A summary of what we saw this weekend:
4) Losing to Navy at home -- Think about what we witnessed on Saturday. Second consecutive loss at home to Navy (haven't beaten them at home since 2005!), third loss to a service academy in the last three years (people gloss over that blowout loss to Air Force like it never happened), and our fourth loss to a wildly inferior team in the month of November when good teams are supposed to be peaking. Our record in November since 2007 is 3-7. 3-7!! That's incredible to me. And it might get worse. The futility of Notre Dame football right now is unparalled in school history. Even worse than Willingham. We are losing games that were once unfathomable for ND football.
Saturday was basically a microcosm of everything that we have seen throughout the Weis tenure.
1) Not ready to play -- It's gotten to the point where you can tell how the ND game is going to go just by watching how we run out of the tunnel before the game. We "ran" out of the tunnel on Saturday like we were getting ready for some run-of-the-mill Tuesday afternoon practice. Meanwhile, Navy ran out of there like they were getting ready to run off the boats onto Iwo Jima.
We can talk about bad luck and unfortunate turnovers and all that, but the biggest issue from Saturday is that Weis didn't have us ready to play. You could see it from the very beginning. We were lethargic and lazy, and Navy was fired up. They jumped on us early, and we didn't wake up until it was too late. If you're forced to go into desperation mode every single week, eventually you are going to get burned.
There's no excuses with this game. It would be one thing if this loss was some sort of wild aberration that came out of nowhere. If we were 7-1 with a win over USC and were playing dominant football all year and somehow just showed up flat and lost a fluke game to Navy, I would not be all that bent out of shape about it. Upsets happen from time to time. But this game is part of a pattern. We've been running this high wire act all year, and it was only a matter of time before we came out on the wrong side of it. This team is 6-3, but it feels like we're a lot worse than that and could easily be 3-6.
The other thing is that it’s a November game. Charlie Weis has never had this team peaking in November in any of his years here. If anything, we regress as the season goes along. Great coaches peak in November. Pete Carroll, Urban Meyer, Stoops (historically), Saban, Tressel, etc. They seem to always be playing their best football of the season in November. Why don't we do that with Charlie Weis??
I think one of Weis' biggest problems has always been that he lets his team get too satisfied with what they've done. You can see it in his press conferences and his sideline interviews. Weis has Marvin Lewis disease (although Marvin is like a new man this year). He starts telling the guys how great they are, and they lose focus. You could sense that Weis was getting ahead of himself this week and thinking BCS and thinking about our ranking and whether we fit in the top 14 and all that. He was talking about how big a day Manti Te'o was going to have like the game was a foregone conclusion.
He’s the HEAD COACH. He’s supposed to be the taskmaster. The guy who keeps this team's head on straight and focuses on making us better every week. Getting yourself involved in BCS talk and where we should be ranked is not your job. Leave that stuff to the fans.
That's where Weis has just never gotten it. He's just not capable of reining himself in and never has been. His personality seeps into the team's psyche, and that's why I think we lack focus. Weis thought this game was a gimme, and I bet that reflected on how we practiced all week.
2) Bad defensive game plan - The Navy coach even called us out on it. We had a lazy defensive game plan. The coaches probably figured that we did enough to win last year with that game plan, so they trotted it out again. I don't know if it's arrogance or laziness or what, but our coaches seemed to think that Navy would just fall in line with what they did last year and make no adjustments. To me, that's just incredibly sloppy.
For all the talk about how hard Weis works, we have lazy game plans quite frequently. As the year goes along, teams recognize that we do the same stuff week in and week out and plan for it. And we don't seem to adjust.
3) No running game -- Let me get this straight, we have a 50-60 pound advantage up and down our lines, we have a bulldozer running back in Robert Hughes and another slasher in Theo Riddick and we run for 60 yards the entire game?? Why weren't we ramming it down their throat all game and wearing them down?? Last year, we pounded it on them and turned their defense into butter by the end of the 3rd quarter.
The aerial attack moved the ball all over the field, but it doesn't demoralize a defense. They always had the energy to put up a front in the red zone to bottle up our receivers with tight coverage. Teams are daring us to run, and we're not doing it. Instead, we're throwing fades into coverage. I know Tate and Floyd are GREAT, but everyone knows it is coming. When Floyd only has 10 yards to work with, it's easier to stay with him and make a play on the ball.
I'm not some "run it 50 times" zealot, but our problems in the red zone directly stem from our lack of commitment to the running game. If we had spent the entire first half pounding the ball over and over and over, those 4-5 yard gains would have turned into 15 yard gains in the second half. And when we got into the red zone, we could pound it in there.
Is Weis a creative offensive coach?? Sure, but we do our best work offensively when we go into desperation, "sandlot" mode. When we have no other choice but to just hurl it down the field to Tate and Floyd, that's our best chance to score. We'll play half-baked football for 25 minutes in the half and then make a furious effort to score in the last 2 minutes. If that's the case, what are we doing wrong the other 25 minutes?? Why don't we play with that sense of urgency the entire game??
4) Too much panicking -- Maybe the most frustrating tendency out of Weis is that there really never seems to be a commitment to an identify or an overall plan. We'll go to the Wildcat for a couple plays and then completely abandon it in the second half. We'll commit to the running game for a bit and then not run once in the second half. It's as if Weis has these grand plans and then scraps everything at the first sign of trouble. Even though the running game was working well against Navy, we quit on it. It's as if Weis doesn't trust a running game to win you a football game and feels that he has to put the ball in the hands of Jimmy Clausen to get him a win. Compare that to a team like Alabama. Bama has a plan in every game to run the football until you wilt in the fourth quarter. They stick to that plan game in and game out, and practice that throughout the year. That's their identity.
There's just a constant air of desperation around our teams under Weis. Going for it in the first half at the 2 yard line like we were already in make or break mode. Why not kick the field goal and just get the points and stop the bleeding a little bit?? Why are we already panicking in the first half??
Saturday just summed up what we probably all should have acknowledged long ago. He's just not a good football coach. I'll admit to being a Weis apologist to some degree, but Saturday just feels like a tipping point. Maybe he wins out and restores some hope, but there's nothing in his history that would suggest that is what we are about to do. It's more likely that this team is about to go into the tank and lose a couple more games (if not all three).
At this point, I don't see what the point is of keeping Weis around. What would we miss if he was gone?? More losses to service academies?? More listless play?? Weis has been here five years, and has nothing to show for it. NOTHING. Sure he can recruit, but people act like recruiting to Notre Dame is some sort of "man to the moon" mission. Do people really think ND has nothing to offer unless Charlie is spinning things in our favor?? Give me a break. Find a guy who is passionate about the school and our tradition and fanbase and academics and all the other things that we have to offer, and the recruits will come. People act like ND didn't get a good player until Charlie Weis came here. BOLOGNA!! Did I miss the memo that Brady Quinn wasn't recruited here before Charlie?? Was I hallucinating when I saw Julius Jones run out of the tunnel at ND before Weis got here?? Or Anthony Weaver? Or Victor Abiamiri? Trevor Laws?? Carlyle Holliday?? Glenn Earl?? ND has been getting great players long before Charlie got here, and they will continue to get great players long after he is gone. Weis is a good recruiter, but he is talked about like some sort of savior. He's not. ND is a great program that can sell itself. Now we just need a coach who knows how to lead them.
There are many, many problems that go much higher than Charlie Weis in this program, but we haven't helped things by hiring a bunch of bad football coaches. Davie, Willingham, Weis. Three guys who had no history of success prior to getting to ND, and three guys who have/will have no success as head coaches in their years following ND.
Put it this way. If Weis is a good coach, then wouldn't he be a hot commodity in the offseason at some other school?? Wouldn't someone like Virginia be interested in him if he got fired at ND?? The reality is that no one is interested in him as a college head coach. Maybe as an NFL offensive coordinator, but not as a head coach. That should tell you all you need to know about Weis' value as a head coach.
3) With all that said, I wasn't really in the mood to get out the pitchfork on Saturday and run Weis out of town. With Jenkins and company running the show, I was just sort of resigned to leaving Weis in lame duck status for the time being.
But then I read the transcript of Weis' press conference on Sunday, and I found it to be revolting. The guy goes out of his way to say he doesn't throw players under the bus, and then does it anyway, including a direct shot across the bow of Ian Williams. You stay classy, Charlie. No, can't be your fault that you lost to freaking Navy. Very mature to take a shot at a college kid who plays his butt off every week while you steal $4 million a year from the university. I'd rather go to war with Ian Williams any day of the week than that fat tub of goo.
Put yourself in Ian Williams' shoes for a minute. You work your butt off all offseason in the weight room and the film room, you practice all year for those 12 football games, and then your coach doesn't have the team prepared to win. Perhaps he flew off the handle, but he's a kid. Charlie Weis is a 53 year old coach who is making $4 million a year. Who should be the more mature person there??
That whole sequence said one thing and one thing only to me. This team is in the process of imploding, if it hasn't already. The players don't believe in Weis, and I fully expect to see this team go into the tank.
Even funnier is when Weis says "I always start with me" when evaluating why the team lost, and then proceeds to give himself a pat on the back for the game plan!! Unreal.
The game plan?? Is that what you think coaching is all about?? "Well, I drew up this great game plan. My work is done." You've got to be kidding me?? How about getting your players to play with intensity?? How about teaching fundamentals like tackling?? How about building a physical football team that shoves the ball down Navy's throat and wears them down?
Look at Jim Harbaugh. This guy is working with a bunch of scrubs at Stanford, and he's got them playing tough, physical football. He has built a foundation for them to rely on. Same with Wannstedt. Those guys are building something sustainable with their programs.
Meanwhile, we're trying to outscheme Navy with our amazing game plans. Awesome. Charlie Weis just doesn't get it. I think he deluded himself into thinking that these fourth quarter comebacks were something we could build our identity around. It's one thing for a fan to think that, but the head coach?? The high wire act is not sustainable. Weis should have been working to fix that so that the close wins turned into dominant wins as the team got further along in the season. Instead, this team has regressed, and Weis didn't see it coming. Instead, he seemed to think that playing listless football for 3 quarters and then winning it in the fourth was our "new system."
This press conference was the tipping point for me. That was a "don't blame me" C.Y.A. move and completely immature. You're making $4 million a year and just lost to Navy. Own the loss yourself.
In his press conference, Weis should have said the following:
"This falls on me. I didn't have us ready to play. We were lethargic all week in practice, and it's my fault. It will never happen again as long as I am the head coach of this team."
Reading the transcript was the first moment where my "stay/go" meter strongly tipped in favor of moving on, even though I know we'll probably botch the hire. I'm ready for something different.
If Weis does come back, I'm not going to jump up and down and participate in boycotts and protests and all that. I've been a Bengals and Reds fan for 20 years. Battered fan syndrome is the norm for me. My entire sports fan life has been a series of bad coaches, incompetent management, owners who lie to fans and sell us on phony rebuilding plans ("This is the year!! I swear!!"), and players who quit on their coaches. Infighting and turmoil are all I know. If the Bengals can keep guys like Bruce Coslet and David Shula around 2-3 years too long, I can certainly live with another year or two of Charlie Weis.
2) So in a perfect world, ND dumps Weis, gets it together, and goes out and throws a pile of money at a great coach, and starts winning big again. Just like Alabama did with Saban. Just like Kentucky did with Calipari. Go get a heavy hitter, and your "dying" program will suddenly look like world beaters again. So simple. Right??
Unfortunately, we already know that's not the case at Notre Dame. The priests and admins running ND are completely tone deaf when it comes to understanding big time college football. How about these rumors (if true) that Jack Swarbrick actually ordered Charlie Weis to enroll in an angry management program after last season?? ARE YOU KIDDING ME??! This actually happened?? Does any story sum up everything that is wrong with Notre Dame as a football program (or as a school for that matter) better than this?? The nanny state, Res Life, limp-wristed mentality of the entire school is on full display right there. This was the solution to last year's horrible season?? That Weis needed anger management classes?? I'm speechless. I'm not sure anything will ever top that. And yet I can completely see it from what I remember about how Notre Dame operates. Their default position on everything is to be overbearing.
Could you imagine how humiliating that must have been for Weis? He's got a bunch of priests who are uncomfortable with him swearing too much or whatever. Give me a freaking break!! He's a football coach!! Could you imagine the look on Nick Saban or Urban Meyer or Brian Kelly's face when they hear the news that Jack Swarbrick actually ordered Charlie Weis to take anger management classes?? HILARIOUS!! They will probably turn ghost white and change their phone number so that no one from ND ever calls them about the head coaching job again.
You know who takes anger management classes??! Wife beaters!! Drunks! Felons!! I represent a lot of these jokers every day and see the types of people who get ordered to take anger management classes. And this was Swarbrick/Jenkins solution?? To put Weis in anger management??
And you want to be my Latex salesmen?? That's the first thing that came to mind when I heard this story. These are the guys that are going to be making a potentially huge coaching hire this offseason?? A couple of goobers who think that the football coach swears too much??
Until I see it with my own eyes, I'm fully prepared for an absolute disaster of a coaching search if we go that route in the offseason. I'm expecting a three ring circus. Swarbrick flying around the country getting rejected left and right, big name coaches turning us down publicly and signing big extensions with their current employers, rumors everywhere, no plan, chaos, and finally some half-baked third rate hire that leaves everyone hoping for the best but fearing more of the same. We've seen this three times before. The O'Leary hire, the Willingham hire, and the Weis hire. We had opportunities to hit a home run all three times and completely whiffed.
The amazing one is the 2001 hire. We had ALL SEASON (since it was obvious Davie was done by week 3) and had absolutely zero plan once it came time to conduct a search. How is that even possible?? The Kevin White era!! What was he even doing all season?? Shouldn't he have focused on one thing and one thing only that entire season?? Finding a big time coach?? Truly remarkable how incompetent that search was. And then O'Leary's resume doesn't even check out. And then we hire freaking Tyrone Willingham even though Stanford people were practically begging him to leave. There may never be anyone like Kevin White again. He was truly one of a kind.
Anyway, I digress. I probably should start by pointing out the obvious. I’m not even remotely convinced that Weis is getting fired after the season. Think about what Jenkins and Swarbrick must be feeling today. Those two are probably hiding under their desks in the fetal position and avoiding all telephone calls. If this Navy loss blindsided the fans, think about what it must have done to those two. They probably know there is no chance they are landing a great head coach. Why?? Because they know deep down that the program has so many self-imposed hurdles that no big time coach is really going to take that job. A guy like Urban Meyer isn't taking the ND job. He knows that job is a train wreck, and that he'd be dealing with a bunch of nonsense from the priests that he never would have to deal with at a place like Florida. Same with Nick Saban. Could you imagine Swarbrick coming into Saban's office and asking him to take an anger management course?? Saban would put him in a headlock and take a dump on his face right there in the office.
At a school like Alabama, Nick Saban hires and fires whoever he wants and answers to NOBODY, including the athletic director. If Saban wanted Mal Moore gone, Mal Moore packs his bags the next day. At ND, he’d have a bunch of priests and lackeyes micromanaging him on every little thing. Do you really think he wants to put up with that nonsense??
Does anyone really think that the people running things at ND right now understand what big time college football is all about and what it takes to win on that level?? There’s no way. These are the same guys who have been dumbing down the football schedule for the last five years even though that hurts our brand and hurts our ability to win a national championship. They see ND football as a revenue generator. It’s a marketing opportunity. Come see ND football and experience the “Spirit of Notre Dame.” We saw it down in San Antonio. Meanwhile, that gimmick game completely threw us off our rhythm as a football team. We treated that WSU game like a vacation, and it showed when we were sleepwalking in the first two quarters against Navy. We have become what the Chicago Cubs were in the 80s and 90s. A gimmick built around an experience instead of a first class operation built around winning.
ND football is a lot closer to what you see at Stanford than what you see at a place like Florida. Florida is about one thing and one thing only: WINNING. That’s the #1 priority. Everyone from the president to the AD to the coach are on the same page. It’s about the Ws, and anything else is a distraction and not a priority. I see it here in Columbus too. The only thing that matters is winning. Expectations are sky high every year, and the goal is to meet them, not to rationalize with "well, 9-3 would be a step in the right direction." The goal at the Texases, Ohio States, Floridas of the world is to go 12-0 and win the national championship. Every loss is a matter of major concern, especially the big games.
Meanwhile, we're giving standing ovations after losing the USC game, sending the players to a two hour mass before the game, singing Navy's alma mater because it's "classy," and congratulating our team for squeaking out wins over bad teams like Washington and Purdue. We honor these “traditions,” but the program has become a freaking laughingstock. A big problem with our program is that we have a loser’s mentality.
Notre Dame needs to make a decision this offseason. Go big or go home. If we want to do the academic thing and play nice, let’s go join the Ivy League. At least our degrees will look great on paper. If we want to play big boy football, go “all in” and give the head coach whatever control he wants. No big time coach is going to take this job unless he has a guarantee that he will have total control of the program from top to bottom. Guys like Urban Meyer and Nick Saban have done too much in their careers to be meddled with by a bunch of ND hacks and priests. Those guys have won national titles. They can win many more titles at Florida and Alabama. If the ND job is a huge headache, they’re not even going to listen. We could offer them $20 million a year, and they aren’t taking the job unless they know they can win a national title at ND. Under the current parameters, that couldn’t happen.
ND has only gone “all in” one time in the last 30 years. That was with Lou Holtz. We basically gave him free reign to run this program however he wanted, and he brought in talent and created a winning mentality immediately. The 1988-1993 run directly stems from ND being committed 100% to being a championship football program. Once the priests started meddling again, the program took a nose dive. And we haven’t recovered. If we want to get back on top, that’s the only way to go.
The other issue is money. My other biggest fear is that we don't have the money to make a move with the $10+ million buyout to Weis. Is Jenkins going to pull the trigger on that in this economy?? That's almost double our NBC contract. It's not like Willingham where we could pony up $3-4 mill and he's gone. We signed Weis to a 10 year, $30-35 million deal. Unfreakingbelievable. That might be the worst contract decision of all time in any sport or business.
The money might not there to buy him out. Maybe some big donors pony up, but who is dropping $10-15 million to fire a football coach in this economy??
If you put a gun to my head, I’m saying Weis is back next year if he wins 1-2 more games. I just can’t see Jenkins and company pulling the trigger. I don’t think they were prepared for this type of move at all. If he wins one more game and goes to the Gator Bowl, I think they'll try to put a positive spin on the season ("playing in a New Years Day bowl", "improved record," "back to back bowl appearances," "keep continuinty in recruiting," "discernable progress," etc).
The only thing that gives me a sliver of hope (and by sliver, I mean 0.001%) is that Jack Swarbrick is an ND alum and knows that his entire tenure at ND is riding on how he handles this entire process. It's a little different than Kevin White in that respect. White will probably go the rest of his life without ever engaging in anything ND-related again, so his series of calamaties at ND are not going to be thrown in face for the rest of his life.
With Swarbrick, it's different. He's an alum from Indy. Even after he's gone as athletic director, he's probably going to be involved with ND in some capacity. Does he really want his legacy to be that he was a complete disaster as the Notre Dame AD and that he completely blew the Charlie Weis firing and subsequent hiring of another coach?? If he mails in this hire or drops the ball on Weis, he'll be an outcast in the ND community for the rest of his life. He'll be right there with Kevin White and maybe even worse since the only mandate he has had since he took the job was to figure out what to do with the head coaching position.
He's had OVER a year to contemplate this move. If he has been sitting there with his thumb up his butt all offseason without getting prepared for this possibility, it would be borderline criminal. How could he possibly not have spent time all offseason lining up his ducks just in case he needed to make a move?? Weis barely survived last year. If Weis gets forced out at the end of the year and we are running around with no plan, it would be unbelievable to me.
If I'm Swarbrick, I know that this is the moment that could put me down in the "ND legend" category if I hit a home run with this hire. He has to know that, right?? If he goes out and finds THE GUY that wins a national title at ND and puts together a long run of great teams that win big games, he will be revered for the rest of his life. Knowing all that, how could he possibly settle for some Tom O'Brien/Jim Grobe/Greg Blache/Tom Clements/Pat Fitzgerald type??
Bottom line, we'll know exactly how much thought Swarbrick put into a coaching change by how the search is conducted. If it's a three ring circus with him flying all over the place and coaches rejecting him left and right, we'll know that he spent all season (and offseason) clinging to the hope that Weis would make it. If it's a well-conducted search where we zero in our guy and get one of our top choices (if not our top choice), then I think Swarbrick will get a ton of commendation for his efforts.
1) Wanted to throw in a few last words about some of the potential hires. I'm not even discussing Urban Meyer or Nick Saban because there's no chance either of those guys are realistic options. There's nothing for them to gain from coming to ND right now. Maybe Urban Meyer becomes a possibility down the road if he burns out at Florida or goes to the NFL and fails, but luring him from Florida right now is not happening.
So I'll turn my attention to a couple other names that are floating around. First, Brian Kelly. My feelings on Brian Kelly have been stated already, and it does seem like people are really warming up to this idea of going after him. I think Brian Kelly would be the kind of personality that would light under fire under this school.
I think it would also be a great sign that ND finally means business. Believe me when I say this, Brian Kelly is not taking this job unless he gets a flat out guarantee from the administration that he will be able to run the show as he sees it. No interference, no games, no priests meddling, no backstabbing, no politics. If he doesn't have everything that he thinks he needs to win, he'll stay at Cincy and continue to build that program while also keeping an eye on other promising jobs out there. If he's still at Cincy when Michigan comes looking for a new coach (possibly after this season), I don't think Michigan can afford to pass him over again. And if that happens, look out.
That brings me to a couple of the myths that are floating out there about Brian Kelly and his suitability for the ND job. I wanted to debunk a couple of those since they are both completely absurd if you ask me.
1) "Brian Kelly can't recruit!!" ---- Hahahahahaha. Are you kidding me?? People actually believe that Brian Kelly can't recruit??? That might be the most ridiculous thing I've ever read.
Not only would Brian Kelly be a recruiting monster at Notre Dame, he would also be a more effective recruiter than Charlie Weis. Charlie Weis is a good recruiter, but he doesn't really know what types of players he wants other than pro style QBs and WRs. He's never really been able to create an identity for this team, so our recruiting tends to be grab-bagging, especially on defense. We go for 4-3 players one year, then 3-4 players, then 4-3 players, then big linemen, then smaller linemen, etc. Weis doesn't know what types of players he even wants, so our roster has ended up with a bunch of talented players who are square pegs in a round hole. Look at a guy like Kerry Neal. He's been jerked around so much that he probably has no idea what he's doing out there. He's a linebacker, then an end, then a linebacker, then an end. His career has been a complete waste. There's no consistency. There are players like that all over our roster. Could you imagine being a Notre Dame football player with the team changing defensive philosophies every single year and sometimes even from week to week??
Brian Kelly has been a head coach for 20 years. He knows EXACTLY what he's looking for on the recruiting trail. His teams have an identity that he has forged throughout his coaching career. That's why you see a guy like Pike go down and Collaros just steps right in and plays All American-caliber football. That's why you see 10 guys graduating from their defense, and he just plugs in new guys the next year. Kelly's teams don't just rely on individual talent like Weis' teams. It's a team in every way.
The other thing is that Kelly is recruiting way above his level right now at UC. He's coaching at freaking Cincinnati!! Do people not realize how pathetic Cincinnati's football history is?? UC is a commuter school in the middle of the worst neighborhood in the city (maybe the worst neighborhood in the entire country for that matter). It's a dangerous place to be at all hours of the day. The dorms look like prisons. Their facilities are a joke. They don't even have a practice field and have to practice on the Nippert Stadium field.
Put it this way, I lived in Cincy for 20 years, and I had never watched a UC game on television until about 2-3 years ago. They were never on!! No one paid attention to UC football.
Prior to Kelly getting there, UC would have like the 90th ranked recruiting class or something in that range every year. The only reason it was even "ranked" is because they rank all 117 teams. The recruiting "class" would be a series of local kids, 2 stars, one stars, and zero stars. Their recruiting region was pretty much limited to the Greater Cincinnati area.
Here are the numbers in terms of recruiting class prior to Kelly getting there and after Kelly:
Look at how dramatic the change has been since Kelly took over at UC. He immediately moved them up 20 spots, and now he has them in the 40s with the Arizona States and UCLAs of the world. In another year or two, I could see them sneaking into the 20s. At a school like UC with a 35,000 stadium and zero tradition, that is nothing short of remarkable.
UC used to battle with MAC schools for players and lose most of the battles. Big Ten type recruits would not even visit UC let alone commit there. Now, they are going up against Big Ten schools like MSU and Purdue and even Ohio State and winning their fair share. And they are going out of state and finding guys too. Kelly is recruiting at a level that no UC fan ever dreamed of back in the day.
People act like recruiting requires some sort of advanced science degree. It doesn't. It's about one thing and one thing only: SALESMANSHIP. That's all it comes down to. Do you have the type of personality to sell yourself and your school to a recruit?? If there's one thing I'm not worried about when it comes to evaluating Brian Kelly, it's his salesmanship skills. If he wasn't a football coach, he'd be a successful businessman or a politician. The guy is a walking salesman. He's probably kissed every baby, went to every bingo hall, gone to every fundraiser, and appeared on every tv and radio station in the Greater Cincinnati in the 3 years he's been here. I've never seen anything like it in terms of promoting a football program.
Do people really think Charlie Weis is the only guy who can sell Notre Dame?? Brian Kelly would sell ND in spades to every recruit across the country. I have no doubt about it. He'd sell our tradition and our passionate fans and academics and nationwide appeal, and he'd sell his record and dynamic teams to convince recruits that ND football is about to be great again. In other words, I think he'd just continue on with what Charlie Weis has already done, but he'd actually have a plan for these players when they got on campus.
One other thing I've heard about Brian Kelly. He likes to recruit WINNERS. Guys who have won in high school. I've heard him talk about it many times. He looks for kids who have been leaders on winning teams. Guys like Zach Collaros who went 32-0 at Steubenville High School in southeast Ohio. That's the kind of mentality I want at Notre Dame. I'll take a kid like Kyle McCarthy who has a winning mentality over a more talented guy like Harrison Smith who doesn't have the same level of passion for the game any day of the week.
2) "Brian Kelly won't be able to put together a big time staff!!" -- Another completely absurd myth about Brian Kelly. People are trying to marginalize the guy as "small time" because he won't be able to attract a high profile staff. First of all, how do we even know that he's bringing his entire UC staff with him?? He fired his defensive coordinator last year even though their defense was great and brought in a guy from Virginia. Kelly is a smart guy. He is going to put together the best staff possible.
And even if he does bring in a few guys from UC, is that really such a bad thing?? Why are people so obsessed with assistants?? Look at Charlie Weis. He has brought in this all star team of assistants, but it doesn't matter. The head coach sets the tone in your program. That's why that whole "we need new assistants" stuff from last year was a bunch of nonsense.
Another great example is Urban Meyer. The guys coaching under him right now at Florida are the SAME GUYS who were coaching under Bob Davie at Notre Dame. We all thought those guys were failures and horrible assistants, but now they've magically become this great staff under Urban Meyer?? Why do you think that is?? It's because Urban is a great coach who sets expectations for his staff.
I can attest to the fact that Kerry Coombs (who is the DBs coach at UC) is an OUTSTANDING coach and one of the best high school football coaches in the history of Cincinnati high school sports. The only reason he's not a Division I head coach right now is because he coached in high school for too long and doesn't have enough time to advance up the college ladder. But Kerry Coombs built a dynasty at Colerain High School in his time there, and he has been a huge asset for the UC football program under Brian Kelly. Maybe he never coached under Woody Hayes or whatever, but Kerry Coombs is a great football coach. If he came to ND, I'd be thrilled.
Keep in mind that the same people who are trashing Brian Kelly are the same people who were trashing Urban Meyer as "small time" and all this other stuff. People who knew football knew Urban Meyer was special. I personally think the same of Brian Kelly.
Would Kelly be a guarantee at ND?? I have no clue. There are a lot of factors in play, and I still wonder if ND really has an institutional commitment to do whatever it takes to be a big boy in football again. There's always a risk with any hire. Kelly may be a disaster, but you could say that about anyone on our list. For all we know, Saban would come to ND, get railroaded by the administration, and the program would remain stagnant.
The other thing is whether ND would even be interested. I know for a fact that Michigan would not even talk to Brian Kelly because of those racial comments he made about black kids afraid to "snitch" to the cops, and he's got a political background that is not exactly in line with your typical ND administrator. A pro choice Catholic who worked on the Gary Hart presidential campaign?? Is ND going to have the guts to hire a guy like that after all those Obama protests?? The Vatican would probably issue some declaration of condemnation if we hired him.
But if I had to create a list of the best coaches in the nation and guys who seem like a natural fit at ND, Brian Kelly is on both those lists. Maybe at the top. He has the larger than life type personality that would work at ND, and he's obviously an outstanding football coach.
2) The other guy who is already getting a ton of attention is Jon Gruden. I really don't know what to make of Jon Gruden as a potential head coach at ND. I think he has that charisma that the ND coach needs, and he's certainly got a better appearance than Weis. He loves the school from what we've heard, he's won at the highest level, and I think he would turn out to be a good recruiter with his NFL pedigree and celebrity status. But we'd be wading back into that NFL pool after a failed NFL experiment, and we don't really have anything to go on in terms of knowing how well Gruden would fit in a college environment.
Do I have any idea if Gruden would be a success at ND?? Not at all. He's a complete wildcard. This is where my concerns come back into play about our athletic director. Does anyone really trust Swarbrick to make a proper evaluation of coaching candidates?? The people in charge of the last few coaching searches have gotten caught up in “magic” and “he gets it” and image, even though none of those things have anything to do with football. Will things be any different with Swarbrick??
I want the next coaching search to be about one thing and one thing only: FOOTBALL. The questions I want the people in charge to be asking include the following:
Is the guy a leader?
Do his players love playing for him?
Is he a motivator?
What is his philosophy for how to build a championship football team?
Does he want to win championships or just coach football?
Do his teams have a consistent identity??
Does he hate losing to the point of obsession (something that would have eliminated Ty Willingham immediately)?
I don't know any of those answers when it comes to Gruden. He has no track record in college football. I think he has a lot of those qualities listed above, but I'm not in a position to say one way or the other whether he meets that criteria. This is where I am hoping that Swarbrick and the BOT are doing their due diligence on Gruden. They need to be doing it now.
I was not a Gruden guy, but I'm open minded about it. I think the concerns about his offense are overblown (ND fans blowing things out of proportion?? No way!). Pete Carroll has said that he built his USC offense around Gruden's offense. Gruden has been studying with Urban Meyer and Chip Kelly this past year. He's a smart guy, and I think he'd have an offense in place that would work in college.
I'm more concerned about leadership and management. If Gruden comes to ND, is he going to be the type of coach who inspires his teams and motivates them to bring everything they've got on Saturdays?? And is he going to have a consistent philosophy when it comes to management?? Guys like Pete Carroll succeed because they have a consistency to their approach that they set in place from the very beginning. Carroll's philosophy on offense and defense have been the same throughout his tenure. His teams have an identity, and that identity overrides individual players or assistant coaches. If an assistant leaves, he just plugs another guy in. If guys graduate, new guys step up and get after it. With Weis, we change our philosophy from week to week, sometimes from game to game. If players go down, we lose continuity. To me, that comes down to management.
I'm more intrigued by Gruden than I thought I would be. I've really enjoyed hearing him on Mike and Mike, and I find him to be very intelligent and very insightful. I've learned more from Gruden in his little weekly talks with Mike and Mike than I have in 5 years of Charlie Weis press conferences. I just hope we have an athletic director in place who can figure out if he's the right guy for Notre Dame football. If he truly is, then go get him.