The Royal Heffernans

Quite possibly the best family ever

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Blame George For Everything!

No this isn't a recap of the Democratic National Conventions of 2008 and 2012, this is an examination of how one "selfish and thoughtless act" led to a 10 year downward spiral for our beloved University of Notre Dame.

Lou Holtz was a great coach. In 11 seasons at Notre Dame, he restored the glory of the 60's and 70's and erased the pain of the Gerry Faust years. Winning 1 National Title and being on the cusp in 5 other seasons, ND nation was happy. But for whatever reasons, Lou had to move on. His self-selected heir, Bob Davie was OK. That's it. He had a couple of nice 9 win seasons, but he wasn't Lou, and that wasn't good enough. His lack of work after that proves ND made the right choice in letting him go.

Enter George O'Leary. O'Leary had been promoted to head coach at Georgia Tech in the midst of a rapid decline after a National Title in 1990 as D-coordinator. He quickly turned things around. He led the Yellow Jackets to a 52-33 record in 7 seasons and 5 straight bowl games, including a Gator Bowl victory over Davie in 1998. He was NCAA Coach of the Year in 2000, and seemed an excellent choice for Notre Dame. His brand of football seemed a very good fit, and similar to the heyday of Holtz. His success at UCF later proves ND made the right choice in intially hiring him.

Five days after being hired, inaccuracies on his resume were discovered. He lied about a Master's degree from a college he took 2 classes at, and lied about earning 3 letters for varsity football at New Hampshire, when he never even played. 
"Due to a selfish and thoughtless act many years ago, I have personally embarrassed Notre Dame, its alumni and fans. In seeking employment I prepared a resume that contained inaccuracies regarding my completion of course work for a master's degree and also my level of participation in football at my alma mater. These misstatement were never stricken from my resume or biographical sketch in later years." 
His swift firing only 5 days later was the first in a cascade of embarrassing events that would lead to 10 miserable years for Notre Dame, which we are now finally turning around.

Notre Dame was forced to scramble to hire a replacement coach. As a result, we had to settle for a quick, splashy solution. They went with Tyrone Willingham. He was moderately successful at an academic university in Stanford. Oh yeah, he was black too. Don't say that though, because that would be racist, right Jason Whitlock? I wish you had died out there in the desert, you fat fuck! Willingham had some initial success running off 8 wins to open the 2002 season, but finished 1-3 with a loss in the Gator Bowl. It was all downhill after that. Willingham proved to be:
     a) Not a very good coach
     b) A lazy recruiter
     c) A confounding speaker in his interviews and statements
     d) A great golfer
His quick firing after 3 years was the right decision, but ND took a TON of heat for it, although I still cannot understand why. If a coach stinks, why are they entitled to 5 years of employment? It's not like we didn't honor his contract, he got paid! Wait, it's just because ND is a bunch of racist white supremacists. Right Whitlock, you prick? Willingham's absolute failure at Washington proves ND made the right choice in letting him go.

So we then proceeded to get even more egg on our face. We openly courted Urban Meyer, only to get left at the alter for Florida. Again, scrambling to find a suitable plan B, we grabbed the best option - Charlie Weis. Weis was everything Willingham wasn't. He was brash, he had success at the highest level in the NFL, and he understood Notre Dame as an alumnus. Unfortunately, the one thing he didn't have was head coaching experience. That would come back to haunt Weis repeatedly in his tenure under the Golden Dome. He had some immediate success, but then showed a knack for shooting himself in the foot. His endless carousel of assistants was hard to keep up with. Switching offensive and defensive schemes year to year was even worse. Weis wasn't even sure what his role was, handing off and then grabbing play calling responsibilities several times. After a huge letdown in 2009 going 6-6, Weis was fired. His inability to decide what he wants was showcased with brief stints in KC, Florida and now Kansas again... proving ND made the right choice in letting him go.

So that brings us to Brian Kelly. The first coach since Lou Holtz that Notre Dame identified, researched and openly sought to hire, who reciprocated that with a desire to coach here. I honestly think that process will pay huge benefits in the future. Kelly is a very good coach. He knows how to run a football program, and he has completely transformed the program in 2 years. The results aren't there yet, but I am confident they are coming. There are no big question marks about Kelly. We know who we have. 2012 will be a tough year with a 1st time starting QB, a very inexperienced secondary and the hardest schedule in the nation. I think 8 or 9 wins are acceptable, and see an outside shot at 10 wins if everything falls just perfectly. Look out in 2013 though!

My point:

The Head Coach is the most important factor for winning in college football.

If you disagree, look at EVERY SINGLE BCS TEAM and try to explain how I am wrong. Talent is definitely important, and that can carry the way for a season or two. I would give Auburn as an example of that. However, winning programs are defined at all levels by their coach. From Nick Saban at Alabama and every other place he coached, to Chris Peterson at Boise State. Good coaches make winners, and players want to play for them.

Notre Dame has been down. It's not because we are "living a lie", or have forsaken our values, or because we are independent. It's not because we can no longer recruit elite athletes. It's because we had a series of bad coaching hires. Notre Dame struck out with Davie, O'Leary, Willingham, Meyer and then Weis. O'Leary, Willingham and Meyer embarrassingly so. I think Kelly was a slam dunk hire, and my optimism is higher than it has been in 10 years. Only a National Title will ultimately prove ND made the right choice in hiring him.


ian said...

I would slightly disagree with your bottom line. Although the head coach is very important, I think stability and consistency are truly the most important factors for winning. The former begets the latter.

Look at all the winning programs you mentioned and others out there. The commonality is that they all have coaches that have been there for awhile and those coaches have built a program. No doubt they are all experienced and good coaches, but more importantly that experience has allowed them to hone an approach to building a program that will pay off. So they've been given the time to put their policies in effect and those have then paid off with winning.

The problems with Davie, Willingham, and Weis is that they either had no head coaching experience or no experience with expectations. So they came to Notre Dame and they didn't know what to do. They had no plan. Their plan was to let the Notre Dame name bring in the best recruits and hope that talent won out, which, as Ted pointed out earlier, just won't last.

Here's why I like Kelly - he has a ton of experience, he has a proven track record of winning at all levels as a HC, and even before he was formally announced I'm certain he had a plan in place with Swarbrick for rebuilding the program. That relationship and shared vision with Swarbrick is supremely important because it should allow Kelly the time he needs to have his foundation in place and then show it paying dividends.

I truly don't see Kelly being on the hot seat until year 6. I think next year we'll see long-overdue stadium improvements (Field Turf, Jumbotron) and it will be almost all Kelly recruits. So he'll get some time to work within those confines and demonstrate progress. And Swarbrick, unlike every ND forum troll in the world, is smart enough to know that you can't keep hitting the reset button. If you don't get time to build your program, you're never get a coach to go there.

I think the biggest possible stumbling block for Kelly is holding onto his assistants once he turns things around. Diaco's name already gets mentioned and I wouldn't be surprised to see Martin's too if things go well with Golson this year. It all ties back in to program stability.

I'm very optimistic. I think the right folks are in the right place and, more importantly, they're not afraid of making big, bold decisions to keep the program progressing. As long as they can block out the noise I'm hoping my fall Saturday's get more enjoyable.

Colin and Liz said...

O'Doyle: Mortal Kombat on Sega Genesis is the best video game ever.
Billy Madison: I disagree. Mortal Kombat is a good game but I think Donkey Kong is the best game ever.
O'Doyle: Donkey Kong sucks!
Billy Madison: You know something? You suck!

I think that players are far more important than coaches. However, in order to continue bringing in the best recruits, you have to have a good coach they want to play for. So good coaches and good players go hand in hand. Chris Peterson is a good coach, but he couldn't maintain prolonged success with the players he has in a more competitive conference.

I think Kelly is doing a great job at identifying the players he needs and wants and then getting them to play well. If he can keep that up, then ND will be in good shape.

Teddy said...

I'll grant Ian his point. Yes, you don't have to be a "great" coach to achieve success. Stability and consistency can come from a "good" coach installing and maintaining his program. However, it takes a "great" coach to maintain that success at the highest level.

So yeah, you can have success in a stable program, like Georgia and Mark Richt or Texas and Mack Brown. However, I don't think anyone is awarding coach of the year to those guys or clamoring to hire them away. The Urban Meyer, Nick Saban, Bob Stoops and yes Chris Peterson's of college football will have success wherever they go.

I totally disagree with Colin. Players are important. You need good players to win. However, college is not the NFL. Hotshot recruits bust ALL THE TIME. You need players with certain skill sets for the system your coach runs. You also have to rely that your coaching staff will develop them. Good coaches and players do go hand in hand, but the coach begets the player and not the other way around.

Speaking of good players, anybody else see that awesome video for Trick Shot Monday? Hilarious!

Kevin said...

I had a big comment all filled out, but what it comes down to is we're all justifying hope that Notre Dame truly is making a comeback (finally).

Please Brian Kelly, BE the answer!