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  • It’s Not 1988 Anymore

    by Mike Coffey

    Over the weekend, Moff provided a summary of his feelings on the current state of ND football.  We thought it too good not to share with the wider audience.

    It’s gotten so much harder since we stopped playing the No.1 toughest schedules, with as many as 7 top 25 opponents in a given regular season. It’s harder now that we don’t have to play in major bowls nine straight years, including taking on opponents ranked Nos. 3-1-1-3-4-7-4-8 from 1988-1995, beating five of them. Savvy fans recognize the real challenge is playing the other team sentenced to play in the Music City Bowl, in the afternoon, on a workday.

    It’s harder now that we don’t have to play, say, a Top 10 Alabama team and then road games against the defending and eventual National Champs in three consecutive weeks, after playing the Big 10 and PAC 10 champs and after beating a then Top 10 Michigan team in Ann Arbor. No more easy schedules, where, in winning a NC, you have to beat 4 other teams that finished in or about the Top 5. It’s actually more difficult to play this year’s juggernaut of a schedule, with so many teams with losing records. It makes it harder to motivate the lads.

    The Gug has made things so much more difficult, especially those big lounge chairs in the giant auditorium. Having an entire football team try to do a Friday walk through in The Pit, or having indoor practices on the slippery tartan surface of the North Dome, was actually easier. Time studies to minimize walking distance have taken their toll. Having a full-time training table and nutritionists in a beautiful collegiate Gothic football building, with its weight room and training facilities that are several times larger than in the past, has increased the burden. Prohibiting us from renting a Ryder truck and instead using our own customized equipment tractor-trailer, including for recruiting, has made things more difficult for staff. Revamping the Student Managers Organization to have football-only managers who know exactly what to do every day has led to inefficiencies. Canceling Mass has led to increased distractions. The new larger stadium locker room, with room for the whole team, such that 20-30 guys don’t have to dress in an old ROTC “rifle range” under the press box and then walk through the crowd to join us and go out he tunnel, really hurts. The new stadium press room/player’s lounge is a burden. The new giant stadium trainers room causes awe. Elimination of the high school-esque locker room in the ACC has hurt recruiting, as have the constant concessions to add Field Turf, matching brand new practice fields, a Jumbotron, jock rock, luxury boxes, Shamrock uniforms, yellow shoes, smoke machines, etc. Having guys like David Robinson, Torii Hunter, and Jon Bon Jovi around has hurt the energy.

    We are undermined by the knowledge that we cannot recruit anymore, as evidenced by the No. 1 class after a 3-9 season in 2007. Good thing we got those guys because, prior to their arrival, even Charlie was able to take the recruits that helped get Ty fired and still go toe-to-toe with an all-time great USC team, with two Heisman winners in the backfield at the same time. Can’t compete like 2005 anymore because times have rapidly changed. Duke, Northwestern, Stanford, Navy, et al., started cheating recently. We no longer enjoy the pristine sportsmanship of the 70s and 80s. Parity caused by recruiting limit changes instituted in the 80s and early 90s continues to plague traditional powers, as evidenced by the similar inability of traditional powers such as Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan, USC, LSU, Texas and others to compete over the last 10-15 years.

    Interesting that those guys under Weis set records for highest team GPA despite the exponential rise in our USN&WR ranking from 18 in 1988 to an amazing three-way tie for 15th now. Oh to have that knuckle-dragging student body of 1988 back, so football players could hang with them academically in the classroom. When we finally achieve our aspiration to have a student body like Stanford’s, we might as well shut it down because you just can’t find players who can coexist with such students and still win. It’s science. It’s harder to recruit now that we can no longer cite 100 percent FB graduation rates like we had in 1988, and with some regularity back then, and instead have to explain why we are on probation for academic fraud, and had to vacate all our wins In the one season that might have lured elite recruits here with proper recruiting.

    As we saw from the rogues gallery of guys interviewed in the 30 for 30, we used to play guys like Pritchett, Eilers and Reggie Ho who could barely spell, and now have scholars who would never get caught cheating nine at a time or arrested six at a time.** It’s harder to win now when you can barely get a single QB to stick around and use up his eligibility here. It is not easy producing multiple glossy ads in which numerous players explain why they would rather play elsewhere with their remaining eligibility or get started in the business world. (However, it has created a core competency in font selection and ad layout). And in the old days, reporters supplied the questions. It is harder now to draft our own.

    The weather has gotten worse in South Bend, and having twice as many females and infinitely more diversity has turned off recruits, South Bend’s improved night life is a turn off now, you would never find four Midwestern teams in the Top 10 anymore, demographic shifts have caused all the best football players to move from the North to the South, you can’t practice special teams now without hurting QB development….

    It’s just not fair anymore and gosh darnit we are doing the best we can!

    I pity BK and Jack and can’t see how they could do other than 4-8 and 0-12 versus top 10 teams given all these obstacles.

    **[Disclaimer: I have met and still have great respect for our current players. Guys like Jaylon and many, many others would have been a welcome addition to our teams, which were not without their faults. This shot is directed at those who would happily throw my guys under the bus in order to justify their myriad failures]


    16 Responses to “It’s Not 1988 Anymore”

    1. Old School says:

      Your last three articles about Kelly have hit the nail on the head. Future’s looking bleak with the current leadership that said, just a few week’s ago in a podcast, that the football program is in good shape and that there would be no wholesale changes. Now we’re supposed to be excited about new hires from the same brain trust? There’s a core, character issue with Kellys’ teams that stems from, and is a reflection of, his leadership. And I’m afraid it will remain so until he’s shown the door. At least with Willingham and Weis, the deficiencies were apparent.

    2. Brilliant! The football program has been given everything it supposedly HAD TO HAVE in order to be
      competitive and we go 4-8. Penn State got slaughtered by the Sandusky scandal but look where they are
      now (scholarship reductions, transfers, head coaching changes)?
      Can it be anything else but coaching, or is there a pervading sense of hubris throughout the entire football
      organization AND administration that we somehow DESERVE special treatment?

    3. I think Kelly should be gone. First he is arrogant. he has disgraced himself with his behavior over the years. Even before this year he was just fair in terms of wins and losses . He did have one very good year but his loss to Alabama was an embarrassment. He has had some crushing defeats. Last year at Stanford. The game is won and they play such a soft defense that it allows Stanford to score so easily it was disgusting. How about Michigan a few years back soft defense again allows Robinson to lead a incredible easy touchdown. I don’t think he has won one really big game in his tenure.

    4. Agree 100%. IMO, the program under BK’s tenure has become soft, lacks discipline and lacks focus. He has or has been given all the tools needed to bring in recruits and for the most part, I feel he has done well with the recruiting classes based on final rankings (consistent top 15). The problem has been his inability to put a solid finished product together on a consistent basis. This could be said on a game by game or year by year basis. How many games have been lost to inferior opponents with less talent? How many close wins have there been that shouldn’t have been close? What ever happened to the mental toughness and attitude this team had in years past? In the 30 for 30 episode one point struck me: Lou’s comments about Chris Zorich after the loss at Miami. He was crying, upset over the loss. Then Lou says: “and he didn’t even play in the game.” He took it to heart. Where is the passion and commitment? I wouldn’t be intimidated seeing my opponent dancing and swaying on the sideline across from me. In fact, I might laugh at them. What’s wrong with a healthy dose of controlled anger and getting pissed off? I seldom see the anger but often see heads dropping when mistakes (physical and mental) are made. These deficiencies are not necessarily a slam against players although they own this in part. My main point is all the good and bad attributes a team generally displays (their make up or identity), originates at the top (head coach) and should/will permeate through and within the team/program. Clock management, in game decisions, adjustments (or lack thereof), head scratching play calling, etc. have all infected this team in a negative way. I’ve gotten to the point where I seldom listen to post game comments anymore. One thing that bugs me though is when BK has stated, “we failed to execute the plays.” He isn’t willing to adapt to the players’ strengths. Why on earth call a wide receiver screen on 3rd and 2? If my buddies and I can call the play with a high degree of regularity before the snap, and we aren’t rocket scientists, do you think opponents can figure out whats coming? You need 2 freaking yards in 2 plays. Line up and knock the snot out of the guy in front of you. Instill the confidence and belief in your players so they want to run through walls for you coach. They should know, not believe, they can’t and won’t be denied. This mentality has been lacking for far too long. Sorry if there are so many questions in here but I will close with one more: Where has the fire gone? Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all. God bless!

    5. Disagree 100%.
      I am an alum of ND, undergrad and grad. Taken classes at a football factory that will go unnamed.
      Call me when in the 90s notre dame was giving cars to its heisman trophy winner (oh wait, there were none). Call me when notre dame didn’t bury its heisman trophies, and nc championship trophies in some unknown room in the JACC. Call me when notre dame actually bulletin boarded the business cards of the NFL scouts that came through the Loftus center like the football factory that will go unnamed in the 90s. Call me when Notre Dame didn’t run a hall of fame coach out of town (Holtz) b/c he was getting too close knutes record and/or getting too powerful. Call me when Notre Dame offers soft science majors to its football players over a slowish 5year pace. Call me when our NFL qb (Kizer isn’t a finance major). Call me when gholson doesn’t get busted for cheating in an advanced level accounting course he would never be taking at the “U”

      Call me when all these things happen and then I will agree that the playing field is equal like your article tries to suggest.

      It is not, not, not, not, not…..and that’s from somebody with direct experience in both environments, relatively recent – 12 years.

    6. As Bob says above, hubris rules. As the team and everyone surrounding them have come to be treated like royalty on campus, they have grown entitled and soft. It sort-of sickened me that an academic institution is making the football stadium the architectural “heart” of the campus. Even sadder when the team is in a pathetic state with no hope for recovery on the horizon.

    7. irishhawk50 says:

      Ditto & Amen.

      Merry Christmas & Happy New Year to all.

    8. Avon Domer says:

      Attitude reflects leadership and this team severely lacks focus, mental and physical toughness, and discipline. The very best coaches are great leaders, educators and disciplinarians and I don’t see much of any of that “Under the Dome” these days. Sad but true …

    9. could not disagree more. I know the sarcasm insinuating the schedule rankings, but unlike 1988 ND didn’t have to play ACC “conference games” if you are saying that USC, Stanford, texas, and Michigan state in “out of conference ” games are chumps then I guess you are right. before the last 10 years, how many players left early for the NFL? you can probably count on 1 hand, Kelly “cant coach” but players are jumping ship for the NFL early. those teams also didn’t have to go down the depth chart due to injuries and start a ton of freshmen. for those critical of Kelly, who do you propose they bring in? nick saban isn’t leaving Alabama so it is not like you are hand picking the coach you want. someone posted that coaches are picked from the same mindset pool. the new DC is the complete opposite and has ZERO ties to Kelly so nope.

      • Mike Coffey says:

        First off, we only “have to play ACC conference games” because of the crappy arrangement Swarbrick made. They get a hell of a lot more out of the agreement than we do. So let’s not pretend it’s something beyond our control.

        Second, players are not “jumping ship for the NFL early”, they’re entering the draft rather than take their fifth year. They’ve had four years in the program. Others are choosing to do their fifth year elsewhere. What does that say about their opinions of the coaching staff?

        And of course you regurgitate the “no coach is coming here” and “too much youth” excuses. People like you are part of the problem.

        • Avon Domer says:

          Didn’t Swarbrick enter into the ACC deal in case big boy college football goes to four super conferences as has been rumored for a while? The idea being is if that happens, Notre Dame wouldn’t be shut out. I could be very wrong about this, so please educate me. THANKS!

        • ok, I didn’t know it was a this is why I am right piece so anyone else is wrong

          first ND NEVER had players leave early for the NFL besides ismail? who else? but the players stayed for 5 years.
          yes the 5th year no penalty transfer is completely new (as I not an option in 1988)
          players that are leaving are not leaving because of bad coaching like you said, they are leaving for playing time. in fact name any player that announced they are leaving that will be missed. if you are going to say zaire? no thanks wimbush has sat long enough

          I NEVER said no coach would come to ND. in fact I said name a coach worth getting, because saban isnt leaving Alabama? so who? btw, if the names gruden or urban meyer come up you lose any credibility
          freshmen NEVER played they didn’t get the “redshirt” because ND has a different name for it, but they sat for a year. when did ND ever have an entire secondary of true freshmen? NEVER

          inal point, here you insinuate that ND football is suddenly full of arrests and scandals, tere is a new intion called the internet since 1988 so maybe some of those incidents were not as well known (like the football rape scandal? )

          • Mike Coffey says:

            Really? Malik Zaire is leaving because he’s not getting playing time? Convenient you toss him out because “Wimbush has sat long enough”. If he doesn’t play well, how quickly are you just going to write him off and move on to Book? Or will that finally be the point where Kelly is failing in your eyes?

            I also love how I’ll “lose credibility” by naming those coaches. Didn’t realize you knew them personally.

            Do you really believe 5th year contributors (and yes, that’s what they are) would have left ND early under Holtz if they had the option? You’re crazy if you do.

            If “ND had an entire secondary of true freshmen”, whose fault is that? Ask anyone who reports on it, any “youth” on this team is years of recruiting failures coming home to roost.

    10. I used to be a big ND fan. Now I only read about ND in the off season, hence the late comment here. I used to have ND season tickets. The one thing you don’t mention is the officiating. Playing with the opponents officials is even a bigger issue now in this era of the playoffs. All conferences are making sure their teams look good to the committee. The opponent’s officials call holding different, targeting different, and everything different on ND their their own conference teams. The ND players start seeing this. They loose confidence, they loose control, they don’t care anymore. It leads to losses. This leads to recruiting losses. I just don’t understand why everyone doesn’t understand this. Do you think Saban or Meyer would put up with this? Do you think anyone except ND would put up with this?

    11. There is some truth in this article. One thing that is not correct is about Reggie Ho. His is a cardiologist now. So I think he could read