Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Unbearable Triteness of Being Teddy Greenstein

I'm officially surly. With Notre Dame's season having somehow gone from rebuilding year to existential struggle in the eyes of fans, bloggers and, of course, the ubiquitous critics of the program, I have felt more than a little cranky lately. So, what to do about it? Well, I decided that perhaps the best option would be to kick the proverbial dog. (Note: kicking actual dogs in no way endorsed by Brawling Hibernian.)
Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune is a terrible writer. His columns are vapid, pointless and notable only for their animus towards Notre Dame. Also, he's a grown man who actually goes by "Teddy". This past week, Greenstein wrote a hit piece on Charlie Weis which is just begging to be thoroughly shredded. That day has come.

The guy who once boasted he could get "hoodlums and thugs and win tomorrow" strolled into Jeannette High School in the spring of 2007 to recruit superstar quarterback Terrelle Pryor.

We are exactly one sentence in and Greenstein has already misrepresented a Charlie Weis quote. The quote by Weis came during a speech he gave to an alumni group in PA. The point he was making was that he was looking for players who were good people and good athletes. This is obvious if you read the complete quote, "I could get hoodlums and thugs and win tomorrow. I won't do it that way." Of course, the other interesting (libelous?) point here is that, one could almost draw the conclusion that Greenstein was accusing Pryor of being a "hoodlum" or "thug" by tying these two completely disconnected topics together. Well done, Ted.

Jeannette coach Ray Reitz knew a bit about Charlie Weis and his reputation. Still, he was stunned by what he described as a level of conceit he never had seen from the dozens of college coaches he had visited with over the years. Weis certainly made a lasting impression. "Arrogant as hell," Reitz said.

First of all, the title of Greenstein's article is "Charlie Weis Alienates Irish Supporters." Since when is Ray Reitz an Irish supporter? Has Jeannette High School ever been a Notre Dame pipeline? Since there are currently no Jeannette alums on the ND roster, I'm guessing the answer to both is "no." As for "arrogant as hell," I suppose Reitz might know something about that. In spite of being a freshman who has played in exactly 11 collegiate games, his former player, Terrelle Pryor already has his own website up and running. Remind me again, did "prima donna" Jimmy Clausen do the same?

When Reitz told Weis that Pryor might attend a USC quarterbacks camp, he remembers Weis replying: "Why send him there? If he's with me for one day he'll be good, two days he'll be great and three days he'll be incredible."

So, what do you suppose Jim Tressel's reaction might have been had Reitz said something like, "Terrelle Pryor might be attending a Michigan quarterbacks camp." Do you suspect he would have sung the praises of his rival and encouraged Pryor to head up to Ann Arbor? I somehow doubt it. What Weis was doing is known in the business as "recruiting." Judging by his articles, Greenstein doesn't know a lot about sports, so I'll have to explain this concept to him. You see, when "recruiting a player," coaches try to sell themselves, their programs and their schools as being superior to others that player may be considering. Now, Teddy, you might want to sit down for this next part. Because of how lucrative the business of college football is, coaches are often rather cutthroat in their pursuit of top talent and engage in "hyperbole" and "rhetoric" in order to try and make the sale. You find me a coach who doesn't do this sort of thing and I'll show you Ty Willingham.

Later, unprompted, Weis asked the Jeannette coaches if they wanted to take a picture of his Super Bowl ring. "I did it, just to be polite, and then gave (the picture) to one of the kids," Reitz recalled.

How nice of Reitz to be so polite. As Emily Post would no doubt agree, it's considered the height of good manners to be agreeable to someone's face and then rip them unmercifully to the first hack writer who asks you a question.

Everyone who comes in contact with Weis, it seems, has a story - and they're rarely complimentary.

This is just lazy writing. Exactly how many people make up the sample size here? So far we've heard one anecdotal story that casts Weis in an unflattering light; should we assume we've reached consensus on that basis?

Many former players and alums are down on him for what they perceive as his arrogance, but they're reluctant to speak for the record.

So, let me get this straight, there are "many" disgruntled former players and alums and NONE of them were willing to speak on the record? You would think that if Greenstein's assertion of "many" were even remotely accurate some brave soul might have stepped out of the shadows to speak truth to the power of Weis; wouldn't you?

Why? As one prominent alum explained it, "A lot of things at Notre Dame hinge on your being a friend of the university." Alumni are fearful that if they speak out against Weis, they might lose their football tickets or their parking spots, or hinder their kids' chances for admission to the school.

I'm not sure I know what's more laughable here, the idea that Notre Dame is currently undergoing its own version of the Night of the Long Knives or that Greenstein keeps asking us to believe these unsourced assertions. If these people actually exist, they also no doubt believe that black helicopters are patrolling the skies over their neighborhoods, the moon landing was staged and a group known only as "The Pentaverate" runs the world.

Yet they paint a picture consistent with a coach who referred to himself as "an obnoxious, sarcastic guy from New Jersey" in a "60 Minutes" profile that aired in 2006. In the story, Weis screamed at a referee for a "bull----" call and yelled at one of his coaches to get the "(expletive)" off the field.

Hey, slow down a second here, Teddy; are you telling me that a football coach might strenuously object to what he perceives to be a bad call or express concern that another coach being on the field might result in a penalty? It's like I don't even know this sport anymore.

If Weis were arrogant, foul-mouthed and winning, few Notre Dame fans would grumble.

If Teddy Greenstein were lucid, talented and thought-provoking, his columns might actually rise to the level of readable.

But his record is 27-19. Gerry Faust went 25-20-1 through 46 games against tougher opponents. "And at least he was a good guy," one alum noted.

The mystery alum strikes again! This anoymous sourcing thing is terrific. That reminds me, I wanted to let you guys know that an unnamed blogger recently wrote, "Brawling Hibernian is a complete genius. Compared to Hibernian, the works of men like Faulkner, Steinbeck and Fitzgerald seem like the crayon-scribbled ramblings of four-year-olds." Anyway, back to the article. As for the Faust comparison, if Greenstein wants to compare the relative difficulties of schedule, then he'll no doubt also want to look at the talent both coaches had at their disposal. Faust inherited a program that had gone 9-2-1 the season before his arrival and was stocked with blue-chip talent. Weis inherited a program that had just finished 6-6 and were thin in both depth and talent. Oh, and Weis still has the higher winning percentage of the two.

Notre Dame is a special place, with a mix of football tradition and academic excellence matched perhaps only by Michigan and USC.

Hmm...this seems vaguely like a compliment. For some reason, I'm reminded of the expression, "giving with one hand and..."

But Weis is not a special coach and certainly hasn't seemed worthy of walking in the footsteps of Rockne, Leahy, Parseghian and Holtz.

"...taking with the other." Is Weis a special coach? Well, as recently as 2006, the conventional wisdom seemed to be 'yes.' Now, one bad season and one difficult rebuilding year and the zeitgeist turns completely on its head. This is simply "finger-in-the-wind" journalism. There is absolutely no depth of thought or insight here.

The sooner Notre Dame admits its colossal mistake and sends Weis back to Jersey, the better.

For whom would this be better? Is it considered an institutional success when you're hiring your third (fourth, if you count O'Leary) coach in six years? Would that make ND a more attractive option to potential coaches? How would this be a better outcome?

Weis is incredibly lucky. In his first season, using Tyrone Willingham's players, he parlayed a hot start - plus real or contrived interest from NFL teams - into a contract extension through 2015.

Actually, no. Weis took players that, under Willingham, had managed to be a part of such "Greatest Hits of Irish Football" as "Purdue, 41 - Notre Dame, 16", "Florida State, 37 - Notre Dame, 0" and, my personal favorite, "Syracuse, 38 - Notre Dame, 12" and got them to two straight BCS bowls. This is not "lucky"; this requires a reasonable degree of skill.

Months earlier Weis had said he "didn't come here to take a job in the NFL in three years." But Irish officials, desperate after the George O'Leary and Willingham flops, threw at least $30 million and six more seasons his way.

Could someone please explain how it's Weis' fault that the school gave him this contract? Let's assume that Weis blatantly lied and said NFL teams were giving him offers. Was Notre Dame required to offer him a long-term deal? Also, if Weis were truly just "lucky" in having had the success he did, it would be Notre Dame, not Weis, that was negligent in the making of this deal.

Although some believe that fat contract is serving as Weis' shield, a source with Notre Dame ties insists a costly buyout would play no role in whether the school keeps him.

Another phantom source, yet more specious reasoning. Have the Irish been offered some type of government bailout? If not, I can't imagine any situation where this type of large, financial committment would not, somehow, be a factor in whether or not Weis should be fired. I can only guess whatever fictional character Greenstein imagines is providing him this information, did not come equipped with a background in finance. A contract like this is a huge investment. The only way it would not impact the decision to fire Weis would be if the bottom completely fell out of the Irish program or if Charlie stripped naked, covered himself in Crisco and dry-humped Father Jenkins in the middle of Sunday mass. In other words, don't hold your breath, Teddy.

Other coaches should be so fortunate. Kansas State pulled the plug on Ron Prince after only 2 1/2 seasons, and Prince's Wildcats beat then-No. 4 Texas in 2006. What is Weis' signature win? His program peaked in 2005 when the Notre Dame clock hit triple zeros with the Irish leading USC 31-28. But seven seconds remained and Reggie Bush pushed Matt Leinart into end zone on the next play.

So, now Notre Dame and Charlie Weis are also responsible for the way in which other schools treat their coaches? How is it relevant that Kansas State ditched their coach after 2 1/2 seasons? Furthermore, if what a team was ranked at the time they were beaten matters, then Charlie's "signature" win was beating then-No. 3 Michigan, at home, in 2005.

Notre Dame beat a bunch of mediocre teams in 2006, arguably had its worst season in history last year and its five wins in 2008 are against teams that are a combined 12-37.

Of Notre Dame's ten wins in 2006, five were against bowl teams. What's more, their three losses were to teams that finished with a combined record of 33-6. To put the "Notre Dame beat a bunch of mediocre teams in 2006" comment in yet another context; BCS-title runners-up, Ohio State, beat just one more bowl team than the Irish that season and played one less. As for 2007, it was no doubt a brutal season, but it also featured a completely green team playing a schedule which featured nine bowl teams and four of the first six games on the road. This season, Notre Dame's schedule is currently ranked by Sagarin as tougher than that of Texas Tech, Alabama, Penn State and Missouri, among others. Granted, they have had some disappointing finishes but, to suggest the schedule is lousy, is incredibly misleading.

First-year athletic director Jack Swarbrick said this week that he sees "progress." Really? Weis' supporters point to his extensive charity work with his daughter's foundation and his supposedly stellar recruiting.

Let's forget for a second that the line about "extensive charity work" is probably the non-sequiter of the year. Whether or not you think the Irish should be better this year, how can you not see progress from 2007? For one thing, ten games into the season, they already have twice as many wins as all of last year and are bowl-eligible. If you want to look purely at statistics, in 2007, Notre Dame was dead last nationally in total offense and 39th in total defense. This season, they are 51st in total offense (an improvement of 68 spots) and 31st in total defense. So, yeah, "really." And, "supposedly stellar recruiting?" Rivals ranked the 2006 and 2007 classes as eighth in the country and the 2008 class as second. If Teddy thinks they're overrated, he should really take it up with Rivals, not Weis.

Rivals.com ranked his 2006 class eighth nationally. The 28-man class does not have one great player. Seven are no longer on the roster, including last season's original starting quarterback, Demetrious Jones. An eighth, tight end Will Yeatman, has been shelved by legal issues.

Obviously, the converse argument to this is that the 2007 and 2008 classes are chock full of great players who have played meaningful roles right out of the gate and have Notre Dame poised for an amazing next several seasons. As for the transfers, would any of them be starting over people currently on the team? The answer, of course, is no. While you always hate to see kids leave the program, it's hardly catastrophic if players who are likely to be buried on the depth chart seek greener pastures elsewhere.

What has Weis accomplished? He earned three Super Bowl rings - maybe he will let you take a picture of them - with the Patriots, but New England's success from 2000-2006 is forever clouded by "Spygate." How did Bill Belichick's tactic of videotaping defensive coaches' signals help Weis call plays and make second-half adjustments? We don't know because Weis won't say.

Wow. Where to begin? While it's true that Weis has three Super Bowl rings with the Patriots, he actually has four overall (one came with the Giants). I'm not sure exactly why "New England's success from 2000-2006" is relevant as Weis left in early 2005. Regarding "Spygate", perhaps the reason Weis won't comment on the topic is because it is nothing to do with him. The incident which led to the coining of the phrase happened in 2007 while Weis was entering his third year at Notre Dame. Could Greenstein at least get the simplest of facts straight before asserting paranoid conspiracy theories?

How have the Patriots fared without Weis? In 2007 they arguably had the most dominant regular season in NFL history.

Of course, they followed that up by face-planting in the only game that mattered - the Super Bowl. How have the Patriots done since Weis left? I know they won three Super Bowls while he was there; how many have they won since he left for South Bend?

When Weis visited Pryor's school in 2007, Reitz recalled, he said that if Pryor couldn't cut it at quarterback, "we'll use him on the outside." No other school introduced the idea that Pryor might play receiver. "Here's the best part," Reitz recalled, "He says to Terrelle: 'Call me tomorrow at 6. I'll be watching where Brady Quinn gets drafted.' " Pryor never called. He chose Ohio State.

Actually, HERE'S the best part, if Pryor wishes to be drafted one day, he may have been better off moving to receiver. Where is the last Ohio State spread-offense quarterback these days? Last he was seen, Troy Smith (a fifth-round pick) was riding the pines in Baltimore behind rookie Joe Flacco. As for Brady Quinn, he did, ultimately, get drafted (in the first round) and is now starting in Cleveland. Looks like Charlie may know a little bit more than Greenstein, Reitz or Pryor gave him credit for.


Clay said...

How does that pass for journalism? Shocking. He reminds me of the reporter from The Wire that concocted sources and fabricated quotes. I would actually be shocked if that isn't what Greenstein is doing.

Love the site, BH. Brady is starting for Cleveland, though.


Jay-A said...

Thanks, Clay! Good catch on the Brady thing - since updated.