Thursday, September 04, 2008

Who do you Trust?

"And now, folks, it's time for, "Who do you trust!" Hubba, hubba, hubba! Money, money, money! Who do you trust? Me? I'm giving away free money. And where is the Batman? HE'S AT HOME WASHING HIS TIGHTS!"
Jack Nicholson as The Joker, Batman

I know, grammatically it's "Whom do you trust". Nicholson didn't help me out here.

But it's a question I've been wondering as we get down to the nitty gritty in this football season. Prognostications abound, and here at NDN we have our own Heatmiser and Snowmiser with differing views on how the season should/will go.

First kick is just over 48 hours away as I type, so it's time to get off the fence. And for me, it comes down to a question of trust.

Notre Dame wasn't as good as its record last year, which is a scary thought. But it also was better than its record last year, which is cause for optimism. But in the end, as Charlie Weis would say, they were what their record said they were: a 3-9 team.

Did they have the talent to finish 3-9? No. I believe they had the talent to finish 6-6. They had no business losing to Navy under any circumstances, and Air Force and BC should have been wins. I also believe the lopsided scores of some games were also not consistent with the talent ND had on the field, young and raw as it may have been.

ND finished 3-9 instead of 6-6 and got its doors blown off in a couple games because Charlie Weis and his staff did a crappy job last season. He took an inexperienced team and tried to go the cutesy route, playing with personnel and schemes instead of establishing bread-and-butter plays ND could use to its advantage.

So as we look to the next season, it comes down to trust: Do I trust Charlie Weis learned from his mistakes and is going to be a better coach this season?

My answer to that question is yes.

People say it's crazy to expect a 3-win team to win 10 games the next season. It's unprecedented. My reply is so was the drop ND experienced between 2006 and 2007. When unusual circumstances (poor and small senior class, bad coaching decisions) create an unusual down, resolving them can create an unusual up.

CW did a lot of things that surprised me in the offseason, but none more than his 25-person pilgrimage. According to reports on and off campus, Charlie went to 25 people whose opinions he values, including people like Fr. Ted Hesburgh and Ara Parseghian, and asked for a no-holds-barred candid critique of himself and his program. Coming from a "Jersey tough" guy who had a habit of telling you your opinion when he wanted to hear it, this was quite a departure from the norm and told me things weren't business as usual in the Gug these last couple of months.

He also did a number of things people have been clamoring for since he arrived. He adopted a more approachable attitude, with players and staff alike. He made himself more available to alumni. He even decided to trust his staff more, allocating play-calling duties to OC Mike Haywood.

This isn't your father's Charlie Weis. Does this mean he's still not prickly sometimes? No, but it's not all the time now either. And as a result, a couple of people who weren't high on the prospects for his career at Notre Dame have done a 180 on him and now believe, as one of the 25 said after meeting with him, "he's gonna be all right".

So my prediction for the season? We're gonna be all right. To wit:

SDSU -- BIG WIN. Please. If this one's wrong, we're doomed.

MICHIGAN -- NARROW WIN. Even when the Wolverines are down, they're dangerous to ND.

at MICHIGAN STATE -- NARROW WIN. The road-team streak in the series continues.

PURDUE -- COMFORTABLE WIN. Wilford goes out on a sour note.

STANFORD -- NARROW WIN. The Cardinal are better than you think under Jim Harbaugh, who Michigan should have hired instead of Rodriguez (and may yet after he flames out).

at NORTH CAROLINA -- NARROW LOSS. Butch Davis starts to make his presence felt in Chapel Hill.

at WASHINGTON -- BIG WIN. I've got $10 that says Tyrone Willingham won't be the head coach at WA when this game is played.

PITTSBURGH -- BIG WIN. Another $10 says Wannie won't be there either.

at BC -- COMFORTABLE WIN. The Eagles don't have the horses this year, and the Irish are pissed.

at NAVY -- BIG WIN. This isn't Paul Johnson's Midshipmen anymore.

SYRACUSE -- BIG WIN. $10 here too. It says something about ND's schedule this year that three of its opponents' head coaches might be fired by the time the Fighting Irish play them.

at SOUTHERN CAL -- NARROW LOSS. Can't quite get it done this year. Next year in South Bend ... look out, Snoopy.

10-2 will be enough for the Cotton Bowl, where the Irish will break their bowl losing streak and be among the favorites to win a national title in 2009.


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Friday, August 01, 2008

My Fifth Best Day

The day I was married.

The days my children were born.

The day I stood in my grandparents' living room and showed my grandfather my acceptance letter to Notre Dame.

Those are my four best days, and I can't envision anything ever topping them.

But the Three Amigos Dinner last night would, as Ezekiel once said to King Nebuchadnezzar, definitely make the team picture. It's not often I can say that within the space of two hours, I shook hands and had conversations with Ara Parseghian, Lou Holtz, Charlie Weis, Joe Montana, John Paxson, Dave Casper, Chris Zorich, "Flash" Gordon, Jim Hendry (yes, the consummate Sox fan talked Wrigley madness for a good three to four minutes), Pete Schivarelli, Stan Mikita, and the like. Actually, it's not ever I've been able to say that, so....

It's an experience I'll treasure for a long time, not only because of who was there but what was done and why. It was a Notre Dame evening, and yet it was not. Notre Dame was the common bond but not the common theme. It was mentioned, but not talked about. There were more important things on the docket, and while the class rings may have provided the first contact, they certainly didn't define the day.

The C4C letter talked about the Three Pillars on which Notre Dame was built. Last night was a celebration of the two that don't involve football, Catholicism and Education, as men and women educated in the Catholic tradition of ND gave of their time and money to support three great causes: The Ara Parseghian Medical Research Foundation, searching for a cure for Niemann-Pick Type C Disease; Hannah and Friends, aiding developmentally disabled children and adults; and the Lou Holtz Foundation, which helps the economically disadvantaged areas in the Ohio River valley among the many charities it supports.

It wasn't a Rockne Dinner by any stretch of the imagination (although I did find myself hoping that some members of the ND Club of Chicago were there to watch the effortless manner in which Jeff Jeffers emceed ... there's your logical host, boys and girls). Other than Charlie mentioning that the players would be reporting in early August and how "September 6th can't come soon enough", you didn't hear a peep about the program.

But I found it much more gratifying listening to Cindy Parseghian, a woman who had suffered the loss of not one but three children, talking with pride about the progress that had been made in the fight than I would have to listen to analysis about how our linebackers are doing. Ara told a story or two from his coaching days, but his exhortations that "we started in our own end zone [against this disease], but we've pushed it to the opponent's 35 yard line, and we're going to score!" got a much stronger reaction. Lou likes to bring a smile to his listeners' faces, but the poignancy of the video showing the poverty of East Liverpool and hearing of the satisfaction Lou felt that the foundation was making a difference there made the smiles even bigger. The video of Hannah Weis in school and the pictures of the buildings going up on the Farm did a lot more for me than a highlight film would have.

We talk about the Notre Dame Family a lot -- the bond that connects people, subway and alumnus alike, and leads them to go above and beyond in taking care of each other. Well, last night was a family reunion. It wasn't football, sports, or even Notre Dame per se ... it was a manifestation in action of the ideals and principles we'd learned there. Love thy neighbor as thyself, especially those more in need of love than most, and don't be afraid to get a little of it on ya.

I'm bummed they're not planning any more of these dinners -- last night was the third of three. But maybe someday they'll dust the idea off and give it another go, or something like it. If they do, I'll be there.

Plus, I won a print of the photo that inspired the original "Irish Impact" poster. So I got that going for me. Which is nice.

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Dayton/Cincinnati Charlie Party

Our own Charlie Weis will be appearing in Dayton, OH, over this coming weekend.

The Wernle Foundation, run by Irish great Darrell "Flash" Gordon, gives aid and support to emotionally troubled kids and their families. This Sunday, August 3rd, they will be having a benefit dinner and auction honoring Charlie as a "Catalyst for Change", thanks to his work with Hannah and Friends.

Late notice though it may be, Ohioans, check your calendars. If your time permits, it's a wonderful opportunity to hear Charlie speak and benefit a good cause. If your time does not permit but your wallet does, it remains a wonderful cause.

Click here for more information


Monday, May 19, 2008

Spy vs. Spy

It's hard to get away from Spygate these days, but given my lack of predilection for New England Patriots news, I've been pretty successful thus far.

That is, until today, when the Trib's Brian Hamilton brought it up. He doesn't accuse Weis of wrong-doing, but wonders why he's been so silent on the subject. He was on the Patriots' coaching staff during that time, wasn't he? Why isn't he explaining himself, and why aren't the fans pressing for an explanation? What does all that say about Notre Dame's integrity?

Well, allow me to answer on behalf of the queried: It doesn't say a damn thing. In no particular order of importance, here are my reasons as a Notre Dame alumnus and fan why I really don't care about Spygate:

It's not a Notre Dame matter. I realize that phrase is giving some pundits a facial tic, but that's the crux of it. Much as it might run better if we did, Notre Dame alumni don't rule the world. I can't control what people do in external positions, and as long as what they do doesn't affect ND, I don't have room in my brain to care.

I've talked in the past about ND accountability in the media. I'm not looking for a snowjob. If there's wrong-doing in South Bend, let me know, because I want it rooted out at all costs. And with this, there was no wrong-doing in South Bend. This was something that happened years ago in New England. I don't see the relevance.

No one is perfect. While I expect coaches to come as close as possible to that standard when they're employed by ND, the before and after really aren't worthy of my attention. Granted, I don't want someone like Kelvin Sampson or Dennis Erickson getting a job on campus, and we likely dodged an ethical bullet with Meyer, but those represent the extremes of thought. As George Carlin once said, somewhere between "Live Free or Die" and "Famous Potatoes", the truth lies.

Next, Weis is not a Patriots employee anymore. This one may not seem intuitive, so I'll explain.

There's nothing I hate more than when a former Notre Dame coach pontificates about the state of the various programs. Yes, they have a unique perspective on the position, and there's a value to that perspective when discussing how things are going. But by the same token, the state of both Notre Dame and the various sports it fields changes over time, and things like scholarship limits and scheduling concerns and scholastic standards may not be the same as they were when the coach in question is under the Dome. They didn't like being second-guessed during their tenure, so why put the shoe on the other hand now?

I can handle it when someone like Lou or Ara or Tom Pagna or Digger does it, because those men contributed a lot to Notre Dame in their lives and Notre Dame had great success as a result. So if they want to share their thoughts, I'm willing to listen to them. But when nitwits like Bob Davie or (even worse) Tyrone Willingham go off the reservation, I need to break out the calamine lotion. Gerry Faust gets a five-minute window per year to prairie-dog his philosophies, but that's as far as I'm willing to go.

So I can understand why Weis wants to stay out of it. He's not part of that organization anymore. The Patriots are dealing with the situation as they see fit, and for a former employee to suddenly start chiming in is disrespectful. If I were a Pats fan, I would give less than a damn about what he thought about Spygate, particularly since....

Weis wasn't the head coach at the time. If the entire thing was Weis' brainchild or he put together the initiative, I'd probably be more concerned. But the responsibility for wrong-doing, such as it was, has been laid by the NFL at the feet of Pats' management in general and Bill Belichick in particular. The buck stops with him. I find it odd that Weis gets singled out here, yet as far as I know, Romeo Crennel -- who is still in the NFL and has had a much poorer performance as a coach since leaving the Pats than Weis has -- has not been pursued in this manner. Considering offensive signals were taped as well as defensive, I'm guessing that means the NFL sees Crennel as a soldier who was doing what he was told, much as Weis would be were he still there.

This is why the analogy of George "By God, It's" O'Leary breaks down. O'Leary wrote his own resume, and had ample time over the years to fix it. By submitting that resume to Notre Dame, he directly lied to the people who hired him. I don't know what Weis has been asked about Spygate, but knowing Notre Dame as I do, I'm pretty confident questions have been asked and I'd imagine whatever answers were received were to Kevin White's, Fr. Jenkins', and John Affleck-Graves' satisfaction. If it comes out later that Weis was not truthful in that case, I'm sure that will be evaluated just as O'Leary's situation was, and if that ever happens, wake me and let me know because I won't be interested until then.

And finally, I don't see what the big deal is. The contests they taped were part of public record. It's not like they were sneaking into practices. Had the allegation they had taped a walk-through been proven correct, that'd be a horse of a different color. But now we have a major metropolitan newspaper apologizing for suggesting it happened.

Sign-stealing happens in every team sport that uses them. Catchers change them up when there's a man on second, and no one bats an eye. Sure, it's on the unseemly side, and my preference would be that it not happen. But I'm not that naive.

Besides, how much did it really help? You're asking someone on the sidelines to read the opponents' signals, get them to the applicable coach, who then has to call a play quickly and relay that to the captain before the play clock runs out. I think it's interesting that the game so much of being made of was a Patriots loss. If you only score 16 points and you allegedly know the plays your opponents' D is running, the guys from the Jewish house are telling you all the answers you had were wrong.

I think obsession with Weis on this is more than a little goofy. Are we so desperate these days to keep salacious commentary in the news that we continue to beat Eight Belles long after the fact? Notre Dame's integrity is rooted in the fact it follows the rules of college sports and holds its people accountable on the field, in the classroom, and everywhere else, not the degree to which an assistant coach participated in a resolved matter from the NFL five years ago. Those Haughian nit-picks tend to skew gratuitous.

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Friday, May 02, 2008

The Three Amigos

The pimpitude of Notes lately has risen to an alarming level, and I promise we're going to get back to strict ND-sports-related stuff shortly. But not before I bend your ear one last time to tell you about an event that touches both my ND and non-ND selves.

My daughter was diagnosed with an autistic spectrum disorder a number of years ago. With the help of our pediatrician, our psychologist and our school district, and the efforts of family and friends, she's now very high-functioning and completely mainstreamed in school, although not without occasional reminders of the challenges she faces socially.

But getting her there was a long and sometimes arduous journey, and my wife and I remember well those initial weeks and months when we knew something was wrong with her but didn't know what and didn't know what to do. In those days, we were lucky to get good help, not only from the aforementioned folks but also from various support and advocacy groups, who came ready with suggestions and warnings that made the whole thing easier than it could have been.

I'm not in a position where I can volunteer for groups of that kind. I found sharing my story with other parents tended to depress as much as encourage, especially if their children were deeper on the spectrum than my daughter and/or had a less rosy prognosis. Given how my schedule gets, volunteering time was difficult as well. So in order to try and repay the help we received in those dark days, my wife and I decided to be as generous with our checkbooks as we could to support financially the kind of groups providing such crucial aid. This is what led me to donate proceeds from EotH to the Autism Society of Illinois.

So you can imagine my delight when I heard about Hannah and Friends. An opportunity to fulfill my pledge to help organizations that focus on the developmentally disabled by donating to an organization that has a tertiary connection to Notre Dame? Bonus. Ever since, I've contributed annually to H&F and encouraged people I know to do the same, not because of any connection to Charlie Weis (who, I'm sure, wouldn't know who I was if I walked into his office and kicked him in the shins -- although I'm sure he'd know me after that) but rather through my efforts to ensure other parents whose children have autism can get the same kind of help my wife and I received.

Then came an opportunity to take it a step further, and that's the reason for my missive today.

On July 31st of this year, H&F will be co-sponsoring the third (and final) Notre Dame Coaches Kickoff for Charity. Charlie Weis, Lou Holtz, and Ara Parseighian will all speak, and the proceeds from the event will be split evenly between their three charities. The first two events were held in New York City and Los Angeles, and were very successful. This time, they'll be at the Palmer House in Chicago. I was asked to serve on the committee for this year's event, and we want to make it the best of the three.

Let's make this clear from the outset, this is a pricey undertaking. Tickets are $1,000 apiece. Other sponsorship levels are available that include having a celebrity seated at your table and access to a cocktail hour before the dinner where the coaches and other Notre Dame and Chicago sports greats will mingle.

But I'm a big believer in putting the information out there and letting people make their choice. Perhaps your company or employer is looking for a charitable giving opportunity. You could be in need of a tax deduction. Or maybe your great-aunt Muriel just left you a million dollars in Indian-head pennies.

Regardless, if you are fortunate enough to be in a position to consider the event, I encourage you in the strongest possible terms to go. Not only is it an opportunity to hear three outstanding speeches and really allow your ND fanaticism to wax, the money will go to three great causes: Hannah & Friends, the Holtz Charitable Foundation, and the Ara Parseghian Medical Research Foundation. It may not be the biggest no-brainer in the history of Earth, but it's in the team picture.

If you have interest, you can contact me via email and I'll get you set up.

Thanks for your attention, we now return you to your regularly-scheduled analysis of ND's ground game and potential basketball transfers-in.

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Ask and Ye Shall Receive

Or so the good Lord has told us. So no sooner do I hope Charlie will be willing to go to others for help in the offseason than he talks about his plans to do that very thing.

During the NBC broadcast of the Duke game, Weis talked of plans to return to the Patriots' organization to allow them to scout his ND program and help him identify the flaws in his approach. He'll be working with Bill Belichick, Duane Charles Parcells, and the guys with whom he had so much success in the NFL.

I like it. Charlie is going to bring in some new ideas and get critique from outside the program. Sometimes you need to step back and get the commentary from people that aren't as close to the situation as you. If it leads to an improvement in the workings of the team and the program overall, it's an excellent thing.

But I'm guessing there'll still be some discomfort in some quarters with Weis returning to his NFL roots for this education. I think those folks are uneasy about it for the same reason Peter Vaas' daughter is getting such negative blowback about her appearance on the game telecast (and as an aside, I'm trying to figure out who was more foolish: NBC for thinking that interview was a good idea, or Ms. Vaas for agreeing to proclaim her switched allegiances to a national audience). If you're in the ND family, people expect you to be ND uber alles. If you can get something from within the family, people expect you to stay within the family. When you go outside or proclaim an outside source as being your preferred method, you're going to create some internal irritation because you're perceived as somehow splitting your loyalties. For a school that proclaims "God, Country, Notre Dame" as a way of life, that kind of "disloyalty" is off-putting.

As I said yesterday, my family is very important to me, and I'm not inclined to get something from someone else if I can get help from (or help) them. But in this case, I'm thinking Weis' plan is the best one. For one, the Pats are probably best equipped to give Weis the most comprehensive review of what he's doing. In February, college coaches are consumed with recruiting and getting spring ball ready, assuming they'd be willing to help ND and Weis in the first place. NFL teams, on the other hand, are in their offseason, and have both the time and resources to really dig deep and give Charlie the analysis he needs. Two, for better or worse, Belichick and his folks are the most likely to be blunt with Weis about what he's doing wrong, and they're also the people whose comments Weis is most likely to take to heart. Right now, Charlie needs an outside perspective, and it's best to go the route with the highest chance of success.

There is one potential drawback, though. If the answer to Weis' questions boils down to his schemes being too complex for players who have only 20 distracted hours with the coaching staff per week, the degree to which the pro coaches can help him might be limited. These guys made their bones in the pro ranks, and might not have the familiarity with college-specific aspects of the game. For that education, Charlie may be on his own, and it's at that time his ND family will come in handy for him. If that ends up happening, I remain hopeful he makes use of those resources.

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Friday, November 16, 2007

The Five Families

I'm lucky I come from a large family. Not my immediate family, as my wife and I only have two kids, and I was the oldest of four growing up. But my extended family is quite large. My mother had over 25 cousins, with whom she was close growing up, and our annual reunion picnic typically draws over 125 people, all of whom I know well. This year, my great-uncle, at a spry 81 years of age, single-handedly bounced my sister and I out of the beanbag tournament. I think calling him "Rick Ankiel" for the rest of the day went over his head.

Looking at it closer, I guess you could say I'm a member of five families:

  • My nuclear family

  • My birth family

  • My wife's family

  • The Notre Dame family

  • The NDNation family

We don't always get along, of course. We fight as all families do. I sometimes have to raise my voice to my son to get him to put his clothes away. I argue with my cousins about Mike Brey's and Charlie Weis' coaching merits. A couple times a month, I'll get into it on the boards about ND's direction, both athletically and otherwise. But at the end of the day, even if we've pissed each other off, we're still a family.

There are also the synergistic benefits in all the families. My brother-in-law is a crackerjack estate lawyer, and my wife's and my wills and whatnot are solid for the first time in our lives. If I have a question about finance, I can call my brother or my dad, and writing issues can be brought to my mom or my cousin, both of whom have extensive experience. Cross and Oldtown have always been fonts of legal and procedural wisdom. Cash and NDMD have given me so much medical advice they should be billing Blue Cross on my behalf. And if there's a better source of general experience and knowledge than the Back Room, I haven't found it. On the flip side, I've provided IT advice as best I can to most, if not all, of that list.

It's not always easy to ask for help from your family. Some see it as exhibiting weakness. But that's what families are for. They lend you their experience when you're trying something new. They lend you their perspective when you're screwing something up. And they've always got your back, even at times when you haven't demonstrated you deserve it.

So what does all this have to do with ND? Right now, plenty.

A couple months ago, I talked about Charlie's conversation -- the one where he was going to look in the mirror and decide it was time to trust people more. I'm not sure he's done it yet, as things haven't appreciably changed in the weeks since I wrote it. Rumblings of discontent with Weis' interpersonal skills have been there since he arrived in 2005, and while winning in the first two seasons may have dampened any negative consequences, 1-9 may be having the opposite effect.

In the last couple of weeks, Irish alum and archetypical old fart Bob "Hug and Hobby" Kuechenberg has pimped himself out to any media outlet who'll have him, complaining that all his friends say Charlie is an "ogre" who doesn't treat people in the ND family well. I know Miami fans and any fans of NFL teams that have almost completed an undefeated season are familiar with Kuech, since he usually makes his opinions known on those subjects. This time of year, the most dangerous place in the world is between Bob Kuechenberg and a microphone. But although Kuech may be a nimrod for running his yapper, it's a variation on the same theme.

In a related story, my friends all now believe Bob Kuechenberg to be a grade-A toolbox. Based on the standards Kuech has set in this debate, I now feel safe referring to him as one.

Although Charlie is no doubt eccentric in his way, and can be megalomaniacal (and maybe even paranoid), he's shown a good side as well. For every story I've heard about him being a blowhard, there's been a corresponding story about his caring nature. Anecdotes of selfish behavior are offset by stories of him going out of his way to help people.

And then there's Hannah and Friends. As the parent of an autistic child, I know first-hand what you go through trying to get your child the help he or she needs. Weis is not only doing that, he's using available avenues to set up resources for other kids and parents. I have a hard time reconciling those efforts coming from a fundamentally selfish person.

Let's be clear -- Charlie ain't no saint. His single-minded pursuit of things leads to episodes where he doesn't treat people the way he should. He's so focused on what he's doing, he doesn't lift his head up and see what others in his world bring to the proverbial table.

In other words, he forgets he's a member of multiple families as well, the Notre Dame family among them.

My interaction with Charlie Weis is limited to about 30 seconds at a basketball game two years ago, so I won't claim to have any ability to influence the man. But if I were sitting in his office talking to him, I'd remind him of the people in his families that care about him, even when it doesn't seem he cares about them. Those people have resources that can help, and they want to use them for that purpose.

It isn't always easy to ask for help. It's even less to ask people you've wronged to forgive you. But people don't enter the ND family because it's an easy place to be, and failing on your own is not mitigated somehow by being a solo effort.

The patience of truly listening doesn't develop in a day. But it has to start somewhere.

Ara said it best: Anything really worth having, you have to pay the price for. If Charlie Weis wants a successful career at Notre Dame, his price is the love and humility required to truly embrace all his families -- nuclear, coaching, players, ND, all down the list -- and make them a full part of him.

Their strength and knowledge will see him through. But he has to start out showing a little strength of his own.

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Thursday, October 04, 2007


In my neighborhood, we were never stupid enough to let someone know we were going to hit them. We just hit them.

Apparently, Jason Whitlock didn't grow up in a neighborhood like mine, because he prefers to telegraph his punches. Right in the middle of what he bills as 10 NFL Truths, he tosses in this gem:

For you Notre Dame fans wondering at home, I'm a week or two away from writing a gloating/scathing column about Charlie Weis and the grossly premature contract extension Notre Dame gave him. Oh, I haven't forgotten all the nasty e-mails I received two years ago after pointing out that ND had no business giving The Great Weis Hope a 10-year contract extension for doing far less in his first eight games than Tyrone Willingham did in his first eight at Notre Dame. But before I strike I'm waiting on additional information to trickle in, such as I want it to be crystal clear that the Irish are the fourth-best Division I football team in Indiana -- after Purdue, Indiana and my Ball State Cardinals.

I had hoped no longer working for EsPN might put Whitlock's race-baiting and immaturity into remission. Apparently signing up to write for another media behemoth provoked a relapse. Too bad, because most of his recent stuff at the Star had been good.

This is a classic example of writing without writing. He doesn't want to write the article now, because ND has started showing improvement, and should Weis' crew carve out a win or two in the next three games before the cupcake parade, the storyline would get swallowed up and he'd look like an idiot. So he covers his bases by tossing that throwaway paragraph into an NFL story. He gets his digs in to the "nasty emailers" and manages to get the crux of what he'd write about into the electronic ether to float just like any other kind of turd would.

Of course, it goes without saying if and when that article is written, the best response by ND folks would be to ignore it by not linking or not reading it. But having said that, I'm going to ignore my own advice. What can I say, it's been a slow day and I can sometimes be a slow guy.

The original position that Charlie Weis "did far less in his first eight games than Tyrone Willingham did in his first eight" was off-base and unsupported by data, which is why it most likely provoked "nasty emails". Tyrone Willingham's team won its first eight games because the defense created an unsustainable takeaway margin for those games. When the defense got figured out by BC, so did Willingham, who then did nothing for the next two and a half seasons to change the situation. Charlie Weis's offense produced consistent point differential improvement for his first two seasons, and when the defense proved suspect, he dealt with it by changing coordinators.

Let's compare some totals, shall we:

Number of BCS bids achieved:
Weis 2, Willingham 0

Number of wins in first two seasons:
Weis 19, Willingham 15

Number of top 10 recruiting classes:
Weis 2 (one more on the way), Willingham 0

Number of recruiting classes outside the top 30:
Weis 0, Willingham 2

A reasonable person could conclude potential, if not actual, interest in Weis from NFL programs, something ND never had to worry about with Willingham (or any of his assistants, some of whom have not managed to be hired away from him in over seven seasons). Was it a level of interest that warranted a 10-year extension so early? Of course not. But as I talked about a couple weeks ago, the contract extension was dumb in the same way ND has been dumb about many coaches in many sports for the better part of 20 years, not due to some kind of racial vendetta against an underperforming coach. In fact, ND probably did Willingham a favor cutting him loose when they did -- one or two more terrible seasons and he wouldn't have been able to get a job at the high school level.

Weis is just as culpable as Willingham is for ND's current situation. But that doesn't mean Willingham's performance can suddenly be judged as capable, nor does it make the positive results of the last two seasons go away.

Weis has already shown in two seasons of being a head coach he's more able than his predecessor to detect and take action on problems. We'll see what happens the rest of this season and into next before we evaluate the success of those actions. Meanwhile, Willingham seems to be much happier where he is.

From my viewpoint, everyone's happy. Except the muckrakers, of course.

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Sunday, September 30, 2007

Goin' Back to Miami

I've written about odious comparisons before, and by the tone both in comments here and posts on NDN, the philosophy of going back to the previous coaching regime when discussing the current problems is wearing thin. I certainly understand that, and am probably reaching the saturation point on that myself. A wise man somewhere on the Internet said the current talent may explain that we're losing but doesn't explain how we're losing, and I see a goodly amount of truth in that. And the good news is next year, CW will have three fourths of the team as his players, so we can finally put the cupboard-bare conversations to bed.

Having said that, however, I'd like to try to get one more bucket out of that well.

Kayo, the co-author of Weis Cracks, is a smarter, more analytical person than I, and I've always copped freely to it (and can do so because I still have youth and good looks on my side). He and I have discussed what I call his "Miami theory" often, and he recently started posting on it on NDN. Because posts tend to be ephemeral, I wanted to make sure it was summarized and saved somewhere less temporary. So I've lent him the keyboard for this entry to talk about the parallels between ND of 2007 and the Miami team of 10 years ago. While it's not an iron-clad comparison, I find it thought-provoking at the very least.

Kayo, take it away.

My numbers may not be perfect, but they’re at least close…

When the NCAA penalized Miami in 1995 after the Pell Grant scandal and other illegal payments, they lost 24 scholarships over the next two years, knocking them down to 61 scholarships overall. That was the second harshest penalty the NCAA has ever levied after the SMU death penalty.

When Weis arrived, he inherited only 68 scholarship players. Now there are only eight scholarship players in the current senior class and 13 in the junior class. Had ND’s roster size been an NCAA penalty, it would have been the third harshest ever levied.

Except for Brady Quinn, the few players Miami was able to recruit were much better than those ND had in those two recruiting classes. Miami still attracted classes full of four- and five-star players who were recruited by other major programs, just not large classes of four- and five-star players.

The two classes preceding Weis' arrival lacked both quantity and quality, featuring few four- and five-star players. According to Tom Lemming in a South Bend Tribune article more than a year ago, “it looked like the staff at that time was resigned to battling Georgia Tech, Stanford, and Northwestern for players instead of going after the great ones.” Lemming also said, "The fact is that [these] last two classes were horrible and one more class like that would have been disastrous. Notre Dame would not have rebounded for years."

Butch Davis took the Miami program after the sanctions were levied and won eight games in each of his first two seasons. Then the scholarship reductions came home to roost, and Miami went 5-6 in Davis' third year, with the five wins against lowly teams.

The Hurricanes did not beat one team the caliber of the five Notre Dame has played so far this year. They started 1-4 in 1997, opening with a victory over Baylor (2-9 in 1997). They lost three in a row to Arizona State (9-3), Pittsburgh (6-6), and West Virginia (7-5). Then they were pummeled 47-0 by a good Florida State team (10-2). Miami rallied for three wins over poor teams - Boston College (4-7), Temple (3-8), and Arkansas State (2-9). Then it lost two of its last three, the losses to Virginia Tech (7-5) and Syracuse (9-4), the win over Rutgers (0-11).

Miami improved steadily in the subsequent seasons. It won nine games each of the next two years, contended for the championship at 11-1 in 2000 (Davis's last year), and won the championship in 2001 with the plethora of talent Davis left when he went to the Browns.

When it comes to his current junior and senior classes, Weis is in a similar situation to Davis’ third season. This isn’t the only reason the Irish are 0-5, but it’s a major factor. It’s reasonable to criticize Weis' management of such a young roster, but how many coaches ever had to deal with a roster so skewed to its freshman and sophomore classes?

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Thursday, September 27, 2007


The other day, I wrote about how NDN could be viewed by the electronic community. One commenter noted I hadn't been so circumspect during the previous coaching regime, and asked me why it was OK to criticize a black man on our boards while seemingly giving a white man a pass.

I didn't approve the comment, one because I didn't see how it was relevant, and two because the questioner obviously hadn't been on NDN during the Bob Davie era to see the parallels. However, the question stuck in my mind, and I'd like to try and answer it.

The last two football coaches at Notre Dame, in their heart of hearts, didn't want to be there. The first pursued the job because of its high profile and potential for personal mobility. The second took the job not because he wanted to but because he felt he had to -- it would mean a great deal to a lot of other people for him to be in that position. So each made the "sacrifice", of sorts, to move to South Bend from an area in which he was a lot more comfortable.

Unfortunately, neither took that "sacrifice" to its logical conclusion. It's not enough to do the job halfway, but that's where they stopped. They didn't truly want to be at Notre Dame, and it showed in everything they did.

The first spent too much time trying to turn ND into the place he really wanted to be, and was foolish enough to react in a dumbfounded manner when ND people didn't like it. He was so focused on where he would be next, he didn't take the time to concentrate on where he was then, and the results were predictably haphazard. He had some acumen but not enough experience, and wasn't interested in applying either to making Notre Dame better long-term.

The second, since he wanted to be at ND even less than the first, didn't work hard on the field or off. He didn't make an effort to get to know many people on campus, even those who went out of their way to make him feel welcome. He developed no affinity for or relationship with the alumni, even going so far as to push some of them away.

The top priority for each was not if ND won or lost, but rather how he looked to his prospective next employer. He would be at Notre Dame as long as it took to give the people who wanted him to be there what they needed, giving his career a boost in the process, and then he'd be off for what he believed to be greener pastures.

Compounding the problem was an administration who didn't have winning as their focus. They were more concerned with how the coach's employment played with those they wished to impress rather than how he was performing as an employee, the second coach especially. They put wins low on the priority list, and when those wins didn't stack up, those administrators really weren't bothered. They were scoring points with the people that mattered to them, and that's what counted.

The combination of those two factors -- a head coach and an administration both focused on things other than the advancement of the Notre Dame program -- made it necessary to get the people involved removed as soon as humanly possible. An atmosphere such as the one being created in South Bend was not going to lead to long-term stability or success. Any short-term gains would all go to waste under the poor leadership of people distracted by concerns that competent leaders would consider tertiary.

Now we have an administration willing to take perceived PR hits to put football back on the right track. We have a head coach deeply vested in the Notre Dame philosophy who has shown although he may sometimes be defeated, it won't be because he didn't work his ass off. The only constituency that matters to any of them are the players, alumni and fans who have supported the program through thick and thin.

Both the coach and the men he works for are capable of (and have made) mistakes both large and small. But those mistakes are borne of action rather than passivity, inspired by a chance to promote Notre Dame rather than an opportunity to advance their own agendas. While it's no guarantee of success, it's a much much better model for it than the previous regimes used.

This coach and these administrators are not doing de facto damage to the program by their presence and actions on campus. They want what we want. They bleed when we bleed. They care when we care. None of that has anything to do with the color of the coach's skin or the accent in his voice, but rather the focus of his mind and the desires of his heart, which are much more in sync with us than they were with either of the two men who preceded him in the position.

Does that mean I'm being more forgiving now than I was then? Probably. Like so many other situations in life, I'm going to reach out to the person willing to meet me halfway. Bob Davie got lost on the way to the meeting point, and Tyrone Willingham couldn't be bothered to take any steps in that direction.

Charlie Weis, on the other hand, has virtually sprinted to where we are and given us plenty of reason to put our faith in him. So that's where my faith is. If either of his predecessors had done the same, I (and many others) would have responded in kind. But they didn't. So here we are.

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

How I'm spending my football vacation

No, I'm not walking away. Now is the time, after all, for all good men to come to the aid of their football program, and far be it from me to not be a good man.

I'm simply choosing to alter the methods by which I watch. In this season of discontent, we're past the point of looking for the usual things, or even the usual suspects. So this is how I plan on spending my football time for the 2007 season.

First, I've pretty much stopped reading external media and am sticking with outlets like IE and BGI (although I'll continue to link headlines for everyone, never fear). I don't need to be reminded that we're 0-and-whatever or how it compares to other seasons / coaches / programs or what that allegedly "means" outside of this season being, as the grounds crew in Cleveland would say, shitty. I need to see what is needed long-term to get it turned around and how those needs are being met, and those writers will tell me that better than anyone. If I want the external perspective, Mike Rothstein's and Ben Ford's work will do quite nicely, with the periodic samplings of John Walters. I'll still read the Chicago Trib because blood is thicker than water and I'm interested to see how Brian Hamilton is working out. Outside that list, no one exists until basketball season. I'm guessing it'll help my blood pressure.

Second, I've stopped looking at this season in a historical context, preferring to put it in one more attuned to the 10,000-foot view. "ND has never been 0-4 before" is a meaningless stat to me. All that says is they've never lost their first four games in a season. They've had bad seasons before, and this is obviously one of them. The important thing is how what happens this season builds for seasons to come, because that's how history eventually will judge it. Is it the crucible that forges a high-quality program, or the furnace that eventually melts Charlie Weis' career? We won't know that for a while, so let's watch what happens.

Building on the second point, I'm going to spend the games looking for an upward trend in the areas that need work. I know, it's hardly a short list. But this is what I want to see, in order of importance:

1) Continued improvement on the offensive line. Whether it was a weaker DL for MSU or the result of the renewed focus on hitting, the OL looked, in the words of Emperor Caesar, nice. Nice. Not thrilling, but nice. Holes were there for the running game, and Aldridge and Hughes were able to take advantage of them. The more of the game put on the backs, the less of it is on the back of the frosh QB. But the pass-blocking is still terrible, and while they need to do that in game situations if they're ever going to improve, they also need heavy doses of what is currently, at least in a hamstrung sense, working.

2) An overhaul on special teams. Now that they've looked at the OL and things are at least moving there, it's time to address special teams, and the needs are glaring to say the least. In all four games so far this season, special teams performance has hurt us, whether by penalty or giving up a big return or shanking a punt or whatever. The blocking schemes look disorganized. Price has regressed alarmingly. Right now, it doesn't look like this ST-by-committee thing is working. That means it's time to put the responsibilities in the hands of just one person, and if that person is not already on the staff (which I don't believe he is), he should be hired quickly after the gun sounds at Stanford.

3) Evidence of flexibility on the part of Charlie, which I talked about last week. I suppose taking the ball against MSU wasn't necessarily a bad decision on its face, but as someone pointed out on NDN, it would have been great to get the ball in the second half and try to build on the momentum instead of punting it away to MSU. Charlie also needs to have the patience to stick with what's working (yesterday, the running game) over what he, in his gut, wants to do but wasn't working (pass the ball). If we're getting six yards at a crack with Aldridge and Hughes, we should hammer away at it as much as possible. That was MSU's game plan yesterday, and it was effective.

4) An influx of passion. Watching other games and programs, you see guys jumping around like they're ready to rip someone's head off. In college, that's an important aspect of a program. It's not as important, however, in the pros where a paycheck serves as the primary motivator, so this makes another area in which Charlie must try to adjust.

Trouble is, the passion and leadership usually is expected from the upperclassmen. Right now, our captains on offense and special teams are too busy executing poorly and getting penalties to lead anyone else. It also requires the proper temperament. Zibby would be a perfect candidate to spark that passion, but while he gives everything he has on every play, I'm led to understand he's kind of a soft-spoken guy in general. Yet another ingredient for this perfect storm of Murphy's Law this season has become.

I haven't included anything for the defense on the list because it's my belief the issues there are strictly talent-related. If that sounds like I'm throwing players under the bus, that's not my intention because I don't think anyone out there is dogging it. But when the players turning in the best plays are sophomores and freshmen, it is what it is. There's more intensity and ferocity, but they're still getting the horses into place.

If there's anything I want to see on D, it's continued playing time for the freshmen like Kerry Neal and Brian Smith. Next year, when the injured Gary Gray will join Darrin Walls at corner and have guys like Robert Blanton backing them up, the secondary will be much tougher, which will allow guys like Neal, Smith, and the array of four- and five-star frosh to wreak havoc in Corwin Brown's system.

There's still lots to do, and if you're going to be focused on record and history and where Michigan is in the all-time-whatevers list relative to us, this is going to be a bad season for you. We can't do anything about the first three games, which were awful in both coaching and execution. We can, however, do something about the future, and that's what I want to see these next few weeks.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Institutionalized Dumbness

As predicted, ND's 0-3 start has brought the Weis-to-Willingham wolves out in force. I can only imagine what it'd be like had Washington defeated Ohio State.

Most of the hair-pulling is so much tripe and not worthy of reading, let alone commenting on. And let's be clear: the reason for that is not that I disagree with their point (although I do). The reason for that is those columns don't represent true opinion.

If the authors had covered ND and its football program for a long time, had insight into the situation, and were trying to communicate a closely-held belief on their part, I could respect that. But guys like Pat Forde and Bob Kravitz and most of the ABC/ESPN talking heads don't have closely-held opinions on the subject. They'll write just about anything about just about anyone within the boundaries of legality and (sometimes) taste if it gets them attention, eyeballs glued to their words, and advertising or other revenues for their papers and websites. Their mantra is it doesn't matter if they're saying bad things about you, just so they're saying things about you. Effectively, they've whored out their writing talent, and I really can't respect that.

Writers I do respect like Terence Moore, Malcolm Moran, Jason Kelly, and others have written plenty of critical things about Notre Dame. Some I've agreed with, some I've not, but in all cases, I know they're writing from a position of trying to inform and educate the reader. Therein lies the difference. They're not trying to make their bones at Notre Dame's expense.

I'm more than willing to discuss arguments entered into in good faith. And I read one today that, while I have plenty of issues with its content, at least seems to be coming from that perspective. In today's Rocky Mountain News, Paul Campos discusses Weis' current situation and believes it to be an example of "institutionalized racism" rather than the overt variety. You can read the entire article here.

As I said, there are overt errors here with which I don't agree and which have been discussed in this space before. Charlie Weis has beaten plenty of "good opponents" -- it's not like he won 19 games in his first two years against the MAC. There's little mention of his first two seasons in the article, and Campos makes it sound like Weis has been bad since he got to ND, which isn't true. There's also no reference to the marked improvement in recruiting since Weis arrived. And I'd like at least one of the people taking on this subject to at least mention the fact that not only does ND graduate African American players at one of the highest rates in D1 football but also is the only D1 program to have African Americans in both coordinator positions, but I'm not holding my breath.

But this is the meat of what I wanted to discuss -- a portion of the article where Campos quotes a friend of his whom he calls "JJ", referring to Weis' extension in his first season:

"I'm not saying ND's AD and president are sitting there saying, 'Well, Weis sucks, but he's white, let's give him another chance.' Obviously that's not what's happening. But I do think there's plenty of institutional racism, and this is a good case. Weis isn't getting another chance because ND's administration is overtly racist, it's because everyone at ND is just more inclined to think highly of Weis and poorly of Willingham."

I understand where JJ is coming from, and I agree with him there's a problem with racial viewpoint when it comes to coaching in America. But I don't agree with him that Notre Dame is an example.

First, if Weis is getting "another chance", it's because his first two seasons were very good, resulting in BCS bowl bids, something his predecessor playing a similar schedule never achieved. That, as I said last week, buys you goodwill when things don't go well. And it's not like that goodwill isn't being used up, because at some point in the (near) future, the well will run dry and we'll see what we shall see.

Second and more importantly, I don't believe the contract extension Weis received was the result of people at ND being more inclined to view him positively because of his race. I think it was the result of Notre Dame, when it comes to matters of handling coaches, having a very clear track record of being stupid.

Up until the late 1990s, Notre Dame was still operating under the five-and-one model -- a five-year deal to start with, then one-year "handshake agreements" after that -- with all coaches in both football and basketball. It was a horribly antiquated methodology, and I know on the basketball side, at least, it was damaging to recruiting and the stability of the program.

They finally entered the 20th century on this issue just as it was ending, but it was a bad transition. Kevin White, barely into his job himself, gave Bob Davie a contract extension after a nine-win smoke-and-mirrors season, only to watch the team absolutely implode in the Fiesta Bowl against Oregon State. Supposedly, that extension was necessary because the first contract Davie had signed -- also the first in ND history that wasn't on the five-and-one model -- was so poorly structured it had no termination provisions. They fired Bob Davie, stepped on their cranks with Jon Gruden, and hired George O'Leary and his MadLibs resume for about a week. As a result of that two-week circus, they had to overpay an unspectacular Tyrone Willingham to take the job, who immediately set new standards in lack of effort both on and off the field. Once again, a firing followed by a PR disaster, this time with Urban Meyer, before landing Weis.

So when Weis started out with a high-powered and well-thought-out offense, organization and success on the recruiting trail, and an air of stability around the program, I can understand why White would want to lock him up. But doing it so quickly and for so long was, like so many similar decisions in the last decade, stupid. Weis was already on for six years and had a buyout provision. If he was really the kind of guy who was going to bolt after a season, is that the guy you want at ND anyway, stability notwithstanding? It's much more likely he and his agent decided to shake the tree a little bit to see how much fruit was still there to fall, never dreaming they'd find themselves in the middle of Pete's Produce with a blank check thanks to Kevin's acumen (or lack thereof).

And it's not like the ineptitude has been reserved for football. John MacLeod begged for years for a longer-than-one-year deal to give his staff some stability. Matt Doherty was able to bail for North Carolina in the middle of July recruiting after one year at ND without it costing him a dime. Then there were the travails of replacing baseball coach Paul Mainieri last year. We still don't know what happened with the golf coach that mysteriously resigned.

I can understand why JJ may feel there's a tendency to view white coaches better than black ones because I do believe that's true in some places. The linked article talks about Norv Turner, and I completely agree it's stupefying how he continues to get work when there's a mountain of evidence he can't get the job done. How many times was Rich Kotite hired?

But in ND's case, I think it's more an unfortunately typical attack of dumbness.

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Monday, September 17, 2007


ND is in dangerous waters at 0-3, and I'm choosing to navigate some as well in bringing a suggestion to help Charlie Weis succeed.

Let me start with what seems to be the required disclaimers. I still believe Weis can be a successful coach at Notre Dame. I still believe ND was right to fire Tyrone Willingham when they did, and still believe Weis was the right man for the job when hired. I am also not calling for his removal any time soon.

But Weis now stands at a crossroads. One way lies college coaching success, and the other lies college coaching oblivion. The result will depend on which path he takes.

And I believe the first step on that path is for him to look in the mirror and both say and believe, "It's not all about me".

Do I think Charlie Weis is a selfish man? Hell no. No selfish person could do what he does in the name of disabled children and adults, especially to the extent he does it. Charlie is a person very giving with both his time and his money, for which he deserves every commendation that comes his way.

But he's not nearly as giving with his trust. There's a very fine line between self-confidence and self-insulation, and I think Charlie's been tiptoeing up to it way too often.

Charlie believes in himself, but I don't know if he necessarily believes in anyone else. He's fine delegating when it's a subject he feels he doesn't know, but when Charlie knows something, he's the only one who can know it because no one else can know it as well as he. I like he's willing to take responsibility for the program, but I don't like it if it means no one else can do the same. That's not a viable long term solution.

Here's an example. Last Saturday, Notre Dame was on the road facing a team with a first-time starting quarterback. The last couple of games, the Irish offense wasn't able to get on track immediately. The previous week, the first-time starter on the other side had been shaky in decision-making.

I'm not a coach, but it seems to be the logical choice if Notre Dame won the toss to start the game would be to defer the decision to the second half and put the defense on the field first. This would force the first-time starter out on the field immediately, where he might make a mistake and give ND needed momentum.

But that's not what was done. Charlie's influence is on the offensive side of the ball, and only his offense can be trusted to take control of the game at the start and get ND rolling towards a win. So ND got the ball first, and the only thing that got rolling was the ball towards the Michigan goal line after a bad first snap.

If Charlie can say "It's not all about me" to himself and mean it, it becomes easier to trust other people to do their jobs to help you. It becomes easier to listen to other viewpoints which, while you may not agree with them, may open unconsidered possibilities up to you. It gives you the broader perspective crucial to the success of a head coach as opposed to a coordinator.

Once Charlie can start trusting others, he can take two more steps I believe crucial to his development as a college coach as opposed to a professional one:

Install a true offensive coordinator. He may already have him on the coaching staff, but if Mike Haywood isn't that guy, he should be replaced by someone who is. That coordinator should have full reign over the offense, and be responsible for the assistants working under him. Charlie will have his input, of course, but should spend his time macro-managing the program and not sitting down with the quarterbacks or sketching out the first X number of plays for a game. That's the OC's job, and Charlie is no longer an OC.

A true OC may also expose Charlie to a word I think he needs to hear more often: No. Some ideas are good, some bad. If your assistants are unwilling to promote the former while warning you away from the latter, they're useless to you. As I said, the more viewpoints, the broader the perspective.

Adapt practice strategies towards what works in college. Charlie knows what he knows, but I think it's time for him to get to know other things. The biggest of those things is how the college game differs from the pros.

According to folks who know, pro practices don't usually involve a lot of hitting and fundamentals. The players already know how to do what they do, they just need to be told when to do it. They also spend a long season getting hit by other pros, so it's not smart to wear them out beating the crap out of each other. This doesn't hold in college. College players need to learn the skills they'll take to the NFL, and their college coaches must teach them.

College players also need inspiration. Pro players are paid very well to eat, sleep and breathe football 24/7. College players have a lot more on their plate, and sometimes need that extra mental edge. They want to be told to "Win one for the Gipper", if only to give them something to hold on to when things go wrong.

Not all is lost, and there's a prime example of how to do it on our schedule. According to a story I heard, Pete Carroll found himself in this same position at the end of his first season at USC, a season that didn't go so well. He decided to embrace his inner Poodle and (in turn) the college atmosphere. He abandoned the NFL-style practices and started hitting hard all the time, and brought in assistants who not only knew the game but could also fire up his players. Hard to argue with the results.

This is where Charlie must grow and adapt. There's no doubt he has a fine understanding of the game, but being a head coach requires a different kind of understanding that goes beyond the Xs and Os. Sometimes the solution is simpler than that, and in this case, it has to start with trust. Once he starts to trust, his life gets better.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Drum Major, If You Please

Every parade must have a leader, and it's usually those who are adept at it who are asked to do it most often. So it comes as no surprise to me that ESPN resident hair-puller Pat Forde has decided to fire the first shot in the Weis-to-Willingham idiocy parade this year with his article today.

If memory serves, he was the first out of the gate last year on the subject when Washington started 4-1 and ND got handled by Michigan. But then the Irish peeled off eight straight wins while the Huskies lost six in a row (including that 20-3 decision to powerhouse Stanford), and Forde and the rest of the intellectually bankrupt muckrakers stuck their heads back in the hole, waiting for the next chance.

I don't want to link it because contributing to the decline of society by making people dumber is a mortal sin. You're welcome to hunt for and read it yourself, and on your own head be it. But I'll pull a couple of paragraphs here and there so you get the gist.

Domers, Your Credibility Is On The Clock. When Notre Dame trap-doored Tyrone Willingham after just three years on the job in 2004, it established a precedent for the next coach: You've got three years, pal. Have it up and running at full speed or else.

Pat Pat Pat Pat Pat Pat Pat. So stupid so quick. Can't you even let the reader settle in before hitting them over the head with a mistake?

That's not the precedent, big guy. That's not even close.

No one was asking Tyrone Willingham to "have it up and running at full speed" in his third year, although that would have been nice. What they were asking him to do was improve on the previous regime while setting a good foundation for future success. And Willingham didn't even come close to succeeding on that score.

It wasn't just that ND wasn't competitive on the field for two and a half seasons (which would have been three outside of fortuitous bounces on defense). It also wasn't looking any better any time soon. Aside from a quality class in his first year (coached by Weis to the best first-two-season win total of any ND coach in its history), Willingham and his staff bumbled to two mediocre-at-best classes in a row to follow it up. After three seasons of ineptitude on offense and haphazard results on defense (to say nothing of atrocious special teams), no coaching changes were in the offing. And yet the golf course continued to beckon, at the expense of gameplanning and meeting with high school coaches and getting support from alumni and all sorts of other duties Willingham neglected in his three years in South Bend.

Willingham knew as well as Notre Dame did that the relationship wasn't working. That's why his reps were talking to Washington in October of that year, why his contract had a special buyout clause at the end of the third season (when if he'd done well, he'd be NFL bound), and why he refused to make any assistant coaching changes at the end of his third season when his bosses suggested very strongly he do so.

He could afford to be insubordinate. He had his golden (domed) parachute, both financial and philosophical. He goes sailing off into the purple sunset with many millions of ND's dollars -- more than had ever been paid to any non-African American football coach in school history, by the way -- while the Irish would have to deal with the small-minded fallout from people who couldn't see past the color of Willingham's skin to take in the (lack of) content of his character.

Yes, coaches should get at least a fourth year as a rule. Some turnaround jobs are harder than others. But those coaches should be willing to meet the school halfway. Those coaches should be able to identify what's not working and make moves to try and make fixes. Those coaches should at least pretend they're interested in a career at their place of employment.

Willingham's recruiting was in the toilet. His offenses scared no one. His defenses were hit-or-miss. His relationships with high school coaches were terrible. His relationships with a lot of the ND alumni clubs, including those that had bent over backwards to help him feel welcome, were worse.

And what was he doing to fix those things? Absolutely nothing.

So what would the point of a fourth year have been, other than to dig Notre Dame into an even deeper hole? One more year of bad recruiting. One more year slipping away from the rank of winningest college program. One more year of players and fans walking away.

What would that have accomplished?

Oh, I have no doubt it would have accomplished a lot for the people who don't like Notre Dame or who thrive on mindless rhetoric. But I don't think it would have done much for us, the alumni and fans, and in the end, our opinions, needs and wants count a lot more than the haters'. And thank God for that.

At least you have the intellectual honesty to admit "Weis coached many of Willingham's players better than Willingham ever did". A logician would have recognized that as being the overall point and stopped there. Quelle surprise you did not, talking about what the "Willingham players" and the "Weis players" have accomplished on offense.

Of course, you fail to note how in most programs, upperclassmen are expected to contribute more than underclassmen, a condition exacerbated at a place like Notre Dame that does not allow automatic redshirting. And it should probably be noted that the Weis version of Quinn, Samardzija, Stoval, et al, were ten times the players the Willingham versions were (which, again, would be the overall point).

Should Charlie Weis be on the hot seat? Right now, no. When you spend two years giving the fans the results they want while working very hard to ensure a strong future, you build goodwill that takes you through the rough patches. And that has nothing to do with his Caucasianality and everything to do with knowing his job and doing it.

But his seat is certainly warming. If we're having this same conversation about ineptitude on offense this time next year, you can bet his tushie will be more than a little singed.

And that'll be no different than how Willingham was treated.

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Sunday, April 29, 2007

It's Not Easy Being Green (Roomed)

Now that Cam Cameron has hitched his star to Ted Ginn's bandwagon and Brady Quinn is a Brown, let's examine the happenings of Saturday.

First off, include me among those who don't believe Quinn's draft position reflects poorly on him or on ND in general. If a number of teams who needed QB's passed on him, that'd be one thing. But only one did, and they're being eviscerated in the press and by their own fans right now. If a number of QB's had been selected in front of him, that might have been a strong indictment. But only one was, and Quinn can probably be thankful he didn't get sucked into the career-destroying vortex that is the Oakland Raiders organization. Yes, Charlie Weis went to bat for Quinn and may have overstated his case. But I'd rather see the coach go too far in support of his player than not going far enough. Players should know the coach has their back.

But having said that, let's examine what the talking heads said about Quinn. Some of it has some basis, while some does not, with the truth, as usual, sitting smack-dab in the middle.

Accuracy. 60+ percent passing in his junior and senior seasons is nothing to sneeze at, nor is his TD-to-interception ratio. Quinn obviously makes good decisions and sees the field well. But it seems every game there was a pass or two that had us wiping our brows because it didn't quite go where it was intended. The first pick against Michigan this past season comes to mind -- the ball that bounced of an ND player's trailing shoulder before finding its way into the end zone courtesy of a Michigan defender. While most of Quinn's throws were on the money (especially the over-the-middle tosses to Carlson that always seemed to go for big gains), I also can recall a number of times where receivers would have to reach back for the ball, disrupting their rhythm and reducing the potential yards made after the catch, or would have to leave their feet to make the completion. Searching for such pinpoint accuracy may be a nitpick on my part, but it's not like unease on the subject is coming out of left field.

Arm strength. My one knock on BQ has always been the long ball. To me, a lot of passes over 20 yards ended up being jump balls between the Irish receiver and the defensive back covering him. When you had guys with tremendous leaping ability like Mo Stovall on the other end, the results usually ended up good. This season, with McKnight and Samardzija going up for the pigskin, the results were, as a noted Irish fan would say, good but not great. When your receiver has to camp out under the ball, it neutralizes whatever separation speed he brings to the table. Hitting a guy in stride on those 35-yard strikes allows him to make use of his talents more.

Blitz handling. This is one where I don't see the talking heads' point. I do remember a number of times the OL had to go to max protect mode to make sure Quinn had enough time, but I think this said a lot more about ND's OL quality and depth than it did Quinn's ability to handle it, not to mention the lack of a starting fullback for most of the season to help in pass protection. If Quinn was indeed bad at handling the blitz, I would have expected to see a lot more interceptions thrown and/or a poorer completion percentage, and we saw neither. I don't think Quinn's decision-making is an issue.

Now, do I also believe (a) all these applicable issues are correctable, and (b) BQ has both the intelligence and the work ethic to make that happen in relatively short order? You betcha. Do I believe Miami was stupid for passing on him given those things? Right again. And do I believe Quinn has the chutzpah that so many quality NFL quarterbacks have, which is a quality in high demand? Three for three. It all adds up to him being a value pick where he was, and I believe his career will validate that.

I also think it's probative the quarterback that was chosen first spent the last season throwing to two wideouts that were taken in the first round of the draft. Samardzija's decision to play baseball and Carlson's return to ND for his final year aside, none of Quinn's targets have been drafted yet. McKnight and Walker's names weren't called on Saturday, and both hope to be tagged on Sunday. But one must wonder -- give Quinn Russell's receiving corps, and would he have gone first instead?

All that matters now is Quinn's performance on the NFL stage. He'll probably have to step in sooner rather than later, and I have no doubt he's up to the task. Good luck to him.

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Smell the glove

Jay over at BGS does his usual bang-up job in his story summarizing ZookerGate.

I think what this story illustrates more than anything is Ron Guenther's complete lack of understanding about how the Internet world works.

He seems to be of the mind that because some letter-writer had details about a recruit, the writer must have received those details from another coach recruiting the young man. He fails to realize there are a lot more people who have that kind of information than the recruit in question. Family members, HS coaches, friends, other hangers-on ... all it takes is one email, and the information is spanning the globe in hours, if not minutes.

Does Guenther actually believe the Notre Dame coaching staff asked random Internet people to post on message boards and write letters to him and other IL administrators about the Illini recruiting practices? That's the same brand of black-helicopter thinking that brought us the "Kim Dunbar was laundering money for high-powered ND alumni to pay players" and other detritus from various Mariotti-like minds.

Or is this about coaches negatively recruiting against Illinois? If so, Ron, welcome to D1 athletics. If this is how you react to coaches talking down your program to recruits, your head would explode if you had Kevin White's job. Because unlike the negative recruiting done against ND, where coaches allege we force players to go to Mass or convert to Catholicism or "don't take care of the black athlete" (thanks for that note of hypocrisy, Lloyydd), talking about Zook's questionable coaching and poor Florida career and bad decisions on and off the field (keep him away from the IL frats) is all based in fact.

In any event, Jay's right -- Guenther should want absolutely no part of any legal discovery phase. When all his coaches' cell phone records are reviewed, including the calls to various media outlets to get their story going, and the recruits and their friends are all called in for depositions and every little detail of what Zook and his coaching staff did, both good and bad, are laid bare, there's no way they're going to come out smelling like a rose, even if everything is above-board.

Guenther would be much better served asking Jim Delany about any letters he received from his Integer bretheren about Zook and his practices. I'm led to understand the Skunkbears are having a pretty good laugh over all of this.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

What are your intentions?

Usually that's a phrase you see in bodice-ripper novels ... austere Southern plantation owners determining the plans of suitors while their daughters swoon in the corner and whatnot.

But it seems such a question has found its way into recruiting. Plenty of movement both to and from ND and other places in the closing weeks of the recruiting "season" has led to questions about what a verbal commitment does or should mean.

The lack of an early signing date in college football makes the jobs of coaches much more difficult. Not only do you have to continue to pursue the undecided guys you're after, you also have to watch over your own henhouse to keep the other foxes away, oftentimes for six months or more.

That doesn't seem to be an efficient use of coaches' time to me. So bearing in mind how much I despise the process and believe it to be beyond repair, I give you my Personal Rules of Ethics regarding recruiting. You're welcome to accept them as axiom or not, but this is how I roll.

If a recruit is verbally committed to a school, he should not accept solicitations from other schools.

This should be the overall idea. In an ideal world, recruits should not verbally commit until they're sure of their choice. Players shouldn't commit just to reserve a spot. When you commit, you're asking coaches to adjust their plans based on your choices. When you change your mind on those choices, you've inconvenienced people to an extent jobs may be lost as a result. Be sure when you give your word.

A school should be able to offer solicitations to recruits already committed to other schools, and should be able to respond to solicitations from committed recruits, subject to two conditions: (1) If that recruit asks the other school to cease and desist, that school should no longer contact the recruit in question, and (2) If communication is to continue, the new school should demand the recruit notify the school to which he is currently committed that the communication is taking place.

Again, in an ideal world, the new school's staff should be open about their intentions with the current school's staff, but I stopped believing in Santa and the Tooth Fairy a long time ago. But they should demand the recruit be honest, as honest players make good teammates no matter what program lands them.

It doesn't bother me that ND took another shot at Martez Wilson. At one time, he was considering ND strongly, and ND made a defensive change that could have had an effect on his choice. The young man responded he wasn't interested, so that was that.

It also doesn't bother me that ND came back to Brian Smith. Again, he had strong interest, and the change in coaches made him more attractive to ND. He accepted the contact, so it was right for ND to continue it. He was also above board with Iowa, letting them know that ND had talked to him and he intended on talking to them further, leaving Iowa free to make whatever decision it felt was best.

By that same token, FL was not in the wrong to contact Justin Trattou. They asked, he responded, so fine. The problem was in the secrecy -- the FL coaches allegedly asking Trattou to keep their conversations private. If you're going to open up your recruiting, you owe it to the school to which you're committed to let them know. And if you're going to go after a committed recruit, one would hope you have the honesty (if not bravery) to be up front about it and not ask them to sneak out of the house like a 15-year-old going to her first kegger.

Ditto Greg Little. I highly doubt he had an epiphany this morning that UNC was the place for him. He had been assuring people for weeks he was ND-bound. If you're going to alter your decision, be a man about it and tell the people involved how they stand. Waiting until the last minute and figuring it's easier to apologize than ask permission is something my nine-year-old does. If you're so unsure on your decision that you can make a signing day change, you shouldn't have committed in the first place.

If a committed recruit is communicating with other schools, the school to which that recruit is committed is within its rights to no longer consider him committed and no longer consider its scholarship offer valid.

I have no problem with Iowa pulling the scholarship offer from Brian Smith. They didn't feel he was committed to them, so they acted accordingly. If ND had pulled Trattou's or Little's scholarship offers in response to movement by them, they would have been within their rights as well. You have to do what you have to do to fill out your class, and sometimes a relationship doesn't work out.

I'm not sure how CW and company are going to move in the Brave New World of recruiting we seem to be in, but it's obviously time to take the gloves off. I've got no problems with that, as long as they don't start sucker punching.

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Some Solved, Some Not

Hard to summarize one's thoughts while getting ready for an eight-hour drive, but I'm all about tough situations.

Looking at the Charlie Weis regime after two seasons, I see some problems that have been solved while some remain unanswered.

ND is playing up to its potential at a very high rate, which is good. During the past two regimes, the Irish would more often than not play up or down to the level of its competition, which led to maddening lows and thrilling highs. Weis' even keel and understanding of the game, which dwarfs that of his predecessors, has helped eliminate the potholes that would scuttle the undercarriage of past Irish seasons.

However, ND is not playing up to championship potential yet, which is not good. Eliminating the befuddling losses was step one. Step two is eliminating the quality losses.

ND is playing with a winning attitude, which is good. Belief in the victory starts at the top, and there's no doubt Charlie Weis expects to win every game.

However, ND is not playing with a consistent attitude, which is not good. Charlie gets caught up in the psychology of the game sometimes (e.g. "I've watched every play SC has run this year"), and makes some decisions that seem to go against the grain of what the game situation would make appropriate.

Going into the bowl game, Charlie Weis needs to do the one thing that will differentiate himself from his predecessors forever: learn.

Bob Davie never learned. Grab-bag offenses and inconsistent recruiting were his watchwords. Tyrone Willingham never learned. Underperforming assistants were kept on, almost in defiance of conventional wisdom.

Charlie Weis needs to learn, or perhaps show a willingness to learn. If some assistants are not up to snuff, whether on the field or in recruiting or both, they should be replaced. If his psychological approach to the big games is not working (which it isn't), he needs to alter it.

Recognizing the need for change and implementing those changes are an important part of any successful coach's repertoire. If Charlie shows that bullet in his gun, ND will be fine.

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Sunday, September 24, 2006

Comparisons are Odious

You could hear the pencils scratching as the third quarter wound down in East Lansing.

Both 11-5 after 16 games. Both lost their first bowl game. Charlie got an extension. Tyrone didn't. Implied racism. Ooh, and Washington just upset (an overrated) UCLA (at home in the only semi-difficult game they've played all year), while Charlie's about to lose the second straight (in a harsh four-game opening stretch against undefeated teams).

The scribes had been waiting since December of 2004 to write that column. Waiting to stand up and say, "Ha Ha, we were right." Waiting to say all the things they couldn't say when Charlie Weis' team was winning games and competitive in defeat during the 2005 season.

And you could hear the grinding of teeth as the Fighting Irish pulled out the victory (thanks, in part, to a Michigan State implosion). ABC is lucky John Saunders wasn't mic'ed as the Irish came down the stretch. Then again, he may have been busy rewriting his rant for the next day's Sports Reporters.

God bless poor Greg Couch, he didn't want all that work to go to waste, so he tried writing that column anyway in the Chicago Sun Times today (I'm not going to link it because I don't want to give them hits -- suffice it to say it's probably as bad as you're thinking it is, and spare yourself the eye pain). I guess even Jay Mariotti needs a Renfield sometimes.

Yes, if one looks at the high-level W/L numbers, Charlie's career is starting the same as Tyrone Willingham's did at Notre Dame. But if you dig deeper than those numbers, you'll see the stark differences -- differences that justified a contract extention for Weis and show why an extended tenure at Notre Dame by Willingham could have damaged the Notre Dame program even more than he did in three years.

Work Ethic

Tyrone Willingham was lazy, with a capital L-A-Z-Y. I'm sure he has a lot of other fine qualities, but working hard wasn't among them during his ND tenure.

Don't believe me? Ask the operators of Warren Golf Course and other courses around the South Bend area, who were asked not to record the number of rounds Willingham was playing on a daily basis, to shield him both from a handicap adjustment and criticism from ND fans who might have been disturbed about how much time he was spending there. Or ask golfers on the course, who would find Willingham joining their groups around the third hole and leaving them on the 16th or 17th (and not speaking to them during the round, of course), all to avoid the already-mentioned recording of rounds. By all estimates, Willingham was playing four to six rounds of golf per week during seasons where his teams were getting steamrolled on the field and his coaches were getting steamrolled in recruiting off of it.

Or ask the coaches of high school prospects Willingham pursued. Instead of spending an hour or two getting to know them and showing them why their charges would benefit from his tutelage at Notre Dame, Willingham would meet with them for a token 10 or 15 minutes, and then head to his rental car (which, more often than not, had his golf clubs in the back seat). This really turned the coaches off, and had a not-insignificant affect on recruiting efforts.

Or ask the recruits who would show up for visits, only to find no coaches available to greet them or answer their questions. This happened multiple times during Willingham's tenure at Notre Dame, meaning he was either excessively disorganized or just didn't care.

Or ask the members of the Board of Trustees who, after the dismal 2003 campaign, wanted to discuss the problems and potential solutions with Willingham. Trouble is, they couldn't find him. He and the rest of his assistants, days after signing an unranked recruiting class, were enjoying a golf junket in Florida. Needless to say, the BOT called them all back from vacation and told them to get to work. Didn't do much good; the 2004 class wasn't anything to shout about either.

Let's contrast with Charlie Weis, who brought in a top-five recruiting class last season and is working on a possible top-three class this season. I don't think he's ever picked up a golf club in his life, and while some HS coaches may not like his brash demeanor, at least he's giving all of them the chance to get to know him and what he can do for their kids. Outside of the month of July, which is dedicated to his family, Weis is working long days (and nights) trying to improve this football program. When a recruit showed up unexpectedly last year, Weis called an assistant back off the road on a moment's notice to meet with him. The recruit came away impressed.

Weis works. Willingham didn't.

Football Acumen

Tyrone Willingham was over-promoted too quickly, and as such, is a caretaker-type head coach who depends on the abilities of his assistants. While that model can and has worked at places, it falls apart when those assistants are sub-par.

Willingham has never installed an offense or defense. He has never expressed a strong philosophy on either side of the ball, preferring vague references to a "West Coast offense" that never seemed to match what happens on the field, and defensive references that never seemed to describe anything ever done in football. He was (and is) ill-equipped to strategize any kind of gameplan, preferring to be the stoic figurehead strolling the sidelines.

Willingham was either unable or unwilling to recognize and deal with under-performing assistants. Bill Diedrich's offenses were painfully easy to dissect, and yet Willingham took no steps to rectify the situation, going so far as to try and take Diedrich with him to Washington. Kent Baer's defenses were average, and yet his employment at Notre Dame continued.

It's no accident that not only did no one try to hire ND's assistants away from Willingham, but most of them also accompanied him to Washington because no one else wanted them. It's no accident that Willingham's offense is better at Washington because UW forced him to ditch Diedrich if he wanted the job.

Again, the Charlie Contrast. Weis was known as an excellent offensive mind in the NFL, so he's well able to strategize and gameplan against opposing defenses. When hired, he went out to get the best assistants he could get, unlike Willingham, who simply brought his Stanford group with him. David Cutcliffe, the QB coaching genius. Rob Ianello, architect of Wisconsin's quality recruiting. Michael Haywood, both an alumnus and late of the Mack Brown recruiting express at Texas. And when Cutcliffe had to leave for health reasons, Weis had Peter Vaas ready and waiting.

In only his second season, it remains to be seen how under-performance will be greeted. But given the micro-management of the program in other areas, logic dictates it will be dealt with more swiftly than under Willingham.

And recruits know acumen (or lack thereof) when they see it, which is why Willingham managed only one decent class during his tenure while Weis is working on his second straight in the top five. High schoolers are voting with their pens as they sign LOI's.


Simply put, Tyrone Willingham didn't want to be at Notre Dame, and it showed. He spoke disrespectfully of the program in the weeks before he was hired, changing his tune in a probably-SID-produced anecdote about running home from church to listen to the ND reruns as a child at his introduction presser. He never understood the things that made ND special. He never connected (or tried to connect, for that matter) with the alumni, blowing off scheduled events and delivering a poor performance at the events he did attend. His representatives had already talked to Washington during his third season, knowing the reduced buyout clause in his contract would make the move easier. Willingham was all set to jump before he was pushed, and it's disingenuous of him in interviews not to acknowledge that.

Charlie Weis wants to be at Notre Dame, and you can see it in everything he does. The reverence with which he talks to recruits about the Grotto and other campus landmarks. Giving the game ball for MSU to Ara Parseghian, which is something that wouldn't have occurred to Tyrone Willingham (or Bob Davie, for that matter) if you had given him a year to think about it. It's all little things to show the ND fanbase he's one of us.

(and lest you think the "one of us" includes skin color, Bob Davie made the same mistakes Willingham did, and should have been fired after his third season, too)

Desire also shows on the field. Willingham's teams were passive. If an opponent came out of the gate and smacked them in the mouth, it was, "oh well, we'll get them next time." Weis-led teams punch back. They may take a shot, but they're never out of games even when they're behind by three scores four times in the first three quarters.

Notre Dame magic was not made by the timid. Weis understands this. Willingham did not.


I've given up depending on some media folks to do their homework, but hope springs eternal.

I hope the next time Craig James or one of his cohorts talks about ND's lack of speed, they take the thought to the logical conclusion and mention how the team is still three quarters full of Willingham recruits. They don't hesitate to talk about it when ND wins, so I hope they're not hypocritical enough to abandon the train of thought when it suits their purposes.

Ditto next season, when the team will be depending on freshmen and sophomores because Willingham's last two classes don't reflect favorably against the teams ND will play. I'm not holding my breath for a "Willingham recruiting shortfalls come home to roost" headline, but I still believe in guardian angels too, so....

I hope the next time Michael Wilbon or one of his cohorts bemoan the damage ND did to minority hiring, they also take the time to note Tyrone Willingham was as much (if not more) to blame for his failure at ND as ND was, and that perhaps a stronger foundation in football fundamentals would have served Willingham better in his career. I also hope at least one of them has the guts to call him out on his role in his failure at Notre Dame, rather than serving up softballs and voluntarily serving as Willingham's lap dogs.

I hope the next time Greg Couch or one of his cohorts start comparing Weis' record to Willingham's and alleging "panic" on ND's part when dealing with Willingham, they recognize in the next breath the foundational damage Willingham's poor gameday and recruiting performance was doing to the Notre Dame program. Two more years of this under-performance, especially coming on the heels of Bob Davie's inept leadership, might have acted as a de-facto death penalty for the Notre Dame football program. While I'm sure the ND haters would have no problem with that, excuse the ND fans for not finding that result palatable.

Weis is doing the little things Willingham never did. If Willingham had done them, he'd still be at ND right now. But then again, that's not what he wanted.

That's the only comparison that stands up to scrutiny.

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

See Dick and Jane Write

In the immediate aftermath of the controversy over Jeff Carroll and Bob Wieneke's series on ND recruiting, someone linked a sports journalist message forum on Rock's House. Wading through the critical comments about NDN in particular and "fanboys" in general, there seemed to be a thread of complaint that Notre Dame fans were afraid of what was described as "objective journalism" in coverage of the Fighting Irish football team.

Now, I know that hypothesis to be untrue. As I've said before, no one wants homerism in ND-related media because homerism is neither interesting nor informative. And most of the Notre Dame writers held in the highest esteem by a lot of fans (e.g. Avani Patel, Malcolm Moran, Vaughn McClure, Eric Hansen, Jason Kelly) are anything but homers (Kelly's status as an alumnus notwithstanding).

So what is it ND fans seek in their media? It's simple: Objective material that presents the facts and allows the reader to draw the conclusions rather than having those conclusions forced down their throat. That's what the five people I listed above do very well in most of their literary efforts.

So here is my primer on the things media folks can do or remember in order to give ND folks the coverage they'll read without sacrificing their objectivity. None of these things are difficult, and they represent the things the highly-regarded ND writers do that results in the readership taking them seriously. Perhaps instead of whining about the alleged intransigence of Notre Dame fans, some media folks could decide to meet them halfway.

Put some effort into your research

I hesitate to use a word like "lazy", given its pejorative underpinnings. So suffice it to say utilizing tired cliches and half-presented facts in an article is not going to win you friends anywhere, and the Notre Dame fanbase is no exception.

In the age of the Internet, fact-checking is made available to even the most novice web surfer, and you can bet on those folks verifying any and all allegations and information against all data available. You're going to be graded by a lot of motivated folks, so you're best served doing the legwork and getting it right before the lack of such legwork is exposed.

Under the Tarnished Dome remains the archetypal failure in this field and will probably not be challenged any time soon. But a new and similarly egregious example has emerged recently: comparing the first seasons of Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis as a cautionary tale for Irish fans.

Yes, they both lost only three games and got a lot of attention. Yes, after five years of Bob Davie's ineptitude, part of the ND fanbase was excited by a 10-win season. But Tyrone Willingham's first team didn't score an offensive touchdown until the third game of the season, looked terrible in four of their last five games, and suffered the first of three consecutive blowout losses to Southern Cal, so most knowledgeable ND fans went into season two with plenty of questions that needed (and, as it turned out, didn't have) answers. Charlie Weis' first team, on the other hand, scored less than 34 points in a game only twice over the course of the season while being competitive in all three games lost. As a result, there is a lot less uncertainty in the alumni and fans going into Weis' second chapter.

Past performance never guarantees future results. But given the unlikelihood Weis will hit his head and suddenly forget how to be the coach he's been so far, logic dictates (a) ND fans can reasonably be more confident now than they were in 2003, and (b) warnings about alleged "parallels" will be viewed as simplistic and overcautious, presenting a negative picture to the reader.

Subway alumni are people, too

Judge Smails once reminded us all the world needs ditch-diggers, too. Unfortunately for Notre Dame's subway alumni, this seems to be the prevailing attitude by which the media views them.

Not everyone in the world goes to college, and not everyone in the world goes to a college that has a Division 1 (or Bowl Division or Eagle Reading Class or whatever the NCAA is calling it now) football program. So logic dictates the masses of humanity filling up these football stadia every Saturday (or Thursday or Tuesday or whatever day ESPN, in its never-ending battle to do for sports what MTV has done for music, has bribed some schools to play its games) aren't entirely made up of the graduates of the two institutes of higher learning in question. So the non-alumnus fan is not a phenomenon unique to Notre Dame.

What is unique to Notre Dame, however, is the use of a specific term to describe such a fan. "Subway alumni" was coined in the 1920s and 30s to describe the many Notre Dame fans in New York City who, while they didn't attend Notre Dame (or any college, for that matter), would ride the subway to Yankee Stadium to watch the Fighting Irish take on the Black Knights of the Hudson from up Army way, and the term eventually grew to encompass the entire non-alumni fan contingent. Subway alumni take great pride in their status as such, and Notre Dame alumni recognize how they've contributed to the history and tradition of the program.

Also unique to Notre Dame, apparently, is the condescending, if not downright hostile, tone in which non-Notre Dame folks, including a lot of media creatures, use that term. No one has any problems with the auto worker from Detroit who makes seven pilgrimages to Ann Arbor every fall, nor the distillery worker who considers a September Saturday not spent in Knoxville to be a waste of time and life, nor the UCSB grad who has spent the last three years going to games in the LA Coliseum and who will no doubt disappear the next time the Trojans go 7-5.

But brand yourself a Notre Dame subway alumnus, and John Mark Karr has a better chance of getting positive comments from the media than you do. The subway alums, the media says, are somehow defective in their fandom. They only care about the team and not the school.

This, as I said, is a shortcut to a tune-out. At the risk of painting with a broad brush, most of the subway alumni active in their Notre Dame fandom care as much about the school in general as they do about football in particular. Attempting to create a "crazed booster" contingent in the fanbase is a strawman of the worst kind.

I suspect the root of the problem with opposing fans is a belief if the subway alumni weren't rooting for Notre Dame, the school would get less attention nationwide and would not enjoy the influence in college football it has. I would certainly hope media folks who are supposed to be objective about their topic wouldn't fall into such a simple-minded trap, because such things are supposed to be above those with journalistic integrity. Besides, all those schools have subway alumni contributing to their own influence that I'd guess they'd hate to lose.

Don't assume a willingness to embrace a lawbreaking culture

In short, selling ND's soul for football glory. Again, Under the Tarnished Dome sets the low-water mark, but this is the mistake Carroll and Weineke recently made in their four-part recruiting article in the SBT I talked about here.

In over 100 years of playing football, the only thing Notre Dame has done at a higher percentage of success than playing football is following its rules. All areas of the Notre Dame family, from the coaches and players on down through administrators, alumni, and yes, even Subway Alumni, put a priority on compliance just as much as winning. To them, a win out of bounds is not a win.

Therefore, if you're going to attempt to prove the existence of a mindset that runs counter to that 100 years of history, you need to bring very strong evidence to back up your assertion. Otherwise, your ND-related readership is going to turn the page. You might earn cheap points with those on the ND-hating side of the ledger, but if that's your goal, you're unlikely to take any of this to heart anyway.

No one believes Notre Dame is perfect

Not everything Notre Dame does is right. Mistakes get made there just as they're made everywhere. Sometimes they're benign, sometimes not so benign, but they're there, and any Notre Dame alumnus or fan with a basic level of intelligence knows it.

If you go into your story believing ND fans need to be convinced of this, most likely you'll end up with a heavy-handed piece that won't be viewed well because the readers will interpret it as an agenda on your part. You may think you need to make hyperbolic statements and arguments to drill through the perceived shell of resistance, but when the shell isn't there, the drill just goes too deep and weakens your piece.

If the details of a mistake are presented with a factual emphasis, most of the Notre Dame readership will listen. If it comes across as gratuitous, with aspects blown out of proportion or buttressed with questionable material, they will not, and that lack of interest shouldn't surprise you.

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