The independent voice of Notre Dame Athletics

  • Opportunities Abound

    by Mike Coffey

    The dawn of a new year is the time of hope. People make resolutions to do better in their lives. They see an opportunity for a clean slate, and want to take advantage of the benefits that slate can give. Some folks have Opportunity knocking at their door today. If they take advantage, it could mean a very prosperous 2009 — and beyond.

    The Line on the Color Bar

    The most obvious opportunity is that for Mike Haywood. After biding his time and plying his trade for a number of high-profile programs, he’s getting his shot to be the top dog at Miami University. Haywood has served under a number of outstanding coaches, and hopefully has learned at least a little from all of them. He’ll now get to show the college football world the results of his schooling, and since you can’t have enough Fighting Irish alums in the coaching world, we wish him all the best in his well-earned posting.

    But an even bigger opportunity is in the hands of Floyd Keith and the Black Coaches Association. They now have at least three examples — Haywood, Buffalo’s Turner Gill, and DeWayne Walker, who has interviewed strongly for a number of positions and is reportedly the leading candidate at New Mexico State — they can show to their membership and say, “See, this is how it should be done. This is how you need to do it.”

    There are far too few African-American head coaches in Division 1A (or the FBS or whatever goofy moniker is used for it these days). The solution, however, is not forcing unprepared candidates into positions and having them flame out. The solution is for African-Americans who want to coach to be given the same opportunity to follow the typical coaching development path as their Caucasian counterparts.

    Look at the resumes of Haywood, Gill and Walker, and note the similarities:

    All three men got their Bachelor’s degrees. Haywood got his the old fashioned way at ND. Gill and Walker went in a slightly more roundabout fashion, but both are in possession of sheepskins. Such degrees are critical for college coaching advancement. So perhaps instead of focusing on the (admittedly poor) low percentage of African-American head coaches, the BCA should focus on the (even more reprehensible) low percentage of African-American football players who finish their eligibility with a college degree. Plantations like Arizona and Michigan and Texas and Georgia, with their horrible performance in graduating African-American football players, especially in comparison to their Caucasian counterparts, should be called on the carpet. That’s how you start — by increasing the pool of available candidates, and letting them get an early start on their coaching careers instead of spending two or three years getting the degree they should have been earning during their playing days.

    All three men have experience at multiple levels and multiple positions. Haywood was an assistant for 20 years, progressing from a position coach at Minnesota and Army and Ball State to a Special Teams coordinator at LSU and Texas. Gill was a 17-year assistant at North Texas, SMU, and Nebraska, with the Huskers winning three National Titles during his stint there. Walker has also prowled sidelines for 20 years at places like Oklahoma State, BYU, Cal, USC, and UCLA.

    One could argue it should have taken them less than 20 years, but one could also argue there are Caucasian assistants who sometimes wait that long. Pete Carroll’s first job as an assistant was in 1973 but wasn’t hired by the Jets as HC until 1994. Mark Richt started as a QB coach at FSU in 1985, and it wasn’t until 2001 that he got a top job. Bob Stoops started in 1983 and didn’t get to Oklahoma until 1999.

    All three men have held leadership positions as an assistant. Haywood was ST coordinator twice and then OC at Notre Dame. Gill was Assistant HC at Nebraska. Walker was the DC at UCLA. They had experience overseeing large groups within the team, coordinating recruiting, game-planning, the works. Along with the graduation rates, the BCA should be counting the number of college coordinators of color, because those are the most direct seeds from which head coaches grow.

    All three men started (or will start) their head coaching careers at a learning stop. Gill is already turning heads at Buffalo, where he has reformed one of the losing-est programs in recent memory into a MAC threat. Haywood will start at Miami, another MAC school with a strong tradition where a new coach can afford to make teeth-cutting mistakes without it making a bad first impression. Walker is looking at NMSU, and probably will find it easier to learn the intricacies of the HC position in the WAC rather than the spotlight of the Pac-10.

    The Line on the Green Bar

    Charlie Weis also has an opportunity, one he’s been offered before. You don’t always get a second bite at the apple, but here we have Weis with what might be his third chance to broaden his horizons on offense.

    It remains to be seen which current Notre Dame assistants (if any) will accompany Haywood to Oxford, and it remains to be seen what other current assistants (if any) are relieved of their duties. But change is needed on the offensive side of the ball, and this may be Weis’ last opportunity to make it.

    The running game remains abysmal. Not to be lost in the otherwise-satisfying 49-21 thrashing of the Warriors in Honolulu was the net 73 yards gained by Irish players on the ground during the contest. While an 85 percent completion rate for your quarterback is a great thing, it’s also not something dependable or even usual, and less than 100 yards on the ground against a team of UH’s caliber does not bode well.

    It’s time for Charlie to truly become the leader a head coach needs to be. Leaders hire other leaders, and what Notre Dame needs now is a leader on offense not afraid to tell Weis it’s time to run the ball well and not give up on it at the first sign of trouble. By all means, continue to utilize the weapons at QB and WR and TE. But an offense that is not a threat to run eventually falls because teams can sell out to stop the pass, as we saw to our chagrin down the stretch this season.

    Weis has to replace his departing OC, and should replace his OL coach whether that departure is voluntary or not. A quality hire of someone(s) with a balanced viewpoint at both positions — someone like a Mitch Browning, perhaps — can revitalize the (truly) offensive side of the ball, and with a continuation of improvement on defense, could lead to the results we’re looking for in 2009.

    Anything else might lead to an opportunity for someone else.

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