Wednesday, November 18, 2009

More fodder for the Stoops Rumor Mill Is this your last coaching stop?

Bob Stoops: Oh, who knows? I'm not that old, I guess. I haven't reached 50 yet. So, who knows what's in store, you know?

IBG: "I promise I'm not doing this at work" Edition

To be fair to my dear readers, I'm going to answer these questions slightly out of order, as the last question has a clear impact on the first. Sorry, Sarah.

5. I, for one, was very optimistic at the beginning of the season. Now, at 6-4, I am nearly disgusted with this team, and I admit to some actions regarding Notre Dame football that I never thought I would engage in. I can't imagine I am alone. Have you done anything this season - turn off games at halftime, leave early, not watch at all, etc. - that smack of desperation and disgust with this team?

I, too, was absolutely brimming over with optimism at the beginning of the season. And, like Sarah, I have engaged in actions that I would not normally engage in. There are two things I'm somewhat ashamed of.

First, I was hosting a party during the Pitt game. I had explained to my guests that they were welcome to join me in watching the game, but that I would be glued to the television.

At halftime, however, I was frustrated by the team, and agreed to play a drinking game. A particularly brutal one. I honestly don't remember much of the second half, except that it got worse before it got better, as I was wandering in and out.

The second thing I'm ashamed of is that although I will be done with work with no other plans on Saturday afternoon, I'm not going to the game. I normally make an effort to watch the game at Notre Dame stadium every time that I can. But this week, I just don't want to. I fear the Husky, and don't think my poor heart can take another heartbreaking loss at home. I'll watch it at home on my television.

1. The Pitt loss: give me something good about it, something bad about it, and something ugly about it.

Good: Ummm.... Golden Tate? He's always good. Oh, and current bowl projections put us in the Gator Bowl versus (wait for it...) Miami!

Bad: Where do I start? Running game, tackling fundamentals, flat and uninspired play at the beginning of the game. I could go on and on, but they are all of the same problems that have plagued the Irish since Weis arrived.

Ugly: When was the last time Notre Dame beat a highly ranked opponent? The Irish used to get themselves up for games against the big boys. They used to relish coming out and punching the likes of top-ranked Army, Oklahoma, Michigan, Miami, and USC in the mouth. Now, we can't even eke out a win against a decent but overrated top 10 Pitt team.

Most frustrating for me is that all season Notre Dame looks like the more talented team on the field. Even against USC. But their lack of discipline, absence of commitment to fundamentals, and inability to play smart football keep putting us in position to lose games. The fact that this team is not in national title contention is a disgrace.

2. UConn this week. Does the sellout streak end? Do you care if it does end? And if it does, does this have any meaning beyond it being the end of yet another ND streak during the Charlie Weis era?

It's not just apathy that's keeping me out of the stadium this week. I kind of want the sellout streak to end. I want to send a message to the administration that we do not approve of the mediocrity that has been churned out by every level of administration of this program. From the play of the players on the field, through their preparation and coaching, the scheduling, the Disneyfication of the gameday experience, the Draconian enforcement of alcohol consumption rules, the down-in-front mentality, the handling of coaching searches. Everything. I'm sick of it, and although I love this University, this one week, I'm making my stand.

I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore.

"There has been a surrender at Notre Dame, but it is a surrender to excellence on all fronts, and in this we hope to rise above ourselves with the help of God."
-Fr. Hesburgh

3. UConn is coming off of a bye week, with three losses just before that, including close losses to West Virginia and Cincinnati. The last time they won was just before cornerback Jaspar Howard was killed. These factors - along with ND's sorry performances recently - suggest to me that UConn is a dangerous team for a Notre Dame team that could really use a win going into Stanford. Should I be worried about this game? And what should I be worried about?

As I said before, I fear the Husky. This team is, in a nearly literal sense, a wounded animal. They are fighting through grief and pain, and each heartbreaking loss feels like they've let their fallen comrade down.

Now they are walking into Notre Dame Stadium and facing history's team on hallowed ground. UConn is the definition of nouveau riche in college football, having joined Division I-A (FBS, whatever) in 2000. And now they have a chance to make a statement in the first ever meeting of these two teams.

This Husky team dropped over 40 against Cincinatti, coming within 3 of pulling the upset. And they've had as much experience in close games than we have.

One more intangible to throw into the mix is Zach Frazier's personal desire to show up the coach and team that told him he wasn't good enough, leading to his transfer.

Notre Dame is clearly on the cusp of another coaching change, reduced to playing spoiler and trying to scratch their way into the Gator Bowl. Coach Weis keeps talking about this team's heart. These are the games where you show it.

4. Notre Dame will be seeing a familiar face in UConn quarterback Zach Frazer. Is there anyone who transferred out of Notre Dame, or who the Irish nearly got in the recruiting process, that you think would have made a significant difference on this year's team?

There are so many I could point to, but I think the biggest loss the Irish have suffered was the numerous misses the Irish suffered on the defensive line in Weis' first few recruiting classes. In particular, Gerald McCoy would have been a huge help on this defense.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Another One Bites the Dust

So, here we are, 10 games into Weis' 5th season as head coach of Notre Dame, and we're sitting at 6-4. I don't care what other factors go into the post-season review of Coach Weis, but this team has clearly underachieved. The talent is there, but these kids have shown no significant progress in fundamentals, and that falls squarely on the coaching.

I like Coach Weis. I'm grateful for so many of the great things he has done since he arrived in South Bend. He's rebuilt the foundations of the program and invested him and his family in the South Bend community. He's a good man, and he clearly has a great offensive mind. However, he has not managed to become a complete head football coach. He works tirelessly, but sitting at 6-4 in year 5 is just not good enough. I desperately wanted him to succeed, but at this point, I think it is time to accept that he will not be the head football coach of Notre Dame next year, barring three straight impressive looking wins over UConn, Stanford, and the bowl opponent. And even that may be too little, too late.

So, let's take this opportunity to look at the not-so-short list of potential candidates to replace Coach Weis, in no particular order.

Brian Kelly, Head Coach, University of Cincinnati

I was not a big fan of Kelly's when his name was being bandied about last year. But, he's shown at every stop that he's capable of building a winner in short order. There are some question marks, including his ability to handle national recruiting, admissions standards, etc. But, he reminds me very much of Jim Tressel in his background. I think he's the safest hire on the board.

Urban Meyer, Head Coach, University of Florida

I just don't think this is going to happen. Sue, he's clearly the best candidate out there. And yes, he's repeatedly stated that Notre Dame is his dream job. He has connections to the University, having coached here as an assistant. He's a Catholic named after a pope. But ultimately, he's won multiple titles at a top tier program, and pulling that kind of coup I think is beyond our ability.

Bob Stoops, Head Coach, University of Oklahoma

Stoops is clearly a top tier coach, having taken Oklahoma to a championship, multiple conference championships and BCS bowls. Again, I think luring a coach from a Tier 1 program is not going to happen. And, he does have a bit of history of losing big games. But, if it came to fruition, I'd definitely be excited. Of course, he has no experience with academic standards, and he has had some brushes with the NCAA.

Jon Gruden, Monday Night Football Analyst, former Superbowl winning head coach

Gruden is one of the names that pops up every time we start talking about a potential replacement. He graduated from South Bend Clay while his father was an assistant here. He's won on the biggest stage of them all. He's young, fiery and passionate. He also has no experience coaching in college, and I'd be very wary of bringing in another NFL guy. This team needs someone to coach up these kids on fundamentals.

Paul Johnson, Head Coach, Georgia Institute of Technology

Johnson is one of my personal favorite candidates. He's shown an ability to drill fundamentals into his players, and uses the triple option to great effect at each of his stops. Of course, transitioning back to an option offense may not be the best fit for our current personnel, but he did it at Georgia Tech in no time flat. Not many downsides here.

Mike Shanahan, not currently employed, former 2-time Superbowl winning head coach

Shanahan is my personal favorite darkhorse in this race, even though he is an NFL guy. He has some high-level experience in college coaching before transitioning to the NFL. His system at Denver was extremely consistent, and his ability to generate a running game regardless of running back is very attractive. He's current available, so we could work out a seamless transition. I really like this option, but nobody seems to be talking much about the possibility.

Gary Patterson Head Coach, Texas Christian University

A defensive guy that coaches a team with a very explosive offense, and has built TCU into a national power. He doesn't recruit nationally (he's in Texas, he doesn't have to), but his Texas connections could add to a well-built recruiting machine that's already in place.

Nick Saban, Head Coach, University of Alabama

I'm not sure why Saban's name even comes up, but I've heard it enough times that I feel I should mention it. He's a perfect fit for Alabama - shady coach for a shady program that will do ANYTHING to win and win now. Alabama is still one of the top tier programs, and there is no chance he leaves such a cush job. And I don't want him, I don't care how good he is at coaching. Same reasons I want nothing to do with Pete Carroll.

Jim Harbaugh, Head Coach, Stanford University

Okay, so Harbaugh is a Michigan guy who reportedly does not like Notre Dame at all. But, if you ignore those intangibles, he's the best option on paper. He's quickly rebuilt a Stanford program that has to deal with admissions standards into an impressive team that just beat Pete Carrol's USC team 55-21. And, this wasn't his first time beating the Poodle either. He has a strong running game that sets up the play-action pass. He may be playing his way into an interview at the end of the season.

I'm sure there are others out there that I've missed. If you have any other suggestions, please feel free to leave a comment, and I'll post an addendum.