Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Hype, Refocused | by Jay

It is the offseason, isn't it? How many more articles are we going to see on Quinn, Samardzija, Zibby, Clausen, Charlie? It's been a deluge already, and it's only June. Along with the regular drumbeat of stories from the SBT and the Chicago papers, we've had articles in the New York Times, the Charlotte Observer, USA Today, ESPN, the Newark Star-Ledger, the New York Post, and the Indy Star -- and that's all in the last week.

Well, good news: the backlash is starting to boil. A few pundits and bloggers out there (many of the Wolverine variety) are claiming that ND is already overexposed, overrated, and most damningly, that our season last year was nothing special.

It's an apples and oranges discussion, of course. To other schools, ND is getting a disproportionate amount of media attention and whatever ranking it gets in the first preseason poll will be way too high. (Athlon already gave us the #2 spot, Lindy's put us at #1). After all, we didn't beat anybody special, and the only thing we can hang our hat on is a near-win, not an actual win.

We, on the other hand, think last year was "special" for other reasons: we saw discernible progress, and grew to know and love our new head coach, and we think we're in capable hands for the future. In that regard, the season was indeed special. The win total was secondary to establishing a new, winning attitude. In a straw poll of my friends around this time last year, we all agreed we'd have been happy with a Holtzian first season: mixed record, but real progress on the field. We got that, and a nice 9-win season to boot. To many of us, we're ahead of schedule.

Charlie, in his own way, agrees with the naysayers: it doesn't matter how shrill the accolades get, we've got everything yet to prove. But then again, he's the coach, and anything short of a national championship is disappointing.

How refreshing.

(From the monogram club banquet the other night)

"I've been thinking about where I was last year when I spoke to you and where I am now. I really like the fact that the bar has been raised. I really like that. The number one sin that can occur at this time is that people say that you are preseason ranked really high after last year no one even cared about you, and now your players are going to have big heads. Trust me - I will bring them down. Big heads are not going to be the problem. I will let them have big heads until about August 6 when they show up. Then those heads are going to be beaten on a regular basis. I'm not worried about the magazines. I'm not worried about the hype. I'm just worrying about winning one game at a time, because that is the mentality that I grew up in."

"I also grew up in the mentality of understanding what Notre Dame is all about. Tonight I talked [with Debbie Brown] and learned a lot more about the volleyball program, because I actually support the other sports here. I try to pop in to see just about every other team play. I try not to be a distraction, but I like to see what is going on. From somebody who went to school here and was not an athlete here, the one message or theme that I give to anyone who represents this university - especially as a coach, whether it is as a football coach, a volleyball coach, or a volleyball coach - I tell people that the one thing you have to understand about this place is that tradition never graduates. It doesn't make a difference who graduates. We are a special place. Tradition never graduates. I can already tell you that heading into next year, before we play one game, there will be a lot of cynics at the end of this coming season, saying, `Well, you lost Quinn, you lost Samardzija, you lost McKnight, you lost your offensive line, you lost Abiamiri and Landri, you lost guys from your secondary.' And I'm going to say, `So what?"

"I'm not happy with how the season went. I'm very disappointed, to be perfectly honest with you. I felt I blew the Michigan State game. I think the team came in flat. We rallied, which was nice, but the bottom line is that we lost, and that's not good. Against USC, we can talk about that play as long as you want, but the bottom line is we had an opportunity to win, and we didn't. That's just the way it is. Let's quit whining about it; they won, and we lost. That's just the way it goes. We had an opportunity to put them away, and we didn't. That's our fault, and I obviously will take that responsibility. Then we went to the bowl game, and we came out flat. I will take responsibility for that, too. Hopefully I learned a little bit about that long layoff. I'm used to a week or two weeks before a Super Bowl. I really hadn't experienced that long a time period. I think I learned some valuable lessons of how I will do it differently this year."