by Mike Coffey
I was working on the (very tardy) headlines this evening when a Sun Times entry caught my eye:
The folks at the Kiddie Paper, as my grandfather used to call them, aren’t really good at indicating what their articles are about via the headlines, so I opened it up to see if I needed to link it. All I saw was a blurb about an alleged recruiting visit Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald took to Notre Dame in 1992.
I say “alleged” because I had a hard time believing any of it ever happened. Coach Fitzgerald’s father recounts a young man who had “done his homework” asking whether there was a rule at Notre Dame that forced you to live with the people you were assigned until graduation, unless you “got married and moved off campus”. When Lou Holtz and his assistants “tap-danced around the answer”, the young Fitzgerald decided Notre Dame was not the place for him.
Let’s be clear: the forced living arrangement described by Mr. Fitzgerald was not a rule at Notre Dame when I graduated in 1991. It was not a rule at Notre Dame when my father graduated in 1966. So if this represents the depth of “homework” young Pat did before his visit, in true Crossian fashion, I give the assignment an F.
While I obviously was not at this alleged meeting during the alleged visit, I fail to see why the coaches would have to “tap dance around the answer”. The answer is simple: No. Perhaps they tap-danced around what even asking such a question says about the intellectual capacity (or the agenda) of the questioner, but the answer is an easy one and the coaches in the room were not fools. I can’t envision a scenario where “tap-dancing” would have been required.
Questionable fact-checking aside, I couldn’t figure out what would lead Jim O’Donnell to write such a thing in the first place. Obviously he had done an interview for a banner story with the old man and this was some kind of sidebar, but why would ND be relevant? My only clue lay in the first paragraph:
In recruiting myth and lore, Pat Fitzgerald crafted his Hall of Fame linebacking career at Northwestern only after Notre Dame declined to offer him a scholarship.
Google is, as always, my friend, so I punched in “Pat Fitzgerald Notre Dame” and looked for news. A good number of the links on the first page sent me back to the Sun Times, links suggesting the existence of a brou-ha-ha regarding Pat Fitzgerald being considered by Notre Dame for the head coaching position.
Sure, more than a couple names came up in the wake of the Syracuse and Southern Cal debacles, but Fitzgerald’s wasn’t one of them. Northwestern certainly had a nice season in a very down Integer this year, but if there is a list in Jack Swarbrick’s drawer, Fitzgerald would be lucky to make page two.
From whence did this come? Best I can tell is one of two places.
Another of O’Donnell’s articles quotes Beano Cook as saying Fitzgerald was under consideration. Beano, who is still waiting on Ron Powlus’ first Heisman, is still trying to make money in the prognostication business. Google failed me on anything written down, so the best I can guess is he blorphed it out during a video segment.
Meanwhile, or perhaps in response, Sun Times scribe Rick Telander threw something together saying he thought Fitzgerald would be a good candidate. We had linked the article when it came out, but I’d missed the Fitzgerald reference at the end. O’Donnell interpreted this as a “growing chorus” saying Fitzgerald should take the job, the Northwestern Scout kids wet their pants over it, and it took off from there.
I remained flummoxed. Beano Trelawney is who he is, of course, but what’s Telander’s game, and why is O’Donnell riding saddle with no horse like this? Better yet, why is he writing about non-existent Notre Dame rules in a newspaper, even the Sun Times?
And then, epiphany. 17 days early.
Northwestern is one of the few schools out there that, like Notre Dame, knows academics is not a four-letter word when it comes to athletics. Their high standards are laudable, but, as ND fans know, come at the price of a shallower talent pool from which to draw. When ND is running on a full mixture, like Duke in basketball, it tends to dominate that pool.
This certainly is a detriment to Fitzgerald, especially with Notre Dame coming into Illinois and grabbing players like Steve Filer, Darius Fleming, Robert Hughes, and Sergio Brown. Even walk-on-cum-special-teams-monster Mike Anello bears a Land of Lincoln pedigree. Northwestern doesn’t recruit nationally to the extent ND does, so the Fighting Irish cherry-picking Chicago talent would hurt Fitzgerald sooner or later.
How to fight against it? If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Notre Dame is thinking about hiring this guy? Hey, I should just go play for him now if ND thinks he’s that good!
Telander’s a Northwestern alumnus, and there’d be no point in destabilizing his alma mater’s coaching staff for something as ephemeral as this Fitzgerald-to-ND garbage, especially considering he was one of the people who created it out of whole cloth. Ah, but if he knows there’s little chance it’s actually going to happen and can couch it in such a way that makes Fitzgerald look good at Charlie Weis’ expense? That’s gold, Jerry.
O’Donnell’s the beat writer, he wants access just as much as anyone else does. What better way to get it than to do the boss man a favor and suggest some non-existent “rules” at ND along with a non-denial denial. As long as he doesn’t actually lie and say it’s true, he’s well into the safe gray area. We Catholics call that area a “sin of omission”.
Dragging dear old dad into this farce is borderline reprehensible on all of their parts. But as a dad myself, I know you want to see your kids succeed, so I don’t blame him too much.
Rising above it all, the young Pat gets to be magnanimous, talking about how he’d be “honored if ND considered him” (easy to say when they’re not). Now he can walk into recruits’ living rooms and shake his head ruefully about the “rumors” (started in a hometown paper by an alumnus and the beat writer) and what that might “say” about the quality of his coaching and the stability at Notre Dame.
Well done, boys. Very well done.
If only any of it were true.