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11.1 - Hike Up Your Kilt

I thought we were past the "Hold Me I'm Irish" phase? Guess not. In these down weeks of news it seems many Irish fans have taken to running from an imaginary falling sky. I've been trying to get a book proposal done, but I can't take it anymore.

1. Brady Quinn is having a hell of a year. It's not his fault we started off with Georgia Tech, Penn State and Michigan. Hell, Troy Smith had his worst game of the year against Penn State and Brady Quinn rolled the Lions. If Quinn were on Ohio State, who do you think would start? In their two games against like opponents Quinn has dominated and that's with no running game and a crappy offensive line. Quinn has been sacked 21 times this year. Smith? 8. Ohio State's running game is 15th in the country. I can't count how far down Notre Dame's running is. Defenses? Uh. Let's not go there. Brady Quinn has done it on his own with a constant rush in his face. The Heisman doesn't go to the best team, it goes to the most outstanding player. Any idiot who says that Ohio State winning out locks up the Heisman doesn't understand the award. If Quinn were on OSU, they'd still be undefeated. If Smith were on ND, we might have two more losses.

2. The only measure Notre Dame is not having a good season by is absurd media predictions. The same ones that ranked Notre Dame 45th in the country before last season. This was a two loss minimum three loss likely team from the get go. We don't have one good recruiting class between our sophomore and junior classes COMBINED. It's almost impossible to win a NC with a two year black hole in recruiting. Charlie Weis (17-4) has a better record at the same point in his career than did Tressell, Carroll, Stoops and Saban. If he hasn't been winning by enough to stop your undies from riding up, you might remember that most teams who win championships have to pull a few out of an unnamed orifice. Yapping heads are actually using Notre Dame's late season schedule against the Irish while giving them no credit for starting out with a strong schedule (ranked #1 for five weeks.) Meanwhile OSU opens with Northern Illinois and everybody fawns.

Oh yeah, 60 minutes cut out the part about Weis making sure all of his players are student-athletes and graduate. Guess that wasn't newsworthy.

3. Finally, recruiting. Notre Dame will have a top 10 class this year. We'll likely have a top 5. That's all we need. There are seeming highs and lows in recruiting and most of them come from adults with jobs trying to interpret a 17 year old's intention through the internet.

Which is absurd.

Remember, at this point in the game David Givens had eliminated Notre Dame. Many are upset and concocting rumors about Illinois, grades, Aurelious Benn and alleged payoffs. Two things on that. One, Benn has the grades from everything we've heard. Two, I don't think anyone Notre Dame is recruiting is stupid enough to risk an NFL career for a few extra bucks in college. Zook is a nutjob who won't be here in three years. Benn will make the best decision for him whatever that is. He's a great kid by all accounts, with grades and a great future. Let it happen. Recruiting will go up and down on the surface until signing day, but you'll never know exactly what people are thinking until it's over. Having watched recruiting for some 20 years now I feel pretty confident on advising people not to read the tea leaves. You just don't know and I've been reading all of these idiotic interpretations from fans who think they can solve a puzzle with .01% of the needed information. This staff can evaluate talent, works hard and most importantly, can develop talent. I'm not going to fret over any athlete, remember most of them, even the top rated ones, don't pan out. It takes more than high school accolades to make an NFL prospect. That written, if you haven't watched Clausen's tape... you should.

I can't believe anyone would feel anything but giddy about Notre Dame football right now. Imagine where we'd be in year five of Willingham? You want more perspective? Read Omahadomer's take on where we are:

In one sense, the national media is absolutely correct when it says that Weis is winning with Willingham's players. It's one of those indisputably true but uncomfortable-sounding statements, like saying that all the cornerbacks in the NFL are black.

But let's examine it seriously. The truth is that Weis has had very little chance to affect the personnel on this team. The class that straddled the two coaches was small and the one class he's had a chance to recruit is big and talented. But they're freshmen. He has played an unusual number of freshmen and we even have one starting on the OL, but all in all over 90% of the player minutes this year have gone to players who were Willingham or even Davie recruits.

Willingham, to be objective about it, was trying to build a team in the image of his successful Stanford teams. And while he has taken his fair share of well-deserved shots on this board (including several from me), he did build a couple of teams that were wildly successful by Stanford standards.

Willingham took Stanford to an 8-3 regular season and the Rose Bowl in 1999 and went 9-2 during the regular season in 2001. Since Pop Warner left Stanford the list of coaches who have gotten to 8 or more wins more than once at Stanford is pretty short: John Ralston (whose teams won back-to-back Rose Bowls behind Jim Plunkett in the early 1970's), Bill Walsh (whose feat of winning back-to-back bowls in the late 1970's was considered such an accomplishment that he was immediately hired by the 49er's where he did OK), and Willingham.

So whatever else his limitations, Willingham enjoyed success by Stanford standards. How did he do it? Well, he did it with teams that had big-armed quarterbacks who could throw downfield, tall receivers with glue-like hands, smallish OL's that were better at pass blocking, pass-catching TE's, scat backs who were good at catching the ball and running delays and draws and enough defense to give up a bunch of yards but force teams to kick field goals and turn it over often enough that you could outscore them.

Does this remind you of any team that you've watched lately? Consider that Stanford's 1999 team outscored the opposition 34.8 to 30.3. Stanford's 2001 team outscored the opposition 35.2 to 28.3. Last year ND outscored the opposition 36.7 to 24.5. This year's ND margin so far is 28.9 to 22.7 (and but for the new clock rules would probably be something like 31.1 to 24.5 figuring that scoring overall is down about 4 ppg).

The thing that Weis has done so brilliantly is to win 78.9% of his games after a decade stretch where ND won 60.1% (73-47 from 1995 through 2004) of its games. He has done a really good job of playing the cards he's been dealt. They weren't the worst cards in the world, they weren't the best cards in the world surely, but he has pretty much played them just right.

But ND was not being configured to win a national championship especially against the level of competition we play. Winning an NC against our schedule probably requires a power running game and more defense.

That's not to say that it's absolutely impossible to win an NC with a flawed team. You just need a lot of breaks and for there not to be any truly great teams out there. Consider the two teams who have won NC's lately in their coach's second year. Oklahoma under Stoops caught a break in that their JUCO QB Heupel had the year of his life and OU managed to stumble by 3 late opponents beating Texas A&M 35-31, Oklahoma State 12-7 and KSU in the Big 12 championship game 27-24. Then OU got another break when the computers sent FSU instead of Miami to the NC game.

Ohio State was another flawed team that won it all by pulling a bunch of games out of its ear. OSU that year escaped Minter's Cincy team 23-19, was in a fight with Northwestern before winning 27-16, snuck by Wisconsin 19-14, survived Penn State the next week 13-7, beat Purdue the next week 10-6 completing a 40-yard TD pass on 4th down on OSU's final possession, struggled to beat Illinois the next week 23-16, got by Michigan 14-9 the next week and then would've lost the NC game to Miami but for a remarkable pass interference call in overtime that extended a game that appeared to be over.

Neither of these teams would have stood the remotest chance of beating teams like Miami in 2000 or USC in 2004. None. But everything fell in place for them and despite their limitations they won. And both Stoops and Tressel managed to follow coaches who had reputations as good recruiters but obvious limitations as coaches. But let's not forget that those really dominant teams were the product of several years of building by coaches with an undeniable ability to identify, recruit and develop talent: Butch Davis at Miami and Pete Carroll (and Norm Chow) at USC.

Now, could ND be one of those blessed teams like OU or OSU? It could happen despite the loss to Michigan. Assume that ND runs the table eliminating USC from contention and that USC eliminates Cal from contention. The SEC teams wipe each other out and the conference champ emerges with 2 losses. Rutgers, Louisville and W.V. perform the Three Stooges routine where they knock each other out. And ND winds up ahead of Texas. In that case ND could play the winner of the OSU-Michigan game for all the marbles. And you know what? ND could win that game if the pieces fall into place. It's not probable, but it's possible.

More likely and still satisfying is that ND could play in a good bowl game and actually win it.

In one sense the jury is still out on Weis because we don't know what the final product (the 2008 or 2009 team) will look like. I think it's going to look good but it'll look different with more defense and running.

But in the meantime let's enjoy someone actually playing correctly the cards he's been dealt.

~ The Rock

Brady Quinn vs. Troy Smith

In their games against like opponents, here are the stats for Troy Smith and Brady Quinn (from Glo Worm) against Penn State and Michigan State.

Brady Quinn
Passing: 45/73 606yds .616 8 TD 1 INT

Rushing: 14/4 0 TD

Troy Smith
Passing: 27/44 349yds .613 3 TD 2 INT

Rushing: 11/28 0 TD

Weis vs. Stoops vs. Tressell vs. Carroll vs. Saban

1. Charlie Weis: 14-4
2. Bob Stoops: 13-5
2. Jim Tressell: 13-5
4. Nick Saban 11-7
5. Pete Carroll: 10-8

* Through their first six games of their second seasons

NDN Excerpt: No Excuses by Charlie Weis

Chapter 1 If You’re Going to Have an Opinion, Make Sure It’s One That Matters
“Notre Dame called last night… I told them they could give you a call.”
--Bill Belichick

To this day I am not sure why I dialed the phone. I guess you could blame it on a lot of things, immaturity probably being the biggest. It was a Sunday afternoon in 1975, the day after Notre Dame’s football team had lost a game and looked pretty bad doing so. For some reason, I believed that being a student of the university entitled me to issue a complaint about the team’s performance. I thought it would be a good idea to take my complaint all the way to the top—to the office of Father Theodore Hesburgh, the school’s president at the time.

To be honest, I was fully expecting to get an answering service. I was stunned when Father Hesburgh himself picked up at the other end. It had never dawned on me that he would be done with his Sunday masses and actually sitting in his office at that very moment, ready to answer his phone.

Father Hesburgh was caught off guard as well. He wasn’t in the habit of fielding a lot of complaint calls from students. He made me come straight down to his office to tell him exactly what was on my mind.

My passion for sports and thinking that I knew everything there was to know about football—not to mention every other sport—had a lot to do with my being in that situation. When I sat in the stands at Notre Dame, I wasn’t just watching the action on the field or on the court. To me, being at the game meant being a part of the game. Our football team won the national championship in 1977, my senior year. Our basketball team went to the Final Four. As a student who went to every game, I felt that I was part of the reason why the University of San Francisco’s twenty-nine-game winning streak in basketball came to an end in ’77 in our building, the Joyce Center, where the chant was “Twenty-nine . . . and one!” At Notre Dame, the whole student body has always believed it can affect the outcome of a game.

Notre Dame Stadium is like no other place you’ve ever gone to watch football. Not that there aren’t fans everywhere that make a lot of noise, but a game at Notre Dame is something to experience. I still can’t believe my eyes when I see, after every Notre Dame score, hundreds of people in the stands doing “air push-ups.” That’s where they lift people, often recruits who weigh as much as 350 pounds, into the air and do as many push-ups with them as we have points. Or how about fans who crowd surf sixty rows? You just won’t find anything like it anywhere else.

But there should be a limit to your enthusiasm, and I had exceeded that limit with my complaint call to Father Hesburgh, who at the time was in his twenty-third year as Notre Dame’s president. Father Hesburgh would lead the university for twelve more years until his retirement in 1987. He is considered one of the most influential figures in higher education in the twentieth century.

I walked into his office with my tail between my legs, scared to death that I had gotten myself into trouble. Father Hesburgh had a very intimidating aura. After I nervously shared my point of view on our football team, he basically told me that I didn’t get a vote. What I thought about the football team wasn’t important, he said; I should go back and be a good student who was loyal to the school and its teams, and not consider my opinion one that mattered.

Fortunately, the stern lecture was the extent of my punishment. But that didn’t make it any less painful. I remember walking out of that office feeling as humbled as you could possibly be.

Now flash forward nearly thirty years, to early December 2004. Once again I was on the phone with a member of the administration at the University of Notre Dame. This time I was on the receiving end of the call, at my office in Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts, home of the New England Patriots.

I was going about my usual business as the Patriots’ offensive coordinator, trying to help them win their third Super Bowl in four seasons. John Heisler, Notre Dame’s senior associate athletics director, was asking whether I would be interested in speaking with Kevin White, the school’s director of athletics, about replacing Tyrone Willingham, who had just been fired as head coach.

Imagine that. The opinionated fan who used to sit in the student section had an opinion about Notre Dame football that just might matter after all. It brought a sarcastic smile to my face.

I told John that protocol would be for Kevin to call Bill Beli-chick, the Patriots’ head coach, to ask for permission to talk with me. Belichick got that call on Saturday night, December 4, while we were in Cleveland getting ready for our game the next day against the Browns. I was anxious to hear about what had transpired in the conversation between Bill and Kevin, but that wouldn’t happen until Sunday morning, during our pregame meal, when Bill came up to me and said, “Notre Dame called last night. . . . I told them they could give you a call.” Not that I was expecting him to tell me otherwise, but still it was a relief to hear that he had given his official blessing.

We beat the Browns, 42–15. On Tuesday morning, as we began game planning for our next opponent, Cincinnati, Kevin called to say he wanted to come to New England to interview me.

“When do you want to do that?” I asked.

“Today,” he said.


“When are you available?”

“Any time after midnight.”

“Excuse me?”

“Any time after midnight.”

I had made a commitment to Belichick that I would not let the pursuit of the Notre Dame job, or any head-coaching position for that matter, distract me from my work with the Patriots. I would spend all day and all night working on the offensive game plan, as I always did on Tuesday before a Sunday game, and midnight was when I usually finished. If Kevin wanted to interview me on Tuesday, that was the time I would be available.

“Okay,” he said.

The meeting was set for 12:30 A.M., at the Westin Hotel in Providence. I knew I wasn’t going to feel the least bit spent. Are you kidding me? I was already operating on adrenaline because of our playoff run, and now we’re talking about the chance to coach football at Notre Dame, the premier football program in the country. I had gone to school there. I’m a Catholic. Ask college football fans anywhere to name the one program they would want to run, and probably more than half are going to say Notre Dame. This wasn’t just any job.
The previous summer, during training camp, Belichick and I had spoken about head-coaching opportunities in college football, after I’d been a candidate for two NFL head-coaching positions, with the Buffalo Bills and the New York Giants, and missed out on both of them in part because of the Patriots’ success. Our playoff runs would allow an NFL team to interview me only once, during a designated time frame, but I could not be offered a job until our season was over. Otherwise, the team making the offer could be accused of tampering and if found guilty could end up forfeiting multiple draft picks. That’s a price no team wants to pay if it doesn’t have to.

The Bills and Giants didn’t want to wait; they went with coaches who were immediately available to be hired—Mike Mularkey went to Buffalo, and Tom Coughlin to the Giants. Some NFL teams feel the longer they wait, the harder it is to find good assistant coaches for the head coach to put his program in place. It’s different with colleges. Because they are not in direct competition with NFL teams, there are no restrictions on when or how often they can make contact with NFL assistants, and they don’t have to wait until after the season to hire them.

I wasn’t pessimistic about my prospects of becoming an NFL head coach, but I had started doing some research on these college jobs, which were starting to pay pretty well. The guys taking them were getting long-term contracts, and they seemed happy.

“I think I ought to at least explore a couple of these jobs if they come open,” I said to Bill.

“Which ones?”

“Notre Dame and South Carolina.”

Notre Dame I’ve already explained. I was interested in South Carolina because my wife, Maura, and I plan to retire there.

By chance, both jobs came open at the same time.

My agent, Bob LaMonte, had already been preparing me to -interview for NFL head-coaching positions. Bob, who is based in Reno, Nevada, specializes in representing football coaches, and he is good enough at it that he usually doesn’t have to go after clients. They come to him. Two of his coaches who are friends of mine, Andy Reid of the Philadelphia Eagles and John Fox of the Carolina Panthers, had told him that he should represent me.

Bob gives you a whole book to study on the interview process, then goes over all of the material with you. He believes that within the first ten minutes you have to be able to tell people conducting the interview who you are, what made you who you are, and what you stand for. Bob put me through hours and hours of mock interviews. After that, I felt well schooled going into an interview. I was ready.

When you’re clearly “the guy” for a head-coaching job in football, you’re clearly “the guy.” When you’re part of a pack, one of three or four candidates, and the people doing the hiring don’t have any preconceived notion of who’s getting the job, a good interview is what separates you from the rest.

I believe that if you have the goods to become a head coach you should be able to avoid a poor interview. If you don’t interview well, chances are you didn’t prepare, and if you don’t prepare, you don’t have the goods. You’d better be prepared, because you’re going to be in charge of an organization. Among many other attributes, you need to have people skills, and you need to demonstrate that you can run the show. These abilities are evident in an interview.

That summer, I also prepared in case the right college job came open, because once the NFL season starts, you don’t have time to study colleges or anything else; you’re totally involved in the season. So I did some research on how I’d put a college staff together. At that point, I had been in the pros for fourteen years already, and most of the guys I knew didn’t want to go back to the college level. I came up with a thought process on putting together a staff based more on a concept than on targeting specific people to hire.

Relationships between the coaches would be important because building a cohesive staff was imperative. I wanted, on both sides of the ball, at least two guys who had worked together at some point so that there was some kind of rapport already established. In addition to that, even if I couldn’t hire people from the Patriots, I wanted to have some familiarity with the coaching of the people I did hire. I also wanted some alumni on the staff, people who would understand the school’s traditions and bring the sense of pride that helps make any football program successful. Last but not least, I wanted people with recruiting-coordinator backgrounds because I felt that coming from the NFL, that would be one area where I would have the most catching up to do.

A couple of my boys from the University of South Carolina, where I had gotten my first taste of big-time football as a graduate assistant and served in other coaching and recruiting capacities, called to tell me that it looked like Steve Spurrier was going to be the guy there. They wondered whether I wanted to get my name into the mix.

“Hell, no, I don’t want to get my name into the mix,” I said. “Why would I want to do that only to lose out to Spurrier?”
Kevin White and Father John Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president, flew to Providence on a private plane (owned by Jim Morse, a Notre Dame alumnus), in order to prevent anyone tracking the flights of the Notre Dame–owned planes, which can be done easily through the Internet if you have the tail numbers. Once someone saw that a Notre Dame plane was on a midnight flight to Providence, it wouldn’t be a reach to assume that the trip probably involved a meeting with yours truly. In a matter of seconds, that information would be all over the Web like a rash.

Early in our conversation, I told Kevin and Father Jenkins that I was not leaving the Patriots until the season was over. If that was going to be a deal breaker, it was important for them to know that up front.

“I’ve already talked with Bill Belichick,” I said. “Bill would go out of his way to work with me if I were to get the job now and then move out there after we finish playing. I am not going to sacrifice the Patriots’ season just to get this job.”

After that, I gave them about a ten-minute spiel about my personal makeup. I talked about who I was and what I stood for, and the people who got me where I was at that point. I talked about the very first major influence on my coaching career, John Chironna, the head coach at Morristown High School in New Jersey. I talked about the late Joe Morrison, who gave me one of the biggest breaks of my career when he hired me at South Carolina. I talked about Bill Parcells, who gave me my first coaching job in the NFL with the Giants. And, of course, I talked about Bill Belichick.

I emphasized both Parcells and Belichick because they were the critical players in shaping me as a coach, and they would be my two biggest references.

A significant part of the discussion focused on being a graduate of Notre Dame, which had been the case with only two Fighting Irish coaches in the previous forty-two years. I thought that anyone who had gone to school there would have a huge advantage over somebody who hadn’t. Urban Meyer, the coach at Utah and a former assistant at Notre Dame, was rumored to have been offered the position, but he later accepted the head-coaching job at Florida.

Now, Notre Dame was talking with only three guys, all who had university connections: Greg Blache, a former defensive back and assistant coach at Notre Dame who was coaching with the Washington Redskins; Tommy Clements, a former quarterback and assistant coach at Notre Dame who was the offensive coordinator for Buffalo; and me. They knew Blache and Clements because they had coached and played there. They didn’t know me.

How much did people really know about any of the coaches on the Patriots’ staff? You’d know who we were, but you wouldn’t know us, because Belichick, like Parcells, rarely allowed assistant coaches to speak with the media.

I think Kevin and Father Jenkins liked the combination of my football background and what I was about as a person. People can read your bio in the media guide to find out about everything you’ve done as a football coach, but until they talk with you they don’t know about you as a person. When they started hearing about how important my family is and about my special-needs daughter, Hannah, and about my son, Charlie, who’s my best buddy, and about how my wife is my closest friend, they got a much more complete picture.

Early in the interview I knew where this was going. I could tell by the questions, and by the look on their faces as I answered. I wasn’t sure, but I felt very good about my chances.

The foregoing is excerpted from No Excuses by Charlie Weis. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022

10.2 - Perspective

Schedule: Notre Dame's schedule still ranks as the toughest in the country according to Jeff Sagarin.

Perspective: Three years ago at this same point in his second season, Ty Willingham was 2-3 and in the midst of the worst ten game stretch in Notre Dame history.

Heisman Watch: In the only game against a like opponent, Penn Sate, Ohio States Troy Smith was 12 of 22 for 115 yards with 1 touch down and 2 interceptions. Brady Quinn was 25 of 36 for 287 yards with 3 touchdowns and 0 interceptions.

Purdue: Note Dame blasted Purdue, taking a 28-7 lead and coasting to win by two touchdowns. I turned the game off after the fake field goal. Notre Dame's defense did the job when it counted.

Note that Notre Dame's opposition is now 18-2 in games that didn't involve ND. None had a loss coming into their game with the Irish. As omahadomer points out, here's how Notre Dame's last four coaches started out. Notice the point differentials... a key indicator of performance.

Weis: 13-4, + 165 points
Willingham: 11-6 + 19 points
Davie: 10-7 + 12 points
Holtz: 10-7, + 159 points

Notre Dame's defense has a long way to go, but we just faced five tough opponents in a row with no break. We played Purdue without Travis Thomas, Ambrose Wooden and half a Zibby. There's work to be done, but this story is still being written.

sullybiscuit did a defensive of analysis of Notre Dame's defense vs. USC's last year.

Yards allowed per game:
USC '05 - 360
ND '06 - 343

Points allowed per game:
USC '05 - 23
ND '06 - 26

Yet no one will say that Pete Carroll is a poor defensive coach and he's working with the best talent in the country.

Final Flanner found UND's perspective on Brady and the Heisman.

Brady Stacks Up With The Most Recent Heisman Trophy Winners

Notre Dame senior QB Brady Quinn finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting last season. Through five games, Brady is on pace for 3,645 yards passing and 34 touchdown passes. Here is an interesting comparison between Quinn and the previous five QBs to capture the Heisman Trophy (a QB has taken home the award five of the last six years):

Player Yds TD INT Pct
Brady Quinn, Notre Dame (projected) 3,645 34 10 61.7
Matt Leinart, USC (2004) 3,322 33 6 65.3
Jason White, Oklahoma (2003) 3,846 40 10 61.6
Carson Palmer, USC (2002) 3,942 33 10 63.2
Eric Crouch, Nebraska (2001) *2,625 *26 10 55.5
Chris Weinke, Florida State (2000) 4,167 33 11 61.7

*total yards (passing/rushing) and total touchdowns

Johnelle Smith is a nut. He says the Illinois players deserve to plant the flag, yet he puts his players at midfield to prevent it and start a fight? Put the first notch in Weis's belt. Johnelle is done.

Crazy Chester has it right: It is not too difficult to see how they overlooked Illinois if the HEAD COACH is still focused on Notre Dame.