November 17, 2009

Making the case for Jim Harbaugh at Notre Dame, plus some thoughts on Brian Kelly, the collars, Swarbrick, Will Muschamp, and Jumbotrons

4) First, wanted to comment on that Bob Davie interview that he gave with ESPN Radio the other day about the ND job. ND fans reflexively rejected everything that he had to say purely based on who was saying it, but listen to what he is basically saying here:

"ND wants to have an Ivy League environment with everything structured, and that's not the type of cultural environment for building a great defense."

Is there anything in that quote that is even disputable?? Anyone who has spent more than a day on the ND campus knows exactly what he's talking about. ND is not a "football school." It's an academic school with a football program. If you play football at ND, you've got a hundred things on your plate throughout the semester that having nothing to do with football.

Isn't that ultimately why so many guys end up stagnating as players on the ND campus?? Do people think it's some coincidence that so many guys leave ND and thrive in the NFL once they have an opportunity to spend all their time developing as a football player??

Think about a guy like Sam Young. Look at the guy!! He's 6'8, 350 pounds and looks like a mountain out there. When you look at the guy, you wonder how he doesn't squash every defensive end or DT like a bug play after play after play.

And yet he's nothing more than an average offensive linemen in college. He's not a great run blocker or a good pass blocker. He gets beat routinely by guys with half his ability.

So what's the problem here?? How does an All World recruit like Sam Young play for four years at such a mediocre level??

I think it comes back to what Bob Davie is saying. If Sam Young was at Florida, his whole experience is school and football. Football is like a job at a place like Florida or Ohio State or Texas. Football people hang out with each other, work out together, eat together, etc. There really is no other connection between the players and the school. They are at Florida to win games and be great football players. Some guys might be focused on getting a degree, but it's a self-starter thing. If you want to go to Florida and just be a football player and try to get to the league, you can easily get away with doing that for 3-4 years.

At ND, it's so much more than that. ND wants to integrate football players into the student body, and give them a college experience. You live with the other students and stay on campus for 3 years and have a lot of regimented things from a social standpoint that have nothing to do with football. Res Life, parietals, rules, etc. And there are expectations from an academic standpoint. If a football player is struggling in school, it's not like he can just skate by and blow things off. The ND admins are going to sign you up for tutoring whether you like it or not. I was a football tutor at ND for a year, and I know those guys hated doing that stuff. If you're a player with NFL aspirations, where would you rather be?? Spending two hours with a Spanish tutor or hitting it hard in the weight room or in the film room??

This stuff adds up over the course of a semester. Think about how we looked down the stretch in November of 2008 compared to the Hawaii Bowl in December 2008. It was like a completely different team. The difference? The team was finally done with school and looked loose and relaxed and able to concentrate on football. I don't think it was some coincidence that we played about as well as we've played that day in years.

Let's face it, Bob Davie is right about this stuff. Now, Bob Davie thinks that the culture at ND is an insurmountable obstacle, and I don't happen to agree with that. I think ND needs to find a guy who understands what he's getting into and has a plan to overcome the cultural problems at ND. It's not an easy task, but I think it can be done. It requires a special type of person.

On paper, Weis seemed like that type of guy with his personality, but I think Weis' tough-guy approach was always just an act. Weis was never a taskmaster. He came to ND thinking that he could be a tactician and win at ND with playcalling and schemes. If anything, he exacerbated the cultural problems at ND. He made a soft program even softer.

3) With all that said, why is everyone so averse to Jim Harbaugh??? Look at what the guy has done at Stanford and at U. San Diego. He went 29-6 at San Diego (where football barely existed before he showed up) and now has Stanford rolling in his third year there. Stanford was a borderline touch football team when he showed up. Tissue soft, no discipline, no heart. Just a complete walkover for everyone. I remember watching one of the worst ND teams of all time beat Stanford 57-7 back in 2003. That same ND team lost by 26 to Syracuse the following week. That's how bad Stanford was in 2003. Stanford finished 1-11 in the year before Jim Harbaugh was hired in 2007. Now he has them at 7-3 three years later with back to back blowout wins over Oregon and USC.

I'm not going to sit here and say that Harbaugh has been cranking out championships or anything in his time at Stanford, but look beyond the results in his first few seasons. Everything about his track record and trajectory screams out superstar.

1) Big time NFL pedigree -- Jim Harbaugh was not a superstar NFL quarterback, but the guy played 15 years in the NFL and had a pretty darn good career when it's all said and done. They didn't call him "Captain Comeback" for nothing. Pro Bowler in 1995, nearly carried the 95 Colts to the Super Bowl, inducted into the Colts Ring of Honor. When I think of Harbaugh's playing career, I think of him as an extreme competitor and a guy who hated to lose.

People talk about Harbaugh like he doesn't have any experience, but what about his 15 year playing career in the NFL?? How does that not count as "experience" in terms of learning and understanding football?? The guy called plays and ran NFL offenses for 15 years in the NFL. Anyone think Peyton Manning doesn't know a lot more about football than all but a handful of coaches even though he's never been a coach?? Being a quarterback in the NFL is the equivalent of a coaching assistant position at any level in my mind. Does anyone really think Kyle Whittingham knows more about football than a guy who played in THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE for 15 years?? Kyle Whittingham was probably cutting up film as a grad assistant somewhere when Harbaugh was squaring off with the Steelers in the freaking AFC Championship game.

Harbaugh didn't need coaching internships/assistant positions like Stoops and Richt and others. He played the game. I wouldn't hire him on his playing career alone, but that's more than enough "experience" for me when you consider that background along with what he's done at Stanford and USD and that he was a quarterbacks coach with the Oakland Raiders for two years.

Harbaugh comes from a coaching family. BLOODLINES!! His dad was a college coach, and his brother is a very good young coach in the NFL with the Baltimore Ravens. I've been nothing but impressed with John Harbaugh's stint thus far with the Ravens.

Plus, he's a Midwestern guy at heart who grew up in Toledo, had a standout career at Michigan, and played most of his pro ball in the Midwest. So he went to Michigan. Big deal. So did Corwin Brown, and Corwin loves ND. I could get over it in a hurry if he showed genuine interest in the ND job. Choosing coaches based on where they went to college is a bunch of nonsense. That was 25 years ago.

2) Program Builder -- Harbaugh has changed the culture at Stanford. He took over a soft team and immediately went about building them into a tough, physical team with strong lines and a good running game. This explosion in 2009 is not some accident or a fluke. They have been building toward this since the day he arrived on campus.

I like that Harbaugh has a vision on how to build a program. Build up your lines, and win with power football and good quarterback play. When I watch Stanford play, it's how Michigan used to play in the old days. We're running the ball down your throat, and there's nothing you can do about it. And if you want to cheat up in the box, we'll kill you with play action from our big armed QB. No matter how old school that formula is, it can still work if you have a coach who knows how to implement it. The only way to play power football is to practice it and preach it every day. Full pads practices, toughness drills, etc. You can't just say "we're gonna pound it" and then go out and do it. Harbaugh understands that concept.

I like that Harbaugh stuck to that model even though it probably would have been easier to change things and try to scheme his way to a few more wins in 2007 and 2008. He knew that doing it his way by building a tough, pro style team was the best way to go long term, and he has stuck to that. Now, we're seeing why he stuck to that plan. This isn't some Rich Rod "my way or the highway" thing to completely overhaul a team. It's simple, fundamentally sound power football.

I don't care if ND goes 0-12 in 2010. I want to see us learn how to pound the ball on the ground and become a tough team on the lines. Run the ball off tackle, and throw off the run with play action. Control the game, good balance on offense, keep the defense off the field, and grind teams into the ground. That's how Stanford plays. It's an effective formula that could easily be replicated at a place like ND, especially since we have more talent than Stanford. We will never have the team speed that Florida has, but we can develop a physical team that wears people down and wins big games in the fourth quarter.

3) Pro style -- If the goal is to keep continuity to some degree, why not hire the one guy out there who would actually run a pro style offense?? Unlike some of the other guys being talked about, Harbaugh is a pro style coach. When I watch Stanford, I see a team that looks a lot like ND. They have a bunch of big, white linemen, a big pro style QB, a power back, a big pass catching tight end, and a couple decent receivers. The only difference is that they play more physical with their personnel.

Harbaugh could come to ND and have a roster that he could build right from the start. He could turn our line into a big, physical line, build the running game around Theo Riddick and Robert Hughes, use Rudolph and Floyd in the play action passing game, and develop Crist into a good pro style quarterback. He's the perfect fit in terms of scheme.

4) Recruiting -- Look at what Harbaugh has been doing on the recruiting trail at a place like Stanford with high academic standards. He had the #20 recruiting class last year and has the #17 class in the country this year. At Stanford!! He is going all over the country and landing guys. Very aggressive recruiter. Put him at a place like ND, and he would be a recruiting machine.

The other thing is that Harbaugh really seems to understand what makes Stanford attractive in terms of recruiting. He appreciates that you get a great education there and that it's the type of place where you will get a degree and leave with a bright future. Every time I've read something from him, he has harped on how impressed he is with Stanford's academic culture and really tries to sell recruits on that.

Wouldn't he be able to take that same model to ND?? Harbaugh would see ND in the same light in terms of a place where you will have a real major and actually graduate from college instead of being spit out after your football career is over. For all the fuss about his "character," he seems like the type of guy who would represent ND very well in terms of understanding what the school has to offer.

5) Culture warrior -- I used the word "culture warrior" here because I think that Harbaugh is the type of guy ND needs with this next hire. A guy who is going to come in and shake up the malaise surrounding this program. A guy who isn't afraid to set high expectations and actually has a plan to meet them.

Harbaugh seems like the type of guy who would come in here and give ND an attitude and a chip on its shoulder immediately. He would come in and call out USC at his press conference on the first day and warn them that the ND train is going to roll them over next November. That type of attitude can be contagious in a locker room. That's the kinda guy I want.

People were complaining about the "classless" decision to go for the two point conversion up 27 in the USC game. I loved the call, and I bet his players loved it too. Why should Harbaugh take it easy on USC?? It's not like USC has ever taken it easy on anyone themselves. This was Harbaugh's way of sending a message to USC that their days of pushing around Stanford are over as long as Harbaugh is there. When was the last time anyone broke USC's will like that?? I don't think it's ever happened in the Pete Carroll era.

Is he controversial and outspoken?? Sure, but what difference does it make if he can back it up on the field?? The reason people don't like Weis' act is because the guy has talked so much trash without backing any of it up. Harbaugh would actually back it up if he builds us into a tough, physical team. Everyone around college football would hate him, but who cares?? We're already hated anyway. Might as well hire a guy who could care less about being liked and has nothing else on his mind but blowing the other team out of the building.

I don't care if Harbaugh is "classless" or a bad guy or whatever. As long as he graduates players and wins football games, that's all that matters to me. WIN FOOTBALL GAMES. When did all this other stuff become a part of the criteria?? Are we hiring a football coach or a choir boy??

6) Academic Pedigree -- I know he has skeletons, but one reason I think ND could look past Harbaugh's skeletons is that he has somewhat of an academic oriented pedigree. He graduated from Michigan, and he's coaching at a prestigious school like Stanford. He's got the chops on that front to be someone who ND would be comfortable with, and he really seems to appreciate graduation rates and Stanford's academic reputation. Heck, he ripped his own alma mater for having "athlete majors" and all that. He seems to be genuinely proud to coach at an elite school like Stanford.

All I'm asking for is that ND give this guy an interview. Maybe ND could never live with his past, but maybe he can explain away his divorce and DUI as some ex-jock stuff that he's grown out of. I mean, what ex-pro jock hasn't cheated on their wife fifty times??

For the record, I have no idea if Harbaugh would be a great coach at ND. He might be a train wreck. All these guys are risks. But I want the next head coach at ND to be a football coach. A guy who is going to have this team in full pads every day in spring practice next year with the plan to turn them into the toughest team in the country. A guy who is afraid of nobody and will stop at nothing until this program is back on top. For my money, there are only a handful of coaches out there who fit that profile. Saban, Stoops, and Meyer of course, but I don't view them as realistic options. After that, I think the next guy on my list would be Jim Harbaugh. He's got the NFL pedigree, he's already coaching at a school with high academic expectations, he's very intelligent, he's a program builder, he understands the importance of line play, he's recruiting like crazy, he coaches with passion, he knows the Midwest, and I think his style of play would be a natural fit at a place like ND.

Maybe we land a superstar coach this offseason, but how many times has that truly happened in recent years?? The only can't miss hires in recent memory in college sports would be the following:

1) Roy Williams to Carolina from Kansas -- Never a doubt in my mind that Roy would be a superstar at UNC. With that offense and his recruiting abilities, it was maybe the biggest lock hire of all time.
2) Nick Saban to Alabama -- The king of SEC football in the last decade at a school dripping with tradition. No brainer.
3) Rick Pitino to Louisville -- Superstar hire for Louisville. Pitino hasn't won a title or anything, but he has returned the Cards back to the elite level in college basketball. When you hire Pitino, you're going to win big.
4) John Calipari to Kentucky -- With his recruiting ability and persona and Kentucky's tradition and commitment to the program, Calipari is a home run. Calipari is a superstar in college basketball these days, and Kentucky is only going to make his star brighter.

Other than that, how many other absolute locks have there been in terms of coaching hires?? Maybe Urban to Florida (although there were questions about how his offense would translate), maybe Ben Howland to UCLA (watch out here though. could see his seat get a little warm if this team slides this year), and that's all I can think of off the top of my head.

For the most part, there's always going to be a risk when you make a coaching hire. That's where I think ND fans just don't understand the hiring process. All ND fans are talking about right now are the can't miss guys like Stoops, Saban, and Meyer. What happens when all three of those guys tell us they're not interested over the next couple weeks?? Gruden has already basically taken himself out of the picture. Now, everyone is on Stoops. What happens when Stoops tells a reporter at his upcoming press conference that he's not leaving OU?? And then what happens when other rumored guys like Kirk Ferentz and Paul Johnson take themselves out of the picture as well?? Ferentz is making $3 million a year at Iowa and has turned down a million jobs in the past, including the ND job in 2004. Paul Johnson just got to Georgia Tech and seems to love it there. The ship has sailed on both those guys.

ND needs to be focused on hiring an up and comer. The next Stoops. The next Richt. If we wanted Ferentz, we should have hired him 10 years ago when he was an assistant at Iowa. Same with Paul Johnson when he was at Navy. We missed the boat. And the same with Bob Stoops. OU already discovered Stoops. We aren't going to just steal him away from OU. They found him, hired him, pay him like a king, and give him whatever he wants. He can win national titles at OU. There's no reason for him to leave. Instead of pining for Stoops, we need to figure out who is the next Stoops and hire that guy.

So who is the next Stoops?? Well, it could be Jim Harbaugh. I think Harbaugh is going to be a superstar in coaching. Maybe he wants to go to the NFL, but I imagine that other big time colleges are going to want to talk to him. Maybe Michigan dumps Rich Rodriguez and goes after him. Maybe some other big name school like Florida State. If we focus all our energies on getting rejected by Bob Stoops and Nick Saban, we'll miss a chance to talk to this guy.

Another guy who I'd love to bring in for an interview. WILL MUSCHAMP!!! Is there any doubt this guy is the next Bob Stoops?? Just look at him and what he has done with that Texas defense. Their defense is NASTY this year. Everything about Muschamp screams out future coaching superstar, and yet he's not even on our radar screen?? Why not?? Because of some arbitrary notion that we need a "proven" coach with experience?? What about Bob Stoops before he got hired at OU?? He had no experience. What about Mark Richt?? Never had any head coaching experience before landing at Georgia. Or Steve Sarkisian for that matter. Some of these big time assistants are so talented that they are ready to take over a big time program in their first head coaching jobs. If we don't even talk to these guys, we might miss out on the next Bob Stoops.

The point is that ND needs to be looking at EVERYONE in this coaching search. Young guns, experienced guys, superstars, under the radar guys. Not only will we have a chance to explore all possibilities, but it will educate guys like Swarbrick on what trends are out there in football in 2009. Talk to Patterson and Peterson to see what's going on in the midmajor leagues. Talk to guys like Will Muschamp and Major Applewhite to find out what trends they are seeing and where they see college fooball going in the next ten years when they are presumably head coaches. Talk to a guy like Harbaugh or Brian Kelly. Talk to a guy like Tommy Tuberville to see how he runs his program.

Unfortunately, I have seen nothing out of the administration that gives me any confidence that they understand this concept. We already know how this search is going to go. The big names will die off one by one, some other small name guys like Patterson and Peterson will announce they aren't interested and get contract extensions, and then we'll limit ourselves to retreads and guys with ND connections in that third tier. Instead of conducting a targeted search where we figure out the type of coach we want and then zero in on the guys who fit that model, we'll scramble and hire some O'Leary type because he's available and interested.

Honestly, that's why I still believe that Weis will be back in 2010. The collars are terrified to make a move. I think it's hilarious that people are talking about Swarbrick and the collars like they are these stealth ninjas wheeling and dealing behind the scenes. Go back and look at what Swarbrick was saying up until the Navy game. Does he sound like a guy who was doing the leg work behind the scenes to land a big time superstar coach like Bob Stoops??

What evidence do we have that this crew has even the slightest bit of a plan?? I've never seen anything like the 2004 and 2001 searches, and the school is still being run by a lot of the same collars today.

I've read basically every word Swarbrick has said since he's been hired, and everything about him screams out "empty suit." He's been talking straight out of the Heisler playbook on scheduling for a good year now with strawmen and "internet crazies want to play 10 ten top programs a year" and all kinds of other nonsense. Now, he's going to suddenly land Bob Stoops?? Does he have even the slightest idea how he's going to put together a plan to land a guy like Bob Stoops (who would basically need a guarantee in his mind that he can win big at ND before he even thinks about this job)?? I haven't seen anything to give me a whole lot of confidence.

I buy into these rumors that Weis will be back if he finishes 8-4 or even 7-5. Swarbrick and the collars are probably clinging to any sort of justification to bring Weis back ("strong finish," New Year's Day Bowl, two game improvement from last year, recruiting continuity, etc), and hoping that things will calm down if we go to the International Bowl and smoke Rice or someone like that.

Certainly going to be an interesting next few weeks in the world of ND football. Will I be thrilled if ND lands Stoops or Meyer?? OF COURSE!! I want nothing more than to hire one of those guys, but I don't expect it to happen. I've been down this road before. But I'm going into this thing prepared for the likelihood that we're going to hire a flier just for the sake of change, and I'm very prepared to be underwhelmed by the hire.

And if Weis is back in 2010, look out. It is going to be a long offseason. Then again, never in a million years did I think that Marvin Lewis would be 7-2 with season sweeps over Baltimore and Pittsburgh after two disastrous seasons in 2007 and 2008, so you never what would happen in 2010 for Weis. Maybe Weis will let it all hang loose in 2010 like Marvin has done and completely change his legacy at Notre Dame.

One other note on the possibility of Weis returning. If ND wants to bring Weis back in 2010, then just put an end to this death watch stuff and announce that he's not going anywhere for a long time. I'm tired of the speculation year after year. This is the third straight year of Weis speculation. If you're afraid to make a move and want to keep Weis, then just come out with it already. I won't agree with it, but at least we won't have this constant tug of war between the Weis detractors and the Weis supporters. If we knew Weis was here for the long haul, maybe people would pull together and get behind the guy. The Marvin Lewis example is the best I can think of in recent memory. He was a dead man walking, and now he's a god again in Cincinnati. You never know what might happen.

2) I've never been a big fan of jumbotrons and stadium music, but I will say this about all that stuff.

It works.

It's undeniable. The crowd was rocking at Heinz Field on Saturday night, and I'd say 50% of that energy came from the music and the scoreboard. The pregame montage, the smoke-filled entrance for the marching band, the jock jams, and even the post 3rd quarter Sweet Caroline thing put a charge into the crowd. And it's not like the band didn't get a chance to do its thing. They played the fight song and a few other songs when they had their chance, but the band was more of a complementary piece to the jumbotron action. I've never seen anything like the video scoreboard at Heinz Field. That thing is incredible. They had about 30 minutes of material on the video board to build the Pitt fans into a fever pitch, and the crowd was going nuts by the end of it.

I can't believe I'm saying this, but I am beginning to warm up to a new look for ND's stadium entertainment. Here's the way I look at it. The purpose of all this stuff is to get the fans going. I want to see people singing and dancing and shouting and going crazy like the Pitt fans were doing on Saturday night. Ideally, it would come from the Notre Dame band, but the band doesn't seem to bring out the energy in the crowd anymore. We're asking the band to do all the heavy lifting in terms of stadium atmosphere, but there's only so much a band can do. By the fiftieth time I've heard that song where everyone pumps their arms in the air or the 30th time when I hear the Irish jig or Hike ND or whatever, I'm just bored with it. I haven't pumped my arms or clapped to any of those things more than a handful of times in five years.

Honestly, I would love a little stadium Sweet Caroline in ND stadium or some jock jams or something that will get the crowd dancing and singing and having fun. People like to sing songs together as a crowd. Michigan pumped in Journey and Eminem and a few other songs, and the crowd went absolutely crazy every time they played those songs. It made a genuine difference in the game. Same with this past weekend in Pittsburgh. I think the lively crowd made a difference for Pitt, especially on defense.

If we did a Chicago Bulls type montage on a huge jumbotron in the ND Stadium before the game, the crowd would be going nuts. Isn't that what it's all about?? And if you played some fun songs that would get the juices flowing with the crowd, would that be such a horrible thing?? It would pump up the team. The ND band could still play the Victory March and a few of the other hits throughout the game, and of course we would want the band to carry the load when we made a big play or something like that. But during one of those 3-4 minute tv timeouts, the band doesn't have the repertoire to energize the crowd. So you end up creating a lull that kills the stadium atmosphere. It's hard to sustain any energy as a fan when you're just sitting there listening to the same ND band songs over and over during a 4 minute tv timeout. Would it be so awful to throw on some Journey or Bruce Springsteen or something to keep the crowd going strong??

If given a choice in the matter, I'd say keep the scoreboard as is and mix in some stadium music. The band is great, but it's a marching band. There's only so much it can do to keep an 80,000 seat crowd fired up for 4 hours (which is how long those home games are these days).

1) Finally, I wanted to end with some thoughts on Brian Kelly. I've been a huge advocate of going after Brian Kelly for over a year now, and I'm pretty sure if you google "Brian Kelly Notre Dame", a link to this site is coming up somewhere in the top 5 hits or so. I think there are a lot of reasons to be excited about a possible Brian Kelly tenure in South Bend, but you never really know how any hire is going to turn out unless you lure a current superstar to your school (as we have seen with Roy, Pitino, Saban, etc).

So there are risks to hiring Brian Kelly, and now that he's looking like the possible #1 guy in this search, I feel like it's time to really take a closer look at the ramifications of hiring this guy. We know about his record and the pluses, but what concerns are out there??

1) The Billy Gillespie Factor -- I think you could call it the Rich Rodriguez factor as well, but I think Gillespie is almost more appropriate in terms of making a comparison. Billy Gillespie is a very good basketball coach. You don't take a UTEP team that went 0-16 in the conference and suddenly go 24-8 two years later and land a spot in the NCAA Tournament if you aren't a good coach. You don't take over a Texas A&M program that went 7-21 the year before you got there and suddenly go 21-10, 22-9, and 27-7 (with a Sweet 16 appearance) unless you can flat out coach. Look at what that guy did before he got to Kentucky. He was a borderline miracle worker. He took over programs that were complete disasters and turned them into NCAA Tournament teams, and it's not like either of those programs had much tradition in the past that needed revitalizing. He was literally a trailblazer. I mean, Texas A&M!! My god, I can't believe what he did there.

And then he went to Kentucky and just didn't work out for whatever reason. He had a good first year, took a step back in his second year, and suddenly he's gone. But it was so much more than that. The inexplicable losses to Gardner-Webb and VMI at home, the Alex Legion transfer a month into his freshman season, the collapse down the stretch that included some awful home losses to bad SEC teams......all this stuff just added up and made the whole situation cancerous. You don't lose your last four games of the season (and five out of your last six) at a school like Kentucky when you're supposed to be fighting for an NCAA tournament birth. His players just threw in the towel on him.

He just never fit in and never really knew how to handle life as the head coach of an elite basketball program. Coming to Kentucky, I think he thought "hey, it's just basketball and I'm a good coach. I'll do what I've always done." And he figured that would be enough to make the transition. But it's so much more than that at a place like Kentucky. When you coach at Kentucky, you're expected to be able to handle the brightest of bright lights. Every game is under the spotlight. There's always going to be a million distractions and tons of pressure and it's about so much more than basketball. Part of the job is a P.R. position where you're expected to engage the fans and the donors and the media. I don't think Gillispie was comfortable with the spotlight at Kentucky. Some guys thrive in that environment like Pitino and Calipari. They love being the king at a place like UK. Gillispie shrunk in that spotlight.

Gillispie recruited some pretty good players, but it's not like he went in and started locking down 5 stars left and right. At a school like Kentucky, that's what they expect out of you. They want a guy like Calipari who is going to sign four 5 stars in his first recruiting class at Kentucky. You can't win a title unless you have the horses.

The other thing is just handling those big time players once they get on your roster. The blue chippers don't come to a place like Kentucky to be broken down like army plebes and transformed. They come to Kentucky to win basketball games, play with other great players, and get ready for the NBA. At Texas A&M, maybe you get away with that stuff if you have a group of hungry kids who just want to win. Kentucky kids might tune you out and not buy in because that's now what they signed up for at a place like UK. Gillispie's Texas A&M stuff isn't necessarily going to translate at a place like Kentucky.

Some very interesting parallels there between Kelly and Gillespie when you look at their backgrounds and trajectories. If you've never really experienced life in the big time football/basketball world, it's hard to just jump to one of the blue blood programs and do things the way you are used to doing them. Maybe Kelly would have a perfect plan to make the leap, but who knows?? I thought Billy G would be great based on what he did at A&M and UTEP, and he was completely in over his head.

Think about the flier hires who have succeeded. Stoops---big time assistant at Florida. Richt--big time assistant at FSU. Meyer--big time experience at ND and Ohio State. Saban--Big Ten head coach; learned at the knee of Belichick. Tressel--assistant at OSU. Carroll---former big time college assistant (Ohio State, etc) and NFL head coach. Butch Davis--big time Jimmy J disciple. Even Spurrier was an assistant at Florida and Georgia Tech.

There's a common denominator there. Even though they didn't have prior big time head coaching experience, they knew what it was like to work in big time football and had a vision for what they would do with their own program. A guy like Stoops worked at the knee of Spurrier and Bill Snyder before getting his own program, but he already knew what it took in major college football. He just needed his chance. Same with Richt.

Then look at the guys who flopped. Hawkins, Franchione, Koetter, etc. Even Rodriguez. Guys who never really worked at the big time level and weren't ready for it when they made the leap. There are all kinds of names in the coaching graveyard of guys who jumped up one rung too high on the coaching ladder and flopped.

If you've never been in the big leagues, you better have one heckuva plan to know what you're doing. Kelly would be hired by ND in December and be expected to hit the ground running the next day to save the 2010 recruiting class and get this team ready for the 2010 season. He'd be expected to start speaking with the big time high school programs immediately about 2011 and even 2012 and put together a big time staff. Can't just do things the way you've always done them. It's a whole new level.

Now, don't get me wrong, Kelly may very well have been planning this out for the last 10 years and will know exactly what he plans to do the second he takes the ND job. He may have a vision that would put this program back to the elite level. The bottom line is that Swarbrick and company would really need to pin him down on this stuff. What is his recruiting plan? What type of identity does he want for this program? How does he plan to develop ND recruits into NFL players?? Can he deal with the scrutiny??

You're going to ask everyone these questions of course, but I think it's especially important with Kelly. We need to know that he understands that going to ND is a whole new ballgame.

For the record, I realize this makes me sound like a complete hypocrite since I defended Kelly last week as someone who could easily make the transition and dismissed concerns about recruiting and assistants. I will admit that I was wrong and have changed my mind as I have thought about it more. I've always been a big fan of Brian Kelly and was blinded a little bit by his success and hype. I certainly think he's still a good candidate, but want to make sure ND does its homework to find out everything possible about what he would do at ND.

2) Academic pedigree -- Let me just say that I could care less about this stuff. I don't care where you went to college or what your academic background is or if you coach "thugs" or whatever. Coaching is coaching to me. Just win, baby. Look at Lou Holtz. He went to Kent State, so it's not like we need some coach who went to Northwestern to win at ND. If ND turned into a football factory tomorrow, I'd be all for it. I'm a Bob Huggins apologist, so there's no coach who could ever repel me from an "academic fit" standpoint.

But you KNOW that ND cares a ton about what type of role model and representative the football coach will be (Sunday through Friday!), and they are going to be paying a ton of attention to how this coach feels about academics and graduating players and recruiting kids who will be good representatives of the school. This is the ND that we've known for almost 20 years. It's not changing all of the sudden. ND is an academic school that doesn't want anything on the football side to override that.

That's where I'm wondering if Kelly is the type of guy who ND might be uncomfortable with. He's sort of a community college kinda guy. No real academic pedigree in terms of where he went to school or coached, coached at HORRIBLE academic schools his entire career, and he really doesn't have any type of affiliation with the academia world that a school like ND would want. The guy is coaching at UC. UC undergrad is like one step up from the county jail. It's completely different than coaching a guy like John Goodman or Armando Allen.

Are the collars going to be leery of hiring a guy from Assumption College who has coached at a I-AA school, a bad MAC school, and a prison yard to the Golden Dome where it's a completely different cultural fit?? Even though Mardy Gilyard is a tremendous story of a kid who came from absolutely nothing to become a football star and....cough cough...a decent person, he wouldn't be able to come within ten miles of the ND campus. If Brian Kelly gets an interview, he better be able to communicate to ND how he would fit in from an academic and cultural standpoint.

Don't get me wrong, I am a huge fan of Brian Kelly. If he got hired at ND, I would absolutely support it. Based on his track record, he'd be the best hire we've made since Holtz. The guy has won everywhere he's been, and it seems like ND is a job that he has coveted for a long time. With his drive and passion, I think he would come to ND with a vision and a plan on how to take ND football to the next level. But I just thought I'd bring up some concerns that I have about Brian Kelly now that I think about his situation a little more closely.

ND has to get this next hire right. We need to be vetting all of these candidates very carefully. I certainly hope Swarbrick and the collars are doing that as we speak.


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Doug said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tabs said...

Great assessment, Douglas. I have been a Harbaugh fan since he called out the general studies majors at UM, and subsequently was stripped of his "Michigan Man" status by Mike Hart. I think he would be a great replacement for the Fat Man, and would actually lead by example, rather than ride around in a golf cart with a runny nose. Hopefully the committee takes a good look at him.
-Nick Reis

Sean F said...

But does Harbaugh wait another year for the RichRod fiasco to implode and Michigan to come hat in hand?

Anonymous said...

Another great blog.

And I have to agree. I also am a huge BK supporter, and I suppose you make great points. I think Kelly's grad rate at UC in the 90s, and I personally think you might be making too much of Kelly's small-pond past, but maybe you're absolutely right.

My feeling about Kelly is that he is ambitious enough and shrewd enough and industrious enough, I guess, to just thrive on the challenge and to understand what he was getting into, and to be ready for just the particular set of circumstances he would be facing at ND. But maybe I'm wrong, and the concerns you've voiced are especially valid. I guess there would be only one way to find out.

And Harbaugh, with his Stanford experience, does seem especially well-placed to master that particular challenge.

I just think of Lou Holtz. Was he any sort of cultural fit for ND at all, other than his life-long romantic fascination with it? I'm not sure that he was. He made it work.

I think Kelly would be easily up to the challenge. His body language is nothing like Gillespie's IMO, if that makes any sense. His struggles at UK weren't especially shocking to me. Kelly seems like a survivor, and someone who is tune with the big picture and the comprehensive demands when it comes to success as a HC, and someone who could mold his own methods nicely into the ND paradigm.

But I'm just speculating, of course. I'd love it if we could have the chance to find out.

Again, great blog.

Joe H. said...

Great blog. I think you may be correct that no change is coming, and that the collars may be nervous about making a change. However, I would not be surprised if pressure is also being put on the University from NBC to make a change.

If a change is made, I would love to see a Stoops/Meyer/Saban hire, but don't think that is possible. I am not sure Harbaugh would leave Stanford at this time, but I think he would be terrific at ND. I think your point about experience in a big-time atmosphere is dead on, and that is why I am not certain about Kelly. I am intrigued by the Assistant Coach route, and think that Charlie Strong should be given some serious consideration.