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

Saving Our Electronic Souls

Back in the day, you'd watch a game at a sports bar with your friends or in your living room with family. Joe Montana would overthrow a guy, maybe Alan Pinkett would hit the wrong hole, Tim Brown would down a kickoff inside the five yard line, Lou Holtz would have Kent Graham try and run an option play, and you'd scream at the television, berating the player or coach in question for being a knucklehead. Others in the bar or the room may have agreed or disagreed with you. Within five or six plays, the gaffe may or may not have been forgotten, but you'd moved on to the action at hand. After the game, you might have still been irritated at the blunder, especially if it contributed to a loss, but within a game or so, that play had melded into the other plays that constituted the story of the season.

Now the Internet has come along, and has turned into the world's biggest sports bar. Plays get analyzed long after their previous shelf life would have expired, and the opinions expressed, no matter how ephemeral, gain an air of permanency as the page on which they were written floats in the electronic ether. Philosophies both positive and negative tend to coalesce, as people gravitate towards others who share their viewpoint which may or may not be logical or correct. And as with all things, there is an element of supremacy and accuracy, as perceived value is placed on the person or site that was "first" to point something out.

These are the times that try men's souls. Unfortunately, our souls are being recorded on a magnetic disk these days.

It's hard to say whether these things are good or bad in and of themselves. In the end, we're discussing actual things that have happened, so it's not like people are inventing thing to be happy or to complain about. Opinions are still as much like assholes as they've ever been, and the Internet won't ever change that. Some folks feel you should be able to complain about things when they're bad, other folks feel fans shouldn't be going out of their way to create an atmosphere of negativity, and both sides can put together intelligent, reasonable arguments as to why they're correct.

But there's one thing I would hope both sides agree on -- anyone who tries to use those contributions fraudulently to further their own ends is a piece of garbage with no ethics.

I don't follow recruiting much because I'm a bear of very little brain and I don't have the spare horsepower to agonize over the decisions of 19-year-olds. As I've said many times, I long for the days of yesteryear when I got my Blue and Gold in March with the list of football players who had signed letters of intent and how they fit in the current puzzle. I didn't (and don't) need to know how good the players were who turned us down or who we decided we didn't want. There's only so much grass-is-greener syndrome I can fit in my life.

But a number of good friends of mine not only follow it, they report on it. And some of them are reporting coaches of other programs, particularly two from one school (whose names I won't mention but they rhyme with Suburban Liar and Peg's Mad At Her Son), are cultivating message board comments from ND sites and attempting to paint their own picture with them for already-committed ND recruits. They're inventing racial preferences on Charlie Weis' part because he went with a white quarterback over a black one. They're claiming that all the ND fans want Charlie and his whole staff fired. They believe, even though neither was an assistant coach at ND in the last three years, they can describe exactly how ND does things in all aspects, even though what they describe wasn't done even during their tenures.

All of this is, of course, crap. Charlie Weis went with the player he believed could win games for him, that's the long and short of it. ND fans of intelligence remember 19 wins in 23 games and two BCS bids very well, and none are pushing for Weis to be fired, nor is there any danger he will be. They want him to improve, certainly, and the quality of recruit he and Corwin Brown are bringing into the fold will help make that happen, but saying that Charlie will be "bought out" or the fans want him gone is fabrication of the worst kind.

One can only wonder what Kathi Lemire would think of that behavior if she were here to see it. I doubt she'd smile.

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Physicians, Heal Thyselves

I swear, there are times I believe the people who operate various Michigan fansites are committing fraud. They expect people to pay for their "knowledge", and yet they know just as little (if not less) about a lot of topics than their posters do. Why people shell out good money to listen to those people is beyond me.

The latest mewling concerns the potential (edit: now confirmed) verbal commitment of defensive lineman Ethan Johnson to Charlie Weis. Proving that there's no song like an old song, they've dredged up the same tired whine they used when Sam Young chose the Fighting Irish over the Wolverines -- guaranteed major admittance. According to them, ND has a recruiting advantage over Michigan because UM requires admittance to some of their programs of study after a year or two of matriculation over and above the decision that got you into Ann Arbor in the first place. ND, they complain, doesn't have that hurdle. Any ND football player can major in whatever he wants, and this creates some kind of shadow of wrongdoing or academic shortcutting on ND's part.

News flash, boys: that's available to every Notre Dame student. This isn't something dreamed up for the football players, and it's not any kind of academic corner-cutting. That would be a Kinesiology department, but that's a discussion for another day. Notre Dame doesn't require a selection process at the upperclass level for specific majors because their overall admissions process is more selective.

Now before any of the Maize and Blue faithful get their panties in a bunch, the difference is Michigan is a much larger school and, as such, admits a wider range of academic student as a result. Therefore, they need a secondary process to determine the best destination for the students once they're there. Same thing is true for any large state university, which is why a lot of those universities have those policies. Notre Dame, on the other hand, is smaller overall and with no state constituency involved, applies a harsher standard for overall admittance. Once the student is in South Bend, they're allowed to select whatever major suits their fancy.

Granted, there's still a weed-out process in the form of classroom performance. I know a lot of pre-med guys who, thanks to Organic Chemistry, wound up in MIS classes with yours truly. There's no guarantees once you're in the program. You still have to get the grades, and in that respect, ND football players are held to the same standard as everyone else. I know that because, unlike the peanut gallery who've never attended a class in South Bend, I was actually there and saw them do it.

But turning it into a "recruiting advantage" is the most odoriferous level of bullshit. "Michigan is not going to sell their standards at the B-school to get a recruit." Right. Instead, they're going to shuttle him into a meaningless major and then cease to care whether or not he gets his degree once he's in there. Now that's a standard to which we can all aspire.

Here's a hint, Skunkweasels: Worry a lot less about how recruits are admitted to whatever college within a university, and worry a lot more about how that 33 percent graduation rate for African American football players is making you look. Instead of jumping down Jim Harbaugh's throat for being disloyal, how about an actual effort to keep your players' noses to the grindstone? How about providing guidance to these players to ensure they not only select a meaningful major but also see the effort through to getting the sheepskin? If you're going to treat your athletes like meat, don't be shocked when some of them decide they want something better than the grinder.

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