Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Notre Dame Is A Mid-Major Program...Time For Them to Start Acting Like It

On the daily now, we're assaulted by the spectacle of Charlie Weis being ridden to slaughter like a broken-down horse. The breathless speculation on his successor as Notre Dame football coach by the Herbstreits and Schads of the world is sort of compelling, but in much the same way as the results of Afghanistan's election. Neither is a job that any sane person really wants right now, and being the Afghan president might actually be safer than being Notre Dame's quarterback. More on that later.

Notre Dame bagmen, er, boosters want AD Jack Swarbrick to nag Urban Meyer relentlessly until he finally remembers that Notre Dame is his "dream job" and that he's nothing until he's coached there. Because, you know, those two national championships in three years were just an audition for a program that's won two national championships in THIRTY-three years.

Cincinnati's Brian Kelly is considered the front-runner to replace Weis, as he's a bit more of a realistic hire. A guy at a program that's just arriving is a lot easier to pry away than a coach who's already brought back a storied team and has the hardware to prove it.

And if Meyer leaves Florida, a state that recruits itself, or Kelly leaves Cincinnati, a program that may be on the verge of big-boy things, one thing is certain:

That man is an idiot.

I grew up in Indiana. Lafayette, to be exact, which sits 150 miles southwest of South Bend. And you know what? Winters in Lafayette suck. Never spent one in South Bend, but I'm sure they're even worse. I spent three years in Gainesville, Florida, and winters there? Quite nice. The wife and I went to the beach for Christmas one year. Any man who leaves the tropics for the arctic is an idiot.

Paul "Bear" Bryant once said that Florida was a hard place to win football games because, with all the pretty little things running around in their suntans, it was hard to make football the most important thing in a young man's life. Steve Spurrier did a fine job of it. Bobby Bowden did a fine job of it, before the Alzheimer's set in. Jimmy Johnson did a fine job of it. And now, Urban Meyer appears to have elevated it to an art form.

The point of all this is that Notre Dame needs to step back and seriously...SERIOUSLY...evaluate itself. Notre Dame is a mid-major program with a major-league opinion of itself. Tradition is all well and good, but face it. High school players don't care about what Ara Parseghian, Knute Rockne, and Dan Devine accomplished. Most of them would be hard-pressed to tell you who those guys were. Hell, they only know Lou Holtz as that goofy lisping fruit on ESPN. The players care about, "Can I get to the NFL?" That gets done in two ways: play on TV and play in IMPORTANT games on TV.

Thanks to N(D)BC, Notre Dame can certainly deliver on one of those scores. And, to be fair, the Irish players who do show out do still get drafted...somewhat. From 1999 to 2006, the Irish had 37 players drafted...unfortunately, less than a third of those players are still in the league. The total fell to four in 2008, and only ONE in 2009. By contrast, mighty Abilene Christian had two players drafted this year, and both Johnny Knox and Bernard Scott appear to have some NFL game.

Then there's the academic standards. One of the big factors in Urban Meyer not chasing his "dream job" was his understanding that Notre Dame's higher academic standards would chase off some talented athletes who were indifferent toward their studies. Is it a failure to keep the "student" prefix in the term "student-athlete"? Absolutely. However, athletes have been failing to remind themselves to be students for generations, it's only now that we have media in every corner trying to complain about it. Why should a player go somewhere where he has to work even harder in the classroom just to go out and freeze his tail off on gameday when he can do just enough to get by and play in sunny Florida, where the women are scantily clad ten months out of the year instead of six?

In Gainesville, UF players are absolute rock stars, as I suspect they are in college towns across America when the team is doing well. In South Bend...the quarterback's getting popped in the eye coming out of a restaurant with his girlfriend and parents. This is a fan base passing denial and barreling straight into the anger phase. I fear for wives all over South Bend if the Irish finish it off by tanking against Stanford. Why? Read this.

Face it, folks, no matter how many shoutouts Notre Dame gets from Regis Philbin every morning, Irish football stopped mattering the moment Lou Holtz walked out that door.

Bob Davie, Ty Willingham, and Charlie Weis combined to lose 66 games in 13 years, an average of five per year. Parseghian and Holtz lost 47 games in 22 years, an average of just over two per year. Players can go anywhere in the Internet era. Recruiting is much easier for the mid-major conferences and smaller programs. Notre Dame's name doesn't sell itself anymore. NBC helps, but what will also help is getting coaches whose credentials haven't been puffed all to hell, like Captain Schematic Advantage up there.

Get someone quiet and unassuming who's willing to come in and work hard. At the same time, try somebody who has a vested interest in returning the program to the success of the Holtz era, perhaps someone who has a legacy of his own staring over his shoulder.

When Lou Holtz took over the Irish, his career record stood at 116-65-5, a winning percentage of .637. He was 6-4-2 in bowl games at the time. There's a coach at a mid-major program right now who has a record of 67-44, a .604 winning percentage. Only 1-2 in bowl games, but considering where his program was when he arrived, getting to bowl games is a pretty good job. And his name's still rather familiar to Irish fans.

Jack, forget paying $8 million per year to Urban Meyer. Just call Skip Holtz. He can't be any worse than Moby Weis. And if he is, maybe NDBC will put every basketball game on the air.

1 comment:

  1. That thumb's up Facebook guyDecember 10, 2009 at 12:07 PM

    I agree with the premise completely. I just wish that the ball and chain would be swung by the literal top of the mountain. The NCAA should take charge and put this school where it belongs.

    It is one thing for Western Kentucky to make the jump upwards to Div-1 ball and be indy for a few season before joining a conference. Probation, acclimating, level footing, keeping the kids from being killed on the field ... all good things. ND isn't WK though, and they've had the NCAA by the balls for well over 50 years now. That isn't how things work any more and ND isn't who they used to be any more. NCAA, nut up and make them join a conference. They ride the Big East in every other sport ... why the special treatment in football ?