July 13, 2008

Re-Examining the Bob Davie Era

Sean, your post below in the Willingham thread got me thinking for a minute.

Could the Bob Davie era have been saved??

I'm not going to try to pretend that Davie was a successful coach by any stretch and he clearly had to be terminated after the disastrous 2001 aeason, but do you think there was anything that could have made his term at ND more successful?? What held him back?? Was it the
offensive coordinator thing?? Did he just not have the magic?? Was he just not a good in-game coach??

I always felt like Davie was a pretty good football coach (or FOOOOTBAWWWL coach if you prefer Davie speak), but he just couldn't get over the hump. We'd get close to turning the corner and wouldn't come through for whatever reason.

There were only two things you could count on with any Bob Davie coached team (everything else was up in the air):

1) Great special teams
2) Great pep rallies

No joke, Bob Davie will go down as the greatest pep rally guy in the history of the event. Say what you want about him as an actual coach, but he would have the fans absolutely fired up and ready to run through walls when we left the JACC on Friday evening. If we hired him in the Chuck Lennon role as a permanent pep rally host, I would be perfectly fine with that.

Let's flash back to some of the key moments in the Davie era and examine why he couldn't get over the hump:

1) The Jarious Jackson injury against LSU in 1998 -

My freshman year at ND was probably the best team we had in my four years there. In all honesty, that was a pretty darn good team in many ways. With Autry Denson and Jarious Jackson and Malcolm Johnson to go with Anthony Weaver and Kory Minor and all those DBs (just hearing names like Benny Guilbeaux and A'Jani Sanders and Ty Goode brings back great memories), we actually had some really nice wins that year: Michigan, at Arizona State, LSU, at BC, a good Purdue team led by Drew Brees. I don't think I will ever forget that goal line stonewall on Mike Cloud by Jimmy Friday in the BC game. One of the greatest plays I've ever seen.

Anyway, that team was on its way to a BCS season that year until Jarious got hurt in the end zone on a kneel down play at the end of the LSU game. You could blame Davie for it I guess, but it was mainly just a lot of very bad luck. If Jarious didn't get hurt, we would have beaten USC and been headed to a major bowl game. As it turned out, we stunk up the joint with Eric Chappell filling in at QB against USC and blew the game. And while we played ok against Georgia Tech in a very competitive shootout (Joe Hamilton played the game of his life in that game), you could tell that it didn't mean as much as a BCS game would have. Had ND won that USC game and maybe taken Florida's spot in the Orange Bowl to play Syracuse, we would have had a great chance for an 11-1 season and a top 5 type ranking.

I always felt like that team was a little underrated, but the controversy from the Jarious Jackson injury and the collapse at USC really tarnished that season.

By the way, was there a more underrated ND player in recent years than Jarious Jackson?? I always thought he was a very good QB at ND, but you rarely hear his name anymore. Jarious had some great performances in games (the LSU game immediately comes to mind), and I will always be a fan of his.

2) The back to back meltdowns at Michigan and at Purdue in

These two games back to back probably were the most heartbreaking games in my 4 years at ND. We outplayed both teams and somehow let both games slip away. The Bobby Brown touchdown and ensuing unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that gave Michigan great field position for their final touchdown drive was an awful break for this team. Same goes for not finishing off a great drive to win that Purdue game. After those two games, we were never the same in 1999. It seemed like we had all the pieces for a great year, but the team completely fell apart and stunk it up for the rest of the year.

If we had pulled off the Michigan game and closed out the Purdue game, would those wins have dramatically changed the 1999 season?? It's certainly a possibility. I know we had a late season collapse, but maybe this team would have have been more motivated in those games if we had some early success. Davie's downfall was that he could never right the ship once things started going bad. If we had a little momentum going early in the year, maybe 1999 could have been a more successful season.

3) The 3rd and 9 conversion in the 2000 Nebraska-ND game

Everyone points to Davie's decision to let the clock run out in the 2000 Nebraska game as the quintessential moment where Davie just didn't "get" ND and the ND mystique, but a more critical moment in the game actually occurred in the overtime period if you ask me. Nebraska
had a 3rd and 9 from the 24 yard line in the overtime. If they don't convert the first down, their kicker is going out there in front of 80,000 rabid ND fans for a 41 yard field goal to force a second overtime. I would have liked our chances in that scenario. Instead, Crouch somehow finds that tight end for a diving catch, and two plays later, he's running into the endzone for the game winner. Just a backbreaking sequence of events.

If we had somehow pulled out that game, I think the perception that Davie couldn't win big games might have changed. And if the other unlucky break of the 2000 season (which we'll get to right below) had gone a little differently, maybe we would have had a real shot at playing for a national championship.

4) The Herb Haygood Game

4th and 10. Herb freaking Haygood. 68 yard touchdown pass with 1:48 left in the game to win it.

Probably the biggest stomach punch game of the Davie era. We played well enough to win the game, and it was heartbreaker to lose on a fluke play like that. If that pass falls incomplete, maybe Bob Davie would have been the first coach to lead ND into a BCS Championship game. Just another "what if" in the Bob Davie era. You could say that Davie created his own bad breaks with mediocre coaching, but it is a recurring theme that we had a lot of bad luck at the end of games when he was at ND.

5) The Fiasco Bowl

The 2001 Fiesta Bowl was probably the beginning of the end for Davie. Even though he got the contract extension, it became obvious after that game that Davie had been exposed and that we were really far from being an elite program during his tenure. It turned out that Oregon State was a lot better than we had imagined, and there was quite a bit of NFL talent on that roster with Chad Johnson and TJ Houshmandzadeh.

But it was such a bad performance that it seemed to have a carryover effect into the next season. Lovecchio was never the same, and it seemed like the team lost faith in Davie at that point.

The only reason I bring up the Fiesta Bowl is because I wonder how seriously we prepared for that game. I know as a fan that I underestimated Oregon State, and it's possible that the team did too. Would we have benefited from playing a bigger name team that would have drawn our attention?? If we had been more prepared and focused for that game, would it have been a much more competitive game?? Possibly. Perhaps Davie's reputation wouldn't have been in the tank
if we had played them reasonably tough and lost a hardfought game.

Anyway, those are my "what ifs" for the Bob Davie era. If some of those scenarios had played out a little differently, perhaps his career at ND would have been viewed in a little more favorable light. He probably would have still been fired after 2001 because the team
was not even close to competing for a national championship, but I don't think there would be the utter hatred for Bob Davie that there is today if Bobby Brown didn't get that celebration penalty or the 3rd and 9 fell incomplete or if Tony Driver didn't get caught in no man's land as Haygood sprinted by or if a healthy Jarious had led us to a win over USC and a BCS bid.

I always sort of liked Davie and wanted him to succeed at ND, but I guess it just wasn't meant to be.

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