Thursday, December 30, 2004

Rally [people] of Notre Dame | by Jay

Much more to come on the bowl, the BCS, Charlie Weis's assistant coaching staff, plus a BGS year-in-review. In the meantime, here's a fun feature from the New York Times on college fight songs. (If we ever were to revise the Victory March, I think we should take a cue from New Mexico State).

Sometimes, Sis-Boom-Bah Doesn't Seem Like Enough
By Warren St. John

The outcome of the Bowl Championship Series is up in the air until Tuesday, but going into the final week of college football this year, a few things are certain: seasons will be made and lost, touchdowns scored, marching bands will play in celebration and lots of people will sing songs that make next to no sense to the modern ear.

Consider the "Aggie War Hymn" of Texas A&M:

Hullabaloo, Caneck! Caneck!
Hullabaloo, Caneck! Caneck!

Consider also the Oklahoma fight song, "Boomer Sooner."

Boomer Sooner, Boomer Sooner.
Boomer Sooner, Boomer Sooner!

Fight songs, perhaps always self-consciously anachronistic, have never sounded more out of date than they do today. With their bloodthirsty lyrics - "You will hit 'em, you will wreck 'em; Hit 'em, wreck 'em Texas Tech!" - and their unabashed chauvinism, not to mention the fusillade of nonsense phrases, the sentiments they express couldn't clash more with the tolerant and inclusive atmosphere emphasized on most college campuses.

And to the typical college athlete, who likely spends as many hours a day blasting Nelly on headphones as listening to the sounds of the natural world, nothing sounds as utterly square as "Rah! Rah! Rah!"

"The culture that these songs came from goes back to the early 1900's songs for white athletes," said Glenn Richter, a former director of the University of Texas marching band. "They picked musical styles that were popular at the time, but that has changed radically. There's very little out there now that reflects the current student-athlete."

All this weighed heavily earlier this fall on Aaron Alcala-Mosley, a 22-year-old bass drummer in the University of California marching band. The university was accepting submissions for lyrics to a new fight song, and Alcala-Mosley wanted to enter. He said he sat down to compose the night before the deadline.

"I wasn't into the call to violence," he said. "Instead of annihilating Stanford, I thought I'd focus on the idea of Cal winning."

Alcala-Mosley studied fight song lyrics of other universities and noted they shared two characteristics: "A timelessness, and a cheesiness."

His entry, "California Triumph," won hands down, and doesn't lack for either:

Boldly, sons and daughters,
From our hearts our song we sing!
For all the glory we shall bring her,
Alma Mater's name shall ring.

"It's kind of generic, but also what we felt we wanted," said Robert Calonico, the director of bands at Cal. "The stuff our world has been through makes you stop and think, 'Is this really what we want in our song?' And Berkeley students are very sensitive."

Sensitivity has not traditionally been the aim of the fight song. Most are martial versions of war cries, meant to intimidate the competition into a quivering mess. Thomas C. Duffy, the music director of the Yale band, said the common theme of most fight songs was "who's going to do what to whom, and how bad."

Duffy said also that given the modern prevalence of female athletes - unthinkable in the day many fight songs were composed - there's often a notable disconnect between fight song lyrics and who is being urged to fight.

"We sing 'the sons of Eli' when the sons of Eli aren't even on the field," he said, referring to a line from Yale's fight song.

A few universities have tried to subtly nudge their fight songs into the modern era.

Drake University in Des Moines changed the opening line of its fight song from "Here's to the man who wears the 'D' " to "Here's to the one who wears the 'D.' "

Brigham Young University changed the line "Stalwart men, and true" to "Loyal, strong and true." But for the most part, changes to fight songs do not go over well with alumni or fans, so most remain the same as they ever were.

"It would be a major upheaval to turn over tradition," Duffy said. "You'd alienate more people than you'd win over."

Some of the anachronisms in fight songs are too subtle to bother any but the most obsessive sports historians. The University of Alabama fight song, "Yea! Alabama," invokes a Rose Bowl victory and threatens drowning to the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, even though Alabama hasn't been to the Rose Bowl since 1946 and no longer counts Georgia Tech as a regular rival.

So why not tweak a line or two to make the song more current?

Mitchell Shaw, 38, a hard-core Alabama fan known to many sports talk radio listeners in the state as "Mitchell from Montgomery," said no way.

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it," he said. "That's like changing the uniforms - you're not going to do that."

Summing up the view of many fans, Shaw added: "I know we live in the past. But at least we have a past."

Some fight songs invoke the past more deliberately than others. L.S.U. looks to medieval times:

Like knights of old we fight to hold
The glory of the Purple and Gold

San Diego State looks to ancient Mexico:

Fight on and on ye Aztec men
Sons of Montezuma, we will win again.

For sheer anachronism, though, perhaps nothing can approach the fight song of the Albion College Britons, in Albion, Mich., some of which is written in Middle English.

Fyte Onne, for Albion,
Her destiny is in your hands!
Fyte Onne, and don't give in,
No fighting Briton ever has!

As for violence, some fight songs cite specific methods, while others generalize. Fans of St. Olaf College in Minnesota issue a broad warning to rivals: "We fight fast and furious, our team is injurious."

Perhaps fittingly, the Air Force Academy fight song - "Off We Go (Into the Wild Blue Yonder)" - goes into more detail, promising to give the opposition a good strafing:

Here they come, zooming to meet our thunder,
At 'em boys, give 'er the gun!
Down we dive, spouting our flame from under
Off with one helluva roar!

But as the name suggests, most fight songs are about fighting. And fighting some more. University of Massachusetts fans sing:

Fight, fight, Massachusetts!

Fight, fight every play!
Fight, fight for a touchdown!
Fight all your might today!

Southern California fans strike a similar chord:

Fight on for ol' S.C.,
Our men fight on to victory.
Our alma mater dear
Looks up to you,
Fight on and win
For ol' S.C.
Fight on to victory
Fight on!

Some old fight songs are pacifist in nature, but they dispense with promises of violence in favor of getting drunk. The New Mexico State fight song declares:

Aggies, oh Aggies
We'll win this game or know the reason why
And when we win this game
We'll buy a keg of booze
And we'll drink to the Aggies
'Til we wobble in our shoes

As for Cal's new song, Calonico said it was too early to know how well it would be integrated into the actual games.

"A lot of old blues said they love it," he said, using the term for Cal alumni.

At games, he said: "It still hasn't really caught on. We've plastered the words up on the Jumbotron so that people will sing along."

Asked if he would recommend that other universities amend their fight songs, Calonico said, "It's what worked for us."

Nifty multimedia postscript: to listen to any of these songs, mosey on over here.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Insightless | by Jay

Maybe you missed it amid the haze of a holiday hangover, but apparently Notre Dame is playing in a bowl game tomorrow. Yep, we're squaring off against one of the Pac-10 also-rans in a converted airplane hangar out in the desert to the delight of literally hundreds.

(By the way, what exactly is the "Insight.Com" bowl, and how long has it been around? Well, it used to be the Copper Bowl, then it was the Domino's Bowl, the Weiser Lock Bowl, and finally the Bowl. It's got an illustrious history of games like unranked Cal vs. unranked Wyoming in a 17-15 nailbiter in 1990 -- a good game, no doubt, but not exactly the caliber of matchup ND is used to. By comparison, and if anything shows how far removed we are from past glories, that same year Cal and Wyoming faced off in the Domino's, Rocket was returning a punt against #1-ranked Colorado in the Orange Bowl.)

I took a quick poll of the BGS staff to determine if Notre Dame playing Oregon State in the Bowl is a good idea, and came up with...well, not much. Some of the reasons why this game might be worthwhile, depending on your point of view:

Going Out in Style. For the seniors on the team, this might be a chance to wrap up their careers in a better way than a 31-point blowout at USC. Quinn remarked that "we want to send them [the seniors] out on the right note."

Ty Factor. According to some of the players, we're playing for Ty. "We want to show this country what coach Willingham has done for us in the past as men and as football players," senior linebacker Derek Curry said. "I really want to win it for him. His spirit lives on within us." Carlyle added: "It's to show our appreciation for him and what he's done for us."

Record Achievement. I think Darius has the chance to break the freshman running record. There might be another individual record or two up for grabs.
Chad Johnson
Payback. The last time we matched up against Oregon State, it wasn't pretty. Revenge against Oregon State for the 41-9 Fiasco Bowl blowout would be a touch of vindication as well as a chance to end the recent 0-fer bowl win streak.

Payout. We get a bonanza of $750,000 for playing this game. Yee-haw.

Development. During the season, because of NCAA practice limitations, the younger players don't get a chance to develop, as there just isn't any time for them to get any meaningful practice. Every minute is spent on game-planning and prepping for the next game, and very little attention is paid to the youngsters. It's why you always hear coaches talk about seeing how the "young kids" are progressing during bye weeks -- it's really their only time to focus on the development of younger players. The extra Bowl game practices extend the opportunity to take a look at the up-and-comers and give them some firsthand gridiron grit.

It's Football. Football players love to play football, and we love to watch any football game is better than no football game. Right?

But if you think about it, this bowl game is a bad idea -- for all sorts of reasons.

Injury Risk. This goes without saying -- any time spent on the practice field or in the game is simply more opportunity to get hurt. And unfortunately for us, the injury bug has already bitten: Shelton (knee) and Stovall (hamstring) both got hurt and both are listed as "doubtful" for the game. Justin Tuck also tweaked a lingering knee problem and might not play.

Holidays on Ice. Playing in a Dec. 28 game meant that players had to spend Christmas away from their families and required them to practice during finals week. These problems don't arise when we play in the only bowls to which we should ever accept invitations.

Poor Matchups. BGI points out that
"Strictly rating this game on paper, Notre Dame doesn't match up well. Oregon State quarterback Derek Anderson averages nearly 300 yards passing per game. The Irish rank No. 114 in pass defense and No. 91 in pass efficiency defense. The Notre Dame secondary hasn't recorded an interception in seven games."

Lame Ducks. This might be simply a point of etiquette or outward appearance, but it's incredibly awkward to have the old staff still hanging around a month after the new coach has been announced. While it's nice of Baer and Diedrick and the other coaches to stick around to coach the bowl game -- especially from a player's point of view -- their presence delays the building of the new regime, which should be well underway (assistants named, offices turned over, a base of operations established) and casts a pall over what should be a new beginning. Moreover, it leads to things like...

Conflict of Interest. The spectre of Greg Mattison operating out of ND's offices and practice fields while recruiting for Florida really raises the bile. And ever since he joined Urban Meyer's staff, rumors abound that Mattison has been contacting ND's recruiting list (committed or otherwise), trying to entice them to go to Florida. If you get fired off a job, I'm pretty sure your old company wouldn't let you use their office and phone lines to steal away clients to your new employer. I'm not sure why Greg hasn't been walked to the edge of campus by security yet.

Breaking Even, maybe. The bowl boon is a measley $750,000, and the cost of travel and expenses potentially outweigh the payout. We're transporting the team, coaches, the staff, school officials, and the entire band, putting them up, feeding them -- and we're not even making our money back. Think about that -- we're actually paying to play this thing.

It's All for Nothing. Overshadowing everything else discussed thus far is one simple fact: this game is completely meaningless. A win would be nice, but it really wouldn't help us. There's no recruiting edge to speak of, nobody to impress, no sportswriters to sway for the polls, not even a sense of redemption or public reckoning (see the '92 Sugar Bowl, where even though ND was out of the national title hunt, we still figured we needed to 'prove' to ourselves and to the world that we were a good team, and went out and took the wood to a highly-favored Gator squad. Sweet vindication). As for "playing for Ty", I think it's a nice, but misguided sentiment, and not a reason to mobilize all the effort it takes to pull off a bowl campaign. To me, it sounds more like an after-the-fact rationalization than an a priori catalyst.

In short, it's a polished turd of a game with a cheapskate payout against an anonymous Pac-10 player (with a decent passing attack) in a crappy wannabe bowl sponsored by a garden-variety dot-com, played in a baseball stadium right in the middle of the Christmas holidays, coached by lame ducks and traitors, and having absolutely no impact whatsoever in the rankings, standings, or national picture, nor at the very least holding any personal ties of competition or vindication against say, a long-standing rival or another historical Irish opponent. It's devoid of meaning, interest, and purpose.

But hey, it's football.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

On the verge of...something | by Jay

At Christmastime, you generally know what you're going to get: a sweater from grandma, twenty bucks from Unlce Phil, egg nog and ham, and some good holiday cheer. This year there's another big present under the tree for ND fans that should be cause for celebration: a new football coach, and with him, a new attitude and direction for Irish football.

But out on the Christmas cocktail circuit this season, I've noticed an little uncertainty in the mood of ND fans. Amid the comfortable predictability of the season is a sense of bemused caution: I mean, we're pretty sure that stocking's going to be stuffed with goodies this year, but we've gotten lumps of coal the last couple of times out. We know what it's like to run downstairs on Christmas morning to an empty living room; instead of leaving presents, Santa ate the carrots you left for the reindeer, stole your stereo and drank all your beer ("By George..."). So forgive us for not exhibiting unbridled exuberance just yet. "Cautious optimism" is usually cited to describe such a period, but I think I'd rather characterize it as optimistic caution.

That said, there is a sense that unlike the last two coaching regimes, something is happening. The waters are moving; there is a restless energy and a feistiness within the program that we haven't seen for quite a while. And for most of us, just knowing that things are in motion makes us nod and smile and keeps us warm.

In a way, the energy and spirit reminds me a little of being an exchange student in Europe in the fall of 1989. In early November of that year, the Berlin Wall came down, and all of Germany seemed to explode with passion and pent-up euphoria. Potsdamer Platz was an around-the-clock party as rock bands played and people chipped their own souvenirs from the most visible and oppressive symbol of the Cold War, now reduced to a playground of rubble. West Germans reunited with family members left behind in the East, and East Germans roamed the produce aisles of supermarkets on the western side, marveling in the selection of fresh fruit and vegetables that for all this time had only been a few miles away.

Amid the celebration, however, was a real sense of uncertainty about the future. Things were in motion, sure, but where was it going? While Germans partied, the rest of Europe worried about the hard practicalities of reunification, and what kind of impact that would have on Europe's economy, security, and culture for years to come. The chaotic enthusiasm and passion of the Germans were infectious, but the future was still very uncertain.

While the ramifications of Notre Dame football are relatively minor compared to this example, I do find the zeitgeists somewhat similar. We've got more energy invested in the football program than we've had in over a decade, and we sure hope things are moving in the right direction. In fact, it's hard not to think of this as another momentous transition in the vein of Kuharich->Ara or Faust->Holtz. Recent ND message board activity reflects this: lately we've had inquiries about Ara's "rally at Sorin" and the mood on campus when Holtz was hired. If we're not overtly making Weis out to be a football savior, we're at least obliquely wishing it.

While the comparison of Charlie to Ara and Lou is premature, it's completely understandable. And while the direction we're heading isn't exactly clear right now, maybe there is more emphasis on the optimism rather than the cautious in the usual phrase used to describe the expectations of ND football fans. We might not know exactly what's under that festive wrapping, but when we shake it around, and listen, and let our imaginations go, it's hard not to get our hopes up.

Merry Christmas from all of us at BGS to all of you.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Weis and the OL | by Michael

Here's a recent Boston Herald article that discusses the current Patriots' OL. It gives a little insight into their scheme and what kind of offensive linemen that Weis will probably target as OL.

The key phrase for me was the following:

"Of course, that's by design. The offense devised by Belichick and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis calls for a wide use of screens, draws and pulling linemen. That means the Pats need athletic blockers, and those players tend to be smaller."

Some may be wondering, 'Are those guys on our roster yet?' There might be a few but there aren't a lot; Davie did a poor job recruiting anything other than bigger, slower OGs, and Willingham did a poor job recruiting OL number-wise. Therefore, I would fully expect Weis to take advantage of the OL talent already on hand and use less of what has been so effective for the Patriots this year. Now it certainly appeared in 2003 that Morton, Stevenson & Levoir were all playing overweight, and this year they seemed considerably lighter, so it wouldn't be out of the realm of possibilities to believe that they could continue to redefine their body shape and approach the kind of OL shape which Weis wants. I'll go on a limb, though, and say it wouldn't surprise me if Dan Santucci found a home somewhere along the OL. With Ryan Harris, Santucci is one of the best athletes we have, and with good coaching, both should excel next year.

As far as recruiting, it's hard to say what Weis' initial strategy may be when it comes to OL, but is there reason to be concerned? Short-term, perhaps, but long-term? Hardly. Let's take a look at the high school careers of the 5 starting OL for the Patriots.

RT Brandon Gorin (Purdue) - Earned first team all-state honors as a defensive tackle at Southside (Muncie, Ind.) High School in Muncie … Played on the school’s nationally-ranked basketball team and competed in track and field as discus thrower.

C Dan Koppen - Earned All-State, All-Area and All-East Penn Conference first-team honors as a senior offensive lineman/defensive end … Captured Prep Star All-American accolades as a senior … Big 33 selection in 1998 … Had 10 sacks and scored eight touchdowns, carrying the ball on occasion … Earned defensive MVP honors in the 1997 Kaylee Rotary Bowl … Also played in the 1998 McDonald’s Lehigh Valley all-star classic … All-Conference second-team selection as a junior … Served as team captain as a senior … Versatile athlete who was also a two-year track and basketball letterman.

LT Matt Light (Purdue) - Second-team Division II all-state choice as a linebacker, adding All-Darke County, all-conference and All-Southwest District honors as a senior at Greenville (Ohio) High ... Three-year two-way starter who played guard as sophomore, tackle as junior and tight end as senior ... As a senior, he had 69 tackles, including 15 stops for 63 yards in losses, two forced fumbles and two pass break-ups … Added four catches for 75 yards with one touchdown ... Also lettered in track ... State qualifier, district champion, all-conference and all-county pick in the shot put.

LG Joe Andruzzi (Southern Connecticut St) - All-city selection in football at Tottenville High School in Staten Island, N.Y. where he was an offensive and defensive tackle.

RG Stephen Neal (Cal State-Bakersfield) - A five-sport athlete at San Diego High School, he competed in wrestling, football, swimming, tennis and track and field.

Not only were none of them high draft picks, but none of them were on any Lemming, Superprep or equivalent Top 100 lists. Neal didn't even play collegiate football.

Here's the quandry. You can't really make big, slow guys much faster than they are. Because of that, in the years ahead, I think our recruiting rankings may suffer a little because we'll offer more TEs and smaller OL with good footwork and quickness but who lack impressive highlight reels of pancake block after pancake block. But there's good reason - their previous successes - to believe that Weis, with rumored OL coach John Latina [Clemson, Kansas State, Ole Miss, Pitt (under Joe Moore)] can put together a NASTY offensive line. Purely speculating, fans may get annoyed or upset that we aren't landing as many "name" OL targets, but at the same time, Weis' productive offenses should be able to start attracting more skill position players.

In fact, he may already have his strategy underway. Three of his initial phone calls after taking the job were to one current TE verbal, Joey Hiben, and two other uncommitted TEs - Erik Lorig, whose name hasn't been mentioned in months, and James Dray. Coincidence? Hard to say. But all three are extremely talented and can play multiple positions...

Monday, December 20, 2004

Not Exactly Dead | by Jay

A "dead period" for contacting football recruits begins today and continues through January 1st. According to the NCAA rule,

A dead period is that period of time when it is not permissible to make in-person recruiting con- tacts or evaluations on or off the member institution’s campus or to permit official or unofficial visits by prospects to the institution’s campus. The provision of complimentary admissions to a prospect during a dead period is prohibited, except as provided in Bylaw for a prospect who visits an institution as part of a group. During such a dead period, a coaching staff member may not serve as a speaker at or attend a meeting or banquet at which prospects are in attendance, except as provided in Bylaw 13.1.9 and may not visit the prospects’ educational institutions. It remains permissible, however, for an institutional staff member to write or telephone prospects during such a dead period. []
Hmm. It appears there are no restrictions on appearing on Monday Night Football; nothing in there about virtual living-room visits to every recruit in the country via national television.

Black and White | by Teds

Notre Dame's recent firing of Tyrone Willingham has elicited all sorts of negative emotion on various fronts, including the ire of the print media, which revels in contemptuously pointing out its own recipe for injustice in the same sort of way that Courtney Love enjoys a good dust-up with the authorities.

One of the biggest problems with allowing raw emotion to dictate the thrust of editorial matter is that indispensable elements of good writing, such as reason and supporting evidence, get left out in the cold. Take, for example, the article penned by Pete Sampson, a beat writer for none other than Blue and Gold, a publication dedicated to covering Notre Dame sports and primarily football. One might think that having a closer, day-to-day perspective on the program would give Sampson better insight than most journalists and allow him the benefit of reflecting on Willingham's three-year tenure at Notre Dame for what it really was. Unfortunately, he's stricken with the same fixation on race as the end-all, be-all that has warped the minds of so many other media creatures, and he'd apparently rather stroke his own feathers about the fact that NPR invited him into a "cultural" discussion of Willingham's ouster than discuss the coach's accomplishments in the job he was hired to perform.

To wit, here are some excerpts from his weekend column, in italics. (It's a paysite article, so click over to read the entire thing):

Notre Dame sullied itself by dumping Willingham after only three seasons, and the discourse that followed left the school looking like the bastion of arrogance that many people believe it to be.

Ah, yes, the arrogance of Notre Dame in all its glory. It's interesting that Sampson doesn't elaborate on the "discourse that followed", because all I witnessed was an athletic director practically dragged to the podium at gunpoint who bent over backwards in defense of everything Willingham upheld during his three seasons of employ ("Sunday to Friday") that didn't have a lick to do with his primary function. It's worthwhile to recognize that football coaches at major programs are not paid to chaperone players, orchestrate study hall sessions or hold hands. It's winning games that makes the world go 'round, and anyone pretending otherwise is kidding themselves, even at a school like Notre Dame which prides itself on graduating its players and maintaining a "higher standard". That the University expects more from its student-athletes in other respects does not absolve them from desiring to excel on the field of play. In fact, nothing could (or should) be further from the truth, and incoming school president John Jenkins said as much in a public statement last week.

"Arrogance" is one of the most popular words used to describe the University in the wake of this unpleasantness, but no one has yet to clearly quantify what it is that's so arrogant about the dismissal of a coach whose teams were mediocre and trending downward, consistent only in their inconsistency. Mississippi's head football coach accumulated a record eerily similar to that of Willingham at a program with lower expectations and a fraction of Notre Dame's tradition of excellence, but there was little criticism of the school or cries of unchecked arrogance when they decided to fire him in the wake of Willingham's removal. The reality is that people see what they want to see. If they have it set in their mind that ND "puts themselves on a pedestal", then they'll twist whatever supporting information is available to fit squarely into their worldview, whether it's a matter of the Irish rejecting overtures regarding conference affiliation or simply dismissing a coach who failed to do his job adequately.

The structural flaw today isn't Notre Dame's reluctance to give Willingham his first full contract, as was customary with other semi-failing coaches Gerry Faust and Bob Davie. That pair floundered through years four and five before getting canned. Why make the same mistake three times?

The flaw is Notre Dame's failure to understand that there were bigger issues in play with Willingham's firing than wins and losses.

And in this one instant, Sampson torpedoes whatever argument in support of Willingham he might have been attempting to foster. He plainly admits that the fourth and fifth seasons afforded both Faust and Davie proved to be little more than a repeat of what they accomplished during the course of their first three years on the job, which was underwhelming, to say the least. And yet he's insistent that Willingham's color should have afforded him a free pass to prove every bit as incapable of leading a major program to prominence as the mediocre white coaches in Notre Dame's skeleton closet were. How exactly that exercise in futility would advance the cause of minority football coaches in the world of college football isn't clear to me.

When Notre Dame fired Willingham, the University dumped a football coach. That's obvious. But the school also deposed a role model, a mentor, a philosopher and an icon. Willingham went where no African-American coach had gone before, straight to the top of the college football food chain. When The Sporting News named him Sportsman of the Year and Sports Illustrated called him one of the Top 10 most influential minorities in sports, Willingham became a beacon of opportunity in a college football coaching landscape that's short on it.

One of the most popular and lazy defenses of Willingham has been to resort to speaking of him in very general personal characteristics rather than his record of performance, and this is no exception. Willingham is predictably characterized here as a "role model" and "mentor", but those are hats that college football coaches regularly wear in handling their own players, as well as those they attempt to bring into the program. I've seen very little hard evidence that proves Willingham to be a better role model or mentor than the average college coach. Sampson ups the ante by waxing delirious with terms like "philosopher" and "icon". Willingham doesn't speak extemporaneously enough to qualify as a chatty tax accountant, let alone a philosopher. The man may be a lot of things, but Plato he ain't. And any "icon" status Willingham might have stumbled into has simply been gifted him by unconscionably generous writers such as Sampson, certainly not based on anything accomplished in accumulating a .560 winning percentage over ten seasons as a head football coach.

Notre Dame then snuffed that flame. Most Notre Dame fans missed that dimming. Most media members did too, or at least ignored it. That's because race isn't a popular topic to discuss, especially when dialogues go the unfortunate way that Paul Hornung's did last season.

If Sampson honestly believes that most media members missed the racial aspect of Willingham's dismissal or thinks that it's not a popular topic for discussion, then he must be so completely debased from other media outlets and forms of mass communication that I can only assume him to have been shot forward in time to December of 2004 from a staring point sometime during the Taft administration. If anything, Willingham's actual performance has been needlessly dwarfed by handwringing over his skin color and flowery platitudes about what a fantastic individual he is in spite of his actual record of performance.

So we talk about the legacy of Year Three, the glut of 21-plus point losses and the sub-par recruiting. We don't want to be bothered with the fact that something more important is in play.

Of course we want to talk about "Year Three", because it represents Willingham's most recent and meaningful performance in his job as Notre Dame football coach. Of course we want to talk about the losses and the recruiting, because they represent tangible failures in the execution of his obligations to his employer, for which he was paid handsome, seven-figure annual salaries.

There are three African-American coaches in Division I-A football now that Willingham landed at Washington. Notre Dame knew that number before it let its coach go after three years.

I'm going to say this once and only once: the University of Notre Dame is not responsible in any way for how the other 116 Divison-I football programs conduct themselves. That Willingham's ouster from ND left only two African-American football coaches in major college football is unfortunate. It's also not Notre Dame's responsibility to carry the torch for minorities in this particular arena at the expense of its own fortunes simply because practically no one else is willing to accept the relay. There's entirely too much made of the fact that Willingham was fired by the University and not enough made of the fact that they gave him a meaningful opportunity three years ago to begin with. Not that I believe Notre Dame should have been awarded a gold star by the NAACP for the hire, but I don't think it's too much to ask for some consistency in the reaction to and treatment of the two events. Instead, the embarrassing hissy-fit that Sampson and other irresponsible media members have thrown in defiance of Notre Dame's decision has accomplished nothing but to discourage other major programs from considering minority coaches in the future. Why would any halfway-intelligent university open themselves up to the potential of such a media-induced tempest when there are perfectly good white candidates available who can be hired and fired with not much more trouble than second-shift fry cooks at Hardee's?

Notre Dame trustee and football alumnus Dave Duerson told a Chicago radio station that: "Anyone who's walking around with blinders thinking racism doesn't exist and race doesn't matter, they're fooling themselves."

Duerson's blind support of Willingham has been painfully apparent to many ND followers for some time. And of course racism still exists, but Duerson cheapens the impact of the word and does a great disservice to those who are genuinely discriminated against by recklessly insinuating that there's been such wrongdoing here. Duerson would do well to apply the same critical eye with which he has recently denounced the state of the Chicago Bear organization to that of his other beloved former team. The reality is that the same directionless attitude and lackluster play which has plagued the Bears for a number of years has also been a hallmark of Willingham's Irish teams since the tail end of his first season on the job. That Duerson's is apparently oblivious to the parallels one could easily draw between the two teams is sufficient to make me wonder who's actually wearing the blinders.

When someone in (Chandra) Johnson's position shaves her head to protest the process, when a group comprised of minority students (not a large contingent in the Notre Dame student body) demonstrates against Willingham's ouster, when an NPR show contacts a sports reporter to make sense of the blow to opportunities in college coaching for African-Americans, those issues deserve the attention over football recruiting, offensive schemes or bowl bids.

No, they don't. The job of the Notre Dame football coach is to win football games. By any historical measure of this team's fortunes, Willingham's performance in leading the program has been inadequate. The insinuation of Sampson and so many others seems to be that the University should treat Willingham with kid gloves, that the expectations for him should be lessened based on the color of his skin and the cultural significance of his success or failure in this job. But if the greater goal is to reach a point in time at which the world no longer sees color and considers all individuals truly equal, what sort of message would the school be sending by acting as if Willingham should be riding the equivalent of the coaching short bus? Isn't it far more offensive to Willingham and those of his race to analyze his handiwork with diminished expectations than to hold him to the expectations set by coaching greats like Rockne, Leahy, Parsegian and Holtz?

(By the way, did Pete Sampson just say that a black woman shaving her head in protest is more important that the fortunes of the Notre Dame football team? I was pretty sure that he did, but then I blacked out for a spell and my head smashed into the keyboard. Err...where were we?)

In almost five years at Blue and Gold Illustrated I've talked to dozens of football alumni about what makes this University so unique. Ask 10 to define the "spirit of Notre Dame" and prepare for 10 different answers. Some talk about academic excellence, most talk about leaving the University a better place than when they found it. Even more talk about giving something back to society.

No one mentions beating Southern California or Boston College.

Well, that's a problem, and it's indicative of the sea change fostered by the recent administration and feared by the old guard. Winning should matter. And if we consider football important enough to pay the coach $1.5 million annually for his services or to charge our alumni and fans $53 a ticket to watch the games in person, then I can only assume that it really does. Like it or not, success in football has a great deal to do with the widespread following Notre Dame enjoys, the revenue it generates, the buildings it houses and instructs its students in and the value of the diploma it awards its graduates. The University has parlayed its gridiron exploits into improving its stature in many other respects and shaping a school that is one of very few that is recognized worldwide today. It's quite possible that there wouldn't be a Notre Dame at all without that damnable foothold of great football history, and I'm quite certain that the soapbox Sampson is preaching from would disappear faster than hard road under Wil-E Coyote if the school had always been so laissez-faire about the fortunes of its team.

When Notre Dame fired Willingham, athletics director Kevin White boldly stated the football program had never been better from Sunday-Friday than with the deposed coach in charge. It was the Saturdays and that 21-15 record was the problem. So Notre Dame, or at least the incoming president, vice president and a couple of wealthy trustees, demanded more.
But they got less. Not because the University hired Weis, a dynamic alumnus coach with three Super Bowl rings, but because Notre Dame made some major edits to its mission statement in firing Willingham.

I'm impressed that Sampson possesses the foresight -- all of 20 days since Willingham was relieved of his duties -- to know what exactly Notre Dame will "get" from the coaching change. What I've personally gathered from this turn of events is that the school's new management is committed to winning football games at a championship level, a sentiment in and of itself that no one should ever have to apologize for, least of all a school with the tradition of Notre Dame. And Sampson will have to point out to me the part of the University's mission statement that references the coddling of minorities for the purpose of enacting widespread societal change, because that passage is not one that I'm familiar with.

But when football success comes at the cost of Notre Dame's spirit, that's where a line must be drawn. The deal when Notre Dame hired Willingham was that the school could not only win games, but also start to remodel the landscape of college coaching with its high profile hire. Three years later the University decided that reconstruction process wasn't worth the price of five losses per season. Notre Dame honored Willingham's contract in a buyout, but it skirted an obligation for something bigger.

Here's the kicker for Sampson and everyone else crying foul: there never was a "deal". Tyrone Willingham was hired by Notre Dame for the express purpose of winning football games, not to act as the instigator in a societal domino-tumbling session. If there was any greater cultural significance to the event three years ago, it was extrapolated by Sampson and his ilk at the time. Now that the "landmark event" has come and gone without any sort of greater change coming about on the landscape, all that's left are unfulfilled wishes and bruised feelings.

And this gets to the root of why everyone is so angry at Notre Dame for having the gall to wake the Willingham's enablers from their fanciful dreams. The average media creature looks at Tyrone Willingham and sees in him great things. They watch him in the press conference as he bids farewell to Notre Dame -- proud, upstanding, diplomatic -- and flesh out his hard, bony character with all sorts of heroic qualities in order to build the feature-film-worthy individual they so badly want him to be and the barrier-breaking legend they wish for him to become. Unfortunately, the fact of the matter is that he's a respectable and hard-working man but nothing truly spectacular. And the biggest hit is that he's not a very good football coach. He's been at this for ten years and led two solid-to-great programs without making a championship-contending dent in any single college season, so hopeful rationalizations about "learning from his mistakes" and the like ring somewhat hollow at this point. Willingham simply doesn't have it in him to be what everyone so desperately wants: not a fine, upstanding man, but rather a historic winner.

Not that this will stop Pete Sampson or anyone else in the media with an axe to grind from trying to cloud a black-and-white issue of wins-and-losses with one of another type entirely.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Background Check | by Jay

Pete Thamel has a great piece today in the New York Times, full of interesting anecdotes, and digging a little more deeply into the backstory of the "coach who never played the game":

"While he was coaching at Franklin, Weis received a call from the Giants. They were preparing for the Houston Oilers, who used a run-and-shoot offense, and they asked for help analyzing films. Weis began evaluating players part time for Tim Rooney, who was then the Giants' personnel director.

Even then, Weis had a swagger. Giants coaches would needle him, asking why he was spending so much time at their offices and not working at the high school. Weis would say he needed to install only half the offense, because he did not want to beat teams, 100-0. "Sure enough, I'd pick up the paper and Franklin would win, 50-0," Rooney recalled last week with a laugh.

After his season at Franklin, Weis took a brief break from coaching and returned to South Carolina, where he worked for a month selling long-distance phone service to businesses. Then he received a call from Bill Parcells, whom he came to know when he was moonlighting in the Giants' film room.

Parcells hired Weis for an entry-level position on the Giants' staff. He worked in the film room and later was an assistant to the special-teams coach. In training camp, the former Giants tight end Mark Bavaro remembers Weis chatting about Notre Dame, their alma mater. Bavaro had no idea who Weis was. "I was like, 'Who let this guy under the ropes?' "

In a special-teams meeting during the 1990 season, Parcells asked who would replace Dave Meggett on punt returns if he were hurt. Weis chimed in with an answer, and Parcells shot him a cold stare. "You've been in this league about five minutes," Weis recalled Parcells saying. "No one cares what you think."

Eventually, they did. The Giants' general manager at the time, George Young, who had also worked his way up from the high school ranks, became intrigued with him. Weis wrote concise scouting reports, and Rooney said he had a knack for player evaluation. Weis was able to learn from a talented staff, which included the assistant Bill Belichick.

Check out the entire write-up if you have a moment. It's a refreshing breather from the same old cut & paste bio we've seen recycled a zillion times in the last week.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Backlog of Thoughts.... | by Sean

Some random thoughts before heading out into the Christmas battlefield that is the Fox Valley Mall.....


Oftentimes, when people mention Notre Dame football they draw the analogy to the New York Yankees and the Dallas Cowboys. All three are the "name" brands in their respective sports. When going on the road, they are the darling of opposing teams' box offices: their fan bases span the globe, and they always buy lots of tickets. When things are bad, their futility is as big a story as their past success, which is considerable, since nobody's won more Super Bowls, World Series, or national championships than the Cowboys, Yankees, and Irish, respectively. In short, all three are worldwide institutions, long on resources and short on patience.

But, unfortunately for Notre Dame, the analogy falls apart there, and here's why - the Dallas Cowboys and New York Yankees run their teams like a 21st century business. If they need something, the people in charge go and get it, costs be damned. They can afford to do business like this because they have the financial resources and actually USE them to their fullest extent. Conversely, Notre Dame runs its football program like a 1950's university. (To be fair, at least they've finally decided to pay their head football coach market value, so maybe they've crept into the 1980's.) What made me think of this was the report late this past week that Al Golden, noted UVA defensive coordinator and recruiting guru, has decided (for now) to stay put at UVA. A Charlottesville TV station reported that he got a bump up in pay from $180K to $220K to stay with the Cavaliers.

Let me point out that by all accounts, Golden is the top recruiter on the East Coast and is the main reason UVA has turned into a juggernaut on the recruiting trail. As critical as recruiting is to the lifeblood of a college football program - especially one, like Notre Dame, whose head coach is basically AWOL until February and whose previous head coach managed to recruit the worst class in the history of the school the year before - you'd think "Golden to ND" would be a done deal. To be more specific, what would George Steinbrenner and Jerry Jones do in this situation?

I'll tell you what they would do. They would make this a no-brainer. Golden would have a minimum $350K contract. Not only that, but they'd go to Charlie Weis and find out the names of every single guy he wants on his staff and they'd offer them deals that are at least $100K more than what they make right now. They'd assemble the "dream team" of coaching staffs. They'd set the market instead of lagging twenty years behind it. The staff would be fully assembled in about a week because it would be sheer idiocy for them to turn down the package Notre Dame was offering - prestige, exposure, money. And it would pay off in spades. The recruiting engine would be up and running with an energetic, reknowned, well-paid staff.

You can't tell me Notre Dame doesn't have the resources to make this happen. The amount it would cost to set the bar for paying a coaching staff would be peanuts for Notre Dame. Hearing about great assistant coaches staying at their current jobs instead of coming to Notre Dame over FORTY GRAND makes my blood boil. It doesn't have to be this way. Dallas Cowboys? New York Yankees? Please. If Notre Dame ran the business of its football program like those teams run their respective businesses, we're not even having this conversation. They'd have let Bob Stoops fill in the amount of the check back in 2001.


Hearing the Rocket babble on and on a couple weeks ago on Gameday about how ashamed he was to be part of the Notre Dame family and how those who made the Willingham decision must "repent" was about as comical as it was infuriating. What Rocket and others chastising the school fail to understand is that this was a BUSINESS decision. The Notre Dame football "brand", after five years of mediocrity on Bob Davie's watch, was still circling the drain with Tyrone Willingham as a coach. A very critical and lucrative element of the school's identity was at risk, and the leadership at Notre Dame sought to minimize that risk and protect their very profitable venture - Notre Dame football.

You, Rocket, of all people, should understand the business end of Notre Dame football. After all, you did pose for this Sports Illustrated cover back in 1991, didn't you?

I thought so.


Thursday, Ole Miss named USC defensive line coach Ed Orgeron as its new head football coach, replacing David Cutcliffe (who coincidentally appears poised to become the next Notre Dame offensive coordinator). Orgeron, 43, is a reknowned recruiter with ties to the deep South. Oh, by the way, he was also charged with repeated domestic violence back in the early 90's when he was an assistant at Miami (damn, I thought it was just the Cane players who did that kind of thing back in the day). Orgeron had a restraining order filed against him in 1991 by a Dade County woman. He was also involved in an incident in 1992 where he head-butted a bouncer at a Baton Rouge nightclub.

Despite these transgressions, Ole Miss went ahead and hired Orgeron. Let me be very clear that I have no problem with the hire. The incidents occurred many years ago and I'm all for giving people second chances. The guy, by most accounts, is a pretty good coach. However, the headline on for the article about Orgeron getting this job - an article which included the list of his brushes with the law - was "Orgeron promises Ole Miss will compete".

Am I being overly sensitive when I surmise that if Notre Dame were to have hired Orgeron the headline would have read something like "Irish settle for woman-beating, bouncer-assaulting first-time head coach"?


I have to admit, Tyrone Willingham has played this thing perfectly. To his credit, he has been completely accountable for his poor record during his stint at Notre Dame. He rightfully took the high road the day after being terminated by the school, handling himself with the same class and dignity that he had since he arrived in South Bend three years ago. Frankly, there was no need for him to try to drag Notre Dame through the mud - ESPN, Fox Sports Net, and every English-speaking sports columnist in the Western hemisphere were doing a fine job of that all by themselves.

Then a couple weeks after being let go by Notre Dame, he lands the head coaching job at the University of Washington. All of a sudden, idiots are writing columns saying that Washington's future is rosier than Notre Dame's, and bigger idiots are saying that Tyrone Willingham will have Washington in the BCS within three years. Never mind that the latter would require a Tyrone Willingham-coached team to show improvement without any regression over a two year period or longer - something that statistically has NEVER happened in the coach's less than illustrious history.

Somewhere along the way over the last two weeks, the media has managed to snow itself into thinking that Tyrone Willingham is a first-tier candidate, or to steal a term from Monk Malloy, a "Messiah Coach". Despite a huge body of evidence that we've rehashed here at length (blowout losses, losses to heavy underdogs at home, poor recruiting), Tyrone Willingham is all of a sudden a savior in Washington and his absence from the home sideline in South Bend is "Notre Dame's loss".

It's not surprising that most people who espouse the "Willingham will be U-Dub's savior" line of thinking do so without citing any empirical evidence that supports their argument, since...well, there isn't any. Most people that are in the "Willingham will be U-Dub's savior" camp support their argument in one of three ways:

(1) Tyrone Willingham is a good man, a man of dignity whose focus on graduating players is to be commended.

My response to this school of thought? I agree wholeheartedly. You won't find a classier guy out there than Tyrone Willingham. He's a true man of integrity. Unfortunately, this does nothing to explain the inconsistent nature of Willingham's football teams, particularly the lackluster efforts of the 2003 and 2004 versions of the Fighting Irish. Wilingham is a good guy. Great, there's a lot of good guys out there, classy guys. I'm not saying it's not important, but it obviously doesn't correlate directly to wins and losses on the field, otherwise Willingham would still be employed at Notre Dame.

As for those who use "Willingham graduates his players" to support their pro-Willingham stance, puh-lease. The guy has coached at Stanford and Notre Dame. Last I checked, both places had a long history of graduating players before Tyrone Willingham got there. If you're giving him credit for this, then why stop there? Go ahead and give him credit for getting dressed in the morning and driving to work without getting into an accident.

All kidding aside, it will be interesting to see what happens from an academic perspective with Willingham at Washington. While it's not a bottom-of-the-barrel institution from a graduation rate perspective, it's no Notre Dame or Stanford. Last I checked, Washington was in the low 60 percent range in graduating its players (with a virtually identical rate for African American players). If that rate improves significantly, then I'll buy into "Tyrone Willingham, Bastion of Academia". If it stays the same, then he's just another football coach. (Somehow, I think the mainstream media will ONLY bring this up if the number goes up in a few years. Otherwise, if it goes down, well, you better know how to "google" to find the percentage.)

(2) Tyrone Willingham took STANFORD to the Rose Bowl in 1999. Yes, Stanford! He MUST be a great coach, right?

Uh, wrong. First, let me point out that this will be the closest that a Willingham supporter will ever get to proposing any type of statistical evidence that Willingham is a "great coach" - that he took Stanford to its first Rose Bowl in decades in 1999. Of course, here is what those Willingham backers will not tell you, either because they don't want to or they haven't bothered to look: the Pac-10 in 1999 made the 2004 Big East look like the SEC. The only thing separating the Pac-10 that season from powder puff football was shoulder pads and a TV contract. There were two teams in the entire conference that year (Stanford and Oregon) that won more than seven games. Six of the ten teams finished .500 or worse. USC was in the midst of the Paul Hackett Era. The conference went 1-4 in bowl games, including a 17-9 Stanford loss to Wisconsin where Ron Dayne ran for roughly 650 yards (at least it felt like it).

Also in 1999, Willingham's signature season according to his supporters, the Cardinal got blown out by Texas 69-17 in their opener, a game Willingham had nine months to prepare for. (And we thought the BYU game was bad!) Oh, and Stanford also lost at home to San Jose State in 1999, which is sort of like Notre Dame losing at home to Bethel College. The Cardinal finished the 1999 season unranked in the AP poll (24th in the coaches' poll).

(3) They don't support it at all, but instead spend their entire column bashing Notre Dame, presumably doing so under the assumption that each lame one-liner will add a point to Willingham's football IQ.

See Dodd, Dennis.


When Willingham was fired by Notre Dame, I was happy for the school because I knew we could do better (and I think we have done better with the hire of Charlie Weis), but at the same time I felt for Willingham because he did represent the school with class and dignity (albeit with the personality of a damp sponge). I even vowed to myself that I would root for Willingham wherever he might wind up coaching in the future.

And then "they" started coming out of the woodwork. The Mark Mays and Dennis Dodds of the world, trashing Notre Dame for letting Willingham go and subsequently putting Willingham in the elite class of college coaches, despite having no evidence at all to support their argument. They do realize a Willingham-coached team has never lost fewer than three games in a season, don't they? I mean, EVER. They must know this, right?

And so now I'm forced to root against Tyrone Willingham. Not just on September 24 next season, but for the entire time he is at U-Dub. I can't help it. I'd rather Notre Dame be vindicated and Dodd and May (and others) be (further) exposed for the dolts that they are than see a good man succeed.

Willingham is taking over a 1-10 outfit, so improvement will likely occur next year under (in spite of?) Willingham. How can it not? Frankly, improvement would probably occur under Rich Kotite. I just hope that in four years, after Willingham has gone something like 4-7, 6-6, 8-4, and 4-7, that the Mark Mays and Dennis Dodds of the world will say that Notre Dame was right to fire Willingham. Somehow, I doubt that admission will ever come.

How do I know that Willingham will go 4-7, 6-6, 8-4, and 4-7 in his first four years at Washington? Well, I don't. But there's a whole lot more data to support my argument than there is to support the argument that he will turn Washington into a juggernaut again.

Friday, December 17, 2004

the 10 Stages of Coaching Search Emotions | by Jay

In the wake of reports that Al Golden will remain at UVA...

1. Hmm, never heard of that guy before.

2. The more I read, the more I like.

3. Wow -- he's great! I hope we get him.

4. Holy Jesus, he's just about perfect. This guy walks on water and and we can't survive without him. He is The One. If we don't get him, we're doomed.


6. I can't believe we missed out on this guy. Our staff sucks. ND sucks. We effed everything up. Nobody likes us. ND is irrelevant.

7. Hmm. Maybe he didn't want to come in the first place.

8. You know what? There are other guys out there who are probably just as good. Maybe.

9. He was never that good anyway. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I think ND said NO to HIM, not the other way around. He obviously sucks, so thank God we didn't get him. We dodged a bullet.

10. Hmm, never heard of this guy before...

Thursday, December 16, 2004

It was my understanding there would be no math | by Jay

(Timeout now for a message from BGS friend and stat-head Jeff, who sends us this tasty mathematical confection).

Ara Parseghian once said that if he couldn’t win at ND in three years, it wasn’t going to happen at all. Ara was right.

I looked at the ND coaching records going back to Jesse Harper, and I found that after three seasons, about half the coaches improve their record during the next two seasons, and about half slide. However, there is a very high correlation (87%) between their records for the first three years at ND and their next two.

first three next two
Jesse Harper .870 .853
Knute Rockne .917 .881
Elmer Layden .741 .806
Frank Leahy .850 .972
Terry Brennan .633 .650
Joe Kuharich .400 .500
Ara Parseghian .867 .775
Dan Devine .800 .696
Gerry Faust .544 .522
Lou Holtz .714 .840
Bob Davie .568 .609
Ty Willingham .583

Correlation 87%

For you Arts & Letters types like Jay who are scratching your heads right about now, Correlation is a common function used by statisticians, and is a statistical technique to show how numbers are related. Numbers with -100% correlation are inversely correlated (when one goes up, the other goes down). Numbers with 100% correlation are basically functions of each other (they move in tandem). And numbers with 0% correlation have no bearing on each other (they are random).

So in our example, an 87% correlation means that your next two years are going to look fairly similar to your first three.

Looking at the table, the two ND coaches who improved most over years 4 & 5 were Lou Holtz and Frank Leahy, although there were some anomalies with these two: Holtz quickly improved on a very poor first year and Leahy’s fourth year occurred two years after his third year. Yet even these two only added an average of 1.5 victories per year during years 4 & 5.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the 7-5 that Willingham averaged while at ND was nearly identical to the 44-36-1 (6.6 wins and 5.4 losses in a 12 game season) he averaged over 7 years at Stanford. If Willingham had stayed on for years 4 and 5 and matched the performance improvement of Holtz or Leahy -- an absolute best-case scenario -- he would improve from his current 7-5 to one year of 8-4 and one of 9-3. What's more likely would have been more of the same: another couple of years right around 7-5.

So, what does this tell us about Charlie Weis? Well, not much, yet. But his first three years should show us with reasonable certainty (okay, 87% certainty) if he's worth keeping around for another two.

-- Jeff

Triage | by Dylan

In our ND Coaching Search: The Movie post, we cast Gary Burghoff as Father John Jenkins. Now, it would violate our journalistic integrity to alter it ex post facto, but we would like to take this opportunity to point out that our characterization of Jenkins as Radar O'Reilly was flawed (we still stand by our pick for Wilbon, however). The SBT has Jenkins’s words to the Faculty Board on Athletics, and it is a must-read. Key quotes:

“Because the decision facing the university was about who should be coach in the 2005 season and beyond, the period when I would be president, I felt it appropriate for me to have significant input on this decision. Consequently, on Monday morning, Nov. 29, I went to Fr. Malloy's office to discuss this situation, and urged that we should have a conversation with other leaders of the university about it. Fr. Malloy made it clear that he did not favor making a change, but expressed a willingness to have such a discussion.”
Later, and most interestingly:
“...Several people have spoken to the press and to me about the "traditional five-year contract" for Notre Dame football coaches. My understanding of this is as follows. When Fr. Ted Hesburgh hired football coaches he invited them to his office, told them they had five years, and sealed the agreement with a handshake. (At least that is the story Fr. Ted tells at the dinner table.) Indeed, except for Joe Kuharich (who coached from 1959 to 1962), all coaches have coached for at least five years. However, as you may know, today all coaches now have sophisticated agents who would not stand for such an informal agreement. Consequently, Coach Willingham had a contract that specified in great detail the consequences if either party terminated the relationship at any given point in the employment. It anticipated that either party might terminate the relationship before the term of the contract expired. (Five years, I believe, was never mentioned as a minimum.) It was under such a contract that Notre Dame hired Coach Willingham, and it was under such a contract to which he agreed to coach here. Had there been an assurance given to Coach Willingham or anyone else that he would have a minimum of five years, my position on this would have been different. However, I don't believe there was such assurance, and no one has ever said anything to the contrary.”
And the money quote:
"...Success in our football program consists of three things: 1) acting with integrity, 2) giving our students a superb education, and 3) excelling on the field. Success in only one or two of these areas is not the success we seek. Just as we would not tolerate a program which failed to graduate its students or to act with integrity, so we should not be content with one that fails to succeed on the field. I feel these three goals have always defined success for us in Notre Dame football, and this will remain so in the future."
Read the whole thing. Compare what Fr. Jenkins said yesterday to the previous public statements by the Administration regarding Willingham’s dismissal, particularly Kevin White’s neutered performance at the November 30th press conference and Dr. Monkenstein’s embarrassing rant to ESPN. What you see is a sea change. What you see is leadership. What you see is an unapologetic recommitment to principle.

The patient is on the table. The shrapnel has been removed and will soon be discarded. The bleeding has been stopped, and the surgeon is preparing to close.

At the 4077th, Radar O'Reilly ordered supplies. Radar passed on announcements from HQ. Radar slept with a teddy bear.

Father Jenkins is no Radar O’Reilly.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

ND Coaching Search: The Movie | by Jay

These last few weeks have not been the feel-good comedy of the season. But they'd still make for a decent movie: lots of action (firings, hirings, people going ballistic in the press), some head-spinning plot twists (It's Urban! No, it's Clements! No, wait...), and loaded with mystery and intrigue (who really did fire Ty? Why did Meyer turn us down? And how many razors did Chandra have to go through to get that perfect sheen?).

We got together at BGS to cast the movie, which we plan to shop around to the studios. Here's who we have lined up so far:

charlie weis The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. john goodman

monk malloy donald sutherland

john jenkins The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. gary burghoff

tyrone willingham The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. samuel l. jackson

urban meyer frankie muniz

pat mccartan The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. dave thomas

chandra johnson Chandra Johnson, the assistant to Notre Dame president Rev. Edward Malloy, talks about shaving her head in respone to the firing of Notre Dame football coach Tyrone Willingham in South Bend, Ind. Wednesday Dec. 8, 2004. (AP Photo/Shayna Breslin, South Bend Tribune) The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. curly neal

dave duerson The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. reginald veljohnson

joe theisman The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. don johnson

mike shanahan The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. chuck e. cheese

brady quinn The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. gary busey

kevin white The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. john ratzenberger

darius walker The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. smoove B

bill diedrick The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. kent baer

kent baer The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. bill diedrick

bill belichick The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. sam kinison

tom clements The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. gary cole

nathan hatch The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. max wright

gene corrigan The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. leslie nielsen

bobby petrino The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. james cagney

michael wilbon The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. francis

I think that would make for a very, very mediocre movie.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

We is ND | by Jay

From this morning's Chicago Tribune:

[Friday] afternoon, Weis had a telephone interview with a six-member committee of players: quarterback Brady Quinn, tight end Anthony Fasano, offensive lineman Ryan Harris, linebacker Brandon Hoyte and defensive ends Justin Tuck and Victor Abiamiri.

"Talking with him then, as our head coaching prospect, I was excited," Quinn said. "I left the room thinking, 'That's the guy. We need that guy. However you can do it, make sure he accepts the job.'"

I love reading stuff like this. I love that we actually involved the current players in the process (especially Tuck, who now it seems is reconsidering a jump to the NFL in favor of sticking around for another year). And I love the enthusiasm Quinny shows in talking about his new coach.

NDNation's bound up a nice volume of Weis quotes and opinions to satisfy your appetite for even more background on Charlie (easily doubling our brief rundown yesterday). And the best part is the compilation of players' (and even a few recruits') first impressions. Check it out if you get a chance.

Weis gets it in a way Willingham never did | by Michael

and there are some incredibly promising developments going on.

None better than recruiting.

Former Irish CB verbal Brandon Harrison is expected to pick between Michigan and Iowa in an ESPN chat today. While losing Harrison is a big deal (regardless of what anybody says about 5'8 corners), I have noticed a huge difference between the first 24 hours of the Weis era and the first, oh, week or so after Willingham took over.

When Willingham took over, he took a long time to call back the current Irish verbals. In fact, he lost two of them. One of them was Jeremy Van Alstyne, who was projected to be in the DL mix for Michigan this year until an injury knocked him out. Check out what Van Alstyne's coach said back on January 14th, two weeks after Willingham took over.

"After (Tyrone) Willingham was hired, Jeremy never heard anything from Notre Dame. No home visits and no phone calls. I called Notre Dame myself and was told that Coach Willingham would call that night. He never called. Jeremy and I talked and he wanted to switch his commitment from Notre Dame to Michigan at that time.I told Jeremy we should wait and do this the right way. We wanted to give Notre Dame every chance to come in make their pitch. We never heard from Notre Dame so Jeremy called Michigan and committed."

That happened to other kids, too. Chris Olsen. This article is from (now, and is dated January 8th - one full week after Willingham took over the team. It may be a paysite article, and you may not be able to access it, but here's the relevant part:

"No, he has not called me yet," Chris said. "I have not been in contact with anyone from Notre Dame since the new hire, but I'm hoping to hear from them sometime this week. It has not really hurt Notre Dame because I'm sure there is a good reason, I'm just going to wait and see about what they decide they want to do with me."

Now, let's check out Weis. Mike Frank of Irish Eyes called recruits last night and got their reaction to Weis' hire. Not only was he able to hear how they felt about their new head coach but he was also able to find out that they had actually talked to their new head coach.

For whatever reason, Weis, who only has been allowed two days out of seven to allocate toward Notre Dame while he's still employed as the Patriots' offensive coordinator, managed to call these recruits.

Charlie Weis was able to do in less than 24 hours what took Willingham days to accomplish - and in some cases, didn't get done whatsoever.

I'll say this...Derek Landri looked great last year, and Trevor Laws was impressive as a redshirt freshman, but I think most would agree that the loss of Greg Pauly wouldn't hurt so much had one phone call been made, and Jeremy Van Alstyne was playing for the Irish.


Finally, a shameless plug. Mike Frank is the best in the business at following Notre Dame football, and even more so, Notre Dame recruiting. There is no one who does it as well as he does. Everyone should check out that site and sign up immediately. You won't be disappointed. This is going to be an exciting time for Notre Dame football, and given the way Weis has already called our verbals and some outstanding recruits, I think we're going to see an aggressive recruiting approach that we haven't seen in some time. There will be lots of news, and most of it will be good. I think the example outlined above precisely demonstrates how and why Weis will be a much better recruiter than Willingham, and that's not even getting into the comparison of their assistants' recruiting prowess. Can't wait to do that post once we hire some guys...

Potent Quotables | by Jay

If Bartlett's had been on hand, these are a few of the quotes they'd have taken down from Charlie Weis at Monday's press conference:

• I'm here for the present and the future. I'm not here to talk about the past. I'm here as a guy that went to school here and that understands the idiosyncrasies of being in South Bend, Indiana.

First of all, you find out what your players can do and that's what you have them do. We have a very broad, wide expansive offensive package, but you have to be able to utilize the personnel that you have available. I have a team that has multiple tight ends that can play, use multiple tight ends. If you have a team that has multiple wide receivers that can play, use multiple wide receivers.

• If it comes down to everything being open and it's X's and O's, I have to believe we're going to win most of the time.

You are going to have a hard-working, intelligent, nasty football team that goes on the field because the attitude of the head coach will be permeated through the players. And I hate to include the nasty, but that is part of being a winning football team.

• This is an end-all for our family. We come to Notre Dame, it's with the intent of retiring here. That's why we're coming here. We don't come here to bounce somewhere else.

It's really not rocket science when you think about it now. You exploit their weaknesses. We are into...attacking weaknesses of the [other] team both schematically and personnel-wise.

[The AD] schedules [the games] and we play them. That's the way it is. If they are on road, you have to go win on the road. If they are at home, you have to win at home. And I think that the people complain about those things are looking for excuses.

Bill Parcells said to me years ago..."You are what you are", folks, and right now you're a 6-5 football team. And guess what, that's just not good enough. That's not good enough for you, and it's certainly not going to be good enough for me. So, if you think they hired me here to go .500, you've got the wrong guy.

When players going to college, when they go to front-line programs, they want to be able to play on Sundays. They want to play on Saturdays, so that they could end up playing on Sundays. Every one of them has aspirations when they come to major colleges to be able to play on Sundays. And I feel that one selling point that's a great advantage, not a disadvantage, I'm coming from teaching guys that play on Sundays, and I think that gives you, you're short-changed on one end, but on the other end you have a decisive advantage because you're there. They are watching you. Hey, go watch the game on Monday, we are playing Miami Monday night, just go watch the game.

What's better recruiting [than] sitting in a Super Bowl locker room, "Hey, you sure you don't want to come to school here"?

So here is a guy who just was this guy that went to college here and was the head football coach at University of Notre Dame. So think about it here for a second. That means the sky is the limit, right? You are going to college somewhere, what do you want to do? What kind of success do you want to have in life?

Monday, December 13, 2004

The Passion of the Weis | by Mike

At Notre Dame, Charlie Weis will be judged on his ability to deliver wins. As he is the football coach, this is as it should be. And in his first press conference today, Weis made it clear he knows this:

Really, that's the bottom line in this business, folks. It's if you win or if you lose.
So graduating kids is of the most important, bringing in character kids who will make the university proud is important. But it's all about winning games, that's why there's a coaching change.
However, it’s almost nine months until the first game of the Weis era – so the wins and losses will have to wait. Until then, Notre Dame fans will enjoy having a coach that shares their passion for Notre Dame. Bob Davie’s distaste for the university’s alumni and their expectations was palpable. While Tyrone Willingham made an effort to embrace the university’s tradition, his recruiting pitch sold the opportunity to play for Tyrone Willingham, Molder of Men, rather than the opportunity to play for the University of Notre Dame.

Weis’s NFL success will be a powerful selling point to recruits, and Weis acknowledged this in his statements.
I'm going to be very honest with you now, when players going to college, when they go to front-line programs, they want to be able to play on Sundays. They want to play on Saturdays, so that they could end up playing on Sundays. Every one of them has aspirations when they come to major colleges to be able to play on Sundays. And I feel that one selling point that's a great advantage, not a disadvantage, I'm coming from teaching guys that play on Sundays…
However, Weis made it clear why recruits should come to Notre Dame.
So the first selling point it has to be is they have to want to come to Notre Dame because of Notre Dame.
Dealing with the press is an important part of coaching at Notre Dame. Of Notre Dame’s last three coaches, one thrived on the media spotlight, another wilted under it, and one adopted a standoffish approach. While winning cures all ills, Holtz demonstrated how a coach who is comfortable with the media can use it to his advantage. Weis’s ability to deal with the press has been a question mark. Parcells and Belichick both keep their assistants off limits to the media. While Weis’s press conference was encouraging, there are still unanswered questions. Weis demonstrated that he can be confident, disarming, and, at times, humorous:

Q. Wondering if you had a chance to see any Notre Dame games this past season and what your impressions were of the team?

COACH WEIS: How could you not see any of the games?

There was also a pointed exchange with South Bend Tribune reporter Jason Kelly, when Kelly brought up Weis’s surgery in impolitic fashion. While Kelly probably deserved what he got, one wonders how Weis will handle his first press conference as a head coach following a loss.

Nonetheless, there was much that was encouraging in Weis’s press conference. While the real evaluation begins September 3, 2005 when the Fightin’ Irish take the field against Pittsburgh, for now Notre Dame fans can savor Weis’s passion for the job.
So if you're going somewhere, you should go where you feel that both you and your family can be part of something special, and I can't think of any other place better to be part of something special than this place.

This is an end-all for our family. We come to Notre Dame, it's with the intent of retiring here. That's why we're coming here. We don't come here to bounce somewhere else. If that's what I was going to be doing, I would not be taking this job and I would be waiting till the season ended in the NFL and try to get one of those jobs. I'm here because I want to be here. I'm proud to be here.
Then again, maybe this is what Notre Dame fans really wanted to hear:
You are going to have a hard-working, intelligent, nasty football team that goes on the field because the attitude of the head coach will be permeated through the players. And I hate to include the nasty, but that is part of being a winning football team.