December 29, 2009

Around the Nation: Thoughts on Urban Meyer, Eric Mangini, Bill Cowher, Florida hoops, Manti Te'o, and the shaky start to the Tom Crean era in Indiana

7) Maybe this amounts to kicking a program while they're down, but am I the only one who is a little surprised at the depths to which the Indiana program has fallen?? I know Tom Crean inherited an absolute mess that was going to require a massive rebuilding project, but home losses to Loyola and Boston University?? A 6-6 record heading into conference play?? How are the faithful going to react to another 10-12 win type season if that's where they are headed??

Man, I know they're young, but it's Indiana!! I don't care how young you are. You can't beat Loyola at home?? Everyone in college basketball is young. Look at Kentucky. They're dominating people with freshmen. There are teams all over the country starting multiple freshmen and sophomores. Carolina, Texas, UConn, etc. You don't win with four seniors in your starting lineup anymore in today's game. You recruit players who can help you win right away. And this isn't football where you need 40-50 players to contribute and a few years for them to develop. It's a 13 man roster that you can transform overnight with 6-7 contributors.

I just looked up Indiana's top eight scorers:

Maurice Creek - freshman
Christian Watford - freshman
Verdell Jones - sophomore
Jeremiah Rivers - junior
Derek Elston - freshman
Tom Pritchard - sophomore
Devan Dumes - senior
Jordan Hulls - freshman

Ok, that's a young team without question, but there's talent there. Creek and Watford were top 50 recruits, and Elston was another top 100. Plus, Rivers was a pretty solid recruit out of Georgetown. That's probably not an NCAA team or anything, but capable of beating teams like Boston and George Mason and Loyola?? Yes. The home court alone should win you those games.

Plus, it's not like Tom Crean is tearing it up on the recruiting trail going forward either. He's got two 3 star guys in the 2010 class right now, and has one top 100 guy in the 2011 class. That's a good class for Marquette. But for Indiana?? Not really. If he wants to be a big winner at IU, Crean has to start pulling 5 star kinda guys to Bloomington. Rick Pitino stole two studs right out of his backyard in Indianapolis. Maybe Crean doesn't like playing the AAU game. If not, he's not going to get the superstar players that the Bill Selfs and the Roy Williams and John Caliparis and Jim Calhouns are getting.

Don't get me wrong, Crean is a good coach who will eventually produce winning teams at Indiana, and maybe Crean is doing a lot behind the scenes to keep the IU fans excited about the future. But I haven't really been blown away with what he's done so far at Indiana. Last year was a mulligan with all the roster problems, but he's in his second year and they're still treading water at the bottom of the Big Ten. When you bring in a top 10 class and can't beat Loyola at home, I'm not sure the "we're rebuilding" mantra gets the same sympathetic ear that it did last year.

Crean had good teams at Marquette, but is "good" what IU fans are looking for?? I sort of thought IU fans were looking to get back to being an elite program again that goes to Final Fours, recruits elite talent, and competes for national championships. Is that where Crean is taking this program or is he going to be Tubby Smith 2.0 with nice 22-11 type teams that finish 4th in the Big Ten and lose in the 2nd round of the NCAAs with above-average but not elite talent??

Indiana is the fourth best basketball program in the state of Indiana right now. Maybe that will change soon, but I never thought I'd be saying that about Indiana basketball. IU has a little bit of a Notre Dame football problem. They're clinging to an era of basketball from 25 years ago. You aren't going to the Final Four by sprinkling the crimson and cream fairy dust on a bunch of honkies running around slapping the floor on defense. Time to get with the times and become a "basketball factory" like all the other big boys. If you want to win big, you better be willing to play the AAU game and massage the egos and spend the dollars that you need to spend to be a big time program.

Oh and in other news, the Mike Davis-coached UAB Blazers are 11-1 right now and ranked #24 in the country with wins over Cincinnati and Butler. Hmmmmm.

6) I think Urban Meyer made a good decision to take a leave of absence. If he had resigned, goes off and gets some therapy and some rest and wants to come back in a year, he'd be kicking himself. It's not like there's some better job out there. It's Florida!! Yes, the SEC is brutal, but you have everything you could ever need to win big there. Great facilities, great weather, great fan support, tons of money, and the most fertile recruiting base in the country. For my money, it's the best job in college football these days. If Urban wants to be able to win a championship when he comes back, he's better off just staying where he is and hoping that he can handle the stress the next time around.

Plus, his "dream job" at ND is occupied, and it might be another 5-10 years for the OSU job to open up. Other than somehow landing at USC (long shot obviously) or maybe Michigan, there's no other elite job out there even on the radar. I think Urban woke up on Sunday and realized that he'd be crazy to just resign. If he decides to come back someday, the best option is to return to Florida.

The only question I have is how this whole "leave of absence" thing is going to work. I don't get it. He's not going to head into the office?? They're not bringing him in for a big in-home recruiting visit?? Or to handle whatever other situations come up from day to day as the head football coach?? I can't see Urban just sitting by while Steve Addazio runs the program. If Addazio does something that Urban doesn't agree with, is Urban going to just stand to the side and let it happen?? Just seems like Urban's fingerprints are still going to be all over this program. There's no way he's just going cold turkey on football.

Strange situation. This is the kind of thing that would happen at ND. We've had so many dysfunctional moments in the ND program for the last 15 years that nothing would surprise me anymore. It will be interesting to see how Florida handles this limbo stage.

Wonder how the Florida fans are taking this. On the one hand, there's no one else in the country you'd rather have coaching your team than Urban Meyer. He's one of the best in the game. On the other hand, when are you getting this guy back?? Is he ever coming back?? How is all this going to affect recruiting?? Florida has a ridiculous recruiting class coming in, but some guys are already wavering and some are talking about decommitting.

What if Steve Addazio really is in control for the next year or two and runs the program into the ground and recruits flee the scene?? Would Urban even want to come back if that happens or would he run off to Michigan or somewhere else??

The other interesting question is what you're getting when this guy does come back. Is he going to be like this new mellowed-out Urban Meyer?? If so, does that mean he's not going to be as effective as he was before?? The whole Urban Meyer aura is that he's a super intense, tightly wound guy who can't stand losing and demands that his players play precise and disciplined football. What if he lets things slide a little bit for health reasons?? Would that take the edge off the Florida program??

Offseason recruiting is going to be wild. Every one of these SEC coaches will be going all in to drive a stake into Florida's program while they have the chance. You gotta figure Lane Kiffin and all those guys are going to be pointing out every question about his health and his future at Florida. That he quit on his team, that he's not healthy, and that you don't know what you're getting when he comes back.

Plus, you have Miami and FSU and all the northern teams that go down into Florida to poach players. Jimbo Fisher is going to be looking to make a splash in recruiting, and Randy Shannon has to make a push in the next couple years. And maybe Brian Kelly will get ND into the mix down there a little more.

If you're a verbal commit to Florida, how could you not be questioning that decision?? You probably had 10 other SEC and ACC schools all over you, but you went to Florida to play for Urban. Urban will win and get you to the league. Now you're wondering if you're going to get to the league playing for Steve Addazio if Urban never comes back.

Extremely compelling stuff. Should be a fantastic offseason in the SEC. I'm prepared for anything, including Lane Kiffin sending covert ops into Gainesville hospitals to steal Urban's medical records.

5) Speaking of Florida, what has happened to Florida basketball?? Think about this for a minute. Florida hasn't made the NCAA Tournament since winning back to back national titles in 05-06 and 06-07, and now they've lost back to back home games to Richmond and South Alabama.

When they won those titles, I thought Florida had arrived as one of the elite programs in college basketball. Now, they seem to be struggling just to make the NCAA Tournament and could be headed for a third straight NIT.

Any rumblings down there in Gainesville?? If Billy Donovan misses the NCAAs yet again this year, are people going to start questioning him?? Hard to really say anything of that sort about a guy who has won 2 national titles THIS DECADE, but how does a program fall off the map like that?? Donovan needs to right the ship and get his team back in the Big Dance this year.

4) Great to see that Manti Te'o is coming back to ND next year. I hope Kelly spends all offseason telling him that he will be the focal point of this defense in 2010. Get him in the weight room and turn him into an animal next year. With his talent, he should be the type of guy who emerges as a Butkus Award candidate by next year. I don't even think that's setting the bar too high. Make him the best LB in the nation.

Looks like we're going to a 3-4 defense next year. Here's how I'd set this front seven in 2010 if I was Kelly:

DE - Ethan Johnson
NT - Ian Williams
DE - KLM
OLB - Fleming
ILB - Te'o
ILB - Brian Smith
OLB - Filer/Neal

That would be my preseason depth chart. Having said that, I think Kelly should tell this team that every job on the roster is an open competition. Get these guys to Camp Kelly and see who emerges as the leaders on this defense. If Brian Smith has a sloppy offseason, stick him on the bench and find somebody who isn't afraid to make a tackle. I really like that linebacker unit. I'm not crazy about the 3-4, but sounds like Kelly prefers it going forward. And to be honest, the personnel on this team is probably better suited for a 3-4 since a lot of these guys were recruited as 3-4 type players. Unleash guys like Filer and Neal and Fleming from the edges, and that could be a real weapon for this team next year.

3) Some NFL thoughts:

1) Can't believe I'm saying this, but I think Holmgren should give some consideration to bringing back Eric Mangini in 2010. He's actually got something going in Cleveland right now. Their line is playing great, they are running the football (which is absolutely essential in the AFC North), and their defense has been better the last month or so. If they beat Jacksonville this week, that gives them 4 straight wins to end the season.

I doubt Holmgren will want to bring back Mangini, but who is Holmgren going to hire?? One of his guys?? Welcome Steve Mariucci or Marty Mohrinweg. Yikes. That would be ugly and immediately would have fans questioning Holmgren.

I thought Mangini was a disaster early in the year, but now I'm coming around on him and might be buying into the idea that he has them headed in the right direction. This late season surge also will get them away from one of those top 5 picks in the Draft. Unless there are absolute franchise guys at the top of the draft (Manning type guys), those picks are like kryptonite for your franchise and cap killers (think Alex Smith). Give me a #9/#10 type pick all day long over a top 5 pick. You get a good player for half the price.

2) I will never understand why the Colts insist on mailing it in down the stretch every year. Makes absolutely no sense to me. You battle all year and then pull the plug right before the playoffs and take the edge off your squad?? The Colts are such an intelligent and well-run organization that I don't understand why they have not changed their philosophy on this.

Meanwhile, look at San Diego and New England. Both teams are surging into the playoffs with a ton of momentum. My guess is that one of those two teams will represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.

3) There's no way to predict how this AFC wildcard thing is going to shake out, but I'll go ahead and rank who I'd like to see the Bengals play in round one of the playoffs:

1) Jets
2) Denver
3) Baltimore
4) Houston
5) Pittsburgh

Would love to get the Jets in round one. "The Sanchise" on the road in his first playoff game?? Yes please. Almost makes me want the Bengals to tank this game against the Jets this weekend.

The two teams that terrify me are Houston and Pittsburgh. Houston has some Arizona type potential. And the karma gods are not going to let the Bengals beat Pittsburgh for a third time in one season. No way that happens. I'm picturing 20,000 Steeler fans in Paul Brown Stadium with Ben and Hines Ward going nuts and Carson Palmer with the Carson Palmer face in full effect. I'm having nightmares already.

4) Are we even sure how good of an NFL coach Bill Cowher is?? How much of his success was him or was he another product of the Pittsburgh machine?? If he goes to a place like Tampa Bay, is he going to have the same success?? We've seen other Pittsburgh coaches like Mike Mularkey and Dick Lebeau and Dom Capers go off to NFL head coaching jobs and not get it done. How do we know that Cowher would succeed outside of the Pittsburgh bubble?

Sometimes the organization is just bigger than the coach. Look at Indy. Dungy retires, and Indy is as good as ever with Jim Caldwell. Do we even know that Caldwell is a good coach?? He was a head coach at Wake Forest and was a disaster. Now he's suddenly this great NFL coach?? I'm just guessing that his success has a lot more to do with the fact that he has an NFL legend like Bill Polian running the organization and Peyton Manning at quarterback.

2) I don't know what to make of this Mike Leach thing. Is this like the year of parents complaining about their kids getting mistreated?? Between Mangino, Rodriguez, Leavitt, and Leach, it seems like there has been one incident after another about coaches working their players too hard.

It's football!! Leach got suspended for making a player stand in a closet?? What's next?? Getting suspended for cursing at a player?? At what point do you need to give these coaches a little breathing room to run their programs as they see fit?? Coaches do all kinds of things to motivate their players. It's been going on for fifty years. If you're going to put all this pressure on these coaches to win, I don't see why they should be neutered from doing things to motivate their players (barring some sort of rampant physical abuse).

To me, this whole thing sounds like Craig James' son wasn't getting playing time and Leach wouldn't release him from his scholarship and.....yada yada yada.....Mike Leach is suspended. I don't like it.

1) Some bowl game predictions for the upcoming weekend:

Oklahoma -11 over Stanford -- OU will be looking to make a statement that they are going to be back in the national championship picture in 2010.

Navy +6.5 over Missouri -- I've seen Navy hang around too many times with the big boys to think they can't do the same against Missouri. I fully expect them to win this game.

Tennessee +4.5 over VT -- The Lane Kiffin era officially takes off. Love how they played down the stretch. And Kiffin is POUNDING the recruiting trail. Already has them at #6 in Rivals. Say what you want about the guy, but he has built some buzz in Vols Country.

Interestingly, I wonder how much Mitch Browning had to do with their success running the ball in 2009?? Would love to see him at ND this fall coaching the o-line under Brian Kelly.

Auburn -7.5 over Northwestern -- The Outback Bowl is always wacky, but this game just feels like a mismatch. Northwestern would be a bottom three team in the SEC.

Florida State +2.5 over WVU -- I'm just assuming that Jimbo Fisher has taken the reigns, so I'll go with the Noles in a mild upset. Very interested to see what Jimbo Fisher does at FSU. Off to a pretty good start on the recruiting trail.

LSU +3 over Penn State -- If LSU loses this game, go ahead and put Les Miles on the hot seat going into 2010. I'm pretty surprised that they are dogs in this game.

Cincinnati +12.5 vs. Florida -- I don't even really believe in this pick, but what the heck. I'd love to see a competitive game, especially since New Years Day has become such a bust for bowl games and this is the only primetime game. Remember the days when there were 2-3 bowl games on at 1pm, 4pm, and 8pm on New Years Day?? At night, you'd have the Orange Bowl and the Sugar Bowl and maybe even the Fiesta Bowl. Man, I miss those days.

Last game for Tim Tebow and maybe the last game for Urban Meyer. Please don't let Thom Brennaman anywhere within 500 feet of the Superdome. He won't be able to handle himself.

Ohio State +4 over Oregon -- Not sure if I really believe in this pick either, but Ohio State really really needs this game. If they get destroyed by Oregon, it's going to be a long offseason in Columbus. It almost feels like people are afraid to talk about this game locally because everyone is fearing another big stage embarrassment.

It wouldn't surprise me if Oregon won this game big though. They smoked the same USC team that beat Ohio State in Columbus, and I'm picturing that offense running wild with the Buckeyes not able to keep up. If Oregon jumps out to a lead and Terrelle Pryor has to try to win the game with his arm, look out. It could get ugly. I love watching Oregon play. The tempo, the speed, the precision, the run/pass threat. It's a fun offense to watch.

Meanwhile, watching the Buckeyes' offense is like watching paint dry. Tressel is going to do everything possible to win this game with Tressel Ball. Will it work?? Probably not, but Tressel is not changing his approach. Run the ball, pin Oregon back, play good defense, and hope you can make a couple big plays to pull it out.

I do think OSU will have some wrinkles defensively that will have some success slowing down Oregon's offense. They'll probably try to use their d-line to close up some holes and try to make Oregon one-dimensional in the passing game. And if OSU can get some pressure, they might be able to get to Masoli. One area where Tressel and his staff have adjusted has been the more aggressive defensive game plans the last couple seasons. It all starts up front with their d-line.

On paper, the matchups seem to favor Oregon, but I expect the Buckeyes to go out there on a mission to change the national perception of their program. Tressel really needs this win in the worst way, and a big win for him would really catapult this team into the 2010 season with a ton of momentum.

December 26, 2009

Seasons Greetings from We Is ND

Thanks to all our dedicated readers who stop to drink from the We Is trough and share their thoughts, helping make the sports world the ultimate water cooler topic.

As a Christmas gift for your loyalty, I wanted to share this rap video created by a friend of We Is.

Enjoy.

December 22, 2009

Notre Dame round-up: Thoughts on Austin Collinsworth, Vinny Cerrato and Brian Kelly on recruiting and player development, and a big win for ND hoops

Some thoughts on the latest developments in the world of ND sports:

(3) Nice win for ND hoops the other day against UCLA. I don't think this team is an NCAA Tournament team, but I'm stepping away from the ledge a little bit. After the Northwestern game, I walked away thinking we were a bottom 5 Big East team with an NIT-type ceiling, but I was encouraged by our performance in the UCLA game. Still a terrible team defensively, but at least a core nucleus is starting to define itself. Nash and Gody up front, Abro on the wing, Hansbrough and Tory Jackson at guard, and Peoples coming off the bench.

Some observations on the starting five:

-- Love Abromaitis this year. He's Danny Miller reincarnated. Not only is he a great shooter, but I love that he can put it on the floor and drive aggressively to the bucket. Abro is going to have a great career at ND. Two more years of him. Wow. Gotta get him up to speed defensively, but he's already a very good offensive player.

--Anyone else think that Tory Jackson looks a little too bulky this year? I won't say he looks pudgy. Just wider and thicker. Not sure if it's on purpose to withstand the rigors of Big East basketball (he has worn down the last two seasons), but I prefer the quicker and smaller Tory Jackson. He just doesn't look as explosive this year.

--Nash is an interesting player. He's not a Big East-caliber power forward right now by any means, but at least he has a Big East-kinda body. He might still be raw, but at least he can get in there and bang. We haven't had many guys like Nash in this program in the last ten years. I know he's already a junior, but Nash is a guy who should continue to get better and better and hopefully will be a rebounding/low post force by this time next year.

--Also liked what Hansbrough showed against the Bruins. He looks a lot more comfortable in the Brey system than he was earlier in the year. Not as capable of taking over a game like McAlarney, but a better ballhandler and rebounder. Problem is that I wonder if he'll be capable of guarding 2-guards in the Big East. I have my concerns.

--As for Harangody, this is completely unfair to say this about him, but I really wish he would put the NBA stuff behind him and get back to camping out in the low post. When Harangody is in the low post and driving to the bucket and getting to the free throw line and clearing the offensive glass, he's the best player in the Big East and one of the most dominant players in the country. When he's out there chucking up fadeaways from 20 feet and shooting threes and lingering on the 3 point line, he becomes a guy that teams aren't afraid of. Teams don't mind Harangody shooting 22 footers, and they certainly don't mind it when he's not inside grabbing offensive rebounds.

I know Harangody wants to prove to NBA scouts that he can hit perimeter shots, but this team needs him inside. It's not like we have anyone else on this roster who can camp out down low while Gody works the perimeter. This team is going nowhere with him on the outside hoisting up shots.

On the whole, it's a pretty good starting five that might be fairly frisky in league play. Throw in Peoples off the bench, and that's really not a bad nucleus of 6 guys right there. You can win games with those 6 guys. Of course, that's also the problem. We're only playing 6 guys!! AGAIN!! Death, taxes, and Mike Brey playing 6 guys. By March when this team is sucking wind for the 10th straight year, we'll all be complaining about yet another late season fade. You can practically set your watch to it.

Here's your minute distribution from Saturday:

Luke Harangody - 39 minutes
Tory Jackson - 39 minutes
Ben Hansbrough - 39 minutes
Tyrone Nash - 33 minutes
Tim Abromaitis - 26 minutes
Jon Peoples - 16 minutes
Carl Scott - 8 minutes

Three guys played 39 minutes. Is there any doubt that Jackson and Hansbrough will be out of gas by the end of February?? Tory Jackson will probably go down as the all-time minutes leader at ND. How could he not?? The guy hasn't been off the floor in four years.

Nothing against either of those guys, but they shouldn't be playing 39-40 minutes every single night, especially in the Big East. All you're asking for is tired legs, especially when teams like Louisville start throwing waves of 3-4 guys at a time at them. How has Brey not learned these lessons after all these years of doing the same thing over and over and over?? We've gone from Chris Thomas playing 40 minutes a game to Chris Quinn playing 40 minutes a game to Colin Falls to Tory Jackson and now to Ben Hansbrough. I think I wrote before the season that I had no doubt that Hansbrough would be playing 35+ minutes every night. I was hoping that Brey would prove me wrong, but that's where we're headed yet again.

The other thing about the heavy minutes is that we know it has an effect on the defense. Heck, Brey admits it. If you're playing 39 minutes every night, you're going to conserve yourself and maybe take some possessions off. It also hurts your ability to close out a game. If you're tired and the other team makes a charge late in the game, it's harder to hold up.

Look, I love Brey's offense, and I do think this team can be competitive in the Big East if the core nucleus continues to grow together. I feel better about this team after watching them on Saturday, and I'm as tired of talking about the 6 man rotations and shaky defense year after year as anyone. But it does amaze me that we do the exact same stuff every single year.

The 6 man rotation will hurt this team down the stretch and in the Big East Tournament. It does every year.

(2) On to football. I don't see what the big fuss is about Austin Collinsworth signing with ND. It's one recruit!! It's not like Kelly views Collinsworth as the cornerstone of this program. He's just a guy that Kelly has been scouting for a couple years who he thought would be a good fit in his system. What's wrong with that?? Did I miss the memo that ND no longer recruits 3 star players?? Not every guy you bring in is going to be a superstar. Every team has to bring in some 3 star type guys to fill out a class.

I was actually hoping Weis would float a scholarship to Austin Collinsworth a couple months ago. Maybe Collinsworth will amount to nothing at ND, but he's the type of guy I like taking a chance on. He played at a legendary high school program in northern Kentucky, and he's got those bloodlines. His dad was an all-time great with the Bengals.

I don't care what star he is. If Kelly thinks he can play and that he'll fit into his system, that's good enough for me. RKGs. That's what I want out of my head coach. Kelly has been a head coach long enough to know what types of players he wants, and if he thinks Collinsworth is worth giving a shot, sign me up.

Brian Kelly is going to bring in a whole new philosophy to recruiting and player development. I'm beginning to realize that personnel evaluation is the most underrated aspect of being a head coach in college football. We always equate personnel evaluations with NFL scouting for the draft, but it's probably even more important on the college level. What kind of athletes are you looking for?? What types of guys do you need to win in your system?? Where do you see guys projecting in terms of position when they get to college?? You are taking 17-18 year old kids and trying to mold them into football players. Personnel evaluation is a huge part of the game, and you need to have a philosophy for how to do it.

On that note, I read an outstanding article from Lou Somogyi in Blue and Gold Illustrated the other day. If you don't read anything else the rest of the offseason about ND football, I'd recommend this article just for the insight into player evaluation.

Some great quotes here from Vinny Cerrato:

“I never wanted to take an offensive lineman in high school who was just an O-lineman — because if he can’t play O-line, where is he going to play?” Cerrato noted. “It’s a wasted scholarship.”

“When we won the national title, Ricky (Watters) and Rocket were our receivers,” noted Cerrato of shifting Watters to flanker and Ismail to split end. “It was about recruiting athletes and speed. We never said, ‘We’re going to take four defensive linemen this year

“If you look at our great defensive linemen (Chris) Zorich, (Bryant) Young, (Jim) Flanigan … they came in as linebackers. Before we offered anyone, I had to see him do something live physically. I wanted to see all the DBs play basketball. I never saw (quarterback) Tony Rice play football. I saw him play basketball a number of times … If they have the feet and are smart, they can play a lot of positions.”

How great is that?? I learned more in three quotes about recruiting and player evaluation from Vinny Cerrato than anything I've read on those subjects in ten years of following Davie, Willingham, and Weis.

Cerrato (and by proxy, Lou Holtz) wanted athletes first. They'd worry about positions from there. They liked recruiting defensive linemen because those guys tended to be more physical than offensive linemen. If a guy is physical, you can work with that. You can move a guy who played nose guard in high school to guard in college, and he can blow guys off the ball. You could also take a great athlete who came in as a tight end and bulk him up into an offensive tackle.

They also looked for speed and agility for their backs. QBs, DBs, RBs, WRs, etc. They didn't care about technique or any of that. They could coach all that into you. They wanted to see that you had the raw abilities to be great. It's that "finished product" debate that we've had so many times on this blog in the past couple years. Do you go for athletes who you can mold or the "finished product" guys that have higher floors but lower ceilings?? ND has skewed too much toward the "finished products" in recent years. Notice how a lot of these "finished products" will look good their freshman year and then tail off as other guys catch up to them.

This is the type of stuff that I don't think Weis ever really understood about the college game. Weis recruited positions. He treated these guys like they were finished products at a certain position, like it was the NFL Draft or something. If you played o-line in high school, you played o-line at ND. If you played rb in high school, you played rb in college. If you played lb in high school, that's what you were under Weis. DUMB. In recruiting, you take athletes, and figure it out from there. How do we know a guy like Robert Hughes couldn't have been a nasty linebacker?? Or that a guy like Cierre Wood couldn't have contributed at safety?? Or if some of those linebackers could have bulked up into defensive ends or even defensive tackles?? Or a guy like Hafis Williams as a bulldozer offensive guard or center??

It is so important to be able to visualize where a recruit should be playing. Weis had no real plan on where he wanted guys, especially defensively. He just went off the Tom Lemming reports. I actually think Weis got better at identifying prospects as he went along (really liked the Utopo signing as a projected DT), but he dug himself in a hole early on.

Here's another great interview with Kelly where you really get a feel for what he values in terms of recruiting and managing his staff. Great quotes right here:

“But even more so in recruiting. I think where we got off track as programs is that recruiting becomes a résumé-builder and we’re not here to build résumés. We’re here to recruit the right kind of guys. When I talk about coaching the coaches in those particular areas, making sure the message is clear on a day-to-day basis – offense, defense and special teams – in terms of what we want from our young men and secondly, in the recruiting process. We’re all recruiting for the same reasons. It’s not about who’s in your area geographically and what you’ve got out of your area.

“I’ll give you an example, right now Tony Alford is recruiting all of those areas. He’s doing a heck of a job because he doesn’t have to worry about, ‘This is my area and I’ve got to go before of the coach and I’ve got to tell coach my guy in my area is better because of these reasons than the kid in this geographical area. That’s how you want to recruit.”

Let’s face it, if the recruiting is dysfunctional, if you’re out there just, ‘Hey, look at the guys I pulled.’ If that’s all you do and that’s your agenda, that doesn’t serve the good of the overall program. It’s the same thing relative to, ‘My DBs are doing great. They’ve never had the ball thrown over their head.’ Well, it doesn’t matter. We’re not winning games and that’s the work that I do on a day-to-day basis.”


WOW. Phenomenal stuff and the type of stuff we haven't heard from an ND coach in a long time. It's almost as if he's taking shots directly across the bow of Charlie Weis and even Brian Polian. Recruiting isn't some resume-builder thing or getting this many stars or whatever. Recruiting can only be successful if it helps you win games in the fall. The assistants should be on the same page pulling together to find the best players for the program. And if you can't coach, you're not on the staff. Kelly doesn't want a bunch of glorified recruiters on staff.

I almost feel like Kelly is trying to wean ND fans off the star rankings and all that other stuff. We've been so brainwashed by the Tom Lemmings of the world into buying into all the hype, but none of that has gotten us anywhere in terms of wins. Of course, you need to find great players in recruiting, but it has to be the right kind of guys and an overall team philosophy toward recruiting. A four star finished product type with a low ceiling and a shaky work ethic is not a "good" recruit even if his star ranking is high. And recruiting a four star offensive linemen just because of his star ranking and his high school position might not be as wise as grabbing an athletic four star defensive linemen who could potentially switch over to offense someday. Kelly is trying to set a different type of bar for recruiting than the one we've been used to for all these years.

I think Kelly will do the best job of evaluating personnel since Holtz. He has a good eye for talent, and he was a master at getting guys into the right positions in his UC days. The Connor Barwin project was probably his best work, but he did it with a number of guys. Kelly knows what an OT or a guard should look like in his system and what that player should be able to do from an athletic standpoint. I think he'll be a major upgrade in the personnel department.

(1) Finally, a couple staff developments. Great to see that Paul Longo is coming on board as the new strength coach. Sounds like that guy is a critical component of Kelly's success and the one guy that he needed to bring with him to ND. Seems like Kelly's big thing is producing mentally and physically tough players, and Longo is the point man on that front. I'm a huge believer in offseason preparation leading to success on the field. Very pleased about the Longo hire.

Tough break losing Jeff Quinn to Buffalo though. I was hoping he would be joining Kelly at ND. Quinn has been with Kelly for almost 20 years. Seems like there are conflicting reports out there about how valuable Quinn was to Kelly's system. Some folks will say that he was integral, but others say that Kelly is the brains behind the operation and that everyone else is just riding his coattails. I really have no idea. All we can do is wait and see how things turn out.

As for his replacement, rumors seem to be circulating that Mike Denbrock will be replacing Quinn as the o-line coach. Hearing the words "former Tyrone Willingham assistant" and "associate head coach at Indiana State" associated with Denbrock aren't exactly music to my ears, but he's another guy from the Kelly coaching tree who has worked with Kelly at Grand Valley State as his offensive coordinator. He should be able to fit right into this program.

Ultimately, no one out there has any idea about these assistants and how valuable they are to a staff and whether they will be productive under Kelly, so it's a waste of time to make a bunch of judgments about the coaching staff. Kelly is very hard on his assistants, so he seems to prefer guys who are familiar with his style of coaching.

It all comes down to a philosophy on how you want to manage your program as a head coach. There are two types of head coaches:

1) The CEO head coach -- Examples would be Mack Brown, Les Miles, even Bob Stoops -- Guys who will set the tone as far as an overall philosophy (recruiting, defense, management), but leave a lot of the details to their assistants. Seems like the assistants on staff are really important because of the role they play in the program.

2) The micro-manager head coach -- Examples in my opinion would be Urban Meyer, Nick Saban, Jim Tressel -- This is the group of coaches who really prefer to be involved in every detail of the program, and manage things from the top down. With these guys, the assistants might be talented, but they are usually younger guns who are going to take orders from the top.

Urban Meyer is the perfect example of the micro-manager head coach. I don't think it matters who his assistants are. He just hires guys who can take orders and who he is comfortable with. He doesn't need to bring in some established big name offensive coordinator or DC to prop him up. All the ideas flow through him anyway, so those guys would just be getting in his way. And if Urban loses a couple assistants, he just moves on to the next guy, especially since that guy is taking orders from him anyway.

Same with Saban. Saban likes having young gun assistants on his staff who are hungry and ready to learn from him and take orders, but Saban is the ideas man. Saban found Will Muschamp when Muschamp was a young stud assistant, but everything Muschamp was doing was coming from Saban. Muschamp learned at the knee of Saban, and now he's off doing his thing at Texas. Saban just moves on to the next guy.

Meanwhile, Mack Brown seems like an extreme delegator who really is dependent on his staff to set the tone for the program. His assistants aren't just lackeys or young guns taking orders. They are actually out there running the show on their side of the ball. It's not some coincidence that Texas' defense has been great these last couple years under Will Muschamp and that Texas is paying Muschamp head coach money to stay around. Mack Brown really relies on these big time assistants. Whenever he has had staff turnover, the team has taken a step back.

I don't really think there's a good way or a bad way to run things. We've seen coaches have success using both formulas. Mack Brown is a CEO type coach, and he is one of the most successful coaches in the game. But personally, I like the micro-manager head coach and especially at a place like Notre Dame. These guys usually have a philosophy that they believe will win them games, and they bring in assistants who can work under that philosophy.

I think Kelly fits into the micro-manager profile. He has a system in place, and he only wants assistants who will fit into that system. He's not going to hire a big name DC because Kelly already has his own philosophy on how to run a defense that has won him many games. He might bring in a young gun like Bob Diaco, but Diaco is going to be selling the Kelly brand. Same with offense. Kelly is the de-facto offensive coordinator.

The only downside with a micro-manager is the stubbornness factor. Perfect example would be Jim Tressel. Tressel has his own philosophy on how to run an offense, and there is no way he's delegating that authority to some outside offensive coordinator even if it might be beneficial to the program. People have been clamoring for a new offensive coordinator for years, but Tressel is not bringing in some Gus Malzahn type guy to spice things up. That's just not how he's wired. He's a micromanager. He is going to run the offense his way, and that's that.

Kelly really hasn't been at any job long enough to develop a reputation for stubbornness or refusing to change an obvious flaw, so we don't know how we'll respond to some adversity on that front. The good news is that Kelly has proven to be very flexible in terms of changing philosophies and has tried to stay ahead of the game at each stop he's made. He recently changed to a 3-4 defensive philosophy, and he's gone from a power running attack to more of a pass-oriented attack since he's been at UC. Kelly is a full-control kinda guy, but he also seems to be very introspective in terms of changing and adjusting along the way. He doesn't need outside coaches to bring in new ideas if things go stale because he seems to reinvent himself with new ideas all the time.

The more I read about Kelly, the more excited I get about his tenure at ND. He is going to bring a new approach to recruiting and staffing and offseason preparation that we have not seen in this program since Holtz. When I read things from Kelly, he reminds me of what we've heard from the other great head coaches out there in college football.

Should be interesting to see what happens with the rest of this coaching staff. I'm very interested to see how the defensive staff shakes out.

December 17, 2009

Around the Nation: Thoughts on Notre Dame scheduling, Te'o, Jake Locker, "The U", Mike Holmgren, Heisler, Big Ten expansion, and an NFL power poll

RIP Chris Henry. One of the more talented players the Bengals have ever had, but also an incredibly troubled person with a million demons in his personal life. What a shame. He will be missed.

Some other football thoughts:

9) I am completely dumbfounded by this Jake Locker decision. Who is advising these guys?? Why come back?? Most of the NFL draft experts have him as a top 10 pick and either the 1st or 2nd quarterback taken next year. Between the Rams, Browns, Chiefs (yep, just pull the plug on the Matt Cassel era now), Skins, Raiders (Chaz Frye is starting over Jamarcus Russell this week...my goodness!), Seahawks, Broncos (they have the Bears' pick in the top 10), Bills, and 49ers, you have teams all over the top 15 of next year's draft looking for quarterbacks. By my count, that is nine teams in the top 15 of the draft who are going to have to make a move at some point to try to get a franchise quarterback. There are only two legitimate first round type QBs in this 2010 draft, and one of them (Bradford) is coming off season-ending shoulder surgery!! Teams would literally be falling all over themselves to take Locker in the top 10 in this draft.

I don't see what he has to gain from coming back to Washington. Another year with Steve Sarkisian?? Come on. It's the NFL. The NFL qb coaches are going to break you down and build you up anyway, so another year with Sarkisian only delays the inevitable. You aren't going to learn how to play in the NFL by throwing passes against Washington State's defense.

It would be one thing if Locker was a true junior and was coming back for his 4th year at UW. But he's already been there 4 years. He's basically pulling a Leinart by coming back. I've actually read some stuff from NFL scouts where they view coming back one extra year as a NEGATIVE thing from a football perspective because it's a sign that you aren't hungry to be an NFL football player. It sounds dumb on the surface, but I sort of get it to some degree. Look at Leinart. The guy all but admitted he was coming back for a 5th year in 2005 because he enjoyed the college lifestyle and all that. Shouldn't that have been a warning sign about his potential NFL career?? These NFL GMs and scouts want guys who are DESPERATE to get to the league and to start working on their games and developing into good NFL players. If a guy wants to come back and eat pizza in the dorm with the fellas, some scouts view that as a mark against you.

I also don't care what his completion percentage is. I watched Locker in that ND game, and his receivers dropped about 8 passes. I don't know if that happened all year, but I'd be willing to guess his completion percentage would be a lot higher with better receivers. Locker is physically ready to get to the league and learn how to be an NFL quarterback. Is he ready to start now?? No, but give him a year to study defenses, and get him ready to go in 2011. With his body and athletic ability, I think he's the next Mark Brunell (which is meant to be a compliment if you remember Brunell's Jacksonville days).

Two final things to consider on the Locker thing:

1) The obvious concern for coming back is injury (see Bradford comma Sam), but the even more dangerous concern is that scouts get another year to pick him apart and fall in love with someone else. Right now, he's a super athletic, rocket-armed bulldozer getting Steve Young comparisons. By this time next year, if he doesn't get substantially better, he'll be the 5-7 QB of the Washington Huskies with a bad completion percentage and questions about whether he can fit into an NFL offense.

You gotta strike when the iron is hot. Scouts fell in love with Locker this year. Next year, they'll be looking at him with a more critical eye. We've seen this a million times. Even if Bradford had been healthy this year, I bet scouts would have spent the whole year picking apart his flaws and talking themselves out of Sam Bradford.

Mark this prediction down right now: Ryan Mallett will blow by Jake Locker next year as the QB dream boy for NFL scouts, and I'll bet 1-2 other guys emerge as well into the mix. Scouts love the next "new thing," and Locker will be old news by this time next year.

2) The second thing is this NFL collective bargaining agreement. We talked about this earlier in the year with Jimmy Clausen. Do these guys understand the ramifications of a rookie salary cap in place for 2011??

The 6 year, $40-50 million contract that he would have signed this year could suddenly be a 3 years, $5 million deal in 2011 if these caps go into place. Maybe he makes it all back over the course of his career, but that's a substantial pay cut by waiting.

I like Jake Locker a lot. I don't know if he'll be a great NFL quarterback, but I was impressed with his physical skills in the ND-UW game. He's got the arm, and I thought he threw it accurately in some pretty tough weather conditions. He's not your classic drop back guy, but we've seen guys like Roethlisberger thrive with Locker's skillset.

Going to be very interesting to watch Locker in 2010 at UW.

8) Nothing perks my ears like scheduling discussions, so I was encouraged to see Brian Kelly commenting twice on scheduling within his first week on the job.

"When you look at the teams that carry the same mission [as Notre Dame], Texas does that obviously," he said. "Those kinds of schools really are attractive to me.

"[Athletic director] Jack Swarbrick and I will sit down and look at our schedule as we move forward. I want to be around the best, because we're asked to be the best. And that's the kind of schedule I want."


"Absolutely, I would love to play the University of Cincinnati," Kelly told the Enquirer. "I think it would be a great game. We're going to look at the schedule. We'll definitely look at the possibility and see if we can pull it off."

Where do I sign up?? Kelly is talking the talk here, but we've heard this type of talk before from newcomers on the ND scene. Remember when Jack Swarbrick showed up talking about playing Texas and Miami when he first got to ND?? Now he doesn't even return their phone calls. Awesome.

From what I've seen out of Kelly, I don't think he's blowing smoke on that. Kelly knows that the only way ND is going to get some respect nationally is to play challenging schedules. He has scheduled some very tough nonconference games in his time at Cincinnati: NC State, Oregon State, Oklahoma, Illinois, Tennessee, Ohio State, Virginia Tech.

If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. Kelly doesn't seem like the type of guy who wants to beat up a slate of MAC teams. I hope Kelly continues to pound on this idea and demands that we try to play the best schedule possible every year.

Wonder what John Heisler thought about those comments. He either shuddered or he laughed. "Oh that Brian Kelly, so NAIVE! Wait till I show him my plans for the 2018 schedule. 12 home games!!" He probably can't wait to get Kelly into his office to issue some "talking points" on scheduling. Should be interesting to see if Kelly continues to pound on that issue or if he softens his stance and starts talking about "monitoring the landscape" and "revenue sources" and "internet crazies" in future interviews.

By the way, what does it say about ND these days that Kelly has been here for a week and already understands what ND should be about better than the guys who have run the school for 20 years?? The John Heisler era!! The gift that keeps on giving.

7) Speaking of the 2011 football schedule, let's take a peek at what we have now. Remember, Swarbrick mentioned earlier this fall after the TCU snafu that he was going to be very proactive on the 2011 schedule and hoped to have it finalized by the end of this calendar year:

S03 @ Purdue
S10 @ Michigan
S17 MICHIGAN STATE
S24 @ Pittsburgh
O01 SOUTH FLORIDA
O15 Army (neutral site)
O22 SOUTHERN CAL
O29 NAVY
N05 CONNECTICUT
N26 @ Stanford
Two games to be determined

Looks like September and October are filled with two November games waiting to be scheduled. By my count, we already have the following road games scheduled:

@Purdue
@Michigan
@Pitt
@Stanford

The Army game is probably going to be in Orlando, and we already have 5 home games on the slate.

Presumably the last two games to be scheduled will be at home. Now, if you go back to that leaked memo from a couple years ago about the possible future schedules, ND's original intent was to schedule a "BUY GAME" on October 8 and another "BUY GAME" on November 12.

I'd have no problem with the buy game on October 8. We'd have gone through a pretty grueling 5 game stretch to start the season, and it would be nice to catch our breath for a couple weeks with somebody like Nevada and then Army before the USC game.

But scheduling yet another "BUY GAME" in the middle of the stretch run in November would be another sign that we have no intention to upgrade the football schedules and that any talk of adding a marquee opponent is just a bunch of fluff. We should not end our season with Navy, "BUY GAME," Connecticut, Stanford. This schedule is begging for a big marquee November home game. Somebody like Tennessee. Get the Vols on the schedule and we'll return the favor at their place in 2014 (after the Oklahoma series runs out in 2013...ummm, if that gets played). Tennessee could be pretty darn good in 2011, and I'd love to get a big win over them to make a statement in November.

Going to be verrrrrrrrrrrrrrrry interesting to see what Swarbrick does. Mark this down right now. If Kelly turns out to be the home run hire that we're all expecting, I think he could have a very good team in 2011. If we play that cupcake stretch down the season, that will cost this team if we're in the national championship race.

Gotta fix the schedules. We have the coach now. We are working on the training table and offseason issues. Now, fix the schedule, and put this program back on the map with the marquee games that we need to prove that ND football is back.

6) When did Mike Holmgren get this genius label for building NFL franchises?? I must have missed the memo on that. Yes, he won the Super Bowl in Green Bay, but he had Ron Wolf as his GM. And when he was in Seattle, he got FIRED as the GM!! They were basically a .500 team in his first four years as head coach/GM in Seattle, so he got the GM role stripped out from under him. He ended up going to the Super Bowl and coaching some decent teams, but he was just the coach.

Everyone seems to want him in this Bill Parcells "VP of Football Operations" role. I don't get it. Mike Holmgren is a good coach, but not a good GM. I could understand bringing him in as a coach with another guy as your personnel man, but I don't see him as this Bill Parcells personnel genius at all. He did it one other time in Seattle and failed at it.

Then again, I could care less what the Browns do now that Brady Quinn has flamed out. They can go 4-12 every year for all I care, so go ahead and bring in Mike Holmgren and let him run the show. Enjoy more mediocrity.

5) I was admittedly more intrigued by some of the other names being floated around for the Cincinnati job (Al Golden, Skip Holtz, Kevin Sumlin, etc), but I think Cincy made a good hire with Butch Jones. I was really impressed with his press conference. Reminds me of Brian Kelly in a lot of ways. High energy, and real big on player development. He also worked at the knee of Rich Rodriguez in his days at West Virginia, and seems to run the same exact offense as Brian Kelly did. I think he's the perfect fit for what Cincy is looking for.

CMU had a nice squad this year and actually beat Michigan State on the road early in the year. If you're a Michigan State fan, how much does it bum you out that you hired Mark Dantonio when there were two promising coaches available right up the road at Central Michigan in Brian Kelly and Butch Jones??

I don't know what's going on up at Central Michigan, but that program has suddenly become the new Cradle of Coaches. The Chips have turned into the premier program in the MAC. Somewhere Miami(Ohio) fans are sobbing into their Brooks Brothers shirts. Sad times these days in Oxford.

I'm also glad to see Cincy accepting that they are a steppingstone program and going out and hiring the best young coach they could find. The biggest mistake UC could have made would have been to hire one of the Kelly assistants or some other retread just because he might have stuck around longer. I would rather get 3-5 great years out of a guy like Kelly or Butch Jones (if he works out) and risk the possibility of him leaving than hiring some guy like Phil Fulmer and getting 8 mediocre years out of him. Same with a UC assistant. These "interim turned head coach" hires never work out.

Cincy understands what they are. They can be a very good Big East program going forward, and hopefully Butch Jones takes them back to the BCS someday. If he does that and leaves for Michigan in five years, so be it.

4) Lots of speculation on Manti Te'o's future lately with some talk about him possibly making a decision on a mission by the end of the week. From Eric Hansen's Twitter:

Manti could take a 2-year mission, a 1-year mission or no mission at all. Brian did add that Manti is very happy at Notre Dame.

This is about all I can ask for. Sounds like he will be back at Notre Dame no matter what he decides to do.

I think Te'o will be back at ND next fall. I've been following this guy's every word since the day he became interested in ND, and I got the impression when he signed with ND that the mission was not his top priority. The BYU coach sort of hinted at that, and it seems like his camp is aware of the effect that a mission would have on his possible NFL prospects.

3) I absolutely loved that "The U" documentary on ESPN after the Heisman ceremony. One of the best sports films I've watched.

College football badly needs Miami to become great again. Same with FSU. How long has it been since either of those teams was really good?? Since the 2002 OSU-Miami game??

It was amazing how dominant Miami was in their heyday. They may never get back to that level again, but they made college football more interesting when they were great. I would rather watch a 9-3 Miami team in a BCS bowl than a 12-0 TCU or Boise team any day of the week.

If I had to pick 4 programs that college football really needs to be great again (and by great, I mean truly dominant and compelling), I'd pick these four:

1) Notre Dame
2) Miami
3) Michigan
4) Florida State

Nebraska would be another one, but I don't think Nebraska is ever getting back to what they once were. There is no excuse for Miami and Florida State to be this mediocre with all the talent in the state of Florida. They should be competing for national championships almost every year.

I've never been an FSU fan, but I actually hope Jimbo Fisher does well down there in Tallahassee. Randy Shannon is doing a nice job so far in building the Miami program, but the jury is still out on how high he can take them.

I'm tired of these Big 12 teams every year in the title game. It was actually sort of funny to see these Big 12 teams getting wiped out by Miami year after year in the documentary. Don't nothin ever change!! Bring back The U on the national scene, and college football will be better for it.

Mark your calendars now: September 11, 2010 in Columbus, Ohio. Miami(FL) at Ohio State. WOW. Should be two top 10 teams squaring off there.

2) I wrote at length on this Big Ten expansion topic over the summer, but wanted to chime in again since it sounds like the Big Ten is really serious about adding a 12th team within the next couple years. Ever since this story came out, the Midwest has been buzzing on this topic. It's been the #1 story in Columbus the last few days with all sorts of people weighing in on who they'd like to see in the Big Ten.

The more I've thought about this issue, the more I think there are only a handful of schools that would be worthwhile for the Big Ten. If the Big Ten is going to add a 12th team, it's going to have to be worth it from a financial perspective. They'd be splitting the television pie to one extra team, so they better get it right and make a big splash. If you grab Pitt and their football program goes into the tank, suddenly you have Pitt eating up a share of the Big Ten financial pie and not bringing anything to the table.

I know the Big Ten wants a 12th team as soon as possible to be able to play a championship game, but I just don't think it makes any sense to rush into a relationship with someone like Cincy or Louisville or Syracuse or Rutgers just for the sake of expansion. Not one of those teams has the clout to give the Big Ten an extra chip at the bargaining table for television revenues, and they don't really do much for the football side to add prestige to the league.

I'm not even sure Missouri is worth it for the Big Ten. I've read that they'd be interested, but does Missouri add a big punch to the league for football or basketball?? Ehh. It's like you just added another Wisconsin/Iowa/Illinois type program. Good fit, but not splashy.

The Big Ten has taken such a credibility hit in recent years that I almost think they need to hit a home run if they go for expansion. I'd be talking to three schools: Nebraska, Texas, and Notre Dame. If you can't get any of those three, you just hold out until the landscape changes.

Nebraska gives you the rabid football fans and great tradition. I'm picturing an Ohio State-Nebraska Big Ten championship game in the Lucas Oil Dome or Soldier Field and getting excited about it. That would be phenomenal. I think the Big Ten could pull be an attractive fit for Nebraska. The money and academic reputation in the Big 10 are going to be enticing for anyone.

Texas and ND are probably pipe dreams, but I'd make those two turn you down before moving on. And if you got even the slightest hint that either of them would be interested but not for 5+ years, then I'd wait.

You never know. I've heard rumblings that Texas is not that crazy about their relationship with the Big 12. You can't beat their combination of academics, grad programs, and athletics.

As for ND, I'll save those thoughts for another post, but put it this way. ND adds publicity, financial power, and national appeal to the Big Ten overnight. And we're sitting right smack in the heart of Big Ten country. We are their Bob Stoops candidate. I would prefer to see ND as an independent, but I think we will listen to the Big Ten if they make an offer that we can't turn down.

Should be interesting. I would not be shocked if the Big Ten made a push to land more than one team. If they could somehow convince Texas, ND, and Nebraska to join the Big Ten, it would suddenly be the most prestigious conference in America.

1) Time for an NFL power poll to close this post. This is the most NFL I've watched in several years, so I'm counting down my top 10 teams in the NFL based on what I've seen. Not necessarily where they stand right now, but how I'd rank them in terms of being a contender for the Super Bowl.

1) New Orleans -- Saints just seem like the total package this year. Throw in the homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, and they are in great shape to get to the Super Bowl.

I'm excited about the NFC Playoffs this year. The possibility of a Philly-Minnesota NFC Divisional game with the winner going to New Orleans to play the Saints is tantalizing. This is the first year in a long long time where I really feel like the NFC is stronger from top to bottom than the AFC.

2) San Diego -- Maybe this is absurd to put them at #2, but if I had to make a pick right now on who I would take out of the AFC to go to the Super Bowl, I'm going with San Diego. The Chargers are the hottest team in the NFL. Look at who they have beaten on this 8 game run:

@ New York
Philly
@ Denver
@ Dallas

They couldn't go to Indy and win there?? Child please. They've already beaten Indy twice in the playoffs in the last few years.

I'm just really impressed with the Chargers, and thought they looked outstanding against the Cowboys. Aggressive defense, good offensive line, great skill guys. They run it with LaDanian, stretch the field with Vincent Jackson, and then just pound it underneath with Antonio Gates. I am amazed at how often they throw long. You don't really see NFL teams taking that many chances way down the field out of fear of a turnover, but the Chargers seem to throw the bomb once a drive. And it works. They had the Cowboys completely rattled, and it opened up all kinds of room for Gates to maneuver.

Rivers is a great player. Maybe he's not Manning, but he's perfect for that offense. He throws the ball down the field as well as anyone in the league.

The Chargers don't have any real weaknesses, and they have the difference makers (Rivers, LT, Gates, Merriman) that you need in the playoffs. Gates is tremendous. He runs and catches the ball like a receiver.

Looking forward to watching the Chargers this weekend against the Bengals.

3) Indianapolis -- The Colts sort of remind me of the Cleveland Cavaliers with Lebron. One of those teams that is built more for the regular season than the playoffs. Manning basically refuses to let them lose in the regular season, so they always end up putting up gaudy win totals in the regular season. How many times in the last decade have we seen the Colts in this position where they are sitting at 13-0, 12-1 and resting starters the last couple weeks?? It seems like it happens almost every year.

The Cavs are the same way. Lebron is so dominant that he can carry the Cavs to 60+ wins in the regular season, but once they got to the playoffs last year, they ran into teams that had more difference makers. The Magic were trotting out 3 legitimate difference makers (Lewis, Turkoglu, and Howard), and the Cavs had no answer other than Lebron. Lebron could put up 45, and they'd still lose by 10. In the regular season, the Cavs can pile up the wins against the mediocre teams because of Lebron. But against the elite teams, they struggle.

The Colts are the same way. Manning is the best player in the NFL. Hands down. He's the QB of the decade, maybe all time. But the rest of that team is just ok. One great receiver, good line, ok backs, pretty good defense. Not a lot of difference makers on their defense or offensive line. Who are people afraid of on the Colts besides Manning?? Austin Collie?? Cmon. When they won the Super Bowl, the Colts had guys like Bob Sanders and Dwight Freeney in his heyday and Addai was a beast in those playoffs. They had more difference makers. Now, it's just Manning lugging around this crew on his shoulders.

The playoffs in any sport is all about your difference makers. All these teams are good once you get to the playoffs, and everyone is "up" for all those games. With everyone bringing their "A" games, the team with the most unguardable/unhittable/uncoverable/unblockable guys is probably going to win the championship. In baseball, it's about your starting pitching and a couple big boppers. In basketball, it's having a stud lead guard like Kobe and a stud low post guy like Pau Gasol. In football, it's about your quarterback but also those unblockable defensive ends/OLBs and a dominant safety and receivers who can't be covered and maybe a left tackle who snuffs out everything. I'm not sure if the Colts have those pieces.

The Colts are really good, but the Chargers have a deeper and more dangerous roster.

4) Minnesota -- Had a chance to watch Minnesota up close and personal last week against the Bengals. Talk about difference makers. The Vikes are swimming with those types of guys.

Gamebreaker rb (AP)
pass rushing machine (Jared Allen)
two stud DTs (The Williams)
playmaking WRs (Harvin and Rice and even Berrian)

The Bengals couldn't handle it. Too much talent. Adrian Peterson--my god. He makes it look so easy. The Vikings are loaded with studs.

I like everything about the Vikes but one thing: Brett Favre. Don't get me wrong, Favre is a capable quarterback, but he just can't help himself at times. He threw a horrific interception in the first half just from being greedy and thinking he was still 25 years old. Every time Favre does his big Tim Tebow windup to get ready to fire down the field, it makes me cringe.

The even more concerning thing is that the Vikings seem to be built around Brett Favre. I don't understand it. You've got Adrian Peterson who should be touching it 30 times a game, but he's more of a complementary piece for them than their main hog. Their playcalling seems to be designed around Favre making plays and getting the ball down the field.

Does Childress not see this or is he so mesmerized by Favre that he doesn't want to see it?? I've watched the Vikings one time this year, and I could see by the end of the first half that it was a mistake to build around Favre. Favre is too old to be carrying an NFL.offense. Any talk about him being an MVP candidate is laughable. He's not even one of the ten best quarterbacks in the league.

With all their weapons, Favre should be a background guy who hands it off to Peterson and makes quick throws to get the ball into the hands of Harvin and Rice. Turning him loose is a recipe for a playoff meltdown.

5) Philadelphia -- INTRIGUING!! If you're a Vikings fan, wouldn't you be terrified of playing the Eagles in the 2nd round with all their weapons?? Man, they are explosive.

Every time I see Desean Jackson make a play, I wonder what might have been with him on the Bengals. We passed him up for Jerome Simpson from Coastal Carolina. Ugh.

The Eagles are such a good organization with an extremely underrated head coach. They have completely rebuilt their roster in the last couple drafts.

6) Arizona -- Arizona might be the flakiest team in the league, but would anyone want to play them in the playoffs?? If Warner catches fire again, they can beat anyone. They've already destroyed Minnesota this year, so you know that they are capable of making another run this year.

Plus, as strange as this sounds, Zona has this big game aura about them now after last year's Super Bowl run. Who would have guessed it?? Zona! All they needed was that alpha dog QB and a solid coach. With Warner around, they are legitimate contenders.

7) Green Bay -- Surging. Defense is really coming on with Dom Capers in his second year as defensive coordinator. Packers could easily make some noise in the NFC. I'd love to see a Green Bay-Arizona first round matchup. Aaron Rodgers could go from fantasy stud to NFL superstar if they win a couple games in January.

8) New England -- Purely putting them here on pedigree. The Pats have not played well this year, but you KNOW the Colts don't want any part of New England in the second round. Heck, New England should have won the regular season game in Indy.

If the Pats draw Denver in the first round, Indy fans should be throwing on Broncos jerseys that weekend.

9) Cincinnati -- Maybe I'm just hitting the panic button since I watch them every week, but I think the Bengals peaked a few weeks ago and seem to be limping toward the playoffs. The Bengals are a good club this year, but they don't have that extra gear to be a true contender. They got exposed last week in Minnesota.

Biggest problems:

--passing game -- The passing game has not been the same since Chris Henry went down, and I don't know what's going on with Carson Palmer. Palmer is either hurt or he's just not an elite quarterback anymore. It seemed like he was really hitting his stride earlier in the year, but he has played poorly of late. Sailing passes, poor decisions, hesitant. The Bengals threw for 90 yards last week. That's not going to get it done. You gotta be able to move the ball through the air to score in the NFL.

--lack of playmakers -- Lavernaeus Coles has been a monster bust (could have seen that coming), and Andre Caldwell is not an NFL #3 WR. There were probably 5-6 times against the Vikes where Palmer had time to throw and no one was open. That can't happen. Palmer needs someone to throw to besides Chad Johnson.

Chad is having a great year and has been a warrior, but he's not the big play guy that he once was. And he's getting no help. Everyone is triple covering Chad because there's no one else who can get open.

Biggest offseason issue to address this year is finding another playmaker in the passing game (especially with Chris Henry out of the picture). I'd be looking at a guy like Jermaine Gresham at tight end to give Carson an underneath target, or I'd be scouting the SEC for the next Percy Harvin/Desean Jackson duel threat multi purpose guy. Or both. The Bengals need guys who are tough to cover in the passing game. I know they are a run-oriented team now (which I support), but they cannot afford to go into 2010 with Coles and Caldwell as their #2 and #3 receiving targets.
--coaching -- Ugh. Penalties, unimaginative playcalling, horrible game management. Marvin does some things very well, but he still has some tendencies that would make me very leery of betting on him in the playoffs. Teams have adjusted to the Bengals and Marvin has not responded well. Should be interesting to see if he can get them back on track.

The Bengals would have to play a perfect game to beat someone like San Diego or Indy, and I don't think they have that in them.

10) Tennessee -- This one is a complete flier, but what the heck. I'm not really crazy about anyone else in the playoff picture (Dallas, BMore, Denver, etc). If there's one team out there in wildcard land that could go nuts in the playoffs, I think it would be Tennessee. Sign me up for Chris Johnson and VY in the playoffs right now. Don't think they'll make it, but I'd love to see it. Chris Johnson is the most electrifying player in the NFL in ten years.

If the Titans snuck in and got the 6 seed, I honestly think they should be favored against the Bengals in round one. Something like Tennessee -1.5.

Happy holidays!

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.

December 10, 2009

Dream Job: Thoughts, comments, and concerns about Brian Kelly at Notre Dame on everything from academics to fit to expectations and more

10) Is there a better purpose for the Internet than a college football head coaching search?? These head coaching searches have become like a sport in themselves. Between the message boards and blogs and Twitter and old school newspapers, I don't even know what to believe. The message boards are the best. Is there a coach in America who hasn't been rumored for the Notre Dame job in the last two weeks??

I'll admit that I bought into the Stoops rumors. I bought into these wild stories about Eddie Debartolo and Bill Warren making Godfather offers to Stoops, but now I don't think there's any real truth to them. Maybe ND contacted Stoops, but I don't think we were even on his radar. The only reason Stoops didn't put an end to it right away is because he has this policy about not talking about other jobs. Look at how many times he tried to end the speculation. He said Monday that he was staying, the rumors didn't die, he said Tuesday that he was staying, the rumors still didn't die, he then literally started mocking us by joking with reporters that he was calling from South Bend, the rumors continued, and finally he just had enough and put out a statement that he was not coming to ND.

Now, maybe it was all some negotiating ploy, but I don't buy it. I don't think we ever really discussed terms, and I don't buy the rumor that Stoops made demands on Res Life or academic exemptions or whatever. If we were at the point where we were actually discussing that stuff, a deal would have been done. No way we let Bob Stoops slip through our fingers over a couple academic exemptions. The more likely story is that Stoops was never even on the radar.

The other thing that's funny about all the Stoops rumors is this: We heard all these "insider" guys on the message boards saying that Stoops was close and all this stuff. It seemed like everyone had some cousin who worked in the athletic department or had a "source" who was close to Stoops. Once Stoops officially denied us, what happened to all these supposed "insiders" with updates on who else we were targeting? They are nowhere to be found. If they knew so much about the Stoops pursuit, why didn't they know anything about what was going on with Kelly or other candidates?? People were literally talking specifics on the Stoops front, and now it's all quiet and we're all in the dark??

My guess is that a bunch of people were full of garbage and rumors started spreading wild. Suddenly, everything was "friend of a friend of a friend" when the reality is that we were all spreading the same false rumors.

I admit that I bought into it all and spread a million rumors myself, but I don't think Stoops was ever strongly considering the ND job.

9) So on to Brian Kelly. Everyone has discussed his record at this point. You don't just go 12-0 by blind luck. He must be doing something right down there at UC. They're winning games at Pitt and at Oregon State and South Florida and beating teams like West Virginia and Rutgers. Not exactly murderer's row or anything, but he's coaching at Cincinnati!! When has Cincinnati ever expected to beat any of those teams, let alone ALL of them??

I like this hire. Kelly has the type of personality and charisma that we haven't had on that ND sideline since Holtz, and you can't argue with his track record. I have some concerns (which I'll get to below), but I think he's going to bring a ton of energy and discipline to this Notre Dame program.

Of course, ND fans are going to one of their favorite tactics to bash Kelly. Straw men!! Nothing like a good straw man to bring this guy down a few notches and rain on the parade.

My favorite straw man to emerge about Kelly is that he's "never beaten a major power." People cite their blowout loss at Oklahoma as some sort of major red flag against Brian Kelly like he's a complete failure for getting blown out at Oklahoma.

Are people for real with this nonsense?? IT'S OKLAHOMA!!! The Oklahoma Sooners coached by Mr. Superstar Dream Boy Coach, Bob Stoops. People expected Kelly to take his rag tag crew to Norman and hang with OU?? Cmon, that's absurd. Oklahoma has superstar players up and down their roster. Brian Kelly has guys like Demetrius Jones starting at OLB and 260 pound defensive tackles.

I remember that OU game. Cincy was actually in the game for a half. The fact that they were even in the game at all is a sign that Kelly had them prepared. They just ran out of gas. Oklahoma was a top 5 team that year and borderline unbeatable at home. They aren't losing at home to Cincy.

There is no coach in America who would have taken that UC team to Norman and won that game. Not Stoops. Not Urban. Not Saban. Not Ara Parseghian. NO ONE. Cincinnati doesn't win at Oklahoma. It doesn't happen. Period.

If you don't like Kelly, fine. But don't bring up ridiculous stuff like "he couldn't win at Oklahoma" for bashing the guy.

The other one I find hilarious is the argument that Kelly won't be able to handle ND's "tough" schedules and that coaching in the Big East isn't analogous to ND's schedules. Man, that is rich.

Ummm................are we sure we're talking about the same Notre Dame program that I'm thinking about?? The ND that's playing FIVE mid-majors next year?? The ND that's playing two heavyweights next year and indefinitely into the future?? The ND that loads up on mediocre Big Ten teams and Big East teams??

Again, look at our 2010 schedule.

S04 PURDUE
S11 MICHIGAN
S18 @ Michigan St.
S25 STANFORD
O02 @ Boston College
O09 PITTSBURGH
O16 WESTERN MICHIGAN
O23 @ Navy (NY/NJ)
O30 TULSA
N13 UTAH
N20 ARMY (Yankee Stadium)
N27 @ Southern Cal

Man, how is Kelly going to deal with coaching against Tulsa and Army and Western Michigan?? BRUTAL!! How is he going to do it?? I can't even imagine. Oh wait, he was the head coach at Central Michigan and smoked those teams there and has done the same at UC.

And how is he going to coach against Pittsburgh?? Those juggernauts!! Oh wait, I forgot he's beaten them three years in a row. Whoops.

And my god, PURDUE!! OH NO!! I bet Brian Kelly just crawled into the fetal position thinking about those mighty Boilermakers. Never mind that UC just destroyed a bad Big Ten team like Illinois this year.

I mean, come on now. This ain't your older brother's Notre Dame. ND plays watered-down schedules these days. Other than USC, this schedule is no different from what you see at Cincinnati. Yes, USC will be a very tough game for ND, but when has it not been a tough game for ND?? It would be a tough game for Bob Stoops too. The same Bob Stoops who lost to USC 55-19 in the Orange Bowl. Plus, UC went to Corvallis this year and beat Oregon State. Oregon State is not USC of course, but they play power football just like the Trojans. Why couldn't Kelly prepare his ND teams to do the same thing and beat USC??

Hilarious. You gotta love our fans. There are folks out there just grasping at any straw to bring down Kelly, and somehow keep finding new ways to make up dumb strawmen without informed facts.

Nothing like the Notre Dame fanbase. Hands down the dumbest fanbase in America.

8) Here's another argument that needs to be debunked:

"Kelly doesn't know how to coach defense."

Wait, you mean the Brian Kelly who got his start as a defensive coordinator?? That Brian Kelly doesn't know anything about defense?? I went to 3 UC games in 2008, and their defense was good. Good secondary, stopped the run, great pass rush. Kelly turned Connor Barwin from a chump tight end into an early 2nd round draft pick at defensive end with the Houston Texans. Barwin was like a college version of Jared Allen. Unblockable. UC had several guys who got drafted from their defense. I went to the UC-Pitt game last year at Nippert, and UC shut down LeSean McCoy.

Admittedly their defense collapsed this year, but it also might have been a product of not having any talent or depth. Their nose tackle weighs 260 pounds and Demetrius freaking Jones is their starting outside linebacker.

Put Kelly at ND with better athletes and depth, and I think it could be a different story. I also think he'll revisit the switch to the 3-4 defense and decide if that's really where he wants to go in the future.

I could also see Kelly switching several offensive recruits to defense right away. He did that when he got to UC. First candidate: Cierre Wood. We need two black safeties next year. Put Cierre Wood at safety in the winter, get him fired up, and maybe he becomes a playmaker next year for this group. We got KILLED in the passing game last year, and I think it had something to do with a lack of playmakers in the secondary.

I'll throw out another guy who could be a star next year. KERRY NEAL. Get that guy flying up field and making plays like Barwin did at Cincy. I hope Kelly lights a fire under Kerry Neal and KLM all offseason.

I hope Kelly comes in and puts a premium on being extremely physical on defense. He should just spend all offseason talking to Bo Pelini.

7) Another thing I like about Kelly is that he's not an ideologue. Even though I love Jim Harbaugh and think he would be a superstar at ND, he's one of those guys who would rather go down doing it "his way" and running it for 300 yards while losing the game than just going with the flow and finding a way to get it done.

Kelly seems like one of those "just win, baby" guys who doesn't have the ego to stubbornly stick to some bogus game plan or system. He will adapt to the circumstances and build his team around what they do best. I think it's because of Kelly's political background. In that world, you have to be willing to change it up on the fly, and Kelly is one of the best I've seen at making adjustments that end up winning games. Isn't that what it's all about ultimately?? Winning games??

Two perfect examples jump to mind from this season:

--Tony Pike goes down in the South Florida game -- UC goes to a zone read spread option with Zack Collaros almost on the fly and the offense doesn't even skip a beat. If anything, they were even more effective offensively. How many other teams would have completely folded under those circumstances??

--Pitt was gashing Cincy on the ground for the first half -- UC goes to a run blitz in the second half to take away the run, and actually did just enough to slow down Pitt to catch up and win the game in the fourth quarter.

Did UC's defense play well against Pitt? No, not at all. But Kelly found a way to do enough to get a couple stops out of his defense and put his team in a position to come back and win the game. To me, that's why you have a head coach. He can make a little adjustment to pull out a game. It's a nice weapon to have. Kelly seems to be a master at doing it.

It's not rocket science. It's just common sense adjustments to win a game. Believe it or not, a lot of coaches don't do this stuff. Coaches love to overcomplicate things.

Some would say this sounds too much like Weis. A guy with no system who game plans and schemes every week to win games instead of paying attention to solid, fundamentally sound football. I think there's a major difference though. Weis "adjusted" on the fly quite often in games, but it was more like he just defaulted back to the one thing that he was comfortable with: No-huddle passing and trying to outscore everyone. We did that every game whenever things started going bad. Weis had nothing else in his arsenal. We never had a new wrinkle on defense or special teams to make a play and turn the tide.

We almost always got outadjusted at halftime under Weis. We lost the Michigan game in the 3rd quarter when they shut down our screen game and got us off track. By the time we got back on track, we were already down by double digits. And we never did figure out a way to stop their offense. Teams routinely would make adjustments at halftime to slow us down offensively, and we never countered.

When I've watched Cincy play, they've generally owned the 1st and 3rd quarters. To me, that's a sign of good coaching. I don't think people remember what it's like to see a well-coached football team at Notre Dame. We don't remember what it's like to see teams that make good adjustments at halftime or win a game with special teams or come out on the road and hang tough. We haven't done anything like that on a consistent basis in a long time.

Kelly keeps things simple. He's a guy who focuses on execution and preparation and motivation instead of schemes and things like that. The first thing that really jumped out at me about Kelly was before his first season at Cincinnati when his players were saying how well prepared they felt going into every game and how they really felt an edge that they didn't feel under Mark Dantonio. Does it get any more simple to explain Kelly's success than that??

I think that factor alone is a big reason to feel optimistic about Kelly at Notre Dame.

6) Now while I have generally been a Brian Kelly supporter and think he has a chance to be successful at ND, there are a few things of course that are giving me pause just a little bit.

1) Does Kelly really know what he's getting himself into from an instituational standpoint??

Brian Kelly is the ultimate "subway alum." Irish Catholic guy who grew up in Boston. He probably thinks of ND the way way he did back when he was 12 years old watching Ara and Terry Hanratty when ND was the ultimate college football program. He thinks of those gold helmets and the fight song and Touchdown Jesus. This is ND!! The "dream job." The pinnacle of college football for a guy like Kelly.

And from a competitive standpoint, he's probably thinking "Look at me winning all these games at Cincinnati. Put me at ND with their tradition and fans and built-in advantages, and I could be unbelievable!"

I think Weis felt the same way when he came to ND. He didn't know any better. That's why he said all that stuff about "they should fire me if I don't win a championship in five years" and all that. I think he really believed that. He figured ND was like it was in 1977 when he was a student. He thought ND was the same ND it's always been and that all it needed was a good coach and the championships would start flowing back to South Bend.

The problem is that the ND of 2005 isn't like the ND of 2009 when Weis and Kelly grew up thinking that ND was the best program in football.

Back in 1975, there were no football factories. You could go to ND, get an education, and also play championship football. There weren't all these training tables and other little edges. Everyone was operating on the same playing field, and ND happened to get the best high school talent. So we won. A lot.

The problem is that the rest of college football has changed immeasurably since those days, but ND is still stuck in that era. I'm not saying it's a bad thing to have true student-athletes, but most programs don't operate that way. Maybe Northwestern, Stanford, Duke, Vandy,etc but none of those programs have championship aspirations. ND still wants to be perceived as a major college football program, but we haven't really acted like it for a long time. A concept as simple as a training table (which is standard at most schools now and has been for a long time) is only now looking like a possibility and only after the idea was thoroughly vetted by the collars. Things like Res Life are obstacles that scared off Urban Meyer and maybe even Bob Stoops.

Is Brian Kelly aware of all this?? Does he know what he's getting himself into?? If so, does he have a plan to overcome those challenges or is he going to be overwhelmed by them like Ty and Davie and even Weis were??

Coaching at ND is no longer just about coaching football. There are a hundred things on your plate that you probably don't have at any other school. As strange as it sounds, that's why I continue to believe Harbaugh would have been a better fit culturally. Harbaugh is a loose cannon, but he is a guy who seems to identify with these academic schools. I was listening to Mike and Mike on ESPN the other day, and Greenberg had an interesting story about Harbaugh telling the Chicago media before the 92 Michigan-Duke NCAA championship game that he was rooting for Duke to beat Michigan because he was friends with Coach K. UM fans were outraged of course, but it just kind of goes along with the whole Harbaugh "go your own way" mentality. I don't think he likes the "football factory" scene. I think he appreciates and understands what a school like ND is all about. He's the type of guy who would embrace ND's tough academic standards but also work within those parameters to find a way to build tough teams and win games.

The question is whether can Kelly win with academic-oriented players. Does he know what it's like to have true student-athletes?? Yes, Kelly will get better high school players than he has had at Cincy and CMU, but they are also expected to be students at ND.

That's the thing about UC. They don't have a lot of pedigreed high school recruits, but they do have a lot of shaky academic guys who actually have talent but couldn't get accepted at a Big Ten school. A guy like Mardy Gilyard did not get offers from the big state schools because of concerns about academics and things like that even though he is as talented as just about anyone on our roster. Gilyard will be an NFL wide receiver next year. Maybe he wasn't a Rivals 5 star because of grades or eligibility issues, but he's a five star type talent.

At UC, you can bring in whoever you want. At ND, it's not even close to that. You couldn't find two more different schools than Cincinnati and Notre Dame.

Does Kelly know how to operate at a place like ND?? You can't get guys like Mardy Gilyard. You take guys like John Goodman at ND. Goodman is a good player, but he's a different kind of player from Mardy Gilyard. You need to be able to win with the Goodmans at ND.

One thing that pleases me on that front is that Kelly has apparently asked for admissions exceptions and more control over the program. If he is asking for this stuff, he must know that it is an issue and has a plan for how to overcome it. I hope that ND gives Kelly these concessions.

Memo to the collars: No one is asking for ND to turn into South Florida North. We don't want a renegade program. But there is a middle ground here that we should explore. Let the coach handle the football team and stay out of the way as long as he graduates players and doesn't have a team full of thugs running around committing crimes. We hired this guy to do his job and win football games. Give him the control that he needs to do it.

5) The other concern that I have is that as successful as Kelly has been, it almost feels like we know very little about the guy and what he's all about as a head coach. His basic philosophy is "winning games," but what goes into that?? What goes into this winning philosophy that will translate at Notre Dame??

Plus, he basically has zero pedigree in the coaching world. He's completely a self-made man. I don't know who his coaching influences are. I don't know who he learned football from. Did he just read a bunch of books about it?? How has he succeeded in football with no real mentors?? And if he does have mentors, who are they??

Think about the top coaches in the game today. They all seem to have worshipped at the knee of some other coach:

Urban Meyer -- grew up at the knee of Earle Bruce at Ohio State and Lou Holtz at ND
Nick Saban -- Belichick disciple
Bob Stoops -- played at Iowa, coached under Bill Snyder and Steve Spurrier; grew up in a coaching family in Ohio
Jim Tressel -- dad was a coach; part of the Woody Hayes/Earle Bruce coaching tree
Pete Carroll -- coached under Lou Holtz and Earle Bruce (noticing a pattern on those two?)

We knew what these coaches were all about when they got hired because we know who their influences were. We know that a guy like Jim Tressel is going to win games with defense and ball control offenses. We know a guy like Urban Meyer is going to emphasize toughness and discipline and attention to detail. We know that a guy like Bob Stoops is going to have an array of contacts from his KSU and Florida and Iowa days to put together a top notch staff.

With Kelly, he may have all those same qualities, but where did he develop this coaching acumen?? We really have no idea.

4) Two names terrify me when I think of Brian Kelly:

1) Billy Gillespie
2) Dan Hawkins

Gillespie pops into my head because Gillespie had a very similar background when he got hired. He was one of those guys who showed up at downtrodden programs and quickly built UTEP and Texas A&M into winners. When UK hired him, it was easy to look at his A&M and UTEP days and say "all this guy does is win!! If he can win at A&M, he is going to be a monster at Kentucky!"

No one really did their due diligence to find out more about Gillespie other than that "he wins." But why does he win?? Who are his influences?? What kind of offense does he want to run?? How will he handle elite athletes?? How will he handle the pressure?? How will he handle playing the big games when everyone is giving you their best shot??

Gillespie turned out to be a disaster at Kentucky because this "all he does is win" stuff didn't translate to Kentucky.

It just feels awfully familiar to this Kelly thing. Kelly is this self-made guy who has won a bunch of games in lesser conferences, but how do we know that ND won't be one rung too high on the coaching ladder??

The Big East is a good league and gets an unfair bad rap, but it's a different league than what you see around the rest of college football. Most of the Big East teams don't have the big time personnel, so they win with spread schemes and smaller lines and speed on the edges. The WRs in the Big East are as big as the linebackers. Brian Kelly is like the perfect coach for the Big East. His type of offense with an emphasis on getting the ball to playmakers in space is a perfect fit in that league. Time of possession isn't as big of a deal in the Big East because no one is big enough on the lines to wear another team out.

The risk for ND continuing to play a finesse style of ball is when you go back to back with Michigan and Michigan State early in the year and play USC and BC later in the year and then a big SEC team in the bowl games. Those teams have big lines and 250 pound linebackers, and they're going to beat up your lines if you play finesse pass-oriented football. We saw it with Weis and I fear that we'd see it again with Kelly.

ND needs to be able to play power football at least to some degree. ND is a school with big, slow offensive linemen and big power running backs. We need to be able to play power football with the personnel we have. We have been pushed around for 8 years now between the Ty and the Weis eras. Soft offenses, soft defenses, horrible special teams. I'm tired of seeing ND getting pushed around. We need to become tougher and more physical.

The other thing about power football is that it preserves your defense. If you can run the ball and eat clock, your defense stays off the field. We might not have Alabama's talent on defense, but we can get away with it if they are taking fewer snaps and playing with more energy because of our ball control offense. Passing on every down lengthens the game, and gives your opponent more possessions. It's not some coincidence that Weis' teams have completely collapsed in the second half of the year. The defense was worn out, and we lost games in the fourth quarter. And look at what you have with Brian Kelly's teams. Same issues popping up. Second half of the year has been a problem for Cincy's defense this year.

The good news is that Kelly is not an ideologue and may have a different philosophy if he ends up at ND. He actually had more of a power run attack in his days at Central Michigan, so maybe he would revert back to that style of play at ND. He seems like the type of coach who adjusts his system around the personnel he has. I prefer that type of coach, and it seems like Kelly operates that way.

The other name that terrifies me even more than Billy Gillespie is the name Dan Hawkins. Now, I personally don't think we are getting the next Dan Hawkins. Kelly has proven that he can win at multiple stops and build programs quickly from the scrap heap. Hawkins had no such track record.

But there are some rumblings out there that this Jeff Quinn guy (who is Kelly's offensive line coach and offensive coordinator) is something of a savant and possibly the brains behind the Kelly machine. I have no idea if this is true, but it's been rumored in a few different places.

Scary thought. What if this Jeff Quinn guy really is the key to the Kelly operation and doesn't follow Kelly to ND?? What if he becomes the head coach at UC?? What if he ends up landing a job as a head coach in the MAC or something like that?? If it turns out that Kelly is just some figurehead "motivator" and that he's nothing without Quinn, we'd basically be hiring the next Dan Hawkins.

That terrifies me. Even if Quinn is not as important to Kelly as the rumor mill indicates, I'm hoping that he ends up being our offensive coordinator just to cover our bases.

3) Some thoughts on expectations. I keep reading stuff from ND fans saying "Brian Kelly won't win a championship at Notre Dame" as a reason to avoid him. Ummm, is that even the standard anymore?? I'm more than comfortable saying that our days as a national power are over. Watch that Bama-Florida game and tell me that we're ever getting to that level again. I don't see it. We're fighting a losing battle with demographics. We might get a couple southern kids, but not the Bama/Florida type athletes up and down our roster. It's plain as day to anyone with a pair of eyeballs. Bama and Florida have speed and talent all over the field. We have two white safeties. Period.

People keep talking about "high expectations" as a deterrent for the Notre Dame job. Are expectations really that high?? Remember, we gave a STANDING OVATION after a LOSS to an 8-4 USC team. I was in the stands clapping with the rest of the 80,000 on their feet applauding the Irish for a close loss. Imagine the reaction in Gainesville after losing a home game. People would not be applauding a close loss to anyone.

Not only are ND's standards not all that high, I think they're too low. People talk about 2005 and 2006 like they were the glory days. If Weis had produced a steady stream of 9-3 type seasons the last few years, he would not even be sniffing the hot seat today. In fact, we'd probably be working on an extension as we speak. The only reason Weis got fired is because he couldn't even sniff 9-3 in his last three years. 3-9, 6-6, 6-6 is about as bad as you can do at a school like ND. He didn't get fired because of "high expectations." He got fired because he was awful and went 15-21 in his last three years. If those numbers were reversed and he was 21-15 in his last three years (5-7, 7-5, 9-3), he would not have been fired. That averages out to 7-5. Those are high expectations??

ND fans probably have the lowest expectations of any major football power. 9-3 at Florida is a bad year. 9-3 at Ohio State has people all up in arms about Jim Tressel and demanding that he fire some of his staff. 9-3 at USC is a disaster and causes 25,000 empty seats at the Colisseum. 9-3 at Texas is a "rebuilding" year. 9-3 at Oklahoma has Bob Stoops sweating and fake listening to other offers just to get fans back on his side.

At ND, 9-3 is good enough. 9-3 gets you standing ovations after a close loss to USC. 9-3 gets your name chanted during the 1812 overture. 9-3 gets you to a New Years Day bowl game. 9-3 gives you hope on the recruiting trail. 9-3 makes you think "we're going to be preseason top five next year!"

People hate hearing this, but the closest sports comparison to ND right now is the Chicago Cubs. The expectations are not to win the BCS title or win big games. It's to beat BC and Michigan State (the Milwaukee Brewers and the Houston Astros), to win 9 or so games (win the NL Central), recruit some highly-ranked prospects (sign Alfonso Soriano to show a "commitment" to winning), and to give us hope for next year ("It's gonna happen!").

I'll be the first to admit that I have a Cubs-esque attitude about ND these days. I love going up to ND (Wrigley), hanging out on campus (Wrigleyville), going to the Linebacker (The Cubby Bear), hearing the band and Mike Collins in the that glorious stadium (the ivy walls, Harry Carey) , and going to Between the Buns (Murphy's Patio) after the game. The next day, I might head over to Warren and waddle around the links for 18 holes. I want ND to win, but it's not the #1 priority for an ND football weekend. I want to go and have a good time. If we win, great. If not, the beer is still cold.

There's nothing wrong with it, but the ND administration reflects where our fans are. We have a Cubs mindset, and the administration responds accordingly. If there was really that much accountability, ND football wouldn't be as mediocre as it has been the last fifteen years.

The expectations for Kelly will be that he produce consistent winning teams. Davie would win one year, lose the next year. Willingham had one good year and then fell apart. Weis had two solid years and three disastrous years. If any of those guys could have won 8-9 games consistently every single year with an occasional reach into the 10 win range, they would still be here now.

If Kelly goes 9-3 for the next five years, that will be a substantial improvement from what we've had. I think he can do it, and maybe even get us a notch higher.

2) I'm no Jack Swarbrick fan, but calling a Kelly hire a "failure" is ridiculous. Bob Stoops is not coming through that door. Neither is Urban. Kelly is a good football coach. He's the best hire we've had since Holtz. It's perfectly reasonable to think that he can be successful at ND. He's won at Central Michigan and Cincy. This isn't like Davie or Willingham or Weis. None of those guys had any type of track record for consistent success as a head coach. Kelly does. He has far exceeded the traditional standards at Cincy and CMU.

I will definitely support this hire and line up behind Coach Kelly. I will follow recruiting and spring practice and gobble up all the Brian Kelly info out there. And I'll fully admit that I'll probably be guzzling the Kool-Aid by August and start talking myself into 10+ wins.

But I also think it's perfectly reasonable to remain skeptical and cautious about this hire. No one has any idea if he will be a superstar at ND. He could be great, or a giant bust. I will be optimistic, but we've been through this before. And the same restrictions that have held back Weis and Davie and Willingham (Res Life, admissions, PEDs, etc) might still be in place for Kelly. He might not work out for reasons that have nothing to do with his coaching ability.

Stay tuned. I'm already excited for spring practice!!

1) Finally, some thoughts on the Heisman:

My Final Heisman poll:

5) Colt McCoy
4) Toby Gerhart
3) Jeremiah Masoli
2) Ndamukong Suh
1) Mark Ingram

For my money, the most dominant player I've seen this year is Ndamukong Suh. I was blown away by him in the Big 12 championship game. One of the best defensive performances I've ever seen in college football. He was throwing Texas linemen around like rag dolls. I considered putting him at #1 just based on that performance alone.

If I was an NFL team, I think I'd take Suh with the #1 overall pick. He reminds me of Michael Strahan. Just one of those physically dominant guys who relies on brute strength and leverage to get to the quarterback and make plays. Put him at defensive end for the next ten years, and he could be a superstar. Pass rush and stopping the run. That's what it all comes down to on defense in the NFL. A guy like Suh solves both those problems immediately.

One guy who would definitely not get my vote is Colt McCoy. Couldn't have been less impressed with Colt McCoy on Saturday. He has a noodle!! And this is the second time I've seen him wildly uncomfortable with a pass rush. Imagine what he's going to look like against Alabama's pass rush. Yikes. If any NFL team thinks Colt McCoy has a future as an NFL starter, they are just throwing a draft pick down the toilet.

By default, I'm going with Mark Ingram. Even though I think Bama's style of play would make a lot of running backs look good, Ingram has been great all year. He carried me all year to a fantasy college title, and he played his best game in the SEC Championship game. I'm a huge fan of Ingram. Power runner, stays on his feet, very tough. He's the total package. And I can't believe an Alabama player has never won the Heisman.

My vote goes to Ingram.