Coughlin proved to be everything he was supposed to be. The off-season workouts became tougher. The spring practice weeks became tougher. The coach who had always worked on the offensive side of the game now stressed defense and precision. These were the no-nonsense lessons he had learned in the pros. Football was a business. Efficiency was a goal.
"A lot of kids quit," Foley says. "It used to be we had 120 kids here playing football. A lot of walk-ons. There are almost no walk-ons now. It's just too hard, too much work if you never play in a game. I look around and see empty lockers where a lot of those people were. Some kids who could have come back for a fifth year didn't come back either. I think that's what the coach wanted, to get down to the people who could last. That's us."
"The whole first year was culture shock," says linebacker Tom McManus, a fifth-year senior who did return. "I guess some guys saw it as a positive, some guys as a negative. I saw it as a positive."
One locker that is filled and will stay that way through the season holds the uniform and equipment of Jay McGillis, a defensive back who died of leukemia in July. A starter as a sophomore in the first 10 games of last season, McGillis became ill before the finale against top-ranked Miami. He watched from the bench as the Eagles, on national television, lost a 19-14 decision that was a better indicator of the future than was their final 4-7 record. McGillis's memory is preserved in the locker, with his uniform number 31, which graces a patch worn on every BC jersey, and with assorted gestures and signals. After every Eagle interception senior safety Charlie Brennan holds up three fingers on one hand, one on the other.
"We can actually feel his presence out there on the field," McManus says. "I tell everyone that we should have a good defense, because we have one more player with us than anyone else has."
There are questions, of course, that still have to be answered. The four wins have all been at home, and the opponents—Rutgers, Northwestern, Navy and Michigan State—have a combined record of 3-10. The offensive line is young. Three of the four defensive backs are sophomores. All of this success is new air to breathe. West Virginia (3-0-1), this Saturday in Morgantown, will be an immediate challenge. Penn State and Notre Dame lie in wait further down the road.
"Right now our confidence level is real high, and we're where we should be," Coughlin says. "We've won all the games we played, and we played three outstanding games on defense. We're going to go to West Virginia and take it from there."
One thing is certain: A wet 4-0 is better than a wet 0-4.