Monday, December 06, 2004

ND Coaching Search - One Man's Opinion | by Sean

I consumed 6 beers while typing this, I'll have you all know. So get comfy.

First, before getting to the "who's next?" part of this rant, a lot of blame has been kicked around over the last 24 hours. Kevin White. John Jenkins. Monk Malloy. The Board of Trustees. I think we all know where the blame lies for the state we are in right now - it's those freaking green jerseys! Think about it. Everything was cruising along just fine, 8-0 record, top 5 ranking, Fiesta Bowl in sight. And then out come the green jerseys against BC. So 7 home losses, 5 losses by more than 30 points, and two piss poor recruiting classes later, here we are - sitting outside the Meyer house with a freshly bruised forehead from the door getting slammed in our collective grills. Whoever our next coach is, please, we implore you - LEAVE THE GREEN JERSEYS IN THE CLOSET! Better yet, have a bonfire at the press conference and burn them up.

Anyway, the school has egg all over its face right now from a p.r. standpoint, and rightfully so. But what's being lost in this whole thing is that things were not going to turn around under Coach Willingham. He is a great man, but has proven to be a scattershot game coach, questionable motivator, and mediocre recruiter. This whole search, at the end of the day, though, is not an Urban Meyer issue. We, the alumni and the university, made it an Urban Meyer issue by going after him right away (the right move, by the way). We just didn't get our guy. But the chances are very high that we will come away from this with a better head football coach than we had a week ago. It just won't be Urban Meyer. I guess what I'm saying is "This, too, shall pass."

(One side note to those who say "Now look at you, Notre Dame. You fired Willingham and didn't even get your guy, Urban Meyer." and use this as the reason it was a mistake to fire Willingham. Let's assume for a second that ND doesn't fire Willingham, that he's still our coach in 2005. Presumably, Urban Meyer still goes to Florida for the 2005 season. NOW, imagine the backlash this time next year when Willingham has continued to be Willingham (7 wins, at best) and Meyer is winning an SEC Championship in Florida. The same people would be saying, "You see, you should've taken your shot at Meyer in 2004 when you had it. He had an ND out clause at Utah. He could've been yours, Notre Dame." So at that point we end up firing Willingham and hiring someone on the Plan B list anyway, and have wasted another year trying to run the Bill Diedrick playbook under Coach Willingham, AND have the constant second guessing of "you should've gone after Meyer". At least the way it's played out now, we took our shot. We missed, it's a p.r. nightmare, oh well. Once the firestorm today is over, I'm still ok with them letting Willingham go, even if John Q. Public thinks it was "unfair". Screw that. It's college football. It's a performance based business, not a soup kitchen. I guess what I'm saying - AGAIN - is "this, too, shall pass".)

I'm not sure how Urban Meyer would have done as the Notre Dame head coach, nor how he will do at Florida. My guess is he will have them in the SEC Championship game next year, at a minimum. They have a TON of talent. I do know the reasons why I thought Meyer would be a great fit, and it wasn't so much the prolific, wide open offense that he runs nor his renowned motivational skills. Now more than ever, the University of Notre Dame needs someone who can passionately sell the school to recruits. Someone who bleeds blue and gold, and who assembles a staff that bleeds blue and gold. Urban Meyer, I thought, fit this bill.

My main concern now is that we need to hire someone who loves Notre Dame. This is clearly a unique place that needs to be positioned properly with recruits by a head coach and staff who KNOW and have experienced success here. With Meyer out of the picture, I'm seeing a lot of names being kicked around and this is taking on an eerie 2001 feel to it. The names are all very good coaches (Tedford, Ferentz, etc), but do these guys really love the school? Do they embrace the history and tradition of the university? And if they are hired and have some success, will they be inclined to leave when the NFL comes calling? (Admittedly, that last one would be a problem I'd welcome right now - a coach good enough to be courted by the NFL, but you see my point.) Like Davie before him, Willingham came in with really only a general working knowledge and healthy respect for Notre Dame. I never got the feeling that either one LOVED the school. In fact, Davie flat out refused to acknowledge the mystique; Willingham to his credit, always talked about how special the place is, but was clearly not able to translate that into a language 18 year old kids could decipher (see Rankings, Recruiting 2004). Also, they assembled staffs that included NO Notre Dame graduates. THAT boggles my mind.

At the end of the day, I'd like someone with a track record of head coaching success, but more than anything else I really think we need to do our best to "keep this in the family" if at all possible, even if it means hiring someone with no head coaching experience. So I'm going to lay out who I think the pipe dream candidates are, who the main candidates are, and then who I think SHOULD get the job.

PIPE DREAM CANDIDATES (5% chance at best)

BARRY ALVAREZ - Wisconsin head coach and athletic director

Pros: Former ND defensive coordinator....understands the tradition at ND....has made Wisconsin into a perennial Big Ten contender.....great personality, would be a solid p.r. hire

Cons: He is the Knute Rockne of Wisconsin football.....age, does ND want to hire someone in their late 50's?....the ND he'd be walking into now is very different than the one in 1989.

GRADE (if hired): A-

BUTCH DAVIS - former Miami (FL)/Cleveland Browns head coach

Pros: Rebuilt Miami into a national power under NCAA sanctions, and did so while cleaning out the Miami dirty laundry of the 80's and early 90's....great recruiter....NFL experience and track record of sending guys to the pros.

Cons: Has mentioned he wants to take a year off....supposedly, overstressed from Browns job, the Notre Dame job will probably not help that condition....reputation for being very overbearing, not easy guy to be Notre Dame affiliation....stint with Browns did his game coach reputation no favors

GRADE (if hired): B

JON GRUDEN - Tampa Bay Bucs head coach

Pros: Has won at the highest offensive guru.....intense motivator....has Notre Dame affiliation in his background....would satiate the Notre Dame Nation

Cons: Makes $4M a year....has an ego the size of the Florida collegiate coaching experience, throws into question his ability to recruit and assemble a college staff....has already said he's not interested, but ND may make a phone call just to check for sure.

GRADE (if hired): B+

BOB STOOPS - Oklahoma head coach

Pros: How much time do you have?....turned Oklahoma into a national champion in two years....renowned defensive mastermind....assembles the best coaching staffs in college football....young, aggressive, risk taker....Midwest guy with Catholic roots....arguably the best coach in the game today....has spoken fondly of ND before

Cons: Makes nearly as much as top NFL guys....has a legacy intact at Oklahoma that would be tough to leave.....great recruiter at OU but no academic handcuffs there; could he recruit as well at ND with tougher standards? Or more to the point, would he even want to?

GRADE (if hired): A+

MAIN CANDIDATES (will all likely get a phone call; even money the next ND coach is in this pool of candidates)

KIRK FERENTZ - Iowa head coach

Pros: Clearly a turnaround artist as he has made Iowa a fixture near the top of the Big Ten and in New Year's Day bowl offensive line guru with NFL experience....a Joe Moore disciple....Kevin White gave him his first head coaching job at Maine....young, good recruiter with a Midwest power base

Cons: No previous affiliation with Notre Dame...A disciple of Joe Moore, may hold ill will toward how Notre Dame treated his late mentor....has been mentioned often as a successor to Joe Paterno at Penn State....will always be on the NFL short list....just signed a new deal at Iowa...does it really matter if he has ties with White, since White has as much power as Chuck the Janitor right about now?

GRADE (if hired): A-

DAN HAWKINS - Boise State head coach

Pros: A winner, 44-6 at Boise State....Catholic, with the now famous "ND out clause" in his contract (for what that's worth).....offense is ridiculously proficient, always in the top 3...has said on more than one occasion that he'd like to coach at ND....probably in the school's price range as his Boise extension offer is in the $500K/yr range.

Cons: Boise State to Notre Dame seems like an awfully big jump....his teams defenses have not been much to write home about....least impressive resume of all the candidates, before Boise State he spent several years at a place called Willamette, wherever that will his space age offense work against a BCS caliber schedule?.... this may be nitpicking, but the guy has no eyebrows. Have you ever seen him? It's really very strange.

GRADE (if hired): C+

BOBBY PETRINO - Louisville head coach

Pros: One of the great offensive coaches in the country....except for Meyer, probably the hottest up-and-comer in the collegiate coaching ranks....young, good recruiter

Cons: No ties to Notre Dame....recruiting at Notre Dame versus Louisville is a whole different ballgame in the classroom....flirtation with Auburn last year was awkward and somewhat slimy......seems to be more of an SEC guy

GRADE (if hired): B-

MIKE SHANAHAN - Denver Broncos head coach and General Manager

Pros: Proven winner with two Super Bowl rings and perennial playoff team in Denver, despite revolving door at skill positions during his tenure....offensive genius......multiple 1000 yard rushers on his watch (David, Gary, Anderson, Portis).....Catholic with Chicago roots....instant credibility with recruits

Cons: Availability, may not be through with current position until mid ties to Notre Dame.....has had total autonomy in Denver for so long, how would he react with having to answer to an AD, school president, and demanding Board of Trustees......physically looks like rat....refuses to wear any type of hat in snowstorm games and winds up looking like Frankie Carbone in "Goodfellas", hanging from a hook in the back of a meat truck

GRADE (if hired): B+

JEFF TEDFORD - Cal head coach

Pros: Probably a more amazing turnaround than Ferentz at Iowa....from 1-10 three years ago to a likely BCS bid and top 5 ranking this season....a QB guru, responsible for high powered offenses everywhere he's been....would be a name that would regain recruiting momentum.

Cons: No Notre Dame affiliation....West Coast guy, would he come to South Bend?.....recruiting contacts in the Midwest, does he have any?....Like Ferentz, an NFL short list guy

GRADE (if hired): A-

JOE TILLER - Purdue head coach

Pros: Outstanding offensive coach....turned dormant Purdue into a year-in and year-out competitive outfit in the Big Ten....has been to a bowl every year at Purdue....Midwest power base in recruiting as well as surprising recruiting success in a former ND hotbed down in Texas

Cons: No Notre Dame ties....sometimes questionable in game coaching moves (i.e. Gary Godsey throwing more passes than Drew Brees in 2000 ND v Purdue)...would the ND Nation embrace the head coach of what has become a hated rival?

GRADE (if hired): B-

CHARLIE WEIS - New England Patriots offensive coordinator

Pros: Notre Dame graduate....NFL experience would be enticing to recruits....has run an efficient, winning offense at the highest level.... wants the job

Cons: No head coaching experience at any level....appearance - not exactly someone you can put on a poster for the football program (unless it's somehow tied to a rib eating contest)....likely not available until February as Pats will probably go deep into the NFL postseason....if he wasn't an ND grad, wouldn't even be considered.

GRADE (if hired): C


TOM CLEMENTS - Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator/former Notre Dame quarterback and assistant coach

First, let me say that the only knock on Clements is going to be that he has never been a head coach. But this isn't half-wit Bob "It is what it is...all ball" Davie getting his first crack at head coaching. This is a guy with a law degree. Anyone who has ever spent any time with Clements will tell you that he's an incredibly intelligent guy.

As for the reasons I think he would be the ideal choice - first of all, he wants the job. He wanted it in 2001, and I'm guessing that hasn't changed. This is not someone Notre Dame is going to have to hard sell on coming to Notre Dame and then overpay to get them. Clements will come immediately and at a reasonable price.

Second, there is no danger of Clements asking the administration to lower the admission standards. He will know and embrace these standards because he has played and coached under them before.

Third, the guy has NFL coaching experience over the last ten years that will prove to be very valuable in getting kids that want to not only get an education but play at the next level. He's coached for several different NFL clubs so his base of contacts in the league is probably quite vast.

Fourth, he will likely stock the staff with ND graduates. Maybe not all ND grads, but at least a few who will be able to convey the spirit of Notre Dame to recruits and, just as importantly, to the current players. I really don't get the sense that these players know what it's like to truly play Notre Dame football.

Fifth, and most importantly, this would be a tremendously popular move with the alumni base. THIS is the move they should have made three years ago after the O'Leary thing blew up in their faces. Keep it in the family. Clements has his fair share of advocates within the high powered alum, which will help. I think this is a move, given how the Meyer thing went sour, that would be tremendously popular. I'm picturing Clements at the press conference announcing his acceptance of the job and I'm picturing him talking about the spirit of Notre Dame and how special a place the university is, and truly MEANING it. Not just saying it because his paycheck says "University of Notre Dame" on it, but saying it because that's how he truly feels and always will feel. And I get excited about having a guy who can go out and re-sell Notre Dame without having to be sold on it himself. Any of these other guys I've listed above are going to have to be convinced that the Notre Dame job is the right move for them. And how can you truly know if they believe it? Tom Clements believes it. We thought Urban Meyer did. But we now see, Urban Meyer had a desire to seek the position of head football coach at Notre Dame, but when push came to shove, he wasn't a Notre Dame man. He didn't graduate from the school. He never ran out of the tunnel in anything other than an assistant coach's windbreaker.

This is a critical hire for the University. They need to hit a home run. Clements won't feel like a home run to the general non-ND public if he gets announced because, frankly, I doubt many people even know who he is. We'll probably get our fair share of "you fired Willingham for someone who's never been a head coach before" fallout. Who cares? We'll have to wait until September to start winning football games, but we'll have one of our own running the program immediately. We need that now more than ever. The last two regimes have shown that to be true.

So that's my take....the green jerseys suck, but Tom Clements most certainly does not. Hire him.

Oh yeah, and this, too, shall pass.