While I realize that this post is comes a bit after the fact, I wanted to announce to my readers (thanks to both of you...you've been wonderful), that I am moving on from my cozy, little blog here at Brawling Hibernian and into the big time with Subway Domer. For those of you unfamiliar with the site, Subway Domer has been providing ass-kickingly solid coverage of Notre Dame football for several years now and has graciously asked me to be a contributor to his blog. I have to admit, I feel a little bit like Ringo Starr falling assbackwards into an amazing situation (though, I'm not sure who Pete Best is in this analogy). Anyway, I just want to thank all of you for your support and thoughtful consideration of Brawling Hibernian over the last few seasons and hope you'll continue following me over at Subway Domer. Take a look, my first post went up today. Thanks again and I'll see you all soon!
"Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong." (Hugh Akston, 'Atlas Shrugged')
Back in July, I decided to take my best crack at predicting the type of season Notre Dame would have in 2009. After taking a look at the returning talent (very good), the coaching staff (a big question mark ) and the schedule (challenging, but not oppressive), I came up with my answer. I said 6-6. Why, you may ask, in spite of what would appear to be relatively favorable circumstances, might I think the Irish would have the same disappointing record as they did in 2008? Simple - history didn't support an improvement. Yes, they had been very impressive against Hawaii, but what had they done prior to that? Was it a team that, on the whole, got better as the season wore on? Never mind wins and losses, were there any areas of the team which seemed better in November than they had in September? Not from where I was sitting. Improvement is not about a game, it's about steady, incremental progress, and Notre Dame hadn't had any. That, coupled with the aforementioned coaching question marks, led me to believe 2009 would be, in so many ways, nothing more than 2008 redux.
After a few days of thinking it over, I did what every SAT-taker is advised to avoid - I changed my original answer. I decided I was being far too dour and there was no way this monstrously talented team could be as average as they had been the season before. While I did restate some of the concerns from the previous post, I used rationalization instead of actual reason to guide me to a revised prediction of 9-3. In other words, I goofed.
With all this in mind, is it possible to use the same type of rational deductions to determine the next Irish head coach? No. Unlike prognostications relating to a game or season, in a coaching search, there are far too many variables and unknowns at play: Who's available? Who's interested? How much might one option cost versus another? Who has attributes the administration favors and who has those which are frowned upon? Is the administration willing to make concessions or are they being conservative? You get the idea. Without being on the inside of this process, no one can answer any of those questions with real certainty. So, while Stoops, Kelly and yes, even Urban have all been mentioned prominently; it's also entirely possible that the new ND head coach is someone who has not been on or near the radar of most fans.
At this point, if you want to get a sense as to what the future holds, you take a look what we can say with certainty. For my money, there are two things: 1) Charlie is gone, and 2) Jack Swarbrick is exactly the right person to find his replacement. On the first point, entirely too much has been said. We all know Charlie's a lame duck heading into Stanford. In fact, I actually think Charlie's already been told he's gone, but they've refrained from going public with the declaration in order to give further cover to the search for his replacement. That leaves us with #2.
What we know about Swarbrick is that he is an exceptionally savvy fellow. He has an undergrad from ND and JD from Stanford. He was a partner at big-time law firm, Baker & Daniels. The Big 12 had him as a candidate for commissioner, the NCAA had him as a finalist for president and he was a leading member of the group that brought the Super Bowl to Indianapolis. Take a look at that last factoid for a minute. The man was compelling enough to bring the Super Bowl to Indy for the first time and a cold weather venue for just the fourth (Detroit - 1982, 2006 and Minneapolis - 1992). This is clearly a very impressive individual.
Given his C.V., I think it's fair to assume Swarbrick is going to make a splash with this pick. In Weis, he is living with a decision made by his predecessor after an embarrasing and, ultimately, misguided search process. Whether he opts to stay on as AD or, as some have suggested, move on to the post of NCAA president, this hire will become a massive part of Swarbrick's legacy. To that end, Jack Swarbrick will want to make this pick count and, I have every confidence, will come up with a choice that, in the end, will thrill Irish fans. As to whom that will be, I can't say. My gut says Kelly is most likely with Stoops in second place but, as mentioned previously, I don't have nearly enough information upon which I can offer anything more than an uneducated guess.
Nevertheless, the most important thing for Notre Dame fans to reflect on as this season comes to an end, is that the future is bright. This is not just some lame bromide akin to "wait 'til next year." In this instance, in this moment, Notre Dame has a chance to finally get it right. The proper AD and president are in place to assure this happens. The proper mix of talent and depth are in place to both attract and bring success to a new coach. If 2009 was a lost season, 2010 will be the rediscovery of a program. Not another "return to glory", but the actual first step in a climb back to the pinnacle. How do I know? I've checked my premises.
And there it is. Anyone looking for reasons as to why Charlie Weis must be replaced as head coach of Notre Dame need only watch what took place in South Bend today for their answers. This was precisely the type of game which has plagued the Irish throughout Weis' tenure; particularly the last two seasons. In spite of jumping out to a big lead and dominating many of the game stats, Notre Dame found a way to lose. All of the old issues were there: horrendous tackling, stupid penalties, poor special teams play, ineffectiveness in the red zone, etc. If the Irish wanted to pay tribute to their beleagured coach, they could scarcely have done better than playing a game which highlighted so many of his coaching deficiencies.
At this point, there's no use going over the actual events in the game. The reasons for this loss are the same as the losses which preceeded it. Instead, a few quick hitters on bigger pictures items:
First off, congratulations to the UConn Huskies. This has been an incredibly difficult season for them both on the field (five losses by a total of 15 points) and, more importantly, off with the tragic murder of their teammate, Jasper Howard. In spite of all that, the Huskies never got down, kept motivated and continued to play hard. They are to be congratulated.
A big thanks to the Notre Dame seniors who played their final home game today. This game, much like so much of their time with the program, was frustrating. Still, it was these guys who enabled a program with incredibly thin ranks to slowly build itself back up. Whomever replaces Charlie will have them to thank for believing in the school and helping to, once again, bring top-flight talent back to South Bend.
Speaking of Charlie, a special thanks to him as well. Obviously, on the field, his teams never became that for which we'd all hoped. It wasn't for lack of effort, however. I think it's fair to say that Weis gave his all for this program and his results in recruiting, player academics and overall human decency are laudable. Unfortunately, those are only a few of the things expected of Notre Dame's head football coach. While winning eluded him, seeing Weis walk onto the field, arm-in-arm, with his players, a tear falling from his eye showed just how much this team and program mean to him. All the best, Charlie; sorry things couldn't have been different.
For whatever it's worth, Oklahoma got pummeled, 41-13, by Texas Tech today. I would have to imagine in light of his loss and Notre Dame's impending opening, the Irish might look like a pretty solid option to Bob Stoops.
Sarah over at Bad Trade bravely picks us up out of the ashes of the Pitt loss and into UConn week:
1. The Pitt loss: give me something good about it, something bad about it, and something ugly about it.
The "bad" and "ugly" portions of this answer are easy - take basically any moment Notre Dame had, from kickoff to final gun, and you can probably apply either. "Good", conversely, is not as easy. With that prelude, here are my choices:
Good: Golden Tate's 87-yard punt return for a touchdown proved, yet again, why he's one of the most electric players in all of college football and, in a more just world, would be the leading Heisman candidate.
Bad: A dynamic Notre Dame offense with one of the best quarterbacks and two of the best receivers in the country managing just three points in the first half and 15 points all game.
Ugly: Notre Dame's porous, awful defense allowing 6 yards-per-carry against Pitt. Since they've sucked against freshman QBs this year, I suppose it's only appropriate they suck against freshman RBs, too. Just terrible.
2. UConn this week. Does the sellout streak end? Do you care if it does end? And if it does, does this have any meaning beyond it being the end of yet another ND streak during the Charlie Weis era?
Ok, a few questions here, so let me take them one at a time:
A) No, the streak doesn't end. ND still manages a sell-out at home.
B) It wouldn't ruin my weekend or anything, but I would be a little bothered that Notre Dame fans would care so little about this year's seniors that they'd avoid their last home game and moment of recognition.
C) If ND does fail to sell-out this weekend, I think it's further evidence that Weis has lost the Irish fanbase. It's one thing for all of us to bitch and gripe online, but voting with your feet (and wallet) represents much more tangible evidence of dissatisfaction.
3. UConn is coming off of a bye week, with three losses just before that, including close losses to West Virginia and Cincinnati. The last time they won was just before cornerback Jaspar Howard was killed. These factors - along with ND's sorry performances recently - suggest to me that UConn is a dangerous team for a Notre Dame team that could really use a win going into Stanford. Should I be worried about this game? And what should I be worried about?
Given the manner in which Notre Dame has played this year, I scarcely think there are many teams Irish fans shouldn't be worried about. UConn, in particular, is a much better team than their record would suggest. They are currently 4-5, but those five losses have come by a combined 15 points. Moreover, they've gone on the road and taken both Pitt and Cincinnati to the wire (losing by three and two points, respectively). In light of those factors, not to mention the continued motivation of playing for their tragically fallen teammate, the Huskies represent a real challenge to be overcome for the Irish. What most concerns me is the state of mind in which ND finds itself. Have the players given up? Are they rallying for their season and/or Weis? Does it even matter? I do think Notre Dame will find a way to prevail on Saturday, but I would not at all be surprised if this were yet another nailbiter.
4. Notre Dame will be seeing a familiar face in UConn quarterback Zach Frazer. Is there anyone who transferred out of Notre Dame, or who the Irish nearly got in the recruiting process, that you think would have made a significant difference on this year's team?
One of each that might have made some difference:
Transferred out: Joseph Fauria. With Kyle Rudolph going down against Navy, having another big, talented tight end to use would have been very helpful.
Missed out on: Given the struggles Notre Dame has had against the run in the last two weeks, I would say either Justin Trattou or Omar Hunter (assuming Hunter would have been healthier in South Bend than he's been in Gainesville).
I definitely think that, in both cases, these players would have made a difference, though I can't say that it would have been significant enough to change the trajectory of this season.
5. I, for one, was very optimistic at the beginning of the season. Now, at 6-4, I am nearly disgusted with this team, and I admit to some actions regarding Notre Dame football that I never thought I would engage in. I can't imagine I am alone. Have you done anything this season - turn off games at halftime, leave early, not watch at all, etc. - that smack of desperation and disgust with this team?
Over the last three years, specifically, and 15 years, generally, I have run the gamut of both emotions and rituals. This year, the one thing that I have re-implemented is watching games on mute. I find that listening to both the asinine banter and verbal fellating of the other team by whomever is announcing makes the games completely awful for me. I've debated turning on the Criqui/Pinkett radio broadcast while watching the muted game on TV but, for me, the silence tends to be better for my blood pressure.
My original idea for this post was to take the most prominent names currently being discussed as possible replacements for Charlie Weis and lay out the relative pros and cons of each. As I began to do that, however, it became patently obvious that one coach brought far more to the table than any other - Oklahoma head coach, Bob Stoops. Before I begin to lay out the case for Stoops, I should mention that this all hinges on the assumption that he's actually interested in the position. The Chicago Sun-Times reported as much this weekend and, for our purposes, we'll assume that's accurate.
With that, here's what makes Stoops such an intriguing choice:
He is young (49)
Stoops has successfully led a major college football program for over a decade winning a national championship (2000) and six conference championships (2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008)
He has been equally adept at developing players (Tommie Harris, Adrian Peterson, Sam Bradford) and assistants (Mark Mangino, Mike Leach, Kevin Sumlin)
He has coached two Heisman Trophy winners (Sam Bradford, Jason White) and four others (Adrian Peterson - second in 2004, Jason White - third in 2004, Roy Williams - seventh in 2001 and Josh Heupel - second in 2000) who finished in the top seven
He is a tremendous recruiter. Since 2002, Oklahoma has six Top 10 recruiting classes and Scout currently has Oklahoma's 2010 class ranked #1
In 11 years, Stoops has just three more losses (28) than Weis has in five seasons
During his tenure, Stoops has enjoyed eight seasons of double-digit wins
Stoops enjoys a 33-12 (.733%) record against ranked competition and an overall record of 114-28 (.802)
Coaching at the school which owns the NCAA record for longest winning streak, Stoops has two of the seven longest streaks in program history. His 2000 and 2001 teams won 20 straight, while his 2002 and 2003 teams won 14 in a row. All of these wins came against Division IA opponents
Stoops is Catholic and attended the same high school (Cardinal Mooney in Youngstown, OH) as current Notre Dame players, Kyle and Dan McCarthy
Beyond the accolades, there have been a few criticisms of Stoops. Among the most prominent are having been on the receiving end of NCAA sanctions and an unimpressive graduation rate for his players. While those do, and should, give reason for pause, one would assume that, at least some of these shortcomings are attributable to the environment at Oklahoma. There is good reason Notre Dame has been able to maintain its standards (both in and out of the classroom) through numerous coaching regimes - namely, an obsessive committment to these ideals. Oklahoma, conversely, has a history of scandal in its athletic department. Obviously, this is not to exonerate Stoops; rather, I think it suggests the degree to which institutional control matters. Because of this, the same behavior would neither be allowed nor tolerated at Notre Dame.
Of course, the question remains: would Bob Stoops leave his perch in Norman to come to South Bend? The timing would certainly seem to support the decision. With four losses in ten games, the Sooners are on pace for the school's worst record since the 2005 squad finished 8-4 (Stoop's worst record came with his first OU team in 1999 which went 7-5). As a result of these struggles, the chorus of disocontented Sooner fans has grown both larger and more shrill over the course of the season. Beyond that, though, the Irish also present a few intriguing possibilities. First, in spite of the program's struggles, Notre Dame still maintains a unique position in college football. Restoring the program to its position among the elite, and the resulting accolades such an accomplishment would bring, makes for an enticing prospect. Second, and perhaps more important, Stoops would be coming into a situation ripe for immediate success. Unlike when Charlie Weis took over for Ty Willingham, the program is stocked with a bevy of talented and experienced players. Assuming a coach with the prestige of a Bob Stoops could keep current players and recruits from bolting, Notre Dame would be in a position similar to that of Florida in 2005. When Urban Meyer arrived from Utah, he immediately benefited from the recruiting abilities of his predecessor, Ron Zook. While Zook's abilities as a head coach left much to be desired, his skill in recruiting is beyond doubt. Similarly, Weis has been able to bring in a tremendous group for which the next Irish coach will benefit. Will it be Stoops? Only time will tell but, if Notre Dame is smart, they will put their best foot forward in trying to secure his services.
This week, IBG founder and emotional rock, Subway Domer, leads us into Pitt week with a "straight from the headlines" theme.
1. After weeks and weeks of living on the edge, Notre Dame finally fell off of that edge into a pile of shit. Please describe your mental state since the Navy game. Are you hopeless or hopeful? Why?
Local Man Settles Into Booze-Induced Coma
Much like a bear plying himself with large amounts of food in order to make it through the winter, I intend to take part in a similar, yet boozier, ritual for the remainder of the Irish season. To put it in mild terms, I am not hopeful. During the course of the season, I have had several occasions to flirt with hope and optimism. Unfortunately, I've found both to be unfit suitors and now am back to my longtime paramour, despair. I have absolutely zero confidence in the "abilities" of Charlie Weis or his coordinators. They have proven to be erratic and deeply flawed. I fully expect them to beat Pitt by three touchdowns and then lose by four at home to UConn. I should be anxiously awaiting this game and, instead, it feels like the onset of some type of rote obligation. In other words, the name "Charlie Weis" has, for me, become a euphemism for "ennui."
The author enjoying yet another of Charlie's masterpieces
2. Given the sorry state of the Fighting Irish defense, are they capable of slowing down Pitt's offense, or will Stull, Baldwin, and Lewis have career days?
MENSA Elects Ignoramus to Board of Directors
Bill Stull is not a good quarterback. Yes, I realize he is fifth nationally in passing efficiency and is having a nice, little season for himself. I don't care. I repeat, Bill Stull is not a good quarterback. He has been able to mask that fact with a solid receiver (Baldwin) and dynamic runner (Lewis), but this is still the same guy who threw 9 TDs to 10 INTs a year ago while at the helm of Pitt's offense. I mention all this because, in spite of his limitations, Stull is about to look like one of the most explosive QBs in the country. The most yards Stull has had in a game this season is 268 in a win over UConn...if he doesn't hit 300 by mid-3rd quarter against the sieve-like ND secondary, I'll be shocked. I actually do think the Irish will find a way to slow down Dion Lewis; however, as we've seen them do in the past, it will be at the expense of stopping the pass. Therefore, Average Joe, Bill Stull, will become Joe Montana by game's end. If you don't believe me, allow me to introduce you to: Tate Forcier (for the freshman QB, the ND game represents 15% of his total passing yards for season and second-highest yardage output), Kirk Cousins (for the first-year starter, the ND game was one of only two he went over 300 yards passing...the other was Western Michigan), Joey Ellliot (the first-year starter had a cool 289 yards and three TDs against the Irish), Jake Locker (his second most passing yards in a game this season came against Notre Dame), Matt Barkley (the freshman had his most passing yards in a game by nearly 100 yards in South Bend) and David Shinskie (his most passing yards in a game came against Notre Dame).
3. Notre Dame has had serious Red-Zone issues this year. They can't score... why is that? What needs to be corrected and how can they do this?
Being An Unoriginal Pussy No Way To Go Through Life, Experts Warn
Stop running the friggin' fade route over and over and over! For the love of God, Charlie Weis is supposed to be a strategic genius, but when his team gets inside the redzone, suddenly he's Colonel Klink. Weis has a playsheet that's the size of a boogie board and yet, he calls the same five plays when the Irish get inside the twenty. Here's my advice to Charlie: Mix it up, try something different and stop being such a completely predictable d-bag your whole life.
4. Charlie Weis and Dave Wannstache started coaching their alma maters at the same time. They have both coached on crutches. They both seem to recruit fairly well. They are both considered disappointing in their respective 5 year campaigns. After reviewing their total body of work, who would you rather have coaching ND in 2010? Explain.
Citizens Asked To Choose Between Gang Rape By Meth-Fueled Grizzlies or Listening To 36 Consecutive Hours Of "Donny Osmond's Straight Outta Provo: A Hip-Hop History of Mormonism"
If these are my only two choices, I very reluctantly choose The Wannstache. Neither of these two are coaches I would put on my short list but, since "Option C: Any Other Sentient Being on the Planet" was not given, I will choose the only one of the two who actually seems to have his program moving in a positive direction. Take a look at the trajectory both schools have taken since these head coaches started at their alma maters. Weis' records: 9-3, 10-3, 3-9, 7-6, 6-3. Wannstedt's records: 5-6, 6-6, 5-7, 9-4, 8-1. Now, it's entirely possible that what Pitt is experiencing now is what the Irish did in 2005 and 2006 and, eventually, the Panthers will settle back to the median. Still, there's at least a sense that John Holmes-with-a-clipboard has Pitt moving in the right direction while the Irish are an inconsistent mess. For me, even a sense of forward progress would be a welcome improvement.
Yes, yes y'all
5. Prediction time. How does this game play out. Please include a score, an offensive MVP, a defensive MVP, and a sleeper.
ESPN Analyst Mark May Fired For "Lewd Behavior"
I kind of think this headline's a possibility regardless of the outcome. If the Irish win, I can see May directing a torrent of profanities towards a smiling Lou Holtz. If the Panthers win, I can see Markie Mark pleasuring himself to the box score on national television. So which one will it be? Since last week Notre Dame managed to drop a game most everyone thought they'd win, I think this week they flip the script. I should add that, at this point, any prediction as to Notre Dame's performance is guided more by own dumbfounded groping than logic, so take that into consideration.
Score: 27-17, Irish
Offensive MVP:Shaq Evans (why the hell not?)
Defensive MVP: Ethan Johnson
Sleeper: Notre Dame secondary...they may even be narcoleptic
I can't see his hands, but he does look like he's enjoying himself
First off, congrats to the Naval Academy's football team. They're a fine group of young men and represent our country with unbelievable class, distinction and valor. Now, on to the tough stuff...
Charlie Weis needs to go. He seems like a nice guy, is a good recruiter and represents Notre Dame well; he's just a lousy coach. Check that; a lousy head coach. He can put together a solid offensive gameplan (though this week was not his finest hour), but he does not attend well to the myriad of things a college head coach must do. From overall player development to putting a team strategy in place, Weis has been awful. This squad, stocked with blue-chip players, just lost to Navy for the second time in three seasons. To put this in some perspective, none of the previous six Irish coaches lost once to the Midshipmen. Not Willingham, not Davie, not Faust. None of them. Beyond that, ND has still yet to beat a team of consequence during the Weis era. I recognize this point has been beaten to death but, after five years, a signature win still eludes the man.
For me, today was it. I can no longer hope that somehow it all goes right and that Charlie becomes a good coach. I've waited five years and have seen nothing in the way of improvement. The program peaked during Weis' first two years in South Bend and has not been able to rise above those, albeit, mediocre standards since.
I have no idea who should replace Weis. Perhaps it's Brian Kelly, perhaps someone else. All I know is, if this program is ever to return to glory, Weis must be shown the door. In a perfect world, Weis, who obviously loves the school, would step down of his own volition. Explain to his players it's to spend more time with his family, do charity work or something else plausible and just leave. It would be clean, it would cut down attrition and it would be a gift to the school Charlie Weis loves.
With that out of the way, a few assorted game notes:
This defense is bad...real bad. Yes, I know Navy's triple-option is complicated, but it wasn't even a contest out there. A bunch of undersized, moderately-talented guys just kicked the asses of Notre Dame's defense all day long. If Weis goes, Tenuta and Brown should follow.
Harrison Smith is a moron. I'm beyond the point of having difficulty critiquing Irish players. Smith is useless in pass coverage and does incredibly stupid things like hit the QB well after the ball is released. Why is he on the field every week? Where is this "depth" about which I keep hearing?
The offensive line was terrible. After much ballyhoo over the progress they've made under Verducci this season, they took a huge step backwards. They allowed a safety for the second time in three weeks and an undersized Navy defense harassed Clausen far too often. Pitt has, arguably, the best defensive line on ND's schedule and will absolutely destroy Jimmy if this situation doesn't improve.
Why would you not defer to the second half? Just when I thought he'd come around to seeing that the Lou Holtz deferral strategy was right, Charlie takes the opening kickoff. I am sure he did it because he couldn't wait to get an offense with Michael Floyd back in the lineup on the field. It was still stupid. With a team that eats as much clock as Navy, you need to make sure you're getting the first crack at scoring in the second half, just in case. Terrible decision.
Last week's concern: depth at quarterback. This week's concerns: depth at quarterback AND tight end. I have no idea how long the Irish will be without Kyle Rudolph, but it didn't look promising. This does not bode well for the near term. Outstanding work chasing Joseph Fauria out of town, you ass-sniffing layabouts in Res Life.
Jimmy Clausen's knees were down when he "fumbled" near the goalline. Add that to the pile of "we got jobbed by the refs" arguments for this season.
Incidentally, I officially hate coach's challenge/instant replay in college football (and not because it has been a thorn in ND's side this season). The amount of time spent reviewing even the most pedestrian of occurrences is mind-boggling.
How bad was this loss? Consider the following: in their losses to Navy; Western Kentucky and SMU both scored more points than did Notre Dame. Also, Temple, freakin' Temple, managed to actually WIN their game against Navy (and, yes, I realize Dobbs wasn't playing...that certainly makes this loss better, doesn't it?).
What does this do for the potential of Clausen and/or Tate leaving early? Looking at Clausen, the fact that he got banged up again might be a wake-up call/motivator to leave. The fact that his stock likely dropped is reason to stay. Tate, on the other hand, is probably in the same position as before the game. Of course, both may just want off of this sinking ship before it takes on any more water (forgive the naval punnery).
I feel badly for Michael Floyd. Yes, he had two big drops on ND's second-to-last possession but, for a guy coming back from a serious injury, he played awfully well.
Is Ram Vela in like his eighth year? I swear the guy is Annapolis' answer to Van Wilder. Graduate already!
I would rather not watch ND every week than have to put up with Haden and Hammond. As it is, I have to watch the game on mute. The two are intolerable jackholes and appear to have graduated from the Joe Buck School of Broadcast Mediocrity. Does the Peter Principle apply to everyone in sportscasting?
I couldn't help realizing this is the second straight November (I'm willing to write-off all of 2007) the Irish have managed to blow a home game they should have won comfortably (Syracuse, quite obviously, being last year's debacle). This is a further indictment of the coaching staff. This late in the season, good teams are hitting on all cylinders and don't lose at home to double-digit underdogs. You lose in the first week or two, and that can be forgiven. Upsets in September happen. In November, losses like this only happen to teams who don't deserve to be favored in the first place.