Thursday, April 28, 2005

White Flag | by Mike

With the unveiling of the latest Bowl Championship Series agreement, it became apparent that Kevin White did not play the role of zealous advocate for Notre Dame's interests that his job requires. The latest agreement is a significant triumph for conference commissioner dorks and a body blow to Notre Dame. Whereas the previous agreement provided fitting compensation for Notre Dame's performance - a full share ($14 million) when Notre Dame plays in a BCS game, nothing when the Irish do not - the current deal provides Notre Dame with a guaranteed $1 million each year but limits the payout for actually playing in a BCS game to $4.5 million. Where exactly does that $10 million difference disappear to? The coffers of the BCS conferences, of course. Even Andrew Bagnato recognized the significance of these changes:

But now the Fighting Irish are acting as if they are a mere conference member, happy to let BCS money roll in without having to actually play in a game. Sort of like Vanderbilt.
This deal is horrible for Notre Dame for several reasons, but three deserve particular mention.

First, the deal will almost certainly produce less revenue for Notre Dame than the previous deal.

Even when viewed solely from the perspective of revenue generation, the new deal fails to advance Notre Dame's interests. Some have argued that, given Notre Dame's recent on-field malaise, we are better off accepting the BCS's pittance than we would be under a merit-based system. This argument only makes sense if you assume Notre Dame will be even worse going forward than it has been under the coaching as performance art that characterized the Davie-Willingham Era.

Consider Notre Dame's peformance over the first seven years of the BCS's existence. During six of those years, Notre Dame failed to reach a bowl. However, even Bob Davie once found himself pacing the sidelines of a BCS game. In this one year, Notre Dame earned a payout of $14 million. Thus in seven years, Notre Dame brought in a total of $14 million.

Now apply the current rules to the past seven years. In the six years in which Notre Dame did not reach a BCS game, Notre Dame would have received $1 million dollars. However, when Notre Dame played showed up for appeared in the 2001 Fiasco Bowl, Notre Dame would have received just $4.5 million. Thus, the net BCS revenues over this seven year period would have been only $10.5 million.

If one assumes Weis were to repeat the Davie-Willingham feat of one BCS game in seven years, Notre Dame stands to lose $3.5 million. Consider, however, what will happen if Weis improves even slightly over his predecessors. Let's run the numbers if Weis were to take Notre Dame to two BCS games in the next seven years. Under the old agreement, two BCS games at $14 million per would produce $28 million for Notre Dame. Under the new agreement, Notre Dame would receive $1 million in each of the five years the Irish did not reach the BCS and $4.5 million in the two years the Irish did. Notre Dame would then bring in only $14 million. Ouch.

Second, the new deal removes a powerful incentive for the Notre Dame administration to address deficiencies in the football program.

Tying compensation to performance is a good thing. When I invest in a company, I feel better knowing that its CEO's remuneration is tied to the company's performance. An executive with such a compensation package is more likely to address problems than one with a fixed salary. Performance-based pay forces the CEO to fix things. Similarly, Notre Dame's "eat what you kill" arrangement gave all but the most delinquent of executives a powerful incentive to fix the football program.

Supporters of the new agreement have offered the argument, "At least we get something in the down years." That is not in the best interests of Notre Dame football. I want the bad years to hurt. When failure has consequences, failure will be addressed. Insert your favorite Glengarry Glen Ross quote here.

Third, the deal raises the specter of absolutely devastating moves in the future.

Normally, the only people dumber than those who offer message board conspiracies are those who believe them. Every so often, however, someone with established connections is able to offer a glimpse at what the future might hold.

Noted NDNation poster FONToKNOW suggested this latest move might portend the following:
This deal was attractive for one reason and one reason alone to Whalloy [the two-headed monster of White and Malloy]: it pushes us in the direction of the Big 10.

We know Whalloy have a jones for conference membership. It is clear that ND's semi-regular dance with the Big 10 over the last 7 years has been driven by senior leadership's jones for acceptance by the secular academic world, in particular the research giants that have residence in Madison, Ann Arbor, and Chambana.

It is a foregone conclusion that the Big 10 will come calling again in 2007 or 2008 and offer more guaranteed revenue to ND than we get today. That's key. Remember when we last danced with the Big 10? It was concluded that revenue from membership in the Big 10 would be a wash compared to the status quo. That was with the assumption of 2 BCS appearances every 7 years. When the Big 10 comes calling again, they will be able to offer a financial package far superior to what we can get as a football independent. The decision to stay independent becomes far more difficult at this point. Checkmate Whalloy?
Shudder. Should this seem too far-fetched, recall the air biscuit SID John Heisler floated in a recent Notre Dame magazine, presumably at the behest of White and Malloy. Recall also White's well-documented revenue jones.

Where do we go from here?

At a time when people throughout the administration (Fr. Jenkins, EVP John Affleck-Graves, even the admissions office) are showing signs that ND football is a strong buy, Kevin White and Monk Malloy decided to short ND.

While the dynamic duo may not have realized the leverage Notre Dame had in these negotiations, at least one party did:
"Obviously, they're the top recognized brand name nationally," Fiesta Bowl President John Junker said. "Other teams are loved and followed. But in all parts of the country, Notre Dame sets the standard."

Monday, April 25, 2005

Opponent Spring Wrapup | by Pat

Earlier we took a look at what was in store for ND's 2005 opponents this spring. Now that our own spring practice has finished up, here's a look at what other teams accomplished this spring.


The obvious change is that we are not playing Pittsburgh anymore. We are playing Pitt. The name and uniform change is all part of Coach Wannstedt's plan to get back to the roots of Pitt football, much like Weis has done at Notre Dame. Another fan favorite route that Wannstedt is taking is bringing back Pitt's running game, which finished last season ranked 105th out of 117 teams.

One player looking to help out in the rushing department is fresman Rashad Jennings. The 6'1 235 running back rushed for 118 yards on 19 carries in Pitt's annual spring scrimmage. The reports are that he was very tough to bring down and always got yards after contact.

That last point however highlights something that I mentioned in the previous Pitt spring update. Wannstedt is putting the defensive emphasis on speed over size. Taking a look at the summaries of the spring scrimmage, the following four were the starting defensive lineman: 6'2 245lb Joe Clermond, 6'2 225lb Nick Williams, 6'2 240lb Chris McKillop, and 6'4 285lb Thomas Smith. Outside of Smith, those are some small lineman. I bet Darius Walker, Travis Thomas, and Rashon Powers-Neal can't wait for September 3rd. Expect to see a lot of 2 TE sets against the Panthers.

For more info on Pitt football, here's a great Q&A from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


Coming into the spring, the Wolverines were looking for someone to step up and become the obvious replacement for departing wide receiver Braylon Edwards. Steve Breaston, finally completely healthy for a spring practice session, had a strong spring and should be Chad Henne's favorite target in the fall. Apparently though he had to fend off a fiesty Lloyd Carr (right) who showed incredible burst and a flair for the dramatic during receiver drills.

Michigan wrapped up their spring with a normal practice and skipped their usual spring scrimmage due to injuries. So while there wasn't a public show of just how the team looked, various practice reports have commented on the improvement in the defense. It seems that in order to help out the young, inexperienced secondary that an emphasis was placed on improving the speed of the front seven.

Michigan still has some questions about the upcoming season, but as usual they appear to be a stern test for Notre Dame's second game next season.


Michigan State has spent the spring trying to whip its young secondary into shape. On offense Drew Stanton is the far and away #1 QB with the backups much less experienced. That should sound familiar to all Irish fans.

The Spartans had their public spring scrimmage in the middle of the spring practices and the backup QBs took plenty of snaps as the young defense gave up some big plays but also had some of their own. With Stanton the leader on offesne, coach Smith is looking to his running backs to continue the Spartans effective ground attack next year. (good bar trivia here - Michigan State lead the Big 10 in rushing yards per attempt last season.)


Some ND fans are already sick of hearing Willingham stories and anecdotes. Well, it's not going to stop and most likely only going to get worse heading into our matchup on September 24th. Best just to accept it and not grant him "He Who Must Not Be Named" status.

As for Washington spring practices, the media are already complaining about the lack of access at practice, but that seems to be normal operating procedure anytime a coach limits media access.

Washington's spring game was on Saturday and ended with a 3-0 score, with the only score coming off a 13 play, 45 yard drive that was capped by a field goal. Husky fans were hoping that one of the four contenders for the starting QB job (Casey Paus, Johnny DuRocher, Carl Bonnell, and Isaiah Stanback) would make a move to the top of the depth chart, but currently Willingham has not named a starter.


Brandon "The Dark Knight" Kirsch is now the QB for the Boilermakers and that's not the only change to the Purdue offense. Coach "Rings" Tiller spent the spring working some option attack running plays into Purdue's usual quick passing attack. I assume the option is being put in to take advantage of the mobility of Kirsch, but I wonder if getting knocked around by linebackers on option pitch plays will affect him and his throws in Purdue's timing based pass attack.

The defense, lead by Ray "Hammer" Edwards, will be their strength of the team next season as they return all eleven starters. That was evident during the second team scrimmage of the spring where they forced nine turnovers. The offense though did improve when they held their annual spring game on Saturday as the Gold Team beat the Black Team 24-21 in front of 2000 cold fans.


With Matt Leinart out all spring, John David Booty and Rocky Hinds had a competitive spring to see which one of them will be be the first QB off the bench next season. Booty seems to be the favorite to back up Leinart, but Hinds put on a pretty good show during their final spring scrimmage.

Reggie Bush didn't practice much, but Chauncey Washington, Desmond Reed, and Michael Coleman kept impressing fans who gathered to watch the practices. It seems that the past few years of excellent recruiting have kept the Trojans loaded with good players. Now it just remains to be seen if the new coaching staff can put them in position to succeed and not let off the field issues become a distraction.


After initially declaring that no one had grabbed the starting QB spot, new BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall reversed himself and named John Beck the starting BYU quarterback going into the summer. In their annual spring game, Beck outperformed the other QBs, but Mendenhall took a few more days to name him the starter.

Still, Cougar fans are extremely happy with Mendenhall's performance as coach thus far. Many are happy with his efforts to reconnect the program to BYU's storied past (like I said, easiest way for the coach to make quick fans). One of the most noticable changes that Coach Mendenhall made to the BYU program was to bring back the traditional uniforms with the large block Y on the helmet. Hopefully in the fall the uniforms will be filled with actual athletes.


The big news of the spring out of Knoxville is the release of quarterback Brent Schaeffer from the Volunteer football team. Schaeffer was already in trouble for assaulting another Tennessee student and once Erik Ainge had beaten out Schaeffer for the starting QB spot.....sorry, let me try that again. Schaeffer was already in trouble for assaulting another Tennessee student and it seems that lack of participation in class was the final straw for Coach Fulmer.

There have been other off the field incidents surrounding the Volunteer program, but on the field Ainge has been rapidly improving at quarterback and the nation's #1 recruiting class will undoubtedly help give Tennessee added depth in the fall.

In the Volunteer's annual Orange and White spring scrimmage Fulmer instituted a modified scoring system that rewarded defensive plays with points. This resulted in a 60-50 Orange win. Here are some video highlights of the game.


Navy's Blue team defeated Navy's White team 9-7 in Navy's annual spring game. Not much else to say. They are still going to run an option attack, this year presumably with Lamar Owens as the starting quarterback. They are still going to play physical football and never give up. They are still going to be big underdogs to Notre Dame. Hopefully we can get back to comfortable victories over the Midshipmen.


Another team that implemented a Davie-esque style of scoring for its spring game was Syracuse. In the end, the 'Cuse defense held on for a 34-30 victory over the offense as new head coach Greg Robinson works to implement the West Coast offense in upstate New York and tries to inject some fun into the Orange football program.

Currently junior Perry Patterson and sophomore Joe Fields are competing to become the starting quarterback for the Orange. Coach Robinson, who coached with Notre Dame's Coach Haywood at Texas last year, is also looking for a starting running back, but it looks like Damien Rhodes has the lead in that race.

Check out this link for some video highlights of their spring game, complete with a rockin' soundtrack that would feel right at home on The WB.


The Cardinal will the be the fifth team Notre Dame plays next year with a new head coach. And while I hope someone can tell me if that's a record or not, it has to be close. Anyway, Stanford will continue to throw the ball around under Harris, although it's likely the offense will perform better than it did under Teevans.

The position of fullback has been reintroduced to the Stanford starting lineup after an absence of a few years while Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football Harris is still trying to figure out a steady starting five for his offensive line. Still, that didn't seem to be an issue as the offense scored eleven touchdowns in Stanford's annual spring scrimmage. Of course, when you are playing against your own team's defense it's hard to tell if that's good news or bad, so I'll let you interpret the impressive scoring output however you want.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Mullen makes it five | by Pat

The good news just keeps coming in for Irish fans as Paddy Mullen gave Coach Weis his verbal committment while on campus today for the annual Blue and Gold game. The St. Louis native has proclaimed his love for Notre Dame consistently during his recruitment and the only reason he waited this long to pull the trigger were some grade issues that have apparently been cleared up.

Mullen, a high school teammate of Munir Prince, is a 6'5" 260lb tight end/defensive end prospect that had quite an impressive list of scholarship offers for April. In addition to the offer from Notre Dame, Mullen had written offers from Nebraska, LSU, Ole Miss, Missouri, Oklahoma State, Michigan State, Illinois, and Kansas. As a junior he had a hand injury so he didn't play tight end; he just focused on defensive end. Even with the injury he was named First Team All-Conference as well as Second Team All-State and Second Team All-Metro.

Like Ray Herring before him, Mullen has filled recruiting interviews with quotes proclaiming his love for all things Notre Dame. In addition to being an excellent football player, he already bleeds blue and gold and that can only help Notre Dame recruiting. With nine months to go until Signing Day, Mullen will have plenty of time to help recruit other players to join him in South Bend.

Kallen Wade picks the Irish | by Michael

Kallen Wade has become the 4th known verbal in this year’s class. Wade is a 6’5, 220 lb DE at Withrow High School in Cincinnati.

Wade, who sports a 3.8 GPA, has played three different positions in his three years of high school football. As a freshman, he played safety. As a sophomore, he played linebacker. Last year, he played defensive end and accumulated roughly 40 tackles to go with his 13 sacks. He was named to the All-Conference, All-City and All-Ohio teams. He also participates on the track team by running the 400m.

It would make the most sense that Wade is being recruited as a pass-rushing defensive end, although it’s notable that a few schools, including Cincinnati, want him as an outside linebacker. Why’s that important? It suggests the versatility that Wade brings to the table; Wade appears to be a defensive end athletic enough to both rush the passer as well as drop into the flat on zone blitzes or in 8-man coverage schemes.

How would his coach, Charles Gamble, describe his play? From a article in late March:

“Kallen is the real deal…a tremendous athlete, he has a high motor and he doesn't quit…he never gives up on a play and he's consistent night in and night out.”

In addition to the offer from Notre Dame, Wade had collected offers from Boston College, Louisville, Duke, Cincinnati, Kentucky, Miami (Ohio) and Illinois, among others. Ohio State had an interest in Wade, but it appears that, similarly to the former Notre Dame staff’s strategy, they wanted him to attend their summer camp in order to earn an offer. While such a strategy may have worked a few years ago, it seems that because recruits are making their decisions earlier every year, programs may have to reevaluate that practice. (The same thing happened to Ohio State last year with Brandon Harrison.) There is also some question as to how many defensive linemen Ohio State wanted to sign in this year’s class (I’ve seen the number as low as 1) so that should also be considered when considering the lack of an offer from the in-state power.

Now that Wade is in the fold, Irish fans can turn their attention to his teammate Robert Williams, a cornerback who has been hearing from the Irish but has yet to be offered. His core GPA may be the culprit according to an April 4th update on Irish Eyes.

If you have a subscription to, check out Wade for yourself:

Video 1

Video 2

Kallen Wade bursts through the Dunbar o-line before the running back even gets the ball.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Stacking the Deck | by Jay

Last night Charlie released his rosters for Saturday's Blue & Gold game, and holy cow are they lopsided: Blue looks like an absolute powerhouse. In fact, it appears that almost every regular starter, save a couple, will be wearing blue tomorrow. Even the coaching ranks are stacked, with Blue getting both Minter and Haywood (and Gold being saddled with Theisman). I'll set the early line at Blue -17.

The good news for Gold? They already won the coin toss (it's true). And according to the rules, after each score, the team that's behind will get the ball on their own 35 (whether they just scored or not). My guess is that will be Gold most of the time. But truthfully, about the only way they'll be able to compete is if they can convince one of their celebrity assistant coaches -- who also happens to be an active NFL player -- to throw on some pads.

The reason for this planned disparity? Charlie mentioned the reason in his post-practice presser last night: he wants the first-string lines playing together, and he wants Quinn working with his top receivers. This makes sense. With an all-new system, new terminology and new strategies, this game will function not just as an exhibition match, but a continuance of the learning process that started this spring. Why break the continuity when you're still getting your feet wet?

Yet I suspect there's another purpose Charlie didn't mention that's going to play out on the other sideline. Just about everybody on the Gold squad is competing for a spot: either as a possible starter, a first-option backup, or a special teams player. By loading up a team with all the backup guys, Charlie just created a great opportunity for someone to really "step up" and make a play. It's a chance to get noticed and make a mark for yourself, something Charlie harped on after the very first practice this spring ("...the biggest problem I had with today was not seeing enough people, people that I don't know that much about, making a statement for themselves. If I'm going try and have this open-door policy, where everyone gets a fair chance and a fair opportunity to make a name for themselves, then I'd like some people to stand out and do some things.")

So, Nate Schiccitano, and Chris Vaughn, and Terrail Lambert, and Anthony's your chance to make some noise. Let's go Gold!

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Fort Apache | by Michael

Football has always been a game of cat & mouse. Offensive coordinators develop offenses that try to exploit the weaknesses of recent trends in defensive philosophy, and then defensive coordinators adjust and tweak their schemes. Those changes then cause offensive coordinators to make modifications, and so on, and so on...

Right now one of the hottest trends in college football is the spread offense, and if your team isn’t running one, it’s still very likely that they’re using elements of one.

In its most basic form, a spread offense utilizes one back and at least three wide receivers, although sometimes you’ll see one that employs two tailbacks and the quarterback in the shotgun formation. The truth is, there are really all sorts of variations of the spread, but all versions share the same basic philosophy:

1. Essentially, the offense is in the hands (and mind) of the quarterback.

2. "Spread” the field to create easier pre-snap coverage reads for the quarterback.

3. Use your offensive personnel to establish mismatches; WRs defended by safeties, RBs defended by LBs, and even WRs defended by LBs.

4. Based upon the number of defenders in the box, a run or pass can be audibled at the line of scrimmage.

Last year’s Notre Dame defense was ripe to be exploited by offenses that utilized some of these concepts. In short, the safeties couldn’t be depended upon to defend the deep pass, so in order to avoid giving up big gains, they primarily used a Cover 4 coverage (fig. 1), also known as "Quarters". The four defensive backs each had one-fourth of the field to cover behind them, and that left any underneath routes or zones to be picked up by the linebackers.

Obviously, this places a lot of responsibility upon the linebackers, and Kent Baer's thinking with this strategy was that by forcing the offense to drive the length of the field, eventually they’ll either throw a string of incomplete passes or force a turnover. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that early in the season last year we heard from Baer that they were placing a heavy emphasis on creating turnovers in practice. Ultimately, however, because our linebackers were fantastic run-stuffers but not very fluid in pass coverage, opposing quarterbacks were able to pick us apart, especially down the stretch last year when more game film showed our weaknesses for every offensive coordinator to dissect. A certain Leinart-to-Bush pass with Hoyte covering (in theory) comes to mind.

One way defensive coordinators have responded to modern pass-oriented attacks is by altering the traditional roles of linebackers, and a popular method to do this has been to create a hybrid linebacker/defensive back, a player who is big enough to provide solid run support, but quick enough to cover TEs, RBs and even WRs. As Coach Weis said in a recent BGI article, "The one thing you have to be cognizant of in college how wide the field is when the ball is on the boundary, and how wide the field (side) is...having a (linebacker) who can play the run but also cover a lot of ground (with the pass) is a necessity."

In Coach Rick Minter’s system, that position is called the Apache. This may be a relatively new term for most Irish fans, but here’s what we know, or at least, what we think we know.

Last year at South Carolina, Coach Minter utilized an Apache LB position. The year before that, Charlie Strong was the defensive coordinator at South Carolina and he used a 4-2-5 scheme that employed a Spur. For those who are unfamiliar with a 4-2-5 defense, it’s a defense that replaced the third linebacker in a 4-3 scheme with an extra safety. There is a SS and FS like the 4-3, but then there is also a Weak Safety (WS) position that often has a distinct name like Rover, Eagle, etc.

When Coach Minter took over at South Carolina, he and several of the players said in interviews that the Apache position was identical to the Spur position in Strong’s defense. The Daily Gamecock reported last April 9th:
“A new move this season will be the removal of the "spur" position on defense, usually held by a linebacker in situations like a nickel package. Minter's defensive playbook included an "apache" position that was identical to the spur, and Minter said it would be too much of a hassle to change the playbook and the other steps that would have to be taken, so the name of the position was changed.”
In a 4-2-5 defense, both the SS and WS are generally (but not always) playing in the box, giving the look of an 8 man front. At the same time, they’re also playing a little bit more outside than you’re probably accustomed to seeing a linebacker play, although they can obviously move around. The FS is aligned in the center of the field. This alignment primarily makes the QB think the defense may be playing either a zone, Cover 3 (fig. 2), or a man defense, Cover 1, depending upon the CBs' alignment.

Cover 1 has a variety of looks, and if the extra defender not covering a receiver isn't blitzing, it's often referred to as Cover 1 Man Free (fig. 3).

Further, in Minter's system, the Apache backer will always be on the wide side of the field, where his athleticism will be needed most. (By the way, early practice reports have Minter looking strongly at Chinedum Ndukwe for the Apache position).

What this defense allows you to do is threefold:

1. With eight men in the box, you can show a variety of blitzes. In fact, the threat of the blitz is often an even better tactic than the blitz itself. Consider the possibilities of having either of the two middle LBs blitzing, either of the two safeties near the line of scrimmage, either of the CBs, or better yet, some exotic combination;

2. With the Apache and SS aligned near symmetrically, you essentially have the nickel defensive back in the game to take care of a team’s third WR
. Additionally, if that WR motions from one side to the other, your symmetry allows you to stay within the same defense; no one is flip-flopping assignments and there is less confusion before the snap (see Purdue's 97-yard TD in the 2004 game);

3. Similarly to #2, if a running back shifts out of the backfield, you no longer have a linebacker covering him.

If I were a betting man, however, I don’t think we’ll run a strict 4-2-5 defense. I actually think it’ll be a hybrid of 4-3 and 4-2-5 defenses, depending upon the situation. Consider these scenarios...

• It’s 1st & 10, and Michigan comes out with 2 backs, a tight end and two wide receivers. Against this, Coach Minter could do any number of things. He could bring Zbikowski into the box and have an eight man front that looks like a 4-2-5, or he could go with a straight-up 4-3. He can "show" different blitzes from either front, and he could show a variety of coverages. For instance, we might show a Cover 2 look until right before the snap, when Zbikowski could slide into the box and the FS would shade back to the middle of the field for a Cover 1 or Cover 3 look (fig. 4).

• It’s 2nd & 6, and Stanford comes out with one back, a tight end and three wide receivers. This could very likely be a run or a pass. In the past, the Irish defense would stay in their base 4-3, and many times this is a situation where offenses would throw on us; there’d be mismatches on the field that they could exploit, particularly at linebacker. In the new defense, Coach Minter has personnel on the field that can play the run or pass equally well, and he doesn’t have to rely upon substitutions.

• It’s 3rd & 3, and Southern Cal comes out with two backs, a tight end and two wide receivers. This is a crucial play and we’re still in our base defense. Reggie Bush leaves the backfield in motion and goes to the slot. In the past, we’ve been screwed. With the new defense, whether it’s the Apache or the strong safety covering Bush, we’re in much better shape (fig. 5).

Are you noticing the trend in these situations? We have flexibility and multiplicity. Essentially what Coach Minter will be able to do is adjust on the fly to offensive packages without needing to make substitutions. That’s what makes the Apache – if you have a player with those physical attributes – such a terrific concept in today’s game.

So generally speaking, what can we expect in 2005? Let me give that a shot. Based upon Coach Weis’ experience with Bill Belichick, I would fathom a guess that he came away with two main defensive concepts (among many others I’m sure).

First off, deception. Belichick is noted for confusing even the most high-powered offenses, and I’m confident that Coach Weis and Coach Minter will figure out ways to better disguise their coverages and fronts. We'll probably also have our athletes in better places to do that this year. As an offensive coordinator whose job it’s been to train quarterbacks to break down and recognize these coverages (and subsequently, to attack their weaknesses) as quickly as possible, I’m certain that Coach Weis recognizes its importance for the other side of the ball.

Second, flexibility. Belichick utilizes athletes who are multi-faceted, and can do a number of things well: cornerbacks who can tackle, and safeties who can cover. The greater the flexibility of your personnel, the better you can disguise your coverages and fronts, and the more blitzes you have available to you.

As a result, I think we’re going to see a lot of multiplicity in our defense. We’ll mix and match the 4-3 with some kind of 4-2-5 whenever we want. We’ll put eight in the box, we’ll show Cover 3, Cover 1, Cover 2 and even man-zone combinations. What I mean by this is that, because of the boundary/field designations we’ve seen thus far at certain positions, we may play zone to the field side and man to the boundary side (since the sideline can act as an extra defender). We'll be dialing up a lot of different looks. This may seem complex, but again, it’ll be simplified somewhat by sticking with simple field/boundary calls for the safeties and linebackers. They don’t have to know their responsibilities based upon the strength of the formation (where the TE is, or which side has more WRs); they only need to know responsibilities for boundary or field side.

It's too early to tell how successful this strategy will be, and I think a lot may depend upon who emerges at FS. If we can find a solid centerfielder, I think we’ll be able to scheme our way to a solid defense; if not, then problems at cornerback, where we have a lot of inexperience, may only be accentuated. Ultimately, though, the addition of converted defensive back Chinedum Ndukwe as the Apache backer, and more importantly, the physical skills he possesses that will enable us to be a very multiple defense, will go a long way toward helping to defend the underneath patterns that decimated us in 2004. Unless it’s third and long, the "Quarters" coverage that Baer relied upon down the stretch may end up a dusty relic of the Willingham regime.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Frazer audio | by Jay

Rivals (via BGI) has a radio interview with Zach Frazer. A few excerpts:

Q: Notre Dame has not been the Notre Dame of old in the last few years...they've been an up and down team. What makes [ND] attractive to you, a true blue-chip player?

A: Definitely the coaching staff. Coach Weis is not just building a team, he's building a future for Notre Dame. It's great to have that privilege and honor when he says you're his number one guy, to be a part of the future of Notre Dame and to bring them back to that power status, it's great.

Q: Describe your style for us. What kind of quarterback are you?

A: This year we did a lot of shotgun, we threw the ball around all the time. We barely run. Five-spread, four receivers. My style of play? I basically take what the defense can give's a mental game, it's not much physical. Yeah, you get hit and all, but it's who's going to break down first. We went very far this year, and I think the main reason is because we were better mentally prepared...the defense would break down, and we just took what they gave us. We just put points up real quick. My style of play is basically pro-style, nothing fancy. I can run if I want, but why run when you can throw the ball?

Q: Did you go to any of the junior days at Notre Dame, and what does Coach Weis talk about when he talks about recruiting?

A: Yes, I went to the first junior day, and that's when I received my offer, and I was most recently up there for a three-day visit. It's different going in knowing you've committed, because the recruiting process changes, just because you're going to become a recruiter and start to work on who else you're going to play with. I touched bases with Barry [Gallup] a couple of days're not only a player, but you're also a recruiter and you're going to help recruit your own class.

Q: Where do you see Notre Dame football in four years?

A: Winning a national championship.

Q: Just straight out, huh?

A: Um-hmm.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Who's coming? Who's going? | by Pat

Heading into the final week of spring practice, let's take a quick break from football and look at some of the recent happenings with the Irish basketball team.

Who's Coming?

Now is the all-star season for basketball recruits and three of Notre Dame's four incoming freshman participated in games featuring some of the best high school seniors in the country. Indiana Mr. Basketball Luke Zeller played his first game in the JACC in the McDonald's All-American game and then joined future teammate Ryan Ayers in the Kentucky Derby Festival Classic in Louisville. All-star games tend to reward guards as a team game is rarely played, but Zeller did show off decent passing skills for a big man in the McDonalds game. That may not sound very exciting, but anyone who watched Notre Dame have trouble passing out of low-post double teams last season should welcome this news as a very good thing.

In the three-point shooting competition before the Derby Classic, Ayers, a recent AP All-State First Team selection, showed off his range and won the competition, beating out Kansas recruit Mario Chalmers and Duke signee Greg Paulus. This comes after Ayers made it to the finals of the three-point shooting competition of the Charm City Challenge. Notre Dame fans hope that Ayers will be able to add a dependable mid-range game to the Irish lineup, but surely won't mind if his range extends beyond the arc.

Meanwhile, Kyle McAlarney, recently named All-New York City First Team, represented a team from his home state against some of the best players from Chicago in the 7th annual Old Spice Red Zone All-Star Shootout. Reportedly, the announcers were impressed with his overall command of the game and seemingly limitless shooting range and multiple demands to see immediate playing time for McAlarney popped up on ND message boards from fans who watched the game.

The only Irish recruit not to play in a major All-Star game was Zach Hillesland. Hillesland however did cap off an impressive career at St. Johns Jesuit by being named AP All-State Second Team in Ohio's largest division and earning the respect of area sportswriters. Check out this video to see Hillesland(#34) on the receiving end of a nice reverse alley-oop in a league game this past season.

Who's Going?

As ND fans anticipate the arrival of the heralded recruiting class, it seems some current team members might not be back in the fall to join them. Senior forward Dennis Latimore has other year of eligibility, but has apparently decided not to use it. The former Arizona player was perhaps the most hyped of Coach Brey's transfers, but never seemed to comfortably settle into the rotation and shortly into the season saw his playing time reduced in favor of Colin Falls. His departure most likely means more playing time for Rick Cornett, who has steadily been improving during his time at ND.

The real shocker news of the spring is that junior Torin Francis declared himself eligble for the upcoming NBA Draft. I really don't think any Irish fans saw this coming. However, he will not hire an agent and Coach Brey makes it sound like Francis will be back.

"While my gut tells me that Torin Francis is a four-year player for us here at Notre Dame, I fully support the decision he has made to explore the option he has of playing in the NBA next season. My job now is to help him collect information on where he stands in regards to the June draft. We need to keep in mind that this is a young man that has undergone major back surgery and I understand that he may want to take advantage of the fact that he is healthy right now."
Some may question why Francis is trying to make the leap to The League when he had trouble putting up consistently strong performances in the Big East. Perhaps that inconsistency could partly be blamed on looking forward to trying out for the NBA. Either way, Francis will get a chance to play in pre-draft camps against other NBA hopefuls and will get an honest appraisal of his strengths and weaknesses from NBA coaches and scouts. Irish fans can hope that Francis will take the constructive criticisms to heart and comes back with for a solid senior campaign. He has the physical skills to play in the NBA (perhaps, as Dylan has mentioned, in a Dale Davis type role), but has yet to put it all together while wearing an Irish uniform.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Weis gets his quarterback | by Pat

The good recruiting news kept coming in yesterday. Pennsylvania quarterback Zach Frazer, reportedly Coach Weis's number one target, gave his verbal to Notre Dame after spending the past few days hanging out with the team and taking in Notre Dame campus life. It seems rather obvious that Frazer liked what he saw.

"Notre Dame has everything I was looking for, it's the place for me," said Frazer, who visited the Notre Dame campus this week to watch spring practice. Thursday morning he gave Irish head coach Charlie Weis his verbal approval. "I was looking for sound academics and their academics are amazing. They have outstanding coaches and I believe their coaching staff is the best in the NCAA. Their experience definitely shows. They all are related, all know each other and work well together.
This is rather unprecedented for Notre Dame to get such a high profile quarterback recruit so early in the year and can only have a positive effect on recruiting the rest of the year. For those who don't know much about Frazer, he was named the Associated Press Class AAA Player of the Year in Pennsylvania last year after breaking the state's passing record with 3,684 yards. Considering the legendary quarterbacks that have come out of the Keystone State, that is an impressive mark. And guess what, that was only Frazer's first year as a starting quarterback. As his high school coaches suggest, Frazer absorbed their complex offense at an impressive rate for a new starter.
Despite being new to the lineup, the junior adapted quickly to the very complex five-receiver passing offense Lichtel and Hakel run. Hakel even admits that prior to last season, they thought they would have to water down the offense for Frazer and spoon-feed him for the entire season.

By the end of the season Hakel said, "We couldn't give him enough."
The early scouting report on Frazer is that he is big, strong, and has an accurate cannon for an arm. However, what probably attracted Weis isn't something that shows up at a recruiting combine. Most likely, in addition to his physical talents, it was Frazer's track record at handling pressure and staying focused on the field. Am I reaching here? Perhaps, but follow me for a second. Looking at his high school's schedule, his team was involved in plenty of close games last year. Five were won by three points or less and one went to triple overtime. So it's not like Frazer was putting up video game numbers early and then sitting for the entire second half. He was earning them when the game was on the line. Check out this excerpt from a game against the Northern Polar Bears (the Polar Bears, in Pennsylvania?)
After Drew Romagnoli pulled in a miraculous touchdown catch between two Wildcat defenders with 1:43 left in the game putting the Bears up 27-22, the bench and stands erupted in what was sure to be a victory celebration.

Then, unbelievably, the Wildcats went the other way down the field. It all came down to one play. The Bears defense hammered Mechanicsburg QB Zach Frazier[sic] on the final drive setting up a last gasp 4th and 20 for the Wildcats. Coach Lichtel was equal to the task, however, pulling the old hook and ladder out of the playbook and the stunned Northern faithful could only watch as the perfectly executed H&L sent Mechanicsburg down their own sideline gaining the first down and more. Two plays later, Mechanicsburg scored ending the Polar Bears quest to get out to an undefeated 3-0 start.
So, in only his third game as a starter, Frazer led his team down the field for the win, completing a 4th and 20 on the way. Need more? How about this.
After Mechanicsburg stopped Gettysburg to start the third overtime, it scored the winner on a three-yard Frazer run.

Frazer completed 21 passes for more than 250 yards, including a 24-yarder to Pehanich in the final minute of regulation. The two connected again on the two-pointer to force overtime.
After watching Tom Brady calmly lead the Patriots on important drive after important drive, Weis no doubt has a preference for signalcallers who remain calm in the pocket and can operate smoothly even in stressful situations. The early returns on Frazer suggest as much. Perhaps Manheim Central's coach Mike Willams summed up Frazer the best.
"We have never played against a team that throws the ball every time," Williams says. "We are going to have to use a lot of coverages and we will also have to put pressure on the quarterback. But he doesn't get too excited or too rattled. He is going to get his yards and we are just going to try to score a few points ourselves."
Now, I'm not going to make any premature comparisons to another Irish quarterback from Pennsylvania with a propensity for comebacks, nor am I going to make any Beano Cook style predictions on Frazer's career at Notre Dame. I'm just going to suggest that Frazer is an excellent recruit who's quarterbacking skills extend beyond how far he can throw a football.

That, and I can't wait to watch him suit up for the Irish.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

A New Overture | by Jay

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.The South Florida Sun-Sentinel has a nice story about Lou Holtz's appearance at a regional ND club event. (Thanks to Hobbs on NDN for the heads-up).

The image is both comical and wonderful.

It was classic Lou Holtz.

If you were a Notre Dame fan, it's why you loved the coach.

If you were a Hurricanes fan, it's why you despised him.

The image is nearly 17 years old, conjured from a story you were once told. It's the memory that comes racing back to you with news that the Notre Dame Club of Fort Lauderdale is preparing to honor the coach Friday night at its Legends of Honor dinner at the Marriott Harbor Beach Hotel.

Back in the fall of 1988 with the No. 1 Hurricanes taking their undefeated record and hopes for back-to-back national titles to South Bend, there was that terrific pre-game brawl in the tunnel. Emotions were raw with Holtz and UM coach Jimmy Johnson pushing their players back into the locker rooms before kickoff.

"We've got to keep our poise, men, and control our emotions, and do what we've prepared to do," Holtz told his players. "But don't worry, when it's all over, I'll take care of Jimmy Johnson on the 50-yard line."

Holtz's team howled with delight, according to former Notre Dame defensive back D'Juan Francisco, who relayed the story years later.

The idea of Holtz, a scrawny, wisp of a man, squaring off against Johnson, a more youthful figure built like a fire hydrant, was as inspiring as it was amusing to all those young men in blue and gold.

"We knew if he got into a fight with Jimmy Johnson we were going to have to help him out, but that didn't matter," Francisco said. "The way we felt about Coach Holtz, we would have followed him through a brick wall."

That was the quintessential Holtz, the little man with the giant spirit inspiring young men to believe there was no obstacle they couldn't overcome.

For UM fans, it was another Holtz tale to make them roll their eyes. For the Irish, it was gospel.

"He gave us so much confidence," Francisco said.

And maybe that was Holtz's greatest gift as a coach, his ability to get young men to believe there was greatness in them no matter what flaws they saw in the mirror in the morning.

Notre Dame upset the Hurricanes 31-30 in a game Miami fans will remember for a controversial Cleveland Gary fumble, but it should be noted that UM was favored on the road that weekend for good reason. Thirty-two Hurricanes on that roster went on to be selected in the NFL Draft.

The Irish went on to win the national championship, the school's last national title. It was Holtz's third season. He led the Irish back to the mountaintop earlier than pundits believed possible in the wake of the dismal Gerry Faust years.

Holtz, 68, is retired in Orlando now, staying busy speaking and writing since leaving the University of South Carolina as head coach last fall.

With first-year coach Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis trying to scale that mountain after another Irish tumble, Holtz is reminded of his arrival at South Bend in 1986.

With pundits saying Notre Dame's time has passed, that the school's rich traditions and values no longer connect as meaningfully with blue-chip recruits today, Holtz arrives with good news.

"They were saying the same things before I went there," Holtz said. "I remember recruiting our first year. First thing, a prospect brings out an article saying the academics are too hard at Notre Dame, the schedule's too tough, athletes have to live on campus ... They're always trying to bury Notre Dame, but Notre Dame will win again, I have no doubt about it. And I believe it will be under Charlie Weis."

Notre Dame fans can take heart in this, too. Weis is smart enough to draw upon Holtz's counsel. Weis called him two weeks ago to pick his brains.

Holtz will speak at a dinner open to the public Friday with cocktails beginning at 6:30 p.m Tickets can be purchased at $100 per head by calling Julie Heaney at 954-563-8111.

Though Holtz is the only coach in NCAA history to take six different teams to bowl games, leading four to Top 25 finishes, his 11 years at Notre Dame stand out.

"It's like one of our Notre Dame club members said, `We have always loved Lou Holtz and always will, and we'll just forget he ever went to South Carolina,"` said Tom Sclafani, president of Notre Dame's Fort Lauderdale Club.

Holtz will always be Notre Dame's coach.
The other night, there was a replay of something called ND Highlights '92 on ESPN Classic, and the segment started off with one of Lou's pep talks to the team in the locker room before a big game. I thought about transcribing it, but Josh Paluch beat me to the punch and actually captured it as a sound file. The rambling, the lisp, the talk of high ideals, and the love for all brings back a lot of memories.

"You gotta believe. This school was founded on faith, and on belief. I told you last week how when Notre Dame burnt down, Father Sorin said the mistake we made is that we didn't build it big enough. Everything here at Notre Dame has been done on faith, and on a commitment to excellence..."

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The Birth of Charlie | by Jay

Here's to the proud parents.

Rolodex | by Jay

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.One of the neat things about Charlie is his extensive network of contacts throughout the football world. We're all familiar with the influence of Parcells and Belichick on Weis, but did you know one of his best friends is his opponent in the Super Bowl, Andy Reid? Neither did I.

Weis said Reid was one of the people he had leaned on for advice since taking over the Fighting Irish.

"I talk to Andy every week," said Weis, seated in his office late last month. "He is the best."

Weis said he had learned the most about running a successful program from New England's Bill Belichick and Bill Parcells of Dallas, both of whom have won Super Bowls. Parcells gave Weis his first NFL job, an assistant's position with the New York Giants in 1990. That team won the Super Bowl.

Weis said that in addition to Belichick, Reid and Carolina Panthers coach John Fox are the "two guys I lean on for advice the most."

Weis said that he met Reid years ago at the NFL scouting combine and that the two had been friends since. He and Fox have been longtime friends.

The last two teams New England has beaten in the Super Bowl are Carolina and the Eagles. Is that any way to treat friends? Apparently so.

"Beside the fact that he is a great coach, Andy Reid is as fine a man as you will ever meet," Weis said.

Great to have such connections in the fraternity. Yet, it's important to note that Charlie's search for assistant coaches went well beyond just the guys on his speed-dial. There's a nice USA Today cover story today that delved into his hiring process a bit:

Even though the hiring process for Ty Willingham's successor had to be completed quickly because of the Feb. 2 signing day for recruits, Weis had prepared for the moment months earlier.

"Last summer I told (Patriots head coach) Bill Belichick I would consider one or two college jobs if they came open, and Notre Dame obviously was at the head of that list," said Weis, a 1978 Notre Dame graduate who did not play for the Irish.

"I started researching college coaching staffs and potential college coaches ... in case that came to fruition. I looked for experience, recruiting and familiarity" with Notre Dame.

When Weis hired his staff, he followed that blueprint, adding some coaches who were unexpectedly available. He had a previous relationship with only two of the nine assistants he hired.
So here's a man who has any number of great contacts in the coaching world, yet he seemingly canvassed the entire country in search of the best of the best, found some great guys he didn't previously know, and had no hesitation in hiring them. At one point, Peyton Manning even called Charlie to lobby for Cutcliffe. "Now it was a game plan night so I think (Manning) was conspiring to get me to lose," Weis said. "But the fact that he went out of his way to leave such a nice message, I thought it was a ringing endorsement." Nice contacts, indeed.

Of course, it doesn't hurt that we're paying the market rate for top-notch assistants, something we apparently didn't extend to Willingham.
Weis could land such a staff based on his reputation — and because athletics director Kevin White opened the checkbook to pay for the assistants' salaries, not always the case in the past.

"When Kevin White sent me over the offer sheet for my initial offer (six years for what local media reported as $2 million a year), I did not ask for one extra dollar. When they offered, I took it," Weis said. "In due return, I think Kevin went out of his way, along with the administration, to come up with the funds to get this coaching staff.

Of course, even if the money were available, Ty probably wouldn't have cast his nets widely as Charlie did, and that's the point of all this. Loyalty is a nice attribute, but with Ty, it crossed the line to a dysfunctional brand of nepotism. Charlie's not bound by any such limitations, and like any great leader, he's not afraid to go and surround himself with the very best.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

But what about the Swinging Gate? | by Jay

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.At the Saturday practice, Charlie worked the special teams pretty hard. The Elkhart Truth has the dirt. (All my life, I've been searching for the Truth. Who knew it was in Elkhart?)

New Irish coach Charlie Weis, who told students during his first week on campus that the special teams on last year's squad "stunk," put the Notre Dame specialty players through a tough workout Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.

The Irish spent the first half of the two-hour workout on special teams and, in Weis' estimation, achieved "about the limit that you could possibly get done."

With the players worn out from the special teams work, Weis and the coaching staff spent the rest of practice implementing the new offensive and defensive schemes in slowed-down teaching sessions. But Saturday's emphasis was clearly on special teams for the Irish, who ranked 25th nationally in net punting, 41st in punt returns and 87th in kickoff returns last season. And those periods of practice weren't run at half-speed.

"If you don't practice special teams full speed, you're not getting any good at them," Weis said afterward.

Good thing, too...Charlie was being nice in his assessment of our special teams play. The punt return squad checked in at 41st overall nationally, but that wasn't nearly the worst. Try and find Notre Dame on this ranking of Division 1 Kickoff Return averages. Keep scrolling. Further. Further. Okay, stop.

As a final twist of the knife...when was the last time ND returned a punt or kickoff for a touchdown? A special JP2 Pope-ner in honor of our late Papa to the first respondant with the correct answer. No peeking.

Cram Session | by Jay

More via the Philly Inquirer:

It was one handoff, one simple handoff, the first play on the first day of Notre Dame's spring football practice late last month.

But Charlie Weis, the first-year coach charged with the considerable task of waking up the echoes of one of college football's most storied programs, already was in full roar. His offense, a proven Super Bowl winner with the New England Patriots, had failed to execute a basic running play, even with no defense on the field.

"That was crap," Weis barked. "Do it again."

So, under the watchful eye of Weis, the former Patriots offensive coordinator whose unit gouged the Eagles for 24 points in New England's Super Bowl victory in February, the startled Irish ran the play again.

And when that play failed to satisfy the no-nonsense Weis, Notre Dame ran it a third time.

"I don't care how long it takes," Weis said angrily. "I have two hours and we can keep doing this."

Many of the weekend's articles mentioned the emphasis on teaching, teaching, and more teaching, with Charlie no doubt reprising his role as a high school pedagogue. Per Jason Kelly's roundup in the SB Trib (with an assist from a short blub in the Chicago Trib):

"He doesn't just teach you your position and what you're supposed to do. He teaches you philosophies," offensive lineman Dan Stevenson said. "When you can understand the philosophy of the offense, and the philosophy of each play, it can help you better understand why you need to do certain things."

After a meeting Friday to teach the quarterbacks principles of hot reads and sight adjustments, even the most experienced player in the room learned something.

"Coach (Ron) Powlus turned to me and said, 'That was the simplest I think I've ever heard -- through college, NFL, everything -- going through hots and sight-adjusts and having someone explain it," Quinn said. "That's a great example of coach Weis as a teacher. He makes things so simple that can be complicated at times."

Running back Darius Walker flashed his incandescent smile at that idea.

Corey Dillon operated as the featured back in this system last season, the same role Walker now occupies. He always assumed an offense that won Super Bowls would be beyond him, but he has wrapped his head around it in a hurry.

"In a sense," Walker said, "I guess it just all depends on the coach getting his players to understand it and learn it."

Despite some inevitable inconsistency in the translation -- installation days can be a struggle -- the Irish describe significant progress in their understanding over the last two weeks.

It might be their toughest class of the spring semester, based on the size of the textbook alone, but they enjoy studying for it the most.

"Right now we're just trying to be like one big sponge. I think all of us are out there with eyes open and ears open," wide receiver Jeff Samardzija said. "Just out there ready for anything, trying to pick up as much as you can. Obviously there's a lot of stuff flying around."


"I think it's one of those things where you have to understand what to do in certain situations," Quinn said. "He's trying to get us on the same page he's on."

With quarterbacks coach David Cutcliffe out from spring practice while he recovers from his March triple-bypass heart surgery, Weis has filled in, preparing Quinn to run his offense.

"It probably has been the best experience I could have had," Quinn said. "He knows the ins and outs and everything, and he knows the best way to teach it."
Sounds like some of that might be sticking, too.
"The fact that I can loosen up a little bit with them tells me that I feel they're starting to get it a little bit," Weis said. "Everyone has their own personality and once they start to understand yours and kind of do things the way you want them to do them, then you know you're moving in the direction that you'd like it to go."

Up Cycle | by Jay

Saturday's entire practice at ND stadium was open to reporters, and as a result we've had a raft of articles from all corners of the media apparatus over the last few days. Lots of good stuff to feed your offseason football jones.

Perhaps the most comprehensive rundown came yesterday in a Philadelphia Inquirer article by Marc Narducci. Mostly it's a recap of a lot of stuff any self-respecting ND fan would be aware of already, but a few new tidbits stand out, including a little musing about academic standards:

Can a school with such stringent academic standards recapture faded glory? And can Weis, who has exactly one year's experience as a head coach - at Central Jersey's Franklin High in 1989 - succeed in one of the most high-profile, pressure-packed jobs in all of sport?

Weis said he would not use academic standards as a crutch.

"No," he said, sitting in his office the day before spring practice opened. If the standards had been a problem, "I wouldn't have taken the job."

Those standards helped Weis land his first recruit, Mike Turkovich, a 6-foot-7, 290-pound offensive tackle from the Valley Forge Military Academy. Turkovich, who had been considering Boston College and Wisconsin, has a 3.7 grade point average and has scored 1,200 on the Scholastic Assessment Test.

"Both the academic and athletic side is why I chose Notre Dame," Turkovich said. "Some schools are strong academically and some are strong in football. Notre Dame has the best of both worlds."

Parseghian, now 82 and retired, agreed. Parseghian finished with a 95-17-4 record and won two national championships in 11 seasons, from 1964 to 1974.

"If you read the papers before I took over, they were writing back then that the academic standards were too high, and no way could Notre Dame win again," Parseghian said by telephone from his winter home in Florida.

"People not familiar say it's the reason," he said. "But the fact is that it isn't. The academic standards haven't changed, but you can't win all the time. We were able to turn it around. It seems like these things go in cycles. Looking at it now, the program seems ready for an up cycle.

Remember oh, about four months ago? You know, when it was too hard to recruit at ND, because the admissions office wouldn't let anybody through the door? It wasn't that far back that academic standards were being touted as the reason that we'd never witness a return to glory, but Narducci's piece is at least the fifth national media piece (by national, I'm talking about outside of the South Bend-Chicago orbit) by my count that discounts stringent academics as a reason for ND's recent floundering. Now, I think the whole "standards" excuse was mostly invented in the first place, with the Dodds and the ESPN Gameday personnel of the world latching onto a convenient meme (originally invoked by the Bullet, perhaps?) to explain the futility of big time football-cum-acamdemia. So it's nice to see the conventional wisdom begin to shift; and you just know, that underneathe it all, this is a concentrated PR campaign on the part of Weis, the AD, and the admissions department to dismantle the popular assumption that ND is slowly slipping into athletic obscurity. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Gallup Joins the Irish | by Pat

A week after Munir Prince became the first verbal for the latest recruiting class, Barry Gallup called up Coach Weis and become the second. Gallup, a speedy 5'11" wide receiver from the Boston area, chose Notre Dame despite a strong connection to Boston College. His father is currently an Associate A.D. for Football Operations for the Eagles, was a record setting wide receiver as a player there, and was responsible for recruiting such players as Doug Flutie while an assistant coach.

When he called up Coach Weis on Thursday to commit, Gallup was also holding offers from BC, Syracuse, Wisconsin, and Duke. He was also seriously considering Harvard.

The recruitment of Gallup gives Irish fans another insight into the recruiting strategy of Coach Weis. Gallup is not a national recruit and, to be honest, plays in a high school league not known for football. However, Weis obviously saw something he liked in film of Gallup's games and made a quick move to secure his verbal commitment. He didn't worry about the relative lack of offers or require Gallup to prove himself at a summer camp. It is becoming clear that Weis is going to be decisive and fast moving as a recruiter and will go hard after players he likes, whether they are nationally ranked or not. This might upset some Irish fans who religiously adhere to the recruiting star system, but I think Weis' track record of developing players provides plenty of reassurance that he knows exactly what type of player he wants and how to get the most out of them.

As for Gallup's talents, last year he was voted to the first team all-New England team. His team only played eight games last season, but Gallup put up 1,700 yards rushing, 500 yards receiving, and 24 touchdowns. On defense he totaled six interceptions. In track, he finished near the top of his league posting a 11.68 sec 100M and 24.21 200M. He also worked out last summer with the BC football team, occasionally running patterns against all-Big East cornerback Will Blackmon. Most importantly, he kept the commitment momentum going as Irish fans hope a few more recruits tell Coach Weis that they want to play for the Irish during the next few weeks.

Mr. Basketball | by Mike

When Chris Thomas arrived at Notre Dame, he became the first Indiana Mr. Basketball ever to play for the Fighting Irish. Not only did Thomas's decision mean that an incredibly talented star would play in the JACC, it also gave Irish fans hope of gaining access to the fertile Indiana recruiting scene. (For some reason, the Ross brothers did not prove to be watershed recruits in the state). Given that other Mr. Basketball winners include Sean May, Jason Gardner, Bryce Drew, Glenn Robinson, Damon Bailey, Steve Alford, George McGinnis and Oscar Robertson, the ability to attract major Indiana recruits can have a significant impact on the team's fortunes.

For the second time in five years, the Indiana No. 1 jersey will be worn by a Notre Dame recruit. Today, Luke Zeller was named the 2005 Indianapolis Star Mr. Basketball.

Zeller received 101 of a possible 247 votes cast by coaches and members of the media. Dominic James of Richmond was second with 63 votes and Josh McRoberts of Carmel was third with 41. Twelve other high school seniors accounted for the other 42 votes.
The 2005 Indiana high school class is one of the deepest in memory, with James bound for Marquette and McRoberts bound for the (ahem) leader who happens to coach basketball. Yet Zeller ran away with the vote, practically receiving as many votes as James and McRoberts combined. Zeller put together a stellar year, combining per game averages of 19.6 points, 9.6 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 2.0 blocks with a state championship. And one hell of a memory.

It deserves mention that Mr. Basketball is not simply awarded to the high school player that projects as the best college or pro prospect. It's possible James or McRoberts will best Zeller in either of these areas. Mr. Basketball voters have always looked at the performance of candidates' high school, rather than AAU, teams. Voters also look to character. Whatever the exact balance of criteria, winning Mr. Basketball is undoubtedly the dream of every basketball-playing kid in Indiana, and Notre Dame fans should be thrilled to welcome another Mr. Basketball to campus.

Friday, April 08, 2005

the Quarterly catches up | by Jay

The new issue of Notre Dame Magazine has a couple of nice football-related articles; the first, a thorough recap of the last year's events and some musings on the importance of the pigskin at Notre Dame (by Kerry Temple); the second, a profile of Charlie Weis as the man to continue that tradition (by Jim Donaldson). Both articles are well worth reading in full.

At one point Temple waxes philosophical about the role of ND in collegiate sports:

...Many Notre Dame people had their first contact with the place through football -- sometimes because of games broadcast nationally on the radio, sometimes because of the priests and nuns who asked prayers for "the boys" on Saturdays and who intertwined Fighting Irish football with their faith. Millions of Catholics -- whether Irish, Italian, German or Pole -- lived vicariously through the wins and losses of Notre Dame's football teams. For that vastly immigrant population Notre Dame football symbolized the triumphs of an ostracized people. It also reflected the ascendancy of U.S. Catholics into the nation's mainstream...

...As college football grew into a big business soiled with recruiting scandals, dismal graduation rates and the misconduct of powerful boosters and rogue athletes, Notre Dame maintained a reputation for doing it right. Its football players met admissions standards. They went to class, got an education, earned a degree. They lived in residence halls like other college students and not in special athletic dorms.

Even those who were not Fighting Irish fans acknowledged that Notre Dame was different, that it kept college athletics in the proper context, that its philosophy and standards may put the school at a competitive disadvantage but its guiding principles had become a hallmark of institutional integrity.

Later, Temple sums up the role of ND football in our lives, and why this game "matters":
It's been a tough time to be a Notre Dame fan. There have been a few sweet victories, but Notre Dame football has surely changed in recent years. It is now the ceremony that matters, the ritual of it all. The game may bring us together, but the tradition, memories and fraternity are the real reasons for pleasure. A certain amount of emotional distancing from the games played by college students may demonstrate a healthy maturation for someone my age, and, as an alumnus who subscribes to the school's philosophy and mission, I have no trouble keeping football in its place. But life is more fun when the team gives you reason to celebrate and feel good...

...I got hooked on Notre Dame football as a kid 40 years ago. Because of football, I came to love Notre Dame and to believe in it. Through the years I've experienced a lot of the history of the sport so ingrained in the University's character. There has been rejoicing and there has been heartache. I'd like to think it's time that the program and institution bring honor to the tradition and give Notre Dame fans reason to feel good again.
Nail on the head: a touchstone observation that describes the crazy hold football has on all of us Irish fans (and probably explains the derision and eye-rolling from the usual corners whenever we get misty-eyed about our beloved tradition).

In the second piece, Jim Donaldson does the Charlie Weis recap, peppering it with some new flavor.
"I'm a Catholic," [Weis] says, "but it's not like I'd grown up my whole life saying: 'I want to go to Notre Dame.' I had a liking for Notre Dame, because everyone I knew grew up watching the Sunday morning highlights show on television, listening to Lindsey Nelson. When I started looking at colleges, there were certain criteria I was looking for. I wanted to go to a good university where I'd be a name, not just a number. That's one of the things I've always treasured about Notre Dame. I left there with a group of friends similar to the friends I'd grown up with in New Jersey, a bunch of guys who would do anything for each other."
Overall, Donaldson puts together a fairly good wrapper around the Charlie Weis story (to-date). One passage struck me as ill-conceived, however:
Weis is not a charismatic man. But he is brilliant when it comes to strategy. As Belichick pointed out, one of Weis's strengths is his willingness, and ability, to make split-second adjustments to a game plan that took hours and hours to prepare. Nor is Weis a handsome man. He's overweight and walks with a hesitation in his step as a result of complications following gastric bypass surgery.
Perhaps I'm getting snagged on the first sentence there, but I think Donaldson's selling Charlie short in the charisma department. Sure, he's portly, he could be a better dresser, he's got the mug of a truck driver (or maybe Al Czervik) and he talks with a rambling, scattershot delivery, but there's nothing I've seen in videos or interviews that makes me think he's not engaging, interesting, and personable. Charisma is hard to define, but to borrow a line from Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, "I know it when I see it", and Charlie Weis -- he's got it.

Ray Ray | by Jay

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.Ingenue recruit Ray Herring had another update in his online journal this week. Enjoy.

Monday, April 4, 2005

It's been awhile. Sorry, I wanted to take a break from everything that had to do with recruiting and get my academics and off-season program off and running. After going through the recruiting process, it was easy to get "senioritis" and forget that I still had another semester of high school. I've been busy getting everything ready for graduation and doing a lot of community service at a local community center. I also received my off-season workout program from Notre Dame and have been busting my tail to get ready for the fall.

Notre Dame fans are unbelievable! Since I committed, it has been great! It seems like everywhere I go either there is a Notre Dame fan congratulating me or a fan from another school who is asking about Notre Dame. Coach Weis has people's attention!

My Notre Dame workout program is intense. A lot of running and serious weight training! By the end of my day, I'm struggling to get my homework done before I fall asleep. I'm getting used to it though which is good because I don't think it is going to change once I get to South Bend. Both Coach Lewis and Coach Polian have been great about staying in touch and I'm really looking forward to getting up there and working with my new teammates.

There are a lot of great players at Notre Dame who are also great people. I'm really looking forward to getting to know the guys better and doing everything I can to help us bring that 12th National Championship back to South Bend in the near future. I know any successful team starts with good people and Notre Dame has great people. Now with Coach Weis and his staff, it is just a matter of time.

My Dad has been in the hospital which really is hard. He has been really been sick lately which turned out that he had an infection in one of his kidneys and they had to take it out. He has been in the hospital for a couple of weeks now and I go see him every day after my workout. When I go into the hospital he tells everyone, "that's my son, he's going to Notre Dame."

There is no question he is my number one fan, that is cool, because I'm his! With all of the good fortune I've been blessed to have, I know there is always adversity right around the corner. My parents are more important to me than anything, and my dad's illness puts it all in perspective.

Thanks for all of your support, I'll write more often now.

Go Irish!

Moniker Memo | by Jay

A new entry to the All-Name team: X'Zavier Bloodsaw, a quarterback recruit from Nimitz High in Irvine, Texas.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Weis lands his first | by Pat

During the recent April 2nd Junior Day, Coach Weis received his first verbal commitment for the class of 2006. Munir Prince, a running back from DeSmet High School in St. Louis made the decision after meeting with Weis and watching the Notre Dame team practice in ND Stadium. Other schools vying for Prince's services include Iowa, Nebraska, Ohio State, Michigan State, Northwestern, and Kansas.

From, here's the scoop on Prince.

Munir Prince, DeSmet
Vitals: 5-10, 170, junior
Notes: Despite struggling with injuries, the Metro Catholic co-player of the year (along with St. Louis University High running back Stephen Simmons) still rushed for 986 yards, caught eight passes for 126 yards and scored 11 touchdowns. He was credited with 21 tackles on defense, even though opponents went away from him most of the time. Prince was a first-team Class 6 all-state selection as a defensive back by the media. He will be one of the area's top players next season.
Another testament to Prince's abilities is his finish in the 2004 AAU Junior Olympic Games (intermediate division), where he finished 4th in the 100m dash and 3rd in the 200m dash. If you look at his results at the 2004 Missouri State Track Meet, you'll see not only a 7th place finish in the 200m as a sophomore, but also some excellent times by another recent ND recruit, DJ Hord.

Prince is one of the earliest commits that I can remember, new coaching staff or not. Willingham's earliest commit was David Bruton, who committed on June 29th. As for Davie, I can't find any dates before 2002, where Bob Morton was the first to commit on July 24th. I believe Zac Kustoc committed during the Blue and Gold game to Holtz right before Holtz' final year but I don't know if anyone committed earlier than that.

With anywhere from 19 to 25 scholarships to give out this year, Weis appears to have an early start to recruiting this year. He has mentioned his desire to re-establish Notre Dame's recruiting base in the Midwest and among Catholic schools specifically. It will be interesting to see how this strategy is followed this recruiting season. I wouldn't be surprised to see Weis attempt to get early commits from local (meaning driving distance midwest) recruits to get a solid base of 5-10 before becoming more selective and canvassing the country for the best remaining at positions of need. This type of strategy will be extremely effective if Notre Dame can get off to a good start on the football field.

One of the two major concerns when Weis was hired was how he would react to college recruiting after spending most of this coaching years in the NFL. With the early commitment of Munir Prince and the numerous postive recruit interviews appearing on the and networks, the recruiting concern is rapidly fading away.

Friday, April 01, 2005

A New Recruit | by Jay

A few weeks ago Charlie and Company hosted a Junior Day for about 80 players, and it looks like the staff will continue to bring in more kids as the semester winds down, and try and get a headstart on recruiting for next year's class.

One player, in particular, might be something special. If you've been reading the premium-access recruiting message boards the last few days, you know that a few rumors have been floating around about a certain "overseas" recruit that may be making an appearance on campus sometime soon for an official visit. In trying to research the story, I came upon this article in the Irish Times of Dublin from this week. Take a look.


(GAA NEWS) It's not often that a Gaelic footballer would merit notice from his counterparts in the States, but all that is about to change for one Finbar Rory O'Hanlon of Donegal.

Keen observers of this year's Connacht Club league might know the name; O'Hanlon, from Tory Island, latched onto Letterkenney Gaels FC at the end of the season, played in a grand total of two matches, yet stunned the locals with his lightning-quick reflexes, his innate, almost preternatural skill with the leather, and his country good looks.

"He's maybe the fastest I've ever seen on the field," remarked Hugh Downey, assistant coach of the Gaels. "He's a blur of shaggy red hair. If you blink, you'll miss him."

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.O'Hanlon, known as "Tunney" to his mates, is already a sensation in Donegal. "Nobody knew about him. From what I heard, he grew up on Tory, and never played the game until this year. But I've never seen a lad his size move that quickly and throw, catch, and kick so fluidly. It's like he was born to play the game," said Downey.

O'Hanlon debuted at halfback, but he was soon moved up to full-forward. "You'd think he was too big to play up front," said Downey of the 1.93m lad, "but he's faster than everyone on the field, so it doesn't really matter, does it?"

"He really is from out there in the water, you can barely understand the lad," says team manager Tim Mooney, "but he's the full shilling. Smart and instinctual. And tough."

Tough would be an understatement. Opposing defender Mike McHugh of Donegal Town found out just how intimidating O'Hanlon can be, when he went toe-to-toe and got the full shiner right in the face. "He flattened me, period. And I'm not a small guy. When he barrells down at you, it's hard not to be a little shook." Tunney seems to live for the hard crunch, often going out of his way to deliver a blow en route to a score.

Tracking down O'Hanlon's legacy is a bit of a challenge. He grew up on Tory the son of a fisherman and a schoolteacher, although Mrs. Bridie O'Hanlon has been retired for some time. Tunney never enrolled in the local school, having been taught by his mum for these ten years or so. This probably explains why he never surfaced on the local GAA scene until now.

"We always knew he was something special," explained the honourable Mrs. O'Hanlon. "When he was a child, he would run and chase the gulls on the beach. When he got bored with that, he would chase goats. After a while, he was faster than the goats, so he chased rabbits. And he caught them, too."

O'Hanlon's father was a fisherman, and he taught young Tunney how to cast and reel. Soon, however, he was fishing without a pole. "He would simply stare at the water, sometimes for twenty minutes, and then, in a flash, his hand would dart into the water, and come out with a very surprised mackeral in his grip. His father loved to watch him catch fish this way, and would just laugh and laugh, God rest his soul." When Tunney was done fishing, he'd jump into the sea, fully clothed, and swim with the seals who would gather around the Tory docks. Sometimes he'd circle the island with a pod of the friendly sea creatures, mimicking their fluid movement and getting faster and faster. "Sometimes he'd swim to the mainland, and be back before lunch," says Mrs. O'Hanlon.

Ned HanlanO'Hanlon's father, Finbar senior, aka "Finn" O'Hanlon, was also a local quarryman who supplied most of the stone for new houses on the island from a quarry he dug himself. Foregoing draft horses and mechanized equipment, Finn would lift the gargantuan rocks onto his back and lug them seven or ten miles for a new construction. Oftentimes Tunney would tag along, chipping in by carrying the odd boulder or slag at his father's heels at the age of four. Together they built most of the structures on the island, including a holy Grotto to Mary, modeled after the one at Lourdes.

Tunney was homeschooled by Bridie for most of his formative years, learning language and customs and folklore and the manual arts. He makes most of his own clothes on a loom in his bedroom, he plays both the violin and the saxophone, and he enjoys translating the legends of Finn MacCool (a distant relative of his) from the original primitive Gaelic. His translations are widely considered the definitive works on the subject, and the manuscript, along with a collection of his poetry and several short novels he's written, are on display at Trinity College in Dublin.

But it's his athletic endeavors that really capture young Tunney's heart. Bored with a lifetime of outrunning and outsmarting most of the wildlife on Tory island, O'Hanlon finally made his way to the mainland last year and took up a more human challenge by joining the Gaels FC. He was immediately taken by the competition and camaraderie of the energetic matches.

If there is one Achilles heel to the great O'Hanlon, it is his love of drink. When he was a child, a terrible storm swept through Tory, sending great waves upon the beach and contaminating the local water sources for a few weeks. To supplement the water supply, the O'Hanlon's turned to a healthy stash of Guinness they had in the cellar, and a bottle was filled with the brown nectar and given to young Tunney. He lapped it up like a puppy, and developed quite a taste for the stout that continues to this day. It's said that he often goes through an entire barrel by himself in the course of a month's time, and often he'll be seen on the bench at a match, sending some young lad down to the corner pub for a fresh pint before the half ends. The drink never seems to affect his play adversely, however; in one of those rare phenomena of nature, it is perhaps the beer itself that sends O'Hanlon's skill from the merely superior and into the stratosphere.

"His natural talent is simply breathtaking," said Downey, apparently struggling for more superlatives. "You can't teach it -- it's all from within. He's got a bright future -- but I hope he stays in the GAA. He could play just about sport, I think. I'm not sure if it's the beer, or what, but he can do anything."

In fact, after the second (and last) game of his career, Tunney seemed to be a little bit bored by his achievements. A keen eye could sense a restlessness in his heart, as if his journey to the mainland that took 17 years was merely the first step in a round-the-world adventure.

This is where the Americans enter the picture. Two weeks ago a few Yanks on holiday were playing the west course at Ballyliffin and saw young O'Hanlon running along the water, as he usually does for morning exercise. The men were shocked by the speed of the young sprinter. Just then, O'Hanlon stopped, and picked up a good sized rock, and hurled it seventy or eighty yards through the air, striking a flying sea gull dead between the shoulder blades. The men were amazed. Their caddy, a local ruffian by the name of Jim Muldoon, filled them in. "That's Tunney O'Hanlon -- yeah, he's fast and all. And smart. And friendly. And a great player. I can't stand him." The men immediately asked to be introduced. They managed to flag down O'Hanlon, who was about to dive into the ocean and swim back to Tory, and offered to buy him lunch.

One of these happened to be a man by the name of Gene Corrigan, a prominent member of the American college sporting landscape, and a former athletic director at the University of Notre Dame, a college known for its American football team. Over a sheperd's pie at Flynn's (still the best in Donegal) Mr. Corrigan began to talk about college in the United States and an opportunity to play American football. As he pitched the game, describing the strange pads, the unorthodox scoring system, and arcane rules, O'Hanlon became more and more intrigued, and by all accounts, at the end of the interview O'Hanlon was faintly salivating at the prospect of proving himself with yet another challenge. Corrigan began to put the plan into motion. O'Hanlon ordered a beer.

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.Now, the wheels are turning. Last week a coach from the University of Notre Dame, a Mr. Robert Ianello, flew into Shannon by way of Chicago and rented a car to drive to Donegal, whereupon he met with Tunney O'Hanlon on the GAA local field, and put him through a battery of tests. Jumping, throwing, catching, kicking, and running -- above all, running -- O'Hanlon flew through the drills, and left the American with his mouth agape. It was, as an onlooker described it, as if Ianello had seen the Future. Trying to suppress his shock, Ianello turned to several onlookers and said, "Well, he's pretty good, isn't he? I'm glad we got here first." Ianello departed with promises of future meetings, and discussed a possible trip to the States. O'Hanlon's never even been to Dublin, let alone out of the country.

Someday soon, Finbar Rory "Tunney" O'Hanlon, this son of a fisherman, who runs like a rabbit, swims with the seals, and drinks Guinness for breakfast, may be trading the leather for the pigskin, donning a golden gleaming helmet, and playing for the only American squad that could honestly bear his membership: the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.

Who knows? Instead of a flight overseas, he might just swim it.