December 01, 2009

Notre Dame fans pining for Bob Stoops: Here we go again. Plus, thoughts on ND as a "football factory"

Man, we're only one day into this coaching search thing, and I'm already burned out. This is going to be a long week. I'm not sure I can take much more of these rumors and denials.

First, some thoughts on the Charlie Weis era. I keep reading these posts and blogs “thanking” Charlie Weis for all that he has done for Notre Dame. “He took the job when no one else wanted it” and “he took over the program at its lowest point” and all this other stuff.

At the risk of sounding crass, there isn’t a bone in my body that feels like thanking Charlie Weis for his tenure at ND. Weis was a complete disaster at Notre Dame. He made Bob Davie look like a second coming of Knute Rockne in comparison. There wasn’t one win or stretch of games beyond 2005 where we did anything sustainable or memorable in his tenure. The only thing memorable about the Charlie Weis era is how bad we’ve been the last three years. We played mediocre schedules, lost to every team with a pulse, didn’t play a lick of defense, and wasted more talent than any team in the country these past couple years.

And as for this stuff about “taking over the program at its lowest point,” that's a bunch of overblown clich├ęd garbage. Weis didn’t take over the program at some widely-recognized “low point.” The ND football program has fluctuated between mediocre and bad for ten years. In 2004, it wasn’t at some rock bottom point. It was about where it was in 2001 or 2003 or any of the other mediocre years we’ve had in the last decade. Weis took over a very mediocre program and produced five more years of mediocrity. If anything, the lowest point was DURING his tenure (2007).

Did Weis work hard and recruit well?? Sure, but all coaches (ok, maybe not one) work hard. I don’t feel the need to thank a coach for working hard and graduating players and recruiting some good players. It’s a Chris Rock special. “YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO WORK HARD!!”

The only “thanking” I was doing after the Stanford game was thanking god that the Charlie Weis era is over.

Anyway, on to the Bob Stoops rumors. Let’s break this thing down with some questions and answers:

1) What is up with these non-denial denials??

First, these non-denial denials are very bizarre. If Stoops is really not interested in the Notre Dame job, why doesn’t he just come out and say it?? He’s giving us the Thad Matta treatment right now. Matta repeated over and over “I intend to stay at Xavier” and then was gone the next day to Ohio State. Stoops keeps repeating that he intends to stay at Oklahoma, but when pressed on the issue as it pertains to Notre Dame, he clammed up. Compare these “denials” to what he has said in the past about Florida and other jobs. He has specifically said he’s not interested in those jobs. Why is this different?? If he’s not going to ND, then why not just come out and say it?

Some possible reasons:

1) This is just a massive ego stroke

Maybe Stoops is just playing one big game to get the OU faithful back in his corner after a disappointing 7-5 year. He plays coy with the media on the ND job while also saying all the right things about staying at OU, fans start to worry about him leaving for ND, and then he comes back a few days later with a grand pronouncement that he is indeed staying and is not taking the ND job after “serious consideration.” OU fans rejoice, they count their blessings to still have “Big Game” Bob in the fold, and suddenly that 7-5 season is a distant memory.

I think this is a distinct possibility. Stoops can point to these ND rumors and say “see!! Look at how much these other schools want me?? ND is practically begging me to come!” The threat of leaving adds value to Stoops’ clout at OU, and maybe he felt like fans were taking him for granted a little bit.

It’s like the “hand” analogy from Seinfeld. Stoops was losing “hand” with OU just a little bit. Lots of people were grumbling about him this year, and I think fans felt like he should make changes and some probably even think it’s time for him to move on. This is a minority I would guess, but vocal minorities have a way of making a lot of noise and making things uncomfortable.

With these ND rumors, Stoops suddenly has “hand” up to his eyeballs. He can shove these ND rumors right back at the OU fans, and he can point to his recruits and show how desirable he still is as a head coach.

2) He’s restless at OU, but maybe not about ND

Another possibility might be that Stoops is genuinely interested in moving to another job but not necessarily Notre Dame and not necessarily right now. The guy has been at OU for 11 years. That’s a pretty long tenure for a college head coach, especially in a pressure cooker like Oklahoma where you are expected to win the Big 12 (or come really close) every single year. When Stoops took the job, he probably didn’t plan to be the OU head coach for life. With all the pressure in today’s college football world, it’s hard to be a Bobby Bowden/Joe Paterno type coach.

Maybe Stoops is hinting that he is staying at OU for now but also sort of putting out the vibe that he could be open to other jobs. What jobs?? Who knows?? You never know what job might open in a year or two. Maybe Pete Carroll goes to the league. Maybe Urban Meyer goes to the NFL. Maybe Stoops would like to settle in at his alma mater (Iowa) and coach the last 10-15 years of his career there. Maybe he leaked some stuff to Adam Shefter to gauge interest for a future NFL job. You never know what he's thinking.

By saying lines like “who knows where god will take me” and “I won’t confirm or deny any rumors,” he might be setting up OU fans for the possibility that he might leave someday.

Stoops has had a Hall of Fame career at OU. It’s a difficult situation for him to be in. Even if he wants to leave someday, he does not want to screw up his legacy at OU by burning a bunch of bridges and bouncing in the middle of the night to some other job. If he takes off out of nowhere, people are going to be furious. Xavier people still haven’t gotten over the Thad Matta thing because Matta adamantly stated he was staying and then left right after that. No matter how well you handle, an abrupt departure leaves a lot of bitter feelings behind you.

But Stoops might be getting restless. In the past, he has adamantly denied the rumors about leaving. It seems like this time around he’s leaving the door open just a little bit. Maybe he’s trying to set up the fans for the possibility that he might leave someday.

3) He’s genuinely interested in the ND job

There’s so much smoke out there about Stoops being legitimately interested in the job that it’s hard to just ignore it. Why would his people be in the process of meeting with ND representatives if there isn’t the slightest bit of interest??

As crazy as it sounds, I just think there’s still something about the ND job that at least perks the ears of these big time coaches, especially Irish Catholics who grew up in Ohio. For a guy like Bob Stoops (49 years old), ND was the premier job in the country for probably 2/3 of his life. He sort of came of age as a coach when Holtz was in his prime and ND was bringing in elite talent and winning championships. If Holtz could get it done at ND, why not Bob Stoops?? He might be thinking that.

The ND job is not an elite job on its current terms (more on that in a bit), but it could be THE elite job in the country if the right guy is brought in and has the leeway to conduct the program as he sees fit.

Maybe Stoops is burnt out at OU, feels like he has already reached the top of the mountain there, and now he wants a new challenge. ND has been down for 15 years. Maybe ND is done forever, but if it’s possible to rebuild ND into a power, the guy who does it will go down as an icon in college football. Simple as that.

So that’s where we stand on Stoops in terms of these denials in my opinion. Tough to really read what he’s saying. Either way, we’ll know for sure in a few days.

With that said, I’m as guilty of reading tea leaves as anyone, but part of me thinks this virtual begging for Stoops is a sad commentary on what Notre Dame football has become. We’re all sitting around breaking down everything Stoops says word by word and clinging to the mere possibility of Stoops coming to ND like he’s our only shot at ever winning again. This whole “he’s leaving the door open” stuff makes our fans sound like a bunch of pathetic losers (me included).

What has happened to our fanbase?? Take a step back and think about what we’re doing here. Stoops is most likely a pipe dream who has already publicly stated he’s staying at OU and then doubled down by saying it again in a statement through the OU athletic department, but here we are clinging to this 1% chance and not even discussing any other possible candidates.

You think Oklahoma fans would be acting like this if Stoops leaves? No, of course not. They trust their leadership. The people running OU know what big time football is all about. They know what it takes to win in 2009 in college football, and they’ll go out and find a guy who can continue on with what Stoops already built. They’ll go out and hire some up and comer like Kevin Sumlin, get him situated into the OU machine, and keep things rolling. They did the same thing with basketball when Kelvin Sampson left. They didn’t crawl into the fetal position and say “OH MY GOD!! We need to get Roy Williams or Coach K or this program is DONE!!!! AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!” They went out and targeted Jeff Capel as a potential superstar up and coming coach, and brought him in. No games, no politics, no freaking out, no “we need a tier one or bust” panicking. It’s a “next man in” philosophy. If Stoops leaves, people will worry to some degree (he’s Bob Stoops, I think they’d be entitled to worry a LITTLE), but they trust guys like Joe Castligione to identify the next great coach and bring him in. They don’t worry about perceptions and “big names.” It’s about finding a guy who will win football games.

This is where ND fans are in a jam. We don’t trust our leadership to make a good evaluation on an up and comer, so we want the sure thing. But it’s EXTREMELY difficult to get the sure thing. ND fans can’t seem to figure this out. What other school has a coaching wish list of Bob Stoops, Urban Meyer, and Nick Saban with no other acceptable candidates?? We have deluded ourselves into thinking that the only guys who can win at ND are the superstar coaches like Stoops and Meyer who have already won championships.

I can’t believe we’re in our 3rd coaching search, and we’re right back to where we were in both those searches. In 2001, it was Saban or bust. In 2004, it was Meyer or bust. In 2009, it’s Stoops or bust. Meanwhile, there are probably 10-20 other coaches out there who we should have been targeting and researching and scouting and finding out about. If we strike out on Stoops, this thing will be a circus yet again.

I would love to get Bob Stoops. Absolutely would be thrilled. But if we don’t get him, move on and get an up and comer. I would be very happy with a guy like Kelly or even a guy like Harbaugh or Randy Edsall. Bring in every single person who is affiliated with ND football and knows football (Holtz, Tim Brown, Zorich, even Bob Davie) and zero in on the one guy who you think could be a superstar coach at ND.

Again, Bob Stoops was a defensive coordinator at Florida when OU took a chance on him. Urban Meyer was coming off stops at BG and Utah when Florida brought him in. Mark Richt was an offensive coordinator at Florida State when Georgia targeted him. There are stories all across college football of young gun coaches who gone to big time jobs and thrived there. It’s time to find OUR guy who can do the same.

The other problem with all the Stoops attention is that fans are setting themselves up to be wildly disappointed with the eventual hire. If we hire Brian Kelly (who I think would be a great hire), people are going to be talking about this search like it's a failure. What a joke!! What coach wants to walk into a divided fanbase like that?? How is a guy like Brian Kelly going to feel knowing that he's clearly the 2nd or 3rd choice and that a big chunk of the fanbase views him as a "terrible" hire?? He might get cold feet on that issue alone.

2) How much does ND want to be a big time football program?

Everyone wants Bob Stoops. Ok, fine. But it's not just a matter of getting Bob Stoops. In order to get a guy like Stoops, you better be prepared to act like one of the big boys again.

One of the things that I’ve heard through the grape vine is that Bob Stoops is/was genuinely intrigued by the ND job, but that he was concerned about whether he could win there. His concern came down to “cultural” issues.

How many times we heard this stuff hinted at before?? Bob Stoops is working at Oklahoma. Oklahoma is the definition of a FOOTBALL FACTORY. They’ve had one scandal after another for 30 years going back to the days of Barry Switzer. The head coach at OU has full control over that program. You can bring in whatever players you want, you can bring in JUCOs, you can allow boosters to hang around and slide money under the table to players or recruits, you can pass the buck on academics, you can get away with a 40% graduation rate (and even less for black players), you can discipline players “internally,” you can sign up your players for cakewalk “stay eligible” classes, and you can get away with handing out PEDs and breaking the 20 hour practice rule by making sure your players are studying film (instead of books) and working out and basically concentrating on football as the #1 priority.

At a school like ND, you can’t get away with even ONE of those things that I just listed above. Not one.

1) You are expected to graduate all of your players --

Swarbrick even went so far as to say in his press conference yesterday that Charlie Weis won a “national championship” in the graduation rate department. Light up the #1 sign at Grace Hall, baby! National champs! If you recruit a player to ND, he is expected to take class seriously and get a degree. You can’t just sign him up for a bunch of cooking and music appreciation classes to keep him eligible but with no real track toward a degree. A freshman is showing up, taking legitimate classes, and is expected to graduate.

And if you don’t know what you’re doing in those classes, you have mandatory tutoring. It’s a two hour tutoring session for 3-4 days a week. That’s 6 hours of your evening spent on Spanish and Math class when every other football factory player is studying film and working out and working on their route running or footwork or whatever.

This isn’t a competitive disadvantage?? Imagine if there was one NFL team filled with guys who were also graduate students on the side. As a Bengals fan, if I found out that Bengals ownership required all Bengal players to also pursue an MBA or law degree or Masters at the University of Cincinnati on the side, how could I not think that would hurt the team on the field?? It’s a great message and all, but it doesn’t win you football games. Every second the Bengals were spending on Civil Procedure or studying the business methods at Toyota would be a second missed spending time in the weight room or studying the Steelers or whatever else it is that NFL football players do all day. Wouldn’t that show up on the field when we played a team like the Steelers?? Of course!

These big time college football programs aren’t really that different from the NFL teams. They are semi-pro teams. There are some kids who are going to pay attention to their academics and get a degree, but those guys are self-starters. A big chunk of guys are just there to be football players. If you want to take cakewalk classes at LSU and enjoy the weather and play football, you can easily do that.

2) You recruit 4 year players who pass the admissions criteria at ND

I’m not going to sit here and say that every guy ND brings in is some whiz kid. There have been plenty of guys brought in with mediocre grades or low SAT scores who decided to go to ND. It’s not some secret either. If you go and look at average SATs, our guys have similar scores to what you see at SC or Michigan or Ohio State or anywhere.

For the most part, we are recruiting a lot of the same guys that the other big boys are recruiting. Guys like Seantrel Henderson and Prater and Martin. Those guys have received scholarship offers from ND, so I’m assuming that they have passed the admissions criteria.

With that said, there is more of a screening process at ND, and the football coach is not entirely in charge of that process. Maybe the coach can get a few exceptions, but the control lies in the hands of the folks in the admissions department. And we’ve all heard stories about high profile guys who did not meet the criteria for ND admissions (Carson Palmer, TJ Duckett, etc).

The other thing is that a lot of these southern schools have the liberty to take in non-qualifiers and JUCOs and even some “shaky character” guys who ND wouldn’t touch. Alabama seems to store guys in these prep schools and JUCOs who haven’t met NCAA requirements, and then bring them into the fold when they do. Same with Oklahoma. I don’t think JUCOs are the magic secret for recruiting by any means, but it’s at least something that the big time programs allow. If you want to stash some non-qualifier at a prep school for a year until he qualifies, you can do it. If you want to bring in a guy with five neck tattoos and a shaky past, you can get away with it. At ND, you can’t.

Imagine if Father Jenkins was walking on campus and saw some dude on our football team with five neck tattoos. He’d pass out right there on the south quad. Our Lady!

It's not like this issue is a deal-breaker, and I don't even necessarily think ND should change its admission policy. You can win with 4 year guys, and I like that ND relies on four year guys who intend to graduate and want to be students and appreciate what ND is all about.

The point is CONTROL. Bob Stoops doesn't have to ask at OU. At ND, he'd have to ask. It's a small issue, but it's something that Stoops doesn't have to worry about at Oklahoma. Same with Urban Meyer. We all know that Urban was uncomfortable with admissions at ND back in 2004. It's not that he can't get the same players at ND that he can get at Florida. It's the control issue.
3) The coach is not in control of day to day life for the football players

One of the hang-ups that guys like Stoops have had about ND is the Res Life disciplinary board. If an ND player gets into trouble, they have to go through Res Life to find out punishment. In other words, you’re going to see Bill Kirk and the collars. If they want to toss you, they toss you. The coach is not in control.

Think about every football factory out there. Urban Meyer has players getting into trouble every other month at Florida. Who is making the decision on the discipline for that player?? URBAN MEYER!! He can do whatever he wants. He can bench the guy, suspend him, or do nothing. It’s his decision. He doesn’t have to wait for some disciplinary board to hand down its decision.

Look at Ohio State. One of the senior captains was a d-linemen named Doug Worthington. Worthington got a DUI last year, plead guilty to the DUI, and was suspended for one game by Jim Tressel. At ND, he’s probably suspended from school and maybe off the team. The Kyle McAlarney example is the perfect example of Res Life overreacting to a disciplinary problem and taking control out of the coach's hands. At Florida, McAlarney sits out a game, maybe even just a half. Recruits who come to ND are there under the ND umbrella. Recruits who come to "football factories" are there under their coach's umbrella. Big difference there.

Think about Darrin Walls. We have no idea what happened to that guy, but he was basically out of school for a whole year. He really hasn’t been the same since he’s been gone. Charlie Weis had no control over that situation. If it was academics, he couldn’t stash Walls in some joke classes. If it was a discipline problem, Weis couldn’t suspend him for a half. He would have to go to Res Life and find out his fate from there. That whole Walls situation was a killer. He looked like an up and coming young stud. Suddenly, he’s off the team and had to miss a year. Missing an entire year of football is devastating to your career.

Again, not saying any of this is wrong or that ND should change. I'm just saying that a guy like Stoops might back off from the ND job based on this type of stuff. These coaches want to be at a place where they are guaranteed to win if they coach the team properly. You can win at ND. It's just a lot harder to win at ND than it is to win at Oklahoma.

The other thing is this “practice time” stuff. Let’s be honest, that 20 hour rule is a joke. When that Rich Rod stuff came out over the summer, a lot of media people and coaches spoke up in defense of him. Why?? Because everyone does it!! It’s not like this is some secret. You have 20 hours of practice time. Big whoop. That doesn’t mean your day is over from a football standpoint. At a school like LSU or Ohio State, you’re expected to work out “voluntarily” beyond that 20 hour limit. Maybe Les Miles isn’t standing there with his whistle, but you better be working out and working on your game or you’re going to get passed up by someone else who is. If you want to work on your studies, you do that on your own time after you've done all your football stuff.

At ND, who knows what rules we have in place?? Maybe the collars really do require that the players adhere to that 20 hour rule and that the rest of their time is spent as "real" students. 20 hours includes football practice, lifting, film study, individual drills, tutoring, meetings, etc. I would not be shocked if that was the case. If our guys are only doing football-related activity for 20 hours and everyone else is on a 50 hour schedule, who is going to win on Saturday?

Finally, there’s campus life in general. At OU, Stoops controls all of the meals I would imagine. These guys are on strict diets with training tables. Same with dorms. If Stoops wants to put all his football players together, that’s what he does. At ND, you live with regular students, and you are expected to be a part of the dorm life. You go to mass, you go to section meetings, etc.

Could you imagine some dude like Carlos Dunlap at ND with Fr. Doyle breathing down his neck about going to mass on Sundays?? Or telling him that he should come in for some pork BBQ sandwiches when all Dunlap wants to do is pound the weights and get to the league?? It’s laughable just thinking about it.

For these coaches, it all comes down to CONTROL. If they are going to be the head football coach with all that pressure, they want to be able to control everything about the job. They don’t want interference from academic types. They don’t want admins breathing down their neck. They don’t want mandatory pep rallies or mandatory two hour mass on gameday or disciplinary councils that go above their authority. If they want a jumbotron that will get the crowd rocking, it’s not even an option. At ND, the band plays, we “welcome” our opposing fans to the stadium, and that’s that. Deal with it.

The collars want the control, and Stoops knows that. He's not coming to ND only to have his hands tied behind his back. He's Bob Freaking Stoops. We gotta let this guy do what he needs to do to win or he's not coming.

That brings me to our fans. Ahh, the ND faithful. Gotta love em. Man, we love to talk the talk about returning to glory and competing for championships and being the best program in the nation and all that. We even like to complain about Fr. Jenkins and the collars and whine about how they are holding back the program.

Until you start talking specifics. Uh oh.

“ND needs more guys with neck tattoos” – NO! We’re too “classy” for neck tattoos. Why can’t these young lads wear Brooks Brothers and like it??

“ND needs more black players” -- NO! You’re a reverse racist. It’s not about race. Guys like Kyle McCarthy and Harrison Smith are great players (even though they wouldn’t sniff the two deep at LSU). Stop talking about race.

“ND needs to relax admissions” – NO! ND gets plenty of talent. Never mind that our defense looked like Stanford’s defense the other night. Talent is not the issue. We can compete with Florida and Alabama with the talent we have.

“ND needs to start acting like a football factory and the collars need to get out of the way” – NO! I want to win AND do it “the Notre Dame way.” We can win games, graduate all of our players, make them get real degrees, not take PEDs, uphold the dorm traditions, and do the pep rallies and two hour mass.

"ND should start looking at up and coming young guns like Jim Harbaugh" -- NO! Harbaugh is not "classy" enough! Never mind that he runs a pro style offense, has produced a hard-nosed team, knows how to recruit nationally to an academic school, has an all-white defense with no talent, and somehow has made Stanford a very solid team in 3 years. He's a jerk! He has a DUI and cheated on his wife!! We shouldn't even be talking to that guy. We need a classy coach. CLASSY!! CLASSSSSSSSSSSSSY!!!

The point here is that people raise these issues about needing more speed (code: black players) or more neck tattoos or fewer rules or less interference from the collars or less academic restrictions or no calculus requirements, and our fans freak out about it. The same fans who want ND to return to excellence don't want to see the necessary changes that will actually make it happen for ND. Even our fans have a mid-major, academic school attitude about the program.

This is not 1985. One coaching hire is not going to cure all of our ills. It's not as simple as "Coach X comes to ND, coaches em up, and we beat Florida in the title game." ND's problems go so much farther than just the head coaches we've brought in. Charlie Weis was terrible, but would Urban Meyer have won big these last five years if we had brought him in?? I think he would have won more than Weis, but I don't think Urban would have put us on the level of Florida or one of the football factory elite powers.

Personally, while I won't necessarily demand it, I wouldn't oppose the football factory idea. I could care less if the players have to take calculus or live in the dorms, and I would be ok if we "only" graduated 92% of the players instead of 98% (because some guys decided to go to the league after three years or a couple of kids we reached on frmo an academic standpoint didn't pan out in their freshman year). I don't care if they spend more than 20 hours in the weight room or don't interact with the regular student population. I don't care if a couple guys get in a little trouble and only get suspended for a half. I want to be an attractive job for a guy like Bob Stoops or even an up and coming young stud like Will Muschamp.

I'm tired of being Stanford. I want to be like Florida. I want to win. BIG. It starts with making a good hire, but we also need to address all aspects of the program at the same time. Heck, the only way we're going to make a great hire is if we allow him to come in and make the necessary changes.

Now, I would to prefer to find a middle ground. I think there are a lot of things about ND that are unique and special. I like that ND does recruit kids who plan to graduate and actually have to take real classes, and I enjoyed interacting with other student athletes in my time at ND. But I also want to see the football players at ND have an opportunity to win championships in their time at ND. They come to ND to be students but also to play for great football teams. We haven't held up our end of the bargain, and I think ND should be exploring any and all options to make sure that changes. I would start by looking back at what ND was like when Holtz was here in the late 80s. The impression that I get is that Holtz had a lot more authority over the team than recent coaches have had.

And if you want to keep things as is and would prefer to hire a coach who knows that ND is not changing for any coach, that's fine. I can live with it. I'll go to the games, root for the team, play golf on Sunday morning at Warren, and still have a great time. I'll go to bowl games and watch us get blown out of the building. I'm a Bengals and Reds fan. I'm used to rooting for losers, so rooting for mediocre ND teams is something I'm used to as a fan. I've watched these "rich man's Stanford" teams for over ten years. If we want to continue on that track just to uphold our image, go for it.

But you can't have it both ways. If we want to get a Bob Stoops, you're going to have to give him full control of the program. Bob Stoops is not coming to ND with one hand tied behind his back.


Stan said...

Did Tiger write this? Thanks for addressing the most important question out there, will the name of the blog change?

Going to be an exciting coaching search. Reading this blog over the past few years I am convinced ND has problems (like they are a great school instead of a football factory) that cant be fixed by a coach.

Finally, I would like to thanks Charlie and Sam Young for defining their entire career in the final minutes of the game against Stanford.

tro on the go said...

Sunday November 29th

Stoops: Jack, do you want to be a national champion in football again?

JS: That what Notre Dame wants, that who we are. Bob, will you take us there?

Stoops: I love Notre Dame, I love everything about the school.I want to be there as a person, and as a head coach. There is something special about the place. Here is list of changes that will help me take you there.


sharkey said...

Very good article! Well thought out and very well written!
Only thing I disagree with is it is not Notre Dame that needs to change, but, rather, the NCAA. Until the NCAA decides to make college athletics include academics and force the "neck tatooed " athletes to take serious courses, these problems will remain at ND.
Another point, wouldn't up and coming coaching studs veiw ND as a challenge (they all love challenges and being able to succeed where others have failed) and, that along with the money and noteriety of turning the program around, be a very good lure?
Again, first time at your site and enjoyed it.