Poutre's mission: Turn around Boston College
PAWLEYS ISLAND, S.C. – This is shaping up to be Bill Poutre’s latest fixer-upper. He transformed Hartford after a few months. He turned Long Beach State into a top-100 program. And on a sun-drenched day at True Blue Golf Course, site of this week’s Golfweek Program Challenge, Poutre revealed his plans for overhauling Boston College.
Not surprisingly, it’s equally ambitious.
Of the men’s team, which finished last season No. 248 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings: “There’s no way we will be outside the top 150 (at the end of the 2011-12 season),” he said. “Next year, we can be really good. We can be a bubble team (for the NCAAs) in two years.”
And of the women’s team, No. 161 last season: “They could surprise me a ton on the upside, and there’s no question in my mind they’ll easily be 50 spots better. But next year is when we’re really going to have some fun.”
If not sooner. Poutre, 46, seemingly grows more confident by the round, and for good reason. Just look at his track record: He played collegiately at the University of Hartford, but soon realized he wasn’t good enough to play for pay. So he got into business. He attended graduate school at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. In 2003, he was a finalist for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year in New England. He started his businesses with nothing and continued to build.
“And that’s all this is,” Poutre said, smiling, looking down the range at the BC men’s and women’s teams. “It’s motivating. It’s finding the right people. It’s capitalizing on the resources you have. It’s determining your strengths and weaknesses, and then communicating. This is the same thing.”
During his three years as the men’s coach at Hartford, Poutre helped improve the Hawks’ national ranking by more than 100 spots, led the team to two conference championships and advanced to the NCAA regionals. During his two-year run at Long Beach State, he helped improve the 49ers’ national ranking by more than 50 spots, nearly into the top 100, and lured three of the top-10 recruits in California away from national championship-caliber schools such as UCLA and USC.
“Having Bill here is a 180-degree change,” said Trevor Drum, who has overseen the men’s and women’s programs at Boston College for the past 14 years. “He’s the best recruiter in the country.”
For his next trick – thrusting Boston College onto the national stage and thereby turning the Eagles into a perennial contender in the ACC – Poutre first needed to “change the culture.” Those are buzzwords for the uber-recruiters. When the BC team bags arrived last year, no names were stitched onto the pockets. (“They play for Boston College, not themselves right now,” Poutre said.) When observing Drum and Poutre, the players soon understood the time and work ethic needed to sustain an elite program. And when the coaches urged the men’s team to work on its course management, they paired the guys with the women in an alternate-shot format. (“So for 300 yards,” Poutre said, “all the ladies would tell them, ‘Why did you put me over here? ’ ”)
Of course, those motivational ploys only go so far. More enduring is bringing in elite talent, and for the next two years Boston College should have no shortage of that. On the men’s side, the Eagles recruited John Jackopsic and Andy Mai, whom Poutre said “ripped through New England and won everything.” On the women’s side, Poutre recruited Christina McQuiston – a member of the Italian national team – and Katia Joo, both of whom were ranked in the top 75 in Golfweek’s Junior Rankings.
“I have no doubt in my mind that we’ll have a roster that will have an impact,” Poutre said.
Most impressive, however, is that he’s begun retooling BC despite the inherent challenges that come with a program in the Northeast – and one that, until now, has struggled to stay in the top 150 nationally. Though every team wants to boast an impressive strength of schedule, only consistently high results will help improve a school’s ranking; the BC women won five times last year. Only once will the Eagles play in the Northeast this fall, and Poutre says that’s a good thing. “There’s more of a hunger,” he said. “Nothing comes easy.”
A native New Englander, Poutre also knows that inner drive is necessary during the long winter. But for the first time, the Eagles this season will have an indoor practice facility with simulators and hitting bays and short-game areas. For years, they could only hit wedges in the covered football stadium – good for distance control with the scoring clubs, but not much else. They didn’t have a home course, either, but recently reached an agreement with Blue Hill Country Club, a former LPGA venue that is 12 miles from campus.
But more fundamental problems existed, too. Until last fall, Drum handled internal and external matters for both the men’s and women’s teams. All the emails, all the phone calls, all the minutiae. Recruiting, he said, was reactive. That’s no way to succeed. So when BC brought in Poutre, he immediately was charged with recruiting and external communication. Poutre and Drum refuse to use titles. They’re simply golf coaches.
“I believe in him 1,000 percent,” Drum said. “He will not lose a recruiting battle.”
That’s important, yes, but so too is instilling a winning attitude. As Poutre says, “I love playing the underdog role. I kind of look at our guys like the lunch-box kind of crew – blue-collar, grind-it-out guys. Some of our players have chips on their shoulders because they’re from the Northeast and feel like they should have been recruited by bigger schools. I love pouring salt into those wounds.”
Can the Eagles be transformed in a few months? Will they turn into a top-100 program? Well, never bet against another Poutre reclamation project. It almost always turns into a success story.