December 13, 2009

"Are you in?": Thoughts on the Brian Kelly Notre Dame presser, assistants, training tables, a possible Ewing Theory scenario, and...gulp....Mike Brey

6) Nothing like a Notre Dame press conference to get everyone fired up! Where do I get one of those striped kelly green ties and a giant gold ND lapel pin?!? Amazing how quickly the tone of the message boards has changed since the Kelly presser. It went from a cautiously optimistic tone (with a healthy dose of skepticism) to borderline exuberance (with skepticism generally being shouted down). Within an hour of the presser, people were already peeking at the 2010 schedule and talking big things. For a wounded fanbase, we sort of needed an ego boost, and Kelly provided it with his talk about how special the Notre Dame job was.

I was already pleased with the hire, but I would put myself somewhere in that exuberant category right now after that press conference. You never really know how these coaches are going to handle those moments, and I thought Kelly hit it out of the park. I thought he got all of his points across, and I think he had some memorable lines that got my pulse racing a little bit. I've heard some of these lines from him in his early UC days ("we don't have a five year plan, we have a minute plan", etc), but I think you can get a feel for what he is all about from his press conference.

High energy
good communicator
big believer in discipline and player development
very determined and confident
attention to detail

I realize we've all been down the road before with these dynamic press conferences, but Kelly said all the right things. I think people are very encouraged with what they saw, and a lot of the skeptics are now putting aside their concerns and falling in line to support Coach Kelly. Good to see.

By the way, Swarbrick's opening intro was like something out of a Saturday Night Live skit. Was his back worn out from patting himself on it so many times?? My god, the guy was talking like he was guarding a CIA secret with all the talk about the lack of "confidentiality breaches."

There isn't a more unnecessarily cocky person in America than Jack Swarbrick. I'm pretty sure he thinks he's the best AD in America after this hire. No leaks!! Wow, so impressive.

Yo Jack, I'm pleased with the hire (Kelly was a guy we've been plugging on this site for two years), but don't act like you're Joe Castligione or anything. Brian Kelly was the most obvious hire you could have made. Nothing wrong with getting the obvious choice, but I'm pretty sure half the jokers who read this blog could have landed Brian Kelly at Notre Dame.

"Hey Brian, you interested in coaching Notre Dame?"
(engine sound in the background)
"DONE! I'm on my way!"

You want to really impress me?? Go find a young superstar basketball coach and lure him to South Bend. And fix the football schedules, line up a heavyweight or two, and stop loading us up with MAC and CUSA schools. You pull those two things off, and then I'll really be singing your praises.

Don't get me wrong, he got the job done here in landing Kelly, and I commend Swarbrick for ignoring the critics and hiring Kelly. But the speech where he patted himself on the back for ten minutes right before introducing Kelly was a little much.

5) Anyone else enjoying some of the love that we've been getting nationally the last few days?? Amazing how quickly the ESPN guys went from bashing us left and right to singing our praises. Herbstreit, Maisel, the Yahoo writers, etc. The general consensus is that we really got the right guy this time instead of going for the flashy hire (Weis) or the politically correct hire (Willingham). We found a really good coach who will fit in at a place like ND. With his personality and resume, the consensus is that we hit a home run.

Seems like some of it is a backlash against Weis (who has been getting throw under the bus left and right by players, media, coaches, etc). But the more likely reason is that the national types really do think we made a good hire.

Maybe the national media isn't so bad after all. Let's be honest, they've been more right about our program than we have been willing to admit. Guys like Mark May have been on the nose about Weis. He wasn't a good coach, and we shouldn't have hired him. Now that we've made a good hire this time around, people are giving us credit.

Wonder if it has something to do with the fact that we're one hire removed from the whole Willingham mess. The national media never liked Weis from the start because he was the guy who replaced Willingham. With Kelly, people don't really have an axe to grind with him.

Should be interesting to see how the national media responds to Kelly and ND in the coming years. I would love for this honeymoon period to last forever, but I expect the wolves to come out soon enough and start attacking us again.

4) How about this note from Chicago Tribune writer Brian Hamilton?

Note from Jack Swarbrick: ND working on training table for FB players only. Turns out D players lost avg of 13 pounds over last season.

Is it really any surprise why our defense collapsed in the second half of the year?? Unreal.

I'm glad to see that Swarbrick is on this, but it's amazing to me that it has taken this long to implement this training table idea. Are we a big time college football program or not?? If we're always five years behind on new trends in football, what else are we missing out on??

I know the "college football games are won in the offseason" stuff is cliche, but there's a lot of truth behind it. Living here in Columbus, I've heard all kinds of stories about how sophisticated the Ohio State offseason program is. They have speed coaches and training tables and all of the latest and greatest down there at the Woody Hayes Center. It seems like every Buckeye in the NFL comes back in the offseason to live in Columbus and work out at OSU all winter and spring. The offseason structure in place at OSU is better than anything that these NFL guys could be doing anywhere else.

Do we have all this stuff in place as well?? I've heard that The Gug is really nice, but is it one of the top 5 or so facilities in the nation?? I've heard that it's not. Are our current NFL guys coming back and working out in the offseason at the The Gug?? I could be wrong on that, but I haven't heard about guys coming back and working out there. This type of stuff matters. When you have NFL guys coming back in the offseason, you create a culture of winning and expectations .

All I know is that we need to make serious changes in the strength and conditioning stuff in the offseason. I don't care who the coach is. There is no way you can be a championship football program when your defensive players are losing 13 pounds over the course of the season. I don't know if it's nutrition or the S&C program or what, but that has to change.

I think we've finally fixed the head coaching problem, but now we need to go to work on fixing everything with the football program. There should be no stone that goes unturned with this program. Swarbrick should be doing everything possible to make Kelly's job easier.

3) Lots of speculation already on the assistant coaching front. WNDU is saying that we'll be bringing four guys from the Cincy staff.

Jeff Quinn-Offensive Coordinator and offensive line
Bob Diaco-Defensive Coordinator and linebackers
Mike Elston-Defensive line
Greg Forrest-Quarterbacks

Color me relieved about Jeff Quinn coming on board. I don't know how important Quinn is to the Kelly system, but I don't want to risk it. Kelly and Quinn have made a good team on the offensive side of the ball, and I don't see any reason to break that up. We hired Kelly partially because of his offensive system. I don't expect any wildcard hires on the offensive side of the ball.

Defensively, people immediately started hyperventilating about Bob Diaco being the possible defensive coordinator. I don't see what the fuss is. We hired Brian Kelly to bring in the staff that he is most comfortable working with. Why would he suddenly go out and hire some random coach who he doesn't even know?? And more importantly, why would we hire Kelly and tell him that he couldn't bring in the staff that has won him so many games?? I've never understood that. Let the guy hire the coaches that he feels will help him win ballgames.

ND fans never cease to amaze me. I can't believe people are right back on the "we need an all-star cast of assistant coaches" bandwagon after it was proven beyond a doubt with the Weis regime that assistants are meaningless if the program is rotting at the head. Note that these are the same people who thought it would make a difference when Weis fired a bunch of assistants after last year. We had all these highly-touted assistants like Tenuta and Corwin and Randy Hart, but it didn't matter. Weis didn't have any clue how to command his staff in anything other than recruiting.

People put waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too much stock in the assistants. If you played football at all at any level (including high school), you know that assistant coaches take marching orders from the top. As long as they will work hard and teach the fundamentals, that's all the matters. The coach sets the tone from there.

Look at Nebraska. Bo Pelini has a bunch of lackeys working for him, and Nebraska was probably as well-coached as anyone in the nation last year. Urban Meyer took a bunch of Davie castoffs with him to Florida, and now that staff is considered one of the best in the nation.

I realize that there are some very very good assistant coaches out there. Will Muschamp and Major Applewhite at Texas, Kirby Smart down at Alabama (by the way, just pencil him in for an ACC type job in a year or two), Charlie Strong before he got hired at Louisville. Some head coaches are more interested in being CEO type guys who manage a staff and let the assistants really do all the heavy lifting. Les Miles was a good example when he had Bo Pelini on his staff. Pelini pretty much ran the defense entirely.

But I get the impression that Kelly is a guy who believes in the guys who have been with him all this time. He might bring in a few faces or keep a couple of guys from the Weis staff, but I think it would be crazy for him to show up at ND and suddenly hire a whole new staff. He has won with this group for a long time at three different programs, and maybe he wants to keep that continuity by bringing in a lot of those guys with him. If he thinks Bob Diaco is the right fit for him on defense, I'm in.

As for ND holdovers, I'd be happy if Alford stuck around and maybe even Polian for recruiting purposes. Alford has done a nice job with the running backs, and it seems like he is a rising star who would be an asset for Coach Kelly. And Polian is such a talented recruiter that he'd be a logical choice to stick around if Kelly can find a spot for him.

I guess Corwin Brown would be another possibility, but his crybaby performance after the Navy game really rubbed me the wrong way. If I was Kelly, I'd be real cautious about keeping that guy around.

And if Kelly decides to clean house and get rid of all these guys, it wouldn't bother me in the least. It's his program. We brought him in to win games. Let the guy pick who he wants for his staff.

2) So where is this team headed as we go into 2010?? We'll have plenty of time for discussion on specifics, but I wanted to throw out a general thought.

Isn't this 2010 ND football team the best Ewing Theory candidate ND has had since the post-Chris Thomas era??

Think about the general conditions of the Ewing Theory:

1. A star athlete receives an inordinate amount of media attention and fan interest, and yet his teams never win anything substantial with him (other than maybe some early-round playoff series).

2. That same athlete leaves his team (either by injury, trade, graduation, free agency or retirement) -- and both the media and fans immediately write off the team for the following season.

Are you kidding me?? That's practically tailor-made for the situation ND finds itself in. EVERYONE in America is writing off ND next year because Jimmy Clausen is going to the NFL. He was such a focal point of this team the last few years, and now everyone just assumes that we're going to be horrible with him gone.

But think about what exactly we're losing with Clausen gone. We're losing a great passer, but is Clausen really the ideal college quarterback?? Not sure. Weis built this team entirely about Jimmy Clausen, but we bogged down quite a bit in the red zone. As good as Clausen was, the only things we really ran with him were out routes and fades. I think you can make a very good argument that Dayne Crist will be a better fit for a college offense with his athleticism and playmaking abilities. We can roll him out and get him moving around, and he'll probably be able to pick up some first downs with his legs that Clausen couldn't make. I think Crist will be able to keep plays alive that might lead to more big plays down the field like Brady Quinn was able to do. And in the red zone, we can do a little more to get Crist moving instead of just dropping back and trying to fire balls into coverage in the end zone.

Plus, I think Crist has a lot of the intangibles at the QB position that might not show up on the stat sheet. Clausen was the captain of this team and had a great year, but his leadership was more of an "I'll do my job, you do yours" style. Nothing wrong with that, but Crist seems like the type of guy who is going to rally the troops and maybe pull everyone together.

I just have a feeling that we're going to get off to a hot start next year, and everyone who expects us to be a 6-6 type team are going to be singing this team's praises and talking about ND as the surprise team of 2010. Classic Ewing Theory.

Jimmy Clausen had a great individual career, but his record in three years at ND was 16-21. He didn't have one winning regular season as the quarterback of this team. It's not necessarily his fault, but that's the whole premise behind the Ewing Theory. Losing a star player is not always a death blow. Don't be surprised if ND is a lot better team next year with Dayne Crist at the helm and Brian Kelly coaching this team.

1) Finally, some thoughts on Notre Dame basketball. I have been a strong Brey supporter through the years (I would go so far as to say Brey apologist), and I think we will look back on his career fondly as the guy who elevated the profile of Notre Dame basketball. I have stood by Coach Brey through all the tough times in his career at ND. The back to back to back NIT years, the first round Big East Tournament and NCAA Tournament exits, the shaky recruiting, the defensive problems. For all of his flaws, Brey made ND basketball respectable again, and he deserves a lot of credit for taking ND to 5 NCAA Tournaments and producing five top 5 finishes in the Big East conference. Heck, I proposed a petition a few years ago that we should name the arena after him for what he had done!!

Brey has had a good run at ND. He has produced a lot of very competitive teams in the best basketball conference in America. You don't go 88-60 in the Big East in 9 years unless you're doing a lot of things really well. His legacy will be very positive for this program. If you say otherwise, you don't remember what ND basketball was like in the 90s. I remember sitting (read that again: SITTING) in the half-full student sections in the McLeod era when most students were there to see the other team play. You could show up to the JACC five minutes before tip off and sit in the 3rd row for just about every game. That's how pathetic ND basketball was in the late 90s.

Brey made ND basketball matter again. There have been a lot of good changes. The basketball arena has been upgraded, the student section has an identity now with the Leprechaun Legion, and we have recruited some talented top 100 type players who have created a legacy of winning and solid basketball. I feel like ND is now a respected opponent in the Big East. Ten years ago, you couldn't say that about this program.

But the program has plateaued under Brey. He's now in his 10th year, and this is pretty much what we're going to get with Brey. He is not going to suddenly change it up and start recruiting different types of players. He is not going to just start emphasizing defense or using a 9 man bench early in the year. Brey hasn't changed a lick in ten years. Why would he suddenly change now?? We're a good offensive basketball team that doesn't guard anyone and usually runs out of gas by the end of the year because of starters playing too many minutes. We know going into every season what we're going to get with a Brey-coached basketball team.

The scary thing with this team is that I think there's a real strong possibility that this team won't even play to the typical Brey team level of 9-10 conference wins and NCAA bubble status this year. I think it's looking like this team is just plain bad. You don't lose to Loyola Marymount at home unless you have major issues. I've only had an opportunity to watch ND play once this year against Northwestern, and I was horrified by the lack of talent in this program right now. I've gotten used to seeing a ton of white guys on the floor, but it's more than that.

Where is the athleticism?? Where is a low post banger to go with Harangody?? Where is a lightning quick guard off the bench to get to the bucket?? Where is an athletic wing to slash and create?? We have none of those things.

The Scott Martin injury was a killer, but he was a transfer. There should be a deeper and more talented core beyond Martin in this program, and we just don't have it. We have one superstar, one solid point guard, one decent wing, and a bunch of MAC players after that. Abro and Hansborough are nice players, but downgrades from guys like Kurz and McAlarney who have played similar roles in recent years.

I just feel like this program is trending downward. It's a Brey-style team with Brey-type players, but a lot of these guys aren't as good as the Brey-type players that we've had in the past. It's a "Brey Lite" team, but the "Brey Heavy" teams weren't even that great. So, if the program wasn't elite a couple years ago and now is even worse, where are we headed??

We're an NIT team, and that might even be generous. This isn't me over-dramatizing a couple early season losses. This is the reality of what we are. There are a lot of losses ahead of us this year. And it's Harangody's senior year. Sad. Maybe Brey will right the ship from here, but right now, we just look like a bad basketball team going nowhere.

I love Notre Dame basketball and have always liked Mike Brey and pulled for him, but I think it's time to at least be contemplating a change in this program. Maybe the Brey era is as good as it gets for ND basketball, but I'd like to see what else is out there just to see if there's a possibility that things could be better. Give me a Brad Stevens or a superstar young gun coach who could come in and give this program a shot of life. A young coach who is going to recruit his butt off and get this team playing tough defense and a more athletic style of basketball.

Maybe I'm naive. Maybe the ND hoops brand really is mud and no good young coach would want this job because of the shaky institutional commitment. Maybe the facilities really are the only problem and Brey would recruit better talent with a bigger budget and a better practice gym. Maybe it's not possible to win at ND with the academic standards and lack of willingness on ND's part to get into the cesspool of college basketball recruiting.

I've heard all the arguments out there for years about ND not having good facilities as an excuse for why this program can't get to the next level. I do think it's a disgrace that ND does not appear to be committed financially or institutionally to being a top notch basketball program. We have the national appeal and academics and brand name to be a big time basketball program along the lines of a Villanova, but the school does not seem to be interested in making the investment in the program to get to that level.

Maybe I should accept what we are. Maybe a new coach would come in here and run this program into the ground. Maybe we'll look back fondly on the Brey era if a guy like Billy Taylor comes in and goes 13-18 for the next five years. But I'm bored with this program under Brey. I'm really not even looking forward to Big East play. If this team continues to spiral downward and ends up finishing toward the bottom of the Big East, I think it's time for some new blood. I'm willing to live with the risks of a new hire because the present isn't really worth holding onto.

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