Gene DeFilippo (’73), the longtime Athletic Director at Boston College who recently retired in September, knew two things in high school: he wanted to coach and play for Ted Dunn. Both led him to Springfield College.
“I wanted to coach, and I wanted to play. I really wanted to play for Ted Dunn at Springfield, and I just thought Springfield was the type of school where I could identify with a lot of the students there and the professors,” DeFilippo said.
Springfield met these two criteria, because they had a strong history of producing coaches, and Edward T. (Ted) Dunn, who coached from 1958 to 1975, was the head football coach during DeFilippo’s time at SC.
Bolstered by this combination, the Northampton, Mass. native enrolled at SC as a History major, but after two years in the program, DeFilippo switched to Physical Education. He initially chose History because he thought that he wanted to be a football coach at a smaller college and double as a history professor. As he progressed in his career at SC, however, he decided that he wanted to push himself to experience coaching at the highest level of collegiate football. He kept History as a minor but made the switch because of the opportunities that Physical Education offered.
“It was going to benefit me a lot more than a degree in History,” DeFilippo said.
That decision would prove beneficial down the road, as DeFilippo would put the knowledge that he learned at SC to good use at several stops along his coaching career.
His other passion, playing football for Dunn, did not go quite as planned, although DeFilippo reflected on his athletic career with pride.
At the time that DeFilippo attended SC, freshmen were not allowed to play varsity football. He started his freshman year at quarterback and led his team on an unprecedented run.
“I think we were the first freshmen team to have an undefeated season,” DeFilippo said, referring to the team’s 5-0 finish.
After serving as a backup his sophomore year, DeFilippo knew that he had a chance to start his junior season. His dreams were sidelined during the summer leading up to his junior campaign, however, when he was working construction by Route 91 in northern New Hampshire for his summer job.
“A guy came through the barriers, and he had been drinking heavily, and he was intoxicated, and he came through the barriers and hit my friend and I who were working on the side of the road,” DeFilippo said.
The impact damaged his left leg and knocked him unconscious, but it did not dampen his spirits.
“I remember being taken to the hospital in an ambulance. I’ve been knocked unconscious and all, and I remember waking up in the ambulance and my first question to the people in the ambulance is, ‘Am I going to be able to play football?’” DeFilippo recalled. “I had such a passion for the game. I love the game of football. I really wanted to play. I didn’t want to let the coaches down. I didn’t want to let my teammates down.”
Spurred on by his love of the game and dedication to the team, DeFilippo rehabbed his knee and got back to full strength in time for the start of his junior year. He started the whole year and began his senior year in command of the offense once again. His knee could not endure the wear and tear, however, and in the second game of the season, he tore cartilage in it, ending his collegiate career.
“It was tough at the time, because I’d worked really, really hard to rehab my leg and was able to play as a junior, but the truth of the matter was I was never the same after I got hit. I couldn’t get hit at all in practice,” DeFilippo said. “I was never the same player that I was before the accident.”
Although his career was cut short in his senior year, DeFilippo still had a purpose and other goals to reach. He began his pursuit of coaching at the highest level of collegiate football upon graduating in 1973, when he took a position as a graduate assistant for the football team at the University of Tennessee.
“I wanted to coach at the highest level, and Tennessee offered me an opportunity to do that,” DeFilippo said. “I just thought that it would be a great experience to be a part of Southeastern Conference football.”
After his two years at the University of Tennessee, DeFilippo moved onto Youngstown State University, a Division II program that had only one winning team in 13 years prior to his arrival. He served for five years as the team’s offensive coordinator, culminating in an 11-2 record his final season and a run to the Division II National Championship, which they lost to Delaware 38-21 in 1979.
“We did a great job of recruiting. We recruited great players, players that fit the system that we wanted to run,” DeFilippo said. “It was just fun to work with them.”
From there, DeFilippo was off to Vanderbilt University, returning to SEC football as an assistant coach for the Commodores from 1980-82.
Three years into his tenure at Vanderbilt, DeFilippo decided to change directions with his career and go in to administration.
“That was a big decision to get out of coaching, but really my health was being affected,” DeFilippo said. “There were other things that I wanted to do with my life, rather than just coach.”
DeFilippo used his time at the University of Tennessee to prepare for life after coaching by working closely with one of his professors, Earl Ramer, who was also a former president of the NCAA. Ramer helped to teach him about being an athletic director and what it entailed.
DeFilippo switched to the position of Director of Administrative Services at Vanderbilt for a year before serving time as the director of athletics at the University of South Carolina-Spartanburg, Villanova and Boston College to name a few. His final stop at Boston College would prove to be his longest.
DeFilippo spent the last 15 years as the Director of Athletics at BC before retiring on Sept. 30 of this year.
He accomplished a lot during his time at the helm, some of which included overseeing four men’s ice hockey NCAA Championships, 11 national team and individual titles in sailing, 12 straight winning seasons in football, consistent top 10 Graduation Success Rate scores for student-athletes and an overhaul of several athletic facilities.
Yet despite these accomplishments, his favorite part was the daily interaction with players, coaches and administrators. He relished the relationship aspect of the job.
“I got to be a grandfather for a lot of the players. I got to be around them, be in the locker room with them [and be] at practices and games,” DeFilippo said. “I went home at night, and I let the coaches have them. The coaches were their mothers or fathers, and I kind of felt like I was a grandfather.”
DeFilippo embraced this “grandfather” role because of the care he felt towards his student-athletes, who have always been his main priority.
“We’re here to serve. We’re here to serve the student-athletes,” DeFilippo said. “Our job is to make sure that they have as good an experience as they can possibly have. That was our first goal at Boston College.”
DeFilippo had three other goals that he adhered to while at BC. He demanded total compliance with all governing bodies’ rules and regulations, because to him, “victory without honor isn’t really victory at all.”
The second goal that DeFilippo stressed was the importance of not only winning, but being competitive in all of the school’s sports. Lastly, DeFilippo strove to perform everything that the program did with “recognizable class.”
Although he may be retired, DeFilippo is still dedicated to the institution that he called home for 15 years. He still plans on teaching part-time and helping out where needed.
“I could never fully retire. That will never happen. I’ve got to be doing something all the time,” DeFilippo said.
As he looked back on his career in both coaching and in an administration role, DeFilippo recognized the impact that SC had on his professional career. He could not pinpoint one specific thing, but instead, a broad set of lessons that he learned during his undergraduate years.
“I learned that doing things right was very, very important. I learned that keeping your word was very important. I learned that the number one thing that we always have to keep in mind is that we’re doing this for the student-athletes and that they are the ones that come first,” DeFilippo said. “I think I understood better by having been at Springfield the value of participation in athletics and the value of athletics on a college campus.”
Although DeFilippo has found a new home and his current loyalty may lie with the Eagles of Boston College, his career is a testimony to the fact that he will always be a son of Springfield College, a man whose roots sprang from the Massasoit and spread, impacting everyone he met along the way.