November 23, 2009

Around the Nation: Thoughts on Notre Dame, Charlie Weis, Bobby Bowden, ND hoops, the TCU-Cincy debate, and the future for Les Miles at LSU

Some thoughts heading into the final week of the ND football season:

9) You think this ND coaching situation is sad?? How about the possibility of ND running out of that tunnel for the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl against Temple??? TEMPLE!! For the love of all that is holy, please turn that game down. I don't care about extra practices or any of that. ND should not be playing freaking Temple in a bowl game. I know they're 9-2 right now, but it's Temple and it's the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit. No, no, a million times no.

The ONLY way I could even stomach that game is if the new coach came in and decided that he wanted to coach the team in the bowl game. And by "coach," I mean he pulled a Bo Pelini and went nuts for 60 minutes trying to light a fire under this team and this program.

But if we're going to trot out there with Coach Corwin Brown and play half-baked football against Temple just for the sake of keeping the NCAA happy, I say turn that thing down.

8) Some awards:

The Tommy Bowden Award for "biggest disappointment": The Georgia Bulldogs. Probably could have gone with Oklahoma here as well, but at least OU had injuries to blame. Georgia never even bothered showing up for the 2009 season. Between their disappointing 2008 season and a likely 6-6 finish in 2009, I think it's safe to say that Georgia has been the most disappointing team in the country the last couple years. Think about the talent they had on the 2008 team, and they still lost 3 games that year. Lots of hype, but big time programs don't lose to Kentucky at home on Senior Day.

The Bob Davie Award for "worst clock management": Les Miles. My god, horrific game management by The Hat on Saturday night in Oxford. Verne Lundquist was so hot and bothered that I thought he was going to have a heart attack in the last minute of that game. You waste all that time before calling a timeout, and then you aren't even prepared for the scenario in case you actually completed the desperation pass down the field. LSU fans have probably been killing Les Miles these last few days. The guy already has a reputation as a bit of a dope, and this stuff is only going to solidify his reputation to the fanbase down there.

If I was Les Miles, I would have my agent begging Michigan to bring him into the fold this offseason. I'm pretty sure LSU wouldn't exactly stand in his way. With the talent that they bring in every year (LSU cranks out top 5 or so classes every single year these days with all their in-state talent and ability to sneak into Texas for players), fans do not want to see this program settle into a pattern of 8-9 win teams every year. They want to be trading off every other year with Alabama for the SEC West title, competing for national championships, and blowing out lesser opponents. Les Miles appears to be settling into that 8-9 win track, and that's probably not going to sit well with LSU fans for long.

Just when it seems like everything is stable in college football, big pieces start moving around and dominoes start falling everywhere. It always happens. I would not be shocked if we see some sort of Miles to Michigan move after next year that opens up a monster job in Baton Rouge and creates fallout at 3-4 other programs. Michigan is a big job in college football, but LSU is an 800 pound gorilla job with their talent. Just goes to show how much the power in college football has shifted south and west in the last 10 years.

The Bobby Bowden Award for "coach who is holding a big time program hostage even though he's running them into the ground": Bobby Bowden. As depressing as it must be to be an ND fan these days, I can't imagine what it must be like to be a Florida State fan. You have this incredibly successful program that owes a lot of its success to Bobby Bowden, but now the fans are almost forced to root against their legendary coach to force his hand and get him out of there. The guy is 80 years old!! He should be in some press box watching the games with his family as a legendary retired head coach. And yet he insists on sticking around and doing serious damage to the program that he spent so many years building into a national power.

I don't think Florida State can fire Bobby Bowden, but that's not the point here. They shouldn't have to fire Bobby Bowden. Bowden should see for himself that he's not getting it done at FSU and that he needs to step aside for the good of the program. FSU has become a complete train wreck on and off the field, and they are barely even qualifying for bowl games anymore. This is Florida State. They were like THE power program of my childhood, and now they're barely even relevant.

Bowden should retire after this season. He has fractured the Seminole fanbase, and it's time to move on.

7) Some other coaches who have impressed me in 2009:

Big East -- Brian Kelly--people forget that the over/under on wins for UC before the season was 6.5. 2009 was supposed to be somewhat of a rebuilding year. Two months later, they're 10-0.

Doug Marrone -- The Cuse have been pretty frisky this year. They were 4 points away from going to a bowl game this year.

Big Ten - Pat Fitzgerald -- Look, I don't want this guy as our next head coach either, but he's having a heckuva year at Northwestern. They finished the year with wins at Iowa, at Illinois, and a closing win over Wisconsin. Fitzgerald is the perfect fit at Northwestern. I hope he stays there for life.

ACC - Dabo Swinney -- Shaky start, but six straight wins down the stretch. Pretty good first year for Dabo.

Butch Davis -- Strong finish for Butch. Could be another 9 win season if they beat the Wolfpack. Great hire by the Tar Heels. He has completely transformed that program from a joke into one of the better programs in the ACC.

Big 12 - Bo Pelini -- Things have been a little bumpy in year two, but I like where they are headed. You win in college football with defense and toughness. That's what it comes down to at any level. Pelini understands football at its core, and I think Tom Osborne knew that when he hired him. They might not ever get back to being the Nebraska of old, but I think Pelini is going to turn out to be a great hire for the Huskers.

Oh and in case you forgot, Bo Pelini had ZERO head coaching experience before he came to Nebraska. Yup, just like Bob Stoops and Mark Richt and countless others who elevated to a good job with no head coaching experience and have thrived. But you old school ND fans, keep telling yourself that "experience" is the most important factor with this next hire.

Pac 10 - Jim Harbaugh -- YES WE CAN!

SEC- Bobby Petrino -- If they beat LSU on Saturday, I think Bobby P should get some national coach of the year consideration. Petrino is a freaking stud in the college game. Look back at what he did at Louisville and how quickly they have fallen apart since he's been gone. Not only did Petrino lure in Ryan Mallett and turn him into one of the best college QBs in the country, but they play exciting and attacking offensive football.

I'll say this right now. Bet your life savings on Arkansas in their bowl game this year. They are going to play some random Big 12 or ACC team in a mid-tier bowl and throttle them. Arkansas is peaking late in the year, and I expect them to be very good in 2010 if Mallett comes back.

6) On this TCU-Cincy debate, let's say that Nebraska shocks the world and knocks off Texas in the Big 12 championship game (admittedly unlikely but possible). Wouldn't TCU or Cincy almost have to be the default choice in the title game?? Even though I don't agree with it, who else would go??

Anyway, who would be the choice between Cincy and TCU?? Tough to say. TCU has been more dominant against their schedule, but who has more quality wins??

TCU -- Utah, at BYU, at Clemson
Cincinnati -- at Oregon State, at South Florida, West Virginia

I'd put that about even at the moment, but Cincy has a big one at Pitt coming up in a couple weeks. If they win that game, I think Cincy would have to get the nod in that scenario. Probably useless speculation though since Texas will most likely finish undefeated.

One good thing thus far is that it seems like the recruits committed to Charlie are going to remain on board for the most part. If the new coach can somehow talk Chris Martin back into the fold, this 2010 recruiting class will turn out fine. We've added some nice pieces on defense, plus a stud WR like Tailer Jones, and a couple good QB prospects. If we can add a couple offensive linemen, it looks like a well-rounded class that should have several very good contributors in the future. Certainly a lot better than what Tyrone Willingham left us with his last recruiting effort.

4) Wait, ND basketball is currently ranked #23 in the AP??? Whoa! The pollsters must be fired up about those big time wins over Long Beach State and North Florida.

I consider myself to be a diehard Notre Dame basketball fan, but I really have not gotten dialed into ND hoops at all thus far. Not sure if it's just a hangover from football or general apathy about the direction of the program, but I'm sort of embarrassed that I haven't even been paying much attention at all to the team thus far. I haven't watched a ton of college basketball in general this year. Ready to get back into the swing of things this week with some of the big early season tournaments coming up.

Sounds like Ben Hansborough has been about exactly what I expect out of him. A good all-around player who has a good feel for the game. And I'm reading some good things out of Abromaitis. I've been impressed with him in the few times I've seen him play. Good to hear that he has started off well.

Long season. Looking forward to seeing this team on tv for the first time against UCLA next month. I think this team has the capability of going back to the NCAA Tournament, but we probably won't know much until Big East play begins.

How about these rumors that Jimmy Clausen got punched by some random fan at a bar after the game on Saturday night?? Yikes. No clue if this is true, but this whole ND situation has gotten really ugly in a hurry. Between the Weis comments and this rumor about a sucker punch involving Clausen and some of his family members, I think this season just needs to end as soon as possible.

With that said, Charlie needs to put a muzzle on himself this last week. I realize he's frustrated and upset about what has happened, but I'm tired of hearing from the guy. I know people have said a lot of ugly things about him through the years, but it's not like Weis has been some pious figure in his time at ND. The guy acted like a pompous blowhard when he showed up, made a lot of enemies, and it's coming back to haunt him now. When you talk as much trash as he did in his early years and then double down with even more trash talk when things went south ("get your yuks in now", complaining about polls in 2008 and 2009 even though we finished 6-6 in BOTH years), there are going to be people who will kick you when you're down. For him to act like this is some travesty is absurd if you ask me.

The other thing is that while the national media types like Pat Forde and others have been vicious with Charlie for several years, I feel like the ND community has generally been very supportive of the guy for the most part even during the HORRIFIC 2007 season and the late season collapse in 2008. I think it's a little unfair to characterize ND fans as these monsters who have been ripping Charlie and his family without mercy. That's a bunch of nonsense. Most ND fans have stayed in his corner up until the last couple weeks. I've probably written fifty different posts on this message board in support of him and even supported the decision to bring him back this year. I have seen very few attacks on his family or his weight in all the years he has been here. For Weis to act like ND has been this horrible place that has swallowed him up and spit him out seems wildly unfair to me. Weis has received far more support from the ND faithful than Davie or Willingham ever did.

Whatever. I'm more than willing to wipe the slate clean with Weis, and I hope he does the same from here on out. Charlie Weis did some nice things at ND. He made ND a factor in recruiting again, he helped orchestrate some changes that will benefit the football program (early enrollment, admissions exceptions, etc), and he certainly worked hard at the job. His efforts to land Manti Te'o against all odds should be commended, and I think he has laid a foundation for another coach to come in and hopefully start putting together some really good teams in the future.

But I do take exception at this notion that he's been treated horribly at ND. Weis got paid a fortune to be the head coach at ND, and he was nothing short of a disaster in his five years here. The guy went 1-7 against the Big East and the service academies in his last three years at ND. He produced probably the worst team in ND history in 2007. He had a superstar quarterback who is going to finish his career with a record of 15-21 in three years at ND. We lost to Syracuse and UConn on Senior Day in back to back years. That is unfathomable at a place like Notre Dame with our tradition. If anything, fans have been extraordinarily patient with him.

Ultimately, I think Weis will soften his stance on ND when he distances himself from the job. I hope he comes back to games and that Charlie Jr. ends up going to ND. If the new guy comes in and does well, Weis will probably be welcomed back and remembered fondly as the guy who set up the foundation for ND's future success.

2) The only thing that did make the hair on my neck stand up a little was the interview that Brian Polian gave on his time at ND. Polian is borderline hinting that it's impossible to win at ND these days. Honestly, I'm not sure he's wrong, and that's what scares me.

The ND job has almost become TOO complicated. You have all these things on your plate, the collars are breathing down your neck, and you have to be able to recruit nationally and get all these guys to meld together under one system. And you have to do it in the national spotlight at all times with all kinds of pressure and everyone gunning for you. It's not an easy job by any means, and I worry that the best coaches out there know this.

There are so many things out of your control when you take over at ND. You can't really control academic schedules, dorm selections, food intake, etc. At a place like Ohio State, Jim Tressel has 100% control over everything going on in the lives of his players while they are at Ohio State. At ND, 2/3 of their day is pretty much out of the coach's control. It's almost as if you're coaching an intermural team when everyone else is coaching a semi-pro team.

I think the difference also shows up in the winter offseason stuff. At a place like Florida, the winter is probably not much different from the season. You spend the offseason eating, drinking, and sleeping football 24/7. At ND, I just don't think we approach the offseason with the same intensity as a program.

Bottom line, the new head coach at ND needs to examine this program from top to bottom, and the collars need to let the new head coach do whatever it takes to win. If it means athlete dorms, so be it. If it means jumbotrons, fine. If it means lighter class schedules or training tables, I'm in. Fans are tired of losing, and the ND head coaching job is going to become a graveyard for coaches if this next hire can't get it done either.

1) This is the least memorable college football season in recent history as far as I'm concerned. There's been no drama, very few compelling games, and we've basically been waiting half the season for one big showdown at the end of the year (Florida vs. Alabama).

To me, it just comes down to all of the big name programs having down years. Look around college football this year:

Michigan -- horrible; 1-7 in the Big Ten!!
Georgia -- staring at a 6-6 season; just lost to Kentucky at home on senior day
Oklahoma -- needs to beat Oklahoma State just to get to 7-5; hasn't really been a factor this entire year
Florida State -- probably going to finish 6-6; completely irrelevant nationally for like the 5th straight year
Notre Dame - probably going to finish 6-6 and losing home games to Navy and UConn in November
USC -- needs to win out to get to 9-3 but not on the national radar right now at all

And then you have teams like Miami and LSU and Nebraska and Virginia Tech who are having decent seasons but are also deeply flawed teams that just haven't made enough noise nationally. I've never seen this many big name schools off the radar in the national picture. Usually there will be at least a few schools making noise down the stretch, but most of the big names are fading this year.

Look at the top 10 right now:

1# Florida (36)
# 2.Alabama (13)
# 3.Texas (11)
# 4.TCU
# 5.Cincinnati
# 6.Boise St.
# 7.Georgia Tech
# 8.Pittsburgh
# 9.Ohio St.
# 10.Oregon

My god, who is going to play in the BCS bowls this year?? I haven't really stopped to think about the matchups, but we're going to have some Georgia Tech-Cincy, TCU-Florida, Boise State-Iowa type games. These are the types of games that you'd see on Versus or ESPN2 at noon, and yet they're going to be in front of national television audiences during bowl season. I'm not sure I'll watch a non-title game BCS bowl game from start to finish this year other than the Rose Bowl, which actually could be a compelling game between Ohio State and Oregon.

The most telling indicator of where college football is at in 2009 is this scenario. If Kentucky beats Tennessee this weekend, they will finish in second place in the SEC East this year. KENTUCKY!! Rich Brooks is a borderline miracle worker at Kentucky, but I can't believe how disappointing Georgia, Tennessee, and South Carolina have been collectively this year that UK is starting at a possible second place finish in the division with a home win over Tennessee this weekend.

It's pretty sad when the second most compelling game left in the regular season is Cincinnati-Pittsburgh. I'll be rooting like crazy for UC to cap off an incredible season, but there is nothing even remotely big time about that game.


Anonymous said...

man, first time reading this blog. Good stuff. they should hire you over at ESPN.

Stan said...

Banner work all year fellas. I think your future is in advertising though Doug.

I am very interested in this ND situation and expect that you will be all over it. I think ND can get back to the upper levels of the sport but you have raised some very interesting points I never thought about (as a non-ND alum) regarding the time commitments for the players. Maybe ND should go to a simple offense and defense and just play good fundamental smash mouth football?

Anonymous said...

My neighbor who flies an ND banner told me that he played for Kelly at Grand Valley and that Kelly's every move while at GV was dictated by his love of The Irish. "Play like ND, act like ND etc." He turned many of his players into ND groupies. Hey, the guy flies the ND banner, so Kelly must be one heck of a motivator. Today the neighbor said that he agrees with today Chicago Tribune that Kelly would crawl over broken glass to accept an ND offer, but don't dare pimp him with a low-ball salary offer - he no longer a smitten teenager.

Sean F said...

Lost in the shuffle, and my only source of joy this sports year: Joe Mauer, MVP!

Jimmy said...

Good on you Sean F for bringing a ray of sunshine to these pages.

Mauer had a season for the ages and probably didn't get enough credit for the impact he had (missing the 1st month of the season, no less). He merits his own post.

If the Twins can add a front-line ace (maybe Rich Harden?) Gardy could make some waves against the Evil Empires in NY and Boston.

Jeremy said...

Harden's a front line ace? Better let him know. Think he'd be surprised to find that out.

Great year for Mauer. I hope he can stay healthy. He's going to be a real special player.