckeyes didn’t have as many scoring opportunities, Hafley said. Still, he spoke highly of Fields, a potential top-10 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
“I just watched Justin last week really for the first time this year when he played Clemson, and I thought he looked like he did last year,” Hafley said. “That’s what I saw in practice every day, that’s what I saw from the booth in between series.”
Assessment of the Ohio State program:
Hafley was quick to compliment Ohio State head coach Ryan Day, who brought Hafley over from the San Francisco 49ers to be the Buckeyes’ co-DC in 2019.
“Ryan’s done an unbelievable job,” Hafley said. “Taking over for Urban [Meyer] and remaining true to who he is and not trying to be someone else. And the job he’s done with those players. The guys love him. They love him. He’s hard on ’em, and he holds ’em accountable, but he develops such a good relationship with those kids and the staff.”
Hafley emphasized Day’s humility and trust in his staff, proclaiming that “he lets his coaches coach.” Hafley added that Day rarely popped up in the defensive room while he was coaching at Ohio State and that the culture is strong there in Columbus.
What he learned from Ryan Day:
Hafley said that earlier in his career, he was around some programs where head coaches would occasionally overstep and try to put their fingerprint on the offense or defense. Often, it could turn into a disaster, he admitted. When he got the job at BC, Hafley adopted Day’s approach of hiring “great people” and letting the staff conduct its roles while helping out wherever he could.
“A lot of guys get jobs, and then they suddenly change,” Hafley said. “I still don’t even feel like I’m a head coach. I just coach football. I feel like a normal guy. I think I took that away from him—Ryan’s a normal guy who went in every day, worked hard, coached football, led his team, and let his coaches coach.”
Hafley wants the College Football Playoff to expand: Klatt asked Bush, Leinart, and Hafley if the CFP should expand. All three said it should, and Hafley articulated his thoughts at length about widening the national championship bracket:
“I think it’s great for the sport, I think it’s great for the fans, I think it’s awesome for college football, and, most importantly, I think it’s great for the players that are playing this game and want to win a championship,” Hafley said.
“Cincinnati’s your prime example, right? Those teams who go undefeated and don’t make it or those teams that win a really hard conference and, week in and week out, play all those tough games, but slip up one game and can’t get in—get ’em into the tournament, and let’s see what happens. That’s the beauty about the NFL. Get in the tournament, and you have a chance.”
Expanded CFP would benefit recruiting, decrease opt-outs:
Hafley said that a larger playoff would make recruiting easier for every school and likely lead to more parity in the sport.
“You want to be developed, you want a chance to go to the National Football League, and you want to win a championship,” Hafley said when describing most high school recruits. “And right now there’s not many schools that can truthfully sell, ‘Hey come here and you’ll play for a national championship.’ That’s just real. … There’s like six teams, seven teams that can actually say that and not lie to kids.”
Bush pointed out that fewer opt-outs would be a byproduct of CFP expansion. Hafley agreed.
“People aren’t going to play in bowl games anymore,” Hafley said. “And I don’t blame ’em. You want to go to the “Gumball Bowl” in somewhere, and have a kid who’s going to be a second round-pick play? It doesn’t even make sense for him to play. But now [if the CFP is expanded], more kids are going to want to play, less will opt out, and you can say to a kid from whatever school you want, ‘You can come here and compete for a championship,’ and that’s true.”
Evaluation of his first year at BC:
Hafley said that his start at BC was “definitely not the ideal situation” for a rookie head coach. He admitted that he didn’t really get to know the players on a deeper level until training camp because of COVID-19 cutting spring ball short and pushing team meetings to Zoom.
He talked about finding Phil Jurkovec, who he said has “a chance to be a guy you guys will be talking about soon” in regard to the quarterback becoming a household name. Additionally, Hafley shouted out wide receiver Zay Flowers, another player Hafley sees with an NFL future.
The 41-year-old head coach provided some insight on why he hired Frank Cignetti Jr. as his offensive coordinator. Hafley said he wanted an OC with NFL experience who could run a scheme with a quarterback under center, play-action, and downfield passing.
Hafley said his players bought into the program and really started to believe when BC gave top-tier teams, namely a top-ranked Clemson program, fits.
“It’s very similar to when I took over the Ohio State defense,” Hafley said. “The Ohio State defense was a bunch of really talented guys, who, for some reason, had lost their confidence and stopped having fun. And I felt like when I got to [BC], this team had no confidence and they weren’t having fun.
“I believe to play this game you can’t be scared. You gotta be fearless. You can’t be worried about making mistakes. You gotta coach ’em hard but then let ’em play ball. Let ’em have fun and let ’em play for each other, and I think our guys started doing that.”