November 22, 2008

Let The Circus Begin

Had things gone according to plan this afternoon, this post was going include thoughts as to how Weis could improve his staff and team to make a nice run in 2009 and beyond. But after the last several weeks, it is painfully obvious that Weis is not going to get the job done. I think most Irish fans would have been willing to forestall any coaching search until at least after 2009 to see if Weis could make the leap and push ND into the upper echelon, as many expected. But after the disastrous loss to a miserable Syracuse team, I can't see any way in which retaining Weis for another year would help the future of the program. If retained, he might be able to flop around to a 9-3 type season based solely on the soft schedule in 2009 and the large amount of talent he's been able to assemble. But much like the situation at the end of 2004, the program needs a change immediately for its own long-term good.

I must admit that I say this with a fairly heavy heart - I didn't consider Weis a "home run" hire, but did like the fact that he was bringing an impressive offensive pedigree (Parcells/Belichick disciple, several Super Bowl rings) to the table. The "tough guy" Jersey persona in his first press conference was a welcome change from the somnolent, confusing speeches and answers given by his predecessor. Mix in the fact that Charlie was an alum who definitely "got" Notre Dame like no coach had since Holtz, and he seemed like a natural choice. The exciting 2005 season, followed up by recruiting successes and a repeat BCS appearance in 2006 had many Irish fans believing he had "us" back on the right path.

But at this point there's no way to deny the glaring weaknesses. Lack of productive running game after Weis' "nasty" and "pound it" assertions. Little creativity and no consistency in his area of "expertise" - the offense. What appears to be poor evaluation and use of his assistant coaches. Recruiting deficiencies in areas of need, namely the defensive line and linebackers. These are really just scratching the surface.

Now that Weis' fate is all but sealed, We Is might as well start leading the charge towards finding a replacement. The following is a list which has been circulating lately among Irish fans, authored by some of the alleged cogniscenti on the largest and most popular of ND fan sites, NDNation:

1. Bob Stoops
2. Butch Davis
3. Nick Saban
4. Jon Gruden
5. Tom Coughlin
6. Mark Richt
7. Urban Meyer
8. Mike Shanahan
9. Jeff Tedford
10. Bill Cowher
11. Mike Riley
12. Mike Belotti
13. Kirk Ferentz
14. Tommy Tuberville
15. Gary Pinkel
16. Mark Dantonio

This "list" was not to be considered "exhaustive" and not meant to imply mutual interest, but set forth individuals that should be "contacted" in the event of a coaching search. I'd like to analyze those put forth in reverse order, including their coaching histories and my purely subjective thoughts on their availability.


16. MARK DANTONIO

Long-time Midwestern guy. Began coaching career as a GA with Purdue and then Ohio St. Had a stint as Jim Tressel's secondary coach at Youngstown St. before joining Glen Mason in the same capacity at Kansas. Joined Nick Saban's staff at Michigan St. and stayed on for the forgettable Bobby Williams era. Tressel hired him to be his defensive coordinator at Ohio St. and he helped win the National Championship in 2002. Parlayed his successes into the HC job at Cincinnati, following former ND DC Rick Minter. 18-17 in 3 years at Nippert Stadium, including two 7-5 seasons. Took over at Michigan St. and is currently 16-9.

Personally, I think he's one of the more realistic options on the list. He doesn't ooze excitement and his "success" thus far has been relatively modest. He's done fairly well recruiting to East Lansing, but nothing spectacular. His teams play tough and he's obviously got a very good defensive mind.

In the end though, I'm not sure that he can be considered a "home run" and he may not be available. He's made fairly strong comments about the UM-MSU rivalry, signaling he's very committed to the program.

VERDICT: He's still fairly green as far as head coaching experience goes. Limited successes, both on the field and in recruiting. Should be considered, but there are bigger fish out there.

15. GARY PINKEL

Wasn't able to find much on his past, but he was an OC with Don James at Washington before he became a head coach. Spent 10 years as a HC at Toledo, amassing a record of 73-37-3. Went 11-0-1, including a win in the Las Vegas Bowl, and a ranking in the Top 25 in 1995. Won 3 other MAC division titles while at Toledo. Has been at Missouri for 8 years - 58-39, 2 Big 12 North titles (2007 and 2008). However, he's 21-4 in his last two years with Chase Daniel as his QB.

He's been impressive lately, but as with Weis, its not clear how much of his success was due to his QB (Daniel/Quinn). Runs a somewhat "gimmicky" offense that would likely turn off some of the Old Guard who cherish a pounding, time-consuming running game. His defenses haven't been very good lately.

VERDICT: Eh. Missouri was barely on the map until last year. Pinkel's teams aren't particularly tough and he's struggled against teams clearly more talented than his own (see: Texas 2008). Pass.

14. TOMMY TUBERVILLE

Tubs spent a good part of his youth in Coral Gables, working on the defensive side of the Miami dynasties of the late '80s and early '90s. He was DC at Texas A&M in 1994 (following in Bob Davie's footsteps), before taking the head job at Ole Miss where he went 25-20 in 4 years. He then took over the War Eagle and has gone 84-38 in 10 years. During that time, he won 1 SEC title outright (2004 - 13-0) and was jobbed out of a chance to play for the National Championship. He also won an SEC West title in 2000. Known for having consistently suffocating defenses.

But coaching in the SEC in football-crazed Alabama is no picnic. Tubs has had a veritable revolving door of offensive coordinators in his 10 years at Auburn, and fired Tony Franklin mid-season this year. There are quite a few rumblings in War Eagle Nation, so he might be looking to make a jump.

VERDICT: He's a known commodity with a great defensive mind. His offenses, especially in 2008, have lurked somewhere between "stagnant" and "God-awful" even with the large amount of talent on the roster. In the end, the Auburn faithful realize that he's only missed two bowl games in 10 years and don't let him creep away. But he'd be worth checking up on I suppose.

13. KIRK FERENTZ

Hayden Fry's offensive line coach for many years at Iowa, Ferentz went on to lead the Maine Black Bears to a 12-21 record in 3 years as head coach. He then spent several years with Bill Belichick and Brian Billick in as the O-line coach of the Browns/Ravens before returning to Iowa City to become head coach of the Hawkeyes. In 10 years, he's gone 68-53, winning 2 Big Ten titles (2002 and 2004) and going to a BCS game once (in 2002). Has produced some good offensive linemen over the years.

Hasn't made much noise in the Big Ten since 2004 except for the recent disciplinary problems. Recruiting has been a mixed bag - he took advantage of Willingham and Ron Turner's presence to raid Illinois for some of the better recruits in the state in 2003 and 2004.

VERDICT: No excitement here. He's clearly on a downward slide at Iowa. Michigan fans had a connipition was it appeared he had become the leading candidate to take over in Ann Arbor last year. The reaction should be the same in South Bend. No thanks.

12. MIKE BELOTTI

Made his way to Eugene after several stops at small West Coast schools, including Cal St. Hayward and Chico St. Has been HC at Oregon for 14 years, amassing a record of 114-55, with 2 Pac 10 titles and 1 BCS bowl win in 2001. Architect of explosive offenses and molder of solid QBs. Lately has run a spread option offense that might not please the Old Guard. When Kellen Clemens and Joey Harrington were around, tended to run more of a pro-style offense.

On the negative side, his resume screams West Coast and he's never given any indication that he'd want to leave. Presumably he's extremely well-paid thanks to Phil Knight and friends. Rumors that he was contacted during both previous searches and did not show any interest.

VERDICT: Attractive candidate due to past successes and offensive mind. Unlikely to leave for various reasons. Might the wealth on talent presently on the roster change his mind? Give him a call but don't expect much in the way of a response.

11. MIKE RILEY

Has an interesting coaching history - GA at Cal before heading up Winnipeg of the CFL for 4 years (winning 2 Grey Cups). OC for John Robinson at USC before his first stint as head coach at Oregon St. where he went 8-14 in 2 years. Hired as head coach of the San Diego Chargers in 1999 and went 14-34. Returned to Oregon St. after Dennis Erickson jumped ship and has gone 45-27 in 6 years. 4 bowl games, 4 wins. Never finished better than 3rd in the Pac 10 (until this year). 2 huge upsets over USC during this most recent tenure.

Riley's inclusion on this list was a bit of a head-scratcher for me. I guess those 2 recent victories over SC look good to ND fans, but the resume just isn't all that impressive. Add in the fact that Riley grew up in Corvallis and its difficult to see him moving again.

VERDICT: Nothing really jumps out at me, and this looks like another strictly West Coast guy. There are better options out there IMO.

10. BILL COWHER

The most curious inclusion by far - the other guys on the list with NFL pedigrees have at least in the past been linked to ND in some way, shape or form. Cowher began coaching in the NFL when he was 28 years old and has no experience in the college game at all. Never recruited, never dealt with the reduced practice time and exposure to players. Probably not even a realistic option as he's retired, and if he does make a return to coaching, he won't have any problem finding an NFL job.

VERDICT: Attractive in name only. Definitely fails the numer one requirement of any future ND coach - must have collegiate head coaching experience. If we've learned nothing else from the Davie and Weis experiences, we should know by now that ND is not the place to learn how to be a college football coach. It should be considered a waste of time and resources to even give him a call.

9. JEFF TEDFORD

Another Pac-10/West Coast guy. GA at Fresno St. QB coach with Calgary of the CFL and at Fresno St. OC at Oregon before taking over in Berkeley. 55-29 in 7 years, with a Pac-10 title in 2006. He's 4-1 in bowl games and has a knack for identifying and developing solid QB talent. Has consistenly explosive offenses and usually plays USC very tough.

Much like Belotti and Riley, a guy who doesn't seem to have any desire to move east. Disappointing effort in 2007 with a solid amount of talent. Never really found a way to get the ball in DeSean Jackson's hands and found a way to lose to a horrible Washington team.

VERDICT: Probably not realistic due to strong West Coast ties. Worth a call, and almost certainly better than the present option.

8. MIKE SHANAHAN

Known for his incredible success in the NFL, Shanny does have experience in the college coaching ranks. Position coach at Northern Arizona and Oklahoma, OC at Eastern Illinois (his alma mater) where he won a D-II title in 1978. OC at Minnesota in 1979. OC at Florida (1980-1983). Known for offensive mind, especially developing successful running schemes. Born in Oak Park, IL and reportedly had some interest in 2004.

Despite those reports, ultimately publicly denied interest/contact. No college head coaching experience. Hasn't coached in college for more than 20 years. Might be taking a pay cut to come to South Bend.

VERDICT: We'd be violating the "No NCAA HC experience" rule by inquiring. There's been rumors of mutual interest, but no real hard evidence that he's a realistic option. Plus, how much longer is he planning on coaching? Give him a call, but don't expect anything.

7. URBAN MEYER

Everyone should know his history by now. He was a logical choice due to his past connections with ND (WRs coach with Davie) and the widely circulated rumors of his "out clause" leaving him the ability to jump ship to South Bend without penalty. But he very publicly spurned ND for the Gators in 2004 and has Florida in position to win another National Championship this year. Not to mention the fact that he's consistently been a thorn in the side of ND recruiting efforts, poaching Justin Trattou and Omar Hunter in the past two years.

VERDICT: He's a slimeball. But he's also probably one of the best coaches in the country. Due to his skill and prior connection, he's got to be on the list. Of course, there's no way in hell he leaves Gainesville.

6. MARK RICHT

He's on the list because he's a great coach at a great program and has had consistent success in the best conference in the country.

Is there any reason to believe he would consider leaving?

VERDICT: Fine. Call him. He'll laugh at us.

5. TOM COUGHLIN

I almost laughed out loud when I saw this name. Coughlin was a source of great debate back during the first 2 coaching searches and was often dismissed with a "we can do better." Now, of course, he's a Super Bowl winning coach and a Top 5 candidate.

Publicly waved off any interest or contact during the first two coaching searches, especially in 2004. Rumored to strongly dislike recruiting. Seems very happy where he is currently.

VERDICT: I wasn't a fan a few years ago, and I don't see how a Super Bowl ring changes things. Hasn't expressed any interest in returning to college. Seems like another waste of time.

4. JON GRUDEN

A source of great debate and discussion among Irish fans. Many felt he should have been the only choice in previous coaching searches. The real story behind his courtship may never be known, and all that really matters is whether he's contacted again. He would be en exciting name and might be the only person on the list who would work more hours than Weis. Another guy who would "get" Notre Dame - grew up in South Bend as a huge fan with a father who was a former assistant.

Hasn't had much in the way of college football experience and has never been a head coach at that level. That should send up immediate red flags. Considered a great offensive mind, but then of course, so was the guy presently at the helm. Hasn't had much in the way of great success in the NFL since his Super Bowl win in 2002-2003.

VERDICT: Should be on the list because of his success as an NFL coach and his ties to the university. But hiring Gruden would almost seem like a sideshow, a novelty act. At this point, I think the choice has to be someone who's had consistent, measurable success as a COLLEGE football coach.

3. NICK SABAN

In terms of pure college football mind and ability to return ND to the top of the mountain, there's no better candidate on the list. The man is simply the best college football coach on the planet right now. Frighteningly good defenses, great recruiting and one BCS title already on the resume. Has built up each major program (MSU, LSU, 'Bama) to national prominence and is in the running for another title this year.

But its difficult to find a reason why he would be interested in leaving. 'Bama will give him anything he wants in terms of money, JUCO's and tough-to-qualify kids. If he wins a title at Alabama, he becomes an NCAA demi-god (if he isn't one already).

The only possible saving grace is his love for a challenge. And there might not be a bigger one in college football than returning ND to the promised land.

VERDICT: Of course you call, but expect an immediate "no thanks."

2. BUTCH DAVIS

For my money, the best and most realistic candidate on this list. Started out as a position coach at Oklahoma St. before hitching his wagon to Jimmy Johnson's star. Stayed on the defensive side of the ball at Miami, and then followed Jimmy to Dallas (NFL) where he became the DC after Wannstedt left. Parlayed his successes into the head coaching job back at Miami where he went 51-20 in 6 years and guided the Canes through NCAA-mandate probation. Won 2 BE titles, and a BCS game in 2000 and was probably jobbed out of a chance to play for the title that year. After leaving to take over the Browns, Larry Coker guided Butch's boys to an undefeated National Championship in 2001 and an undefeated regular season in 2002. He's gone 11-10 at UNC since returning to college last year.

Can't see too many negatives on his resume. His name is going to be thrown around quite a bit in connection with any big job that opens up the next few years. If he's happy in Chapel Hill, he might be tough to pry away. He could build a very nice little program down there if he decided to stay in ACC land.

VERDICT: Call him. Immediately. He should be aware of the talent on the roster after this year's game, and would likely be able to save a good portion of the current recruiting class. IMO, the best "home run" candidate on the list.

1. BOB STOOPS

Another guy who needs no introduction. Has allegedly been contacted and shown interest in the past, though that can't be considered anything more than hearsay. Good Midwestern roots, dynamite recruiter.

Has great job security and no reason to leave. Contending for another National Championship this year. Turned down previous overtures.

VERDICT: Again, his resume requires him to be a candidate, but he can't be considered realistic.

While reasonable people could of course debate the qualifications and realistic chances of bringing these coaches to South Bend, the resounding agreement among the cognoscenti of NDNation was that those included on this list were ALL better options than the man whose cause this board will be championing throughout any future coaching search.

If you've read this board before, you've probably seen Doug's resounding endorsement of Cincinnati Head Coach Brian Kelly. His resume reads as follows:

Head Coach - Grand Valley St. (13 years: 118-35-2; 2 Div-II National Championships - 2002, 2003)
Head Coach - Central Michigan (3 years: 19-16; MAC title in 2006)
Head Coach - Cincinnati (3 years: 21-5, 2 bowl wins, likely BE title in 2008)

I'm simply at a loss as to why he's so quickly dismissed. To me, that looks like the resume of a sure-fire winner. Is it because of his long history as a non-Div. I head coach? That hasn't stopped Jim Tressel from turning OSU into a powerhouse. How about solid success at smaller schools, including a likely BCS appearance this year? Sounds a bit like the guy who was the #1 candidate in 2004 that spurned ND for greener pastures in Gainesville. Plain and simple, the guy's been a winner at every level and I'd be willing to bet my life savings (admittedly, not much) that he'll be a monster wherever he goes next. And you know he's getting a big job this offseason. He's already rumored to be Tennessee's #1 candidate. Clemson, Washington and even perhaps Auburn will be looking for new coaches. He's going to be available this offseason, but he might not be available after 2009.

Sure there may always be Brian Kelly's floating around college football, but the fact of the matter is that the talent is on hand in South Bend to make some serious noise in the coming years. Changes need to happen, and they need to happen this year. I'll refer you back to Doug's original endorsement of Kelly for any further info you might need. But I really feel that he and Butch Davis should be 1 and 1A on the "list" right now, and they need to be pursued quickly and aggressively.

One final thought. Along with the many rumors that swirled around the internet during the last coaching search, and the early rumblings of a possible impending search, is the possibility of naming an "interim" HC to take over for an undetermined period of time until the best candidate can be identified and hired. Lou Holtz has generally been the individual identified to assume this role. IMO, this would be a disastrous move. In what situation has an "interim" tag ever worked successfully? Would all the current assistants be retained to work in an "interim" fashion, coaching and recuiting for a school that will likely be cutting them loose once a candidate has been identified and hired? Is it realistic to believe that an "interim" coaching staff would be able to have any success at all in recruiting even a modest class? I don't believe that it is, and I really hope that this isn't being seriously considered.

Its time for the ND administration and athletic department to earn its keep. Given their last few attempts at a coaching search, I can't say I'm confident. But, as always..."what tho' the odds..."

1 comment:

booster5515 said...

Two words: Mike. Holmgren. Can you say "Heisman" for Jimma?