Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Maybe something....maybe nothing | by Pat

In a recent interview with the Honolulu Advertiser, new SMU football coach (and new member of the Rudy Nutrition Team!) June Jones threw in an off-hand remark about the future of his new athletic director, Steve Orsini.

On the possibility of a game between UH and SMU:

"I was trying to do it this year. But Jim (Donovan, UH's athletic director) said they were filled. I'd like to have a three- or four-year deal. I know our ADs are talking. Now our AD is kind of the front-runner for that Notre Dame job, so it might go on the backburner. But I was the one who told them to (try and schedule the game). It's out of my hands now. But I told them and I promoted it and they're for it."
It's very possible that he just meant "one of the interview candidates" rather than "I expect him to take the job". Still, that's usually not the kind of thing you throw out there unless there is something to it. We'll see.

Monday, June 23, 2008

SkyWriting: Off-season rundown | by Pat

The biggest news from the past few weeks is the recently announced TV contract extension with NBC. Originally set to expire in 2010, the Peacock will continue to broadcast all ND home games* until 2015. The transcript of the press conference can be read here.

Reaction to the deal has been rather amusing to read. Those that don't root for ND are annoyed that even on the heels of a horrid 3-9, NBC would still extend the contract with the Fighting Irish. ND fans on the other hand are annoyed somewhat for a variety of reasons ranging from minor -- Hammond and Hayden are expected back -- to speculative -- ND renegotiating from a position of weakness after ratings were down in 2007 -- to major -- the extension makes the 7-4-1 schedule model set in stone until 2015. Vonage and Halls Fruit Breezers were reported to be happy though.

* ND home games under the extension include the so-called barnstorming game. The upside is that the games will be prime time events. The downside is that by giving NBC broadcast rights, ND will have a hard time landing an opponent from the same geographical region as the stadium (see Washington State in San Antonio, Army in Chicago, Arizona State in Texas, and Baylor in New Orleans). We'll have more on the scheduling issues in a future post.

If you're looking for a bright side to the extension, aside from the fact that all ND home games will continue to be broadcast nationally (a fact that many ND fans take for granted to some extent) it will put an end to one particular negative recruiting tactic used against ND last year. Check out the comments of former coach Bill Lewis at a recent ND Club event in Orlando.

On recruiting: It can be really brutal - especially last year around national signing day. The coach up in Gainesville (didn't say his name) was telling our commitments that we were losing our NBC contract due to the 3-9 season. We only lost one person (he mentioned Omar Hunter by name).
Just another example that Urban will say just about anything to land a recruit.

He's back. It was a strong rumor that senior Pat Kuntz would be returning from his semester long exile, but now it is official. Good news to be sure for a defensive line that is short on experience and depth. With Kuntz back and likely shifting to defensive end, ND's ability to stop the run will hopefully get a boost. If it is enough of a boost is the big question heading into the fall. Kuntz also did a better than expected job of getting his hands up into passing lanes last year with 9 pass breakups, but that will likely be harder to come by this fall as he works the edges of the pocket rather than the middle.

Another note of good news was the team's academic performance as the team GPA was over a 3.0 for the sixth straight semester. Congrats all around to the team.

Credit where credit is due. A few years ago I took the Bookstore to task for the incredibly awful game day shirts. For those who find value in the game day shirts, this year's versions are much improved. So kudos to the bookstore for that. Of course, the "alternate" version of The Shirt going around the internet has plenty of potential too. The freshmen are now on campus and thanks to BlueandGold/com, we now know what numbers they have been assigned. Lou Somogyi does his usual bang up job relating the new numbers to their most famous and productive former owners. Here's the quick rundown of the guys we're all eager to see this fall.
3 - Michael Floyd
9 - Ethan Johnson
9 - Kyle Rudolph
10 - Dayne Crist
12 - Robert Blanton
15 - Dan McCarthy
17 - Deion Walker
25 - Jonas Gray
26 - Jamoris Slaughter
36 - David Posluszny
45 - Darius Fleming
46 - Steve Filer
52 - Braxston Cave
54 - Anthony McDonald
57 - Mike Golic, Jr.
73 - Lane Clelland
78 - Trevor Robinson
79 - Hafis Williams
81 - John Goodman
87 - Joseph Fauria
89 - Kapron Lewis-Moore
98 - Sean Cwynar
99 - Brandon Newman
It is a bit odd to see both Ethan Johnson and Kyle Rudolph both get #9, but as long as they aren't on the field at the same time, it's perfectly legal to do. And for those who bought Zibby jerseys, you now have double the chance of the jersey marking another Irish star.

Speaking of the freshmen, Michael Rothstein of the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette has been running some profiles on the incoming freshmen. So far he has one out on John Goodman and Dayne Crist. While the profile on Goodman covers his off-season workouts, the Crist article details his recruitment and includes the kind of pre-season anecdotes that fans eat up, like Crist asking Brady Quinn permission to be the next player to wear #10.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Flipping through the pages | by Pat

For the last day of our look into the SI Vault, we'll just do a quick grab bag of articles that caught our eye. We'll keep the excerpts short, so make sure to click through and read the whole article on ones that interest you.

Let's start with the article detailing ND's decision to halt their 45 year bowl ban and ultimately accept a bid in the Cotton Bowl against Texas.

But, as it turned out, the real reason that Notre Dame lifted its bowl ban was money. The road to the decision was laid as early as last June when the financial committee on scholarship aid discovered it needed help. Notre Dame already was up to its statue of Moses in fund drives totaling $52 million, and, thus, some other source of revenue would be required to aid a program for underprivileged students. The committee thought of a bowl game as one possibility, believing, naturally, that Ara's team would do no worse than 8-1-1.

Then, rather surprisingly, when this was suggested to the Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh , the president, a man who had never encouraged bowl talk, he said, "Let's think about it," dropping the hard line for the first time and offering encouragement to all those Notre Darners who had long sought bowl play.
Next up is the article about the Game of the Century. Of course, more than a few have been given that moniker. The most obvious is the 10-10 tie with MSU in 1966. Like many at the time, Ara was loudly criticized for his decision to go for the tie. Just imagine how your typical ND message board would have reacted.

Fast forward to the preview article of the '93 Game of the Century against FSU. Notice the writer, ESPN's latest million dollar contract signee, Mr. Rick Reilly and the less serious style of prose that would soon start to take over in sports journalism.

Speaking of famous (infamous) SI writers, here's an article by Under the Tarnished Dome hack writer Doug Looney. No, it's not What if Notre Dame Never Won Another Game? or Luck of the Irish, but rather, surprisingly, a fawning article on ND All-American Chris Zorich.
While consuming a catfish dinner on a recent summer evening in his home on the South Side of Chicago , Notre Dame noseguard and cocaptain Chris Zorich pauses between bites to consider a question. His eyes take on a steely glint. "My dream?" he says. "It's to knock the quarterback's head off, then watch it go rolling down the field." His mother, Zora, looks horrified. "Oh, no, Chris," she says, and buries her head in her hands.

But Zorich is not deterred. He says, "Look, whatever you can do to an opponent is never too much. I will bite somebody's head off. I will tear his helmet off. All I do is give 100 percent. I'm sorry."

Then, this small storm having passed, he refocuses on the catfish. "Pass the salt, please," he says mildly.
Let's hope Zorro gets a chance to pass on his opinion of quarterbacks to the current defensive line.

We'll end on a fun note, taking a look at the recruiting of yesteryear.

If you're looking for the spark that started the college football recruiting craze, look no further than ND grad Joe Terranova. A manager at GM by day, Joe spent his off-hours pouring over the scarce high school film that existed and produced his very own recruiting rankings starting in the mid-70s. These pun-filled Top 10 rankings eventually found their way into Sports Illustrated every spring.

In 1978, USC was Joe's #1 team while ND landed at #6, featuring "the most highly touted fullback in the nation" Pete Buchanan.

Joe was in rare form in '79. Check out the awful jokes and familiar names, though not all at familiar positions.
For the second year in a row Terranova 's winner is...Southern Cal. The Trojans landed seven offensive and defensive linemen who average out to 6'5" and 243 pounds—"more pure beef than at Oscar Mayer's Vernon packing plant." Tops among them are 6'5", 260-pound George Achica and 6'7", 265-pound Don Mosebar, the nation's two "franchise" players. "USC will win at least two of the next four national championships," according to Terranova .

The rest of the top 10:

2. Notre Dame: Also got a good haul of linemen and two blue-chip backs, Dave Duerson on defense and Roderick Bone on offense.

3. SMU: "Like Dolly Parton , Ron Meyer 's contingent is busting at the seams with talent." Included are Eric Dickerson and Craig James , "two of the top five running backs in the country."

4. Penn State : Lots of big linemen, the nation's premier tight end, Mike McCloskey, a hot quarterback prospect in Todd Blackledge and, of course, a future All-America linebacker, Jeff Hostetler .

5. Oklahoma : "So many thoroughbreds, it's rumored that they'll wear silks next season instead of those mesh jerseys." The names: Stanley (the Steamer) Wilson, Kenneth Jenkins, Darryl Goodlow, Weldon Ledbetter.

6. Stanford : In line with Palo Alto tradition, landed the nation's top quarterback, John Elway , who completed 129 of 200 passes for 1,837 yards and 19 touchdowns in just five games after 3,039 yards and 25 TDs as a junior.
The Irish fell to #5 in 1980, behind co-#1's Alabama and Ohio State...
5. Notre Dame "got help where it needed it most. Either Scott Grooms or Blair Kiel could end up the Irish signal-caller this fall. Kiel undoubtedly will do the punting and perhaps the placekicking, regardless of who runs the offense." Tim Marshall, the best defensive tackle in the country, is " Darth Vader in cleats."
...but rebounded to take the top spot in 1981.
1. Notre Dame. Rookie Coach Gerry Faust signed "a collection of athletes at least equal to the Browner, Fry, Hunter class that led to a national championship in 1977." The Irish landed such blue chippers as Quarterback Ken Karcher, touted as being possibly "another Joe Willie ," and running backs Chris Smith , who "may be the only player in America to compare favorably with Herschel Walker (from a pure strength standpoint)" and Mark Brooks , star of Faust 's juggernaut at Cincinnati 's Moeller High and Ohio 's 1980 AAA player of the year.
The follow-up class in 1982 was just as strong coming in at #2...
2) Notre Dame. The linebacking phenoms came "straight from the meat packing houses in Chicago ": Tony Furjanic (6'2", 225), John McCabe (6'3", 220) and Ron Weissenhofer (6'3", 220). Tight End Wally Klein (6'8", 240) is so big "he can eat peaches off a tree without using his hands." Allen Pinkett "is the finest tailback to enter Notre Dame since Vagas Ferguson ." Terranova picked Coach Gerry Faust 's inaugural recruiting class as No. 1 a year ago, so the Irish may be able to get that 5-6 record of last season out of their system in a hurry.
and Faust continued his strong recruiting with the #3 class in 1983.
3) Notre Dame: Gerry Faust 's "exhausting, non-stop speaking engagements" secured Robert Banks, "a 6'4", 220-pound talent out of Hampton, Va. , who could start at defensive end early in the '83 campaign," and Defensive Lineman Mike Griffin of Cleveland Heights , Ohio ("I did not see a more aggressive player on film all year"). The Irish also "landed the Mutt and Jeff of high school receivers," 6'4" Alvin Miller of suburban St. Louis and 5'9" Alonzo Jefferson of West Palm Beach , as well as Quarterback Steve Beuerlein of Fullerton , Calif.
1984, a year were ND did not appear in Joe's Top 10, was the final year that SI included Terranova's recruiting rankings. However, later in the year Joe was quoted in a fall college preview issue about the top 5 individual recruits set to play their final year of high school ball that fall. Future ND player D'Juan Francisco was listed at #3.

There are a ton of other interesting and trivia filled articles from years past in the Vault -- a search for "Notre Dame football" returns 4047 articles -- but we can't link them all. But feel free to post your favorite in the comment section.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The More You Know | by Pat

Today's SI Vault article highlights one of the more controversial decisions between Notre Dame and the rest of college football. In a decision that still is used as an attack on the Fighting Irish, Notre Dame signed a deal with NBC back in 1990. In doing so, they became the only college football program with an exclusive national television contract.

An article in the February 19, 1990 edition of Sports Illustrated titled We're Notre Dame and You're Not detailed the path the Fighting Irish took to secure their very own television network. From the start, the reaction to the ND-NBC deal was all negative.

Yet no Notre Dame gridiron victory ever jolted the football world quite like the one the school pulled off on what might be called the greediron. When the Irish made their power play with NBC , the protests ranged from outraged cries of betrayal to impassioned accusations of hypocrisy to a sort of panic about the future of big-time football. "It's been a fun year for all of us," said Penn State coach Joe Paterno . "We got to see Notre Dame go from an academic institute to a banking institute."

"I wasn't surprised by this, I was shocked," said Georgia athletic director Vince Dooley. "Surprise, shock, greed and ultimate greed. That's the reaction I'm getting from people."

"To me," said Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles , "Notre Dame has vacated its leadership role. This is greed."
Of course, as is pointed out in the article, ND was hardly alone when it came to looking out for themselves.
The Irish, however, by no means deserve all the brickbats. The CFA [College Football Association] and its executive director, Chuck Neinas, are guilty of missing signals at best, and of less-than-candid negotiating at worst. The other members of the CFA—which started the brave new world of college football on TV six years ago by wresting control of telecasts of their games from the NCAA—hypocritically blamed Notre Dame for doing to them what they had done to the NCAA : putting self-interest above the common good.
Before getting to the actual move to sign with NBC, the article lays out the backstory between the colleges, the NCAA, and the television networks looking to broadcast the games; from how the NCAA got into the TV business in the first place in the 50s in order to keep ND from getting a national TV deal with the DuPont network, to how Georgia and Oklahoma filed a restraint-of-trade suit against the NCAA for dictating who could be televised when, to how a proposed major deal with ABC set the wheels in motion for ND to look elsewhere.
Notre Dame realized that ABC's new commitments to the CFA, when added to its obligations to the Big Ten and Pac-10 , meant that the network would have to cut back on national telecasts and carry more regional games (those sent to different areas of the country within the same time period). "There was to be a great deal of regionalization," [ND Athletic Director Dick] Rosenthal said, "and our constituency comes from all over the U.S. We expressed our concern to the CFA."

On Jan. 16, Rosenthal, who was in New York for a Notre Dame- Rutgers basketball game, visited NBC and CBS to talk about marketing the CFA in 1990. During those conversations, he let it be known that Notre Dame was unhappy with the CFA-ABC deal that would be announced the next day. The hint of Notre Dame's availability—if that's what it was—went right by CBS 's executives, but NBC 's Schanzer picked up on it. He called Rosenthal after ABC and the CFA had announced their agreement and asked if he would consider a separate deal. When Rosenthal said yes, Schanzer walked a few feet down the hall and into the office of Dick Ebersol , the president of NBC Sports . "I think we really have a shot here," Schanzer said. Ebersol told him to go for it.
The back and forth negotiating between Ebersol, Rosenthal, and ND executive vice-president Fr. Beauchamp was wrapped up in early February and the deal was announced. Part of the reason that the deal was received with such hostility wasn't strictly a reaction to ND's decision to leave the CFA, but the rapid change in attitude of the new Fr. Malloy administration from the previous Fr. Hesburgh one.
The action of Rosenthal and Beauchamp stands in sharp contrast to that of former athletic director Gene Corrigan shortly before the Supreme Court rendered its 1984 decision. At that time, WTBS, the cable superstation, offered Notre Dame a blank check for TV rights to all of its games, both home and away. According to a former WTBS executive, Corrigan turned down the offer, saying, "We're going to do what's right for the CFA ."

In 1986 the Southeastern Conference was thinking about bolting from the CFA to accept a four-year, $25 million offer from ABC. [Fr.] Joyce was among the CFA representatives who tried hardest to persuade the 10 SEC schools to stay put, and the conference decided to remain in the fold. No wonder the SEC last week was irate. It questioned the role of Beauchamp, who in his capacity as secretary-treasurer of the CFA had recommended that the ABC proposal be presented to the membership. "The thing that has so many of our people upset," says Brad Davis , an assistant SEC commissioner, "is that Father Beauchamp almost led the charge to save the CFA-ABC deal, knowing all along that Notre Dame was going to pull out."
With the new ND deal in place, there were also the first signs of the SEC move to CBS.
As it was criticizing Notre Dame, the SEC engaged in a little strong-arming of its own with Neinas. Understanding fully that the CFA would come unraveled if it bolted, the SEC floated a few trial balloons, including one that reached CBS . The SEC 's threat of defection was so thinly veiled that when the conference demanded a guaranteed number of TV appearances, Neinas had no choice but to capitulate.
The ND move, along with the ABC/ESPN deal for the rest of the CFA really signaled the start of the race to get as many college football games on TV as possible. At the time, it would have been hard to predict that within 18 years there would be college games on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays as well as the traditional Saturdays and that conferences would attempt to create their very own personal TV networks. But some did realize that the floodgates were just opening.
So jeer, jeer for old Notre Dame, if you must, but also understand that Joe Fan might benefit from the Irish's power play. As Paul Hornung , one of the school's Heisman winners, said last week, "Money is the name of the game, and people want to see Notre Dame. That's the bottom line. But there's plenty of room out there for football on TV, and I think we've only touched the tip of the iceberg."

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Nick the Kick(er) | by Pat

Notre Dame's special teams needs were all wrapped up in one short week. Following on the heels of punter Ben Turk, Texas kicker Nicholas Tausch committed to ND as soon as Charlie offered him a scholarship and in doing so became the 9th member of the Class of 2009. There was a bit of a waiting period as ND first offered kicker Dustin Hopkins and gave him a week to make his choice before also extending an offer to Tausch. Once the call went in to Tausch though, he gave an immediate answer in the affirmative.

"It was somewhat stressful, I thought," Tausch said. "I just kind of thought that just sitting there waiting, I just kind of hoped that I would have an opportunity to go to Notre Dame and fortunately it (happened) and I'm going there now and I'm thrilled."
Like Turk, Tausch hasn't visited Notre Dame yet, but does plan to trek up to South Bend in the coming weeks.

Notre Dame was the first school to offer Tausch, though he did visit LSU in recent weeks and was hearing from Oklahoma, Oregon, and a few other schools as well. There are no rankings on Rivals, Scout, and ESPN yet, but like with Turk, there is a ranking available on the Chris Sailer kicking website. There, Tausch as listed the #2 kicker in the country. There is also video of Tausch kicking at a summer camp and this review of Tausch.
Nicholas is an outstanding kicker. He has separated himself from the pack. Kicks effortlessly off the ground and gets huge hang time on his kickoffs. A fine young man with great work ethic. Has everything it takes to kick at the D1A level. Also showing that he has the ability to punt. Definite scholarship pick. Offer now!!!!!
Like with many kickers, it seems that Tausch got the attention of colleges via summer camps like the Sailer one. In high school he was only 5 for 9 on field goals and 15 of 16 on extra points while splitting time on his Jesuit College Prep team. That isn't much to go on, but ND did visit his high school twice this spring to watch him kick, so they did have more to go on than just a handful of in-season kicks. He also notched 12 touchbacks, which is 12 more than ND registered last season. Tausch has some pretty strong football bloodlines as well, which never hurts. His father played offensive line in the NFL for a number of years and his brother is also an offensive lineman and fielding college offers of his own.

Getting back to the above review of Tausch, his kick hang time is mentioned. Also included on the Sailer site is this factoid about Tausch.
Hit a 4.61 hang time kickoff at a recent camp (April 2008)
Like many fans, I imagine that number is pretty useless without context. Digging up Ryan Burkhart's high school camp stats from when he was named the #1 kicker at the national Ray Guy series of camps, his max hang time was 3.77. Of course, we don't know what kind of tee or wind conditions accompanied Tausch's kick, but if he can hit anywhere near that kind of hang time, that should be plenty of time for the coverage unit to get down field before the returner can build up a full head of steam.

There will be three kickers on scholarship when Tausch reports to Notre Dame in 2009, which isn't exactly ideal. However, he will only overlap with Ryan Burkhart for one year, unless Burkhart returns for a fifth year, and will have a year's separation with Brandon Walker. If Tausch sits out his first year, he will have three years of eligibility after Walker graduates. Hopefully, one of the three will wind up becoming a dependable option and every field goal try won't continue to be as big a gamble as just going for the first down.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The True Meaning of the Game | by Pat

Let's stick with the Fr. Hesburgh theme for another day. Today's SI Vault article is actually one that first appeared in ND's The Scholastic magazine before being reprinted in Sports Illustrated in the December 12th, 1966 edition. Here, Fr. Ted offers up his own personal philosophy on the benefits and beauty of college football. Enjoy.

Another football season has passed, another great and even fantastic one, thanks to Ara Parseghian , his staff and his stalwart warriors, who practiced hard, played hard against the best and solidified a proud Notre Dame tradition of doing everything with style, spirit and excellence.

A football season is a lot like life in microcosm. The season begins with warm and sunny days filled with optimism and hope. As the season progresses, the sunshine wanes, the warmth diminishes, and optimistic hope is qualified by the hard, lifelike realities of fierce competition, unexpected injuries and the innate difficulty of sustained human effort. The days grow colder, the rains come and optimistic vision becomes more realistic. It is always easier to declare the top position in anything than to reach it. While hope perdures, ultimate victory is again a fickle lady, ever to be wooed with all one's might, but never in this life to be securely or forever won. Each week is a new encounter; each season a new challenge. Life is like that, too, because it is spent in time, amid all the vicissitudes of personal trials and existential difficulties. Anyone who thinks otherwise lives in a dream world, where reality has been entirely replaced by fantasy. But a football season, like life, is authentic and real, as well as somewhat fantastic.

So another football season passes, with all its very real excitement, effort, hope, youthful optimism and ultimate success, the national championship. You have lived with it and through it. The cheers all fade away into the dusk. The tissue-draped trees and lawns are cleaned up again for the last time. We return to the real and hard world of books, quizzes and work yet to be done before the Christmas vacation begins. The stadium, stark and silent, is etched against a gray, wintry sky. Close by, the library beckons with its myriad lights.

Was it all worthwhile, in this time and in this place? I think so, if we see the deeper meaning of it all. Reality is enriched by fantasy, if fantasy is allowed to illuminate reality, but not to engulf it. In another age, as harsh as our own, there were jousts and jesters, tournaments and trials of skill and strength to lighten the harshness and illumine the lessons of life. A football season has all the same qualities for our day. Life would be dull indeed without these interludes which, in their own mid-20th-century American way, can explain life to us, make it more deeply understandable and, therefore, livable.

I say all of this in the face of those who, in a seemingly superior intellectual fashion, depreciate, denigrate and deplore the football season in our land. Collision on the gridiron is still better, I believe, than violence in the streets. Both have their own relationship to equality of opportunity in the United States , one positive and one negative.

I would hope that in the larger university community in the United States we might see the football season, with all its appeal to young and old alike, in the perspective of a larger meaning of learning, and education, and life. The football season can, of course, be overdone, wrenched out of all perspective, so that even the fantastic becomes the phantasmagoric, as is done by prolonging the season unduly, indulging in an increasing orgy of bowl games, the psychedelic dreammakers of collegiate football.

Kept within proper bounds of time, place and emphasis, I believe strongly that the football season is indeed worthwhile. The noise is ephemeral and does die away. The display, the spectacle, the color, the excitement linger only in memory. But the spirit, the will to excel and the will to win perdure. These human qualities are larger and much more important than the passing events that occasion them, just as the ebb and flow of all our daily efforts add up to something greater and more enduring if they create within each one of us a person who grows, who understands, who really lives, who does not merely survive, but who prevails for a larger, more meaningful victory in time and, hopefully, in eternity as well.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Opening the Vault | by Pat

A few days ago, I started to look around for media reactions to Kevin White's jump to Duke from ND. After all, the whole reason this blog was started was to save off for posterity the multitude of opinions in the wake of Ty Willingham's firing.

I didn't get very far before finding about what I expected:

Leaving Notre Dame was inevitable for neutered White
ESPN's Gene Wojciechowski chimed in with his two cents and went with the "ND has sold its soul for football glory" template. To wit, the first, second, and last paragraph of his article.

Notre Dame is looking for a new athletic director today because it neutered the previous one.

The surgical procedure, done without the benefit of privacy or anesthesia, was performed on Kevin White on Nov. 30, 2004 -- the day the school's president and board of trustees ignored White's objections and fired football coach Tyrone Willingham. Ever since then, White has been circling overhead, parachute strapped to his back, waiting for the jump light to switch from red to green.


Notre Dame will be fine. This we know. But it will never be the same.
Now, rather than respond to a cliched article with a cliched rant about the lack of research prevalent in modern sports writing, I figure I'll use Gene's weak attempt at outrage to start a week long look through Sports Illustrated Vault. Recently, SI digitized the entire run of their famous sports magazine and put up the entire thing, free of charge. With articles going back to the 50s, there are some fantastic takes on the Notre Dame teams of yesteryear. And what do ND fans do better than revel in history and nostalgia?

Today's pick is an article from the January 19th, 1959 edition. To set the scene, Notre Dame had just fired Terry Brennan the previous December, four days before Christmas in fact. In the January 6th edition, SI had run an article entitled Surrender at Notre Dame, one of the earlier examples of the "ND has sold its soul for football glory" mantra. Fr. Hesburgh himself wrote a response to the SI article explaining how Notre Dame went about making the decision to replace Brennan and it was printed in the January 19th edition.

Of particular interest, with regards to the Wojciechowski article, was this paragraph.
But still there remains that single nagging fact—we did change coaches. Why? Must there not be something sinister in this? Nothing more sinister than a commitment to excellence, and the judgment that the performance would be bettered by the change. Like all judgments regarding human performance and standards of excellence, this is a fallible one. Many may disagree with it. Yet it was made unanimously by the faculty board in control of athletics at its regular December meeting. The director of athletics, while he does not have a vote in these matters, did agree with their recommendation. Ultimately, I had to approve or disapprove their recommendation. I studied their reasons, discussed them with some trusted counselors here and made my decision on the same basis that I would decide any change in university personnel.
In other words, the decision to replace or retain the football coach at Notre Dame has never been solely the athletic director's call to make. And the AD that didn't even have a vote in the Brennan case was none other than Notre Dame legend Moose Krause. Clearly, college football has changed in the 50 years since that decision, but its financial importance to Notre Dame hasn't, which is likely one reason why such an important decision is one made by those who run the entire University and not the person currently in charge of the athletic department. That's not to say that Notre Dame's modus operandi has always resulted in a smart decision over the years. But it has been a consistent one and the exclusion of Kevin White from the Willingham termination decision was not the break from tradition that Wojciechowski implies.

Moving on, Fr. Hesburgh goes on to layout the criteria for judging new head coach Joe Kuharich. It is hard to read this and not think about the judging and win/loss baselines that will accompany Charlie Weis in 2008 following 2007's 3-9 season.
Despite any syndicated surmises to the contrary, he is not expected to be Rockne, but only Kuharich; he is not to be measured by any nostalgic calculus of wins, losses and national championships, but only by the excellence of his coaching and the spirit of his teams. This is quite different from a philosophy of "win or else." A team can perform miserably and win, and a team can look magnificent in defeat. The won-and-lost record is no ultimate criterion for a reasonable and thinking man. Excellence of performance, spirit and the will to win are really central to any good sport activity and are, I believe, the precise values that have attracted most Americans to cherish competitive sports. Lose these values, or depreciate them, and no game is worth playing.
We have a few more articles lined up for the rest of the week, but if you see anything that catches your eye in the SI Vault, feel free to send along the link and we'll see if we can fit it in as well.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Turk makes his choice | by Pat

It only took four recruiting classes, but Charlie Weis finally received a public commitment from a punter, the last position yet to do so. Up to this point, thanks to Geoff Price and baseball player/preferred walk-on Eric Maust, ND hasn't had to recruit a scholarship punter. (Maust does count towards a football scholarship now) With Price out of eligibility and Maust showing plenty of promise on the baseball diamond, landing a punter became a priority in this class.

That's where Ben Turk comes in. Even though he hasn't visited campus yet, the Florida native only needed a short time from receiving his official offer before committing to Charlie and the Fighting Irish.

"It was kind of an easy choice," said Turk, who was offered a scholarship by ND a few weeks ago. "It doesn't really get much better than (Notre Dame)."
Turk is the eighth member of the recruiting class of 2009, which puts ND on a faster pace commitment-wise than any other Weis era year save 2007. Speaking of previous recruiting years, Turk hails from St. Thomas Aquinas, the same high school as Sam Young and Dan Wenger. The Raider program is a traditionally strong one and any pipeline that ND can establish with the Fort Lauderdale school is a good one.

Despite the 24/7 coverage of the major recruiting sites, special teams players like punters and kickers are still treated like, well, punters and kickers. So far the 6'0" 190 pound Turk is unranked on Rivals, Scout, and ESPN. His lone scholarship offer was from Cincinnati though Alabama was reportedly close to offering. The one site that does offer some sort of ranking is pro kicking coach Chris Sailer's website. On his site, Sailer ranks Turk as the #6 punter recruit in the nation, with four of the five ahead of him being junior college players.

There isn't much to go on from the usual recruiting info sources, but there are two areas that do point to Turk's potential; bloodlines and coaching. Turk's uncle is long-time NFL punter Matt Turk, currently with the Houston Texans. Another uncle was a 14 year long-snapper in the pros. It probably won't be too hard for Turk to pick up some pointers.

Turk also comes from one of the best high schools in the nation when it comes to special teams players. Over the past nine years, 10 different St. Thomas kickers and punters have received D-1 scholarship offers. Teams like Duke, Michigan State, and Auburn currently feature St. Thomas kickers. Punter-wise, Stanford's Jay Ottovegio was a four year starter. The special teams coach responsible for these players has switched high schools for the next season, but Turk no doubt has received quality coaching the past few years.

Despite the performance of other aspects of special teams, punting has been consistently solid under Coach Weis. Hopefully Turk will be able to pick up where Fitzpatrick, Price, and Maust have left off.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

That's my school | by Pat

We noted earlier that SMU AD Steve Orsini's press release about the open Notre Dame job did not deny interest in the job. He went a step further recently and admitted that he certainly does have some level of interest in the job.

Q: If they did call, you wouldn't dismiss it, you would listen?

Orsini: I think I would owe it to myself and to my family. After 27 years in this business, knock on wood, so far, so good. If Notre Dame called, I would like to hear what they have to say because it's my school. Just like I ask the SMU supporters to stay connected with your school, I have stayed connected with my school and if I can help my school that's something that I may be interested in.
There is no rush to replace Kevin White as this is one of the slower times of the year for college athletics. Hopefully ND is doing their due diligence on all possible candidates. Still, it's always nice to read that one of the presumptive better candidates is willing to publicly admit his interest in the job.

Earlier in the Q&A, Orsini stuck with the 'that's my school' mantra.
That's my school, Notre Dame. Whoever gets the job I hope it's the best qualified person. Like all universities, we always could improve. I hope Notre Dame takes what Kevin White has done, and he did a lot of great things, and takes it to another level.
There's no telling what the powers-that-be will decide, but in the court of popular opinion, Orsini is quickly a popular fan choice.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Bullard on Parade | by Pat

Tennessee certainly has been kind to the Fighting Irish lately for recruits and the streak continued yesterday when OL Alex Bullard chose ND over the home state Volunteers.

"It's a good fit for me," Bullard said. "I liked the smaller campus, smaller classrooms and just how prestigious a school they are. Especially with Tennessee, it was a tough decision. I felt like me and Coach (Phillip) Fulmer had a relationship. But at the end of the day, Notre Dame was the best place for me."
Bullard's offer list was a long one with the Irish topping Michigan, Oklahoma, Florida, Alabama, Texas A&M, Stanford, South Carolina, and a host of other programs. A 4-star prospect on both Rivals and Scout, Bullard is listed as the 213th overall recruit in the class of 2009 and the 11th overall OG on Rivals. Back on Scout he's listed as the #25 OT. ESPN's ranking of Bullard is a 77.

At 6'3" 275 pounds, Bullard is extremely quick on his feet. That's probably one of the reasons he's lumped in with the tackles on Scout and the guards on Rivals. He has the athletic ability to man a tackle spot, but his height is more in line with what you'd find in a guard prospect. Either way, Bullard's highlight video is a fun one to watch as he tosses kids aside left and right all the way down the field. His level of competition doesn't look that challenging, but some of Bullard's defensive linemen teammates are being recruited as well, so at least he faces stronger competition in practice. He's also a wrestler and son of former Seattle Seahawks OL Louis Bullard, which gives him pretty solid football bloodlines.

The Irish need offensive tackles in this recruiting class, but landing a talented guard like Bullard early is great news. Another guard and a pair of tackles would go a long way to help the Irish continue to form the building blocks of a new line as the Sam Young class enter their final few years on campus.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Ohio Player | by Pat

An end of the week trip to campus resulted in Notre Dame's sixth public commitment in the recruiting class of 2009. Ohio linebacker Dan Fox trekked to South Bend to meet with the coaches one last time and commit in person.

There is a story behind the Fox family and Notre Dame you'll be sure to hear again. When Fox's grandfather came to the United States from Ireland in the 1930's, his first job was at ND after striking out in Chicago. I can just hear Jimmy Roberts getting the smaltzy halftime special ready now.

At 6'4", 215 pounds, Fox played safety for his high school but will man one of the outside linebacker spots for the Fighting Irish. A rangy player, Fox's skills at blitzing and dropping back into coverage make him an ideal candidate for the outside spot in the 3-4. His biggest job now will be to add size and strength, something his coach doesn't think will be a problem.

"They see a very athletic young man who plays a major role in three sports," Kyle said of Fox, who also plays for St. Ignatius' basketball and track teams. "When he's able to concentrate on just one sport I think he'll be 240-245 pounds in the next few years. He was being recruited east coast to west coast."
Fox's offers indeed are coast to coast, as he picked ND over offers from Stanford, Virginia, MSU, Pittsburgh, and others. Those aren't Top 10 programs, but they are programs that have a history of spotting linebacker talent. His rankings on the recruiting sites are a bit of a mixed bag. On rivals.com, he is a 4-star recruit and the 13th overall outside linebacker. Scout.com has yet to evaluate him and ESPN has him checking in with a 76 ranking score, which is one of the lower scores they have given an ND recruit in the past few years.

His highlight video does show a talented athlete with plenty of potential, but also one that will need to hit the weight room in order to fill out for his eventual outside linebacker spot. One item to note is the fact that even at 6'4", 215 pounds, Fox competes on his high school track team in the 110M hurdles, where he was a regional qualifier. The assorted comparisons of Fox to Rocky Boiman, another Ohio safety turned linebacker, seem to fit as Fox has the frame to turn into a strong pass rusher and the speed to be useful when defending against the pass.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Status Report | by Pat

We're a few days into the search for a new athletic director. Let's see where we're at.

First, the University put out an official notice about the search.

The search process for a new director of athletics at the University of Notre Dame has commenced and will follow university policy and process, under the leadership of the University's president, Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.

The process and appointment will comply with the presidential authority policy articulated in the Statement of Board Responsibilities for Intercollegiate Athletics, which was adopted by Notre Dame's Board of Trustees in May 2007. That policy reads in part: "Notre Dame adheres to the principle of presidential control over intercollegiate athletics. The Board (of Trustees) recognizes that the ultimate responsibility and authority for the administration, conduct and control of the Department of Athletics -- including all administrative policies, personnel matters and finances -- are vested in the president of the University."

Prior to making his decision, Fr. Jenkins will seek information, perspectives, and advice from key constituencies.

While there is no specific timetable for completion, the University is advancing the process forward and will be conducting a thorough and extensive search. Interim athletics director Missy Conboy has assumed all responsibilities and will remain in place until a new director is named.

Until the announcement of a new athletics director, the details of the search will remain confidential and discretion and privacy of the candidates will be upheld by the University.

The initial list of candidates that popped up on most of the media's radar have started to respond to varying degrees. So far the only ADs to state that they aren't leaving their current jobs are Ohio State AD Gene Smith and Cal AD Sandy Barbour.

Steve Orsini's public statement from Monday was more in line with the usual "no comment", but never denied interest in the job. Other candidates, such as MAC Commish Rick Chryst have yet to discuss the matter with the media.

A few other names have been mentioned, such as Chicago Bulls GM John Paxson, but for the most part that is still sticking to the "Notre Dame alumni in athletics" motif. One article that did offer up a more unique name opined about the availability of Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione.
Castiglione didn't make either the Tribune or Blue and Gold lists. But his accomplishments at OU since 1998 have placed him on the short list at several schools in recent years, including Notre Dame. Irish officials contacted Castiglione before White was hired in 2001, but he declined to interview because he felt he hadn't been at OU long enough.

Sources confirm that Michigan, Ohio State and Tennessee are a few of the other schools that have inquired about Castiglione's interest in recent years. Football is king at all those schools, and Castiglione's national reputation skyrocketed when Bob Stoops won a national championship at OU just two years after Castiglione took a chance on someone with no head-coaching experience.

Castiglione's admiration for Notre Dame is well known. A few months ago, there was speculation that White would become commissioner of the Pac-10 Conference when Tom Hansen retires and Castiglione would replace him in South Bend.
Castiglione's mention could very well just be the product of a local journalist talking up area names, but at the same time Castiglione does have an impressive resume and if ND made a run at him before, they might do so again.

Of course, it wouldn't be a high profile Notre Dame job search without google stalking the Notre Dame jet. A few days ago the Flyin' Irish left South Bend for Dallas, which has fueled rumors about an interview with SMU AD Steve Orsini. There is likely another explanation for the flight, but where's the fun in that?

Speaking of Orsini, Eric Hansen has a solid piece of analysis in the SBT about some of the challenges that face ND's next AD and brings back up an Orsini quote about his days on campus with Charlie Weis.
"He's a good friend," Orsini said of Weis. "He lived in my dorm, Flanner Hall, and after football was over and we finally had a life in the spring semester of our senior year. We formed a softball team. Charlie was our third baseman, and we ended up winning the campus championship."
I hope and expect that the powers that be don't give their friendship much weight when it comes to weighing candidates, but if Orsini is indeed the choice it makes for a good storyline.

One last thing, unlike the last coaching search where the pool of Notre Dame alumni candidates was rather limited, it's a bit surprising just how many Domers are out there running athletic departments. Not that the new AD needs to have that ND sheepskin, but it's nice knowing there are so many options with that particular line on the ol' resume. In addition to a conference commissioner in Rick Chryst, senior associate AD at WSU in Bob Minnix, and new interim AD Missy Conboy, the list is a longer one than I would have guessed. To wit: Steve Orsini - SMU, Joel Maturi - Minnesota, Larry Williams - Portland, Dan Coonan - Santa Clara, Gene Smith - Ohio State, Bubba Cunningham - Tulsa, and Mike Bobinski - Xavier. Not too shabby.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

In-N-Out | by Pat

While we focus on the departure and replacement of Kevin White, there is another cycle of departures and arrivals (or, more accurately, returns) that warrant discussion. First, last week it came out that sophomore linebacker Aaron Nagel is transferring out of Notre Dame.

"You don't know how hard this was," said Aaron's father, Ron, after the freshman linebacker met with Irish head coach Charlie Weis Wednesday afternoon and ultimately decided to transfer.

"Our family has always been Notre Dame fans and always will be Notre Dame fans. We've got nothing but good things to say about coach Weis. It came down to the fact that Aaron wanted a chance to get on the field. It didn't happen in the spring and it didn't look like it was ever going to happen."
Nagel, the first member of his class to transfer from Notre Dame, does not have a new destination yet. However, Northwestern is a heavy favorite given his Chicago area roots and the fact that his younger brother will be a freshman tight end for the Wildcats this fall.

Nagel started and ended the spring with the 3rd string behind Mo Crum and Steve Quinn and with the strong freshman class coming in, playing time would have been hard to come by. Also a fantastic student, it's a shame to see Nagel go, but the desire to see more playing time is understandable. The best of luck to him.

Here's a simplified look at ND's linebacking situation going forward. For the sake of simplicity, I'm sticking with outside linebackers (OLB) and inside linebackers (ILB) rather than break down all four positions. The staff was doing a bit of mixing and matching during spring practice and it's possible we haven't seen the end of it. A few assumptions on this list include former inside linebacker Steve Paskorz sticking at the fullback position, sophomore Harrison Smith actually staying at safety, and incoming frosh Steven Filer starting out inside even though Weis said he could ultimately play either outside or inside. Presumptive starters are in bold.
Brian Smith 6-3 239 So.
Kerry Neal 6-2 240 So.
Scott Smith 6-4 235 Sr.
Kallen Wade 6-5 244 Jr.
Darius Fleming 6-2 230 Fr.
Maurice Crum, Jr. 6-0 235 Sr..
Toryan Smith 6-1 244 Jr.
Steve Quinn 6-2 225 Sr
Kevin Washington 6-1 244 Sr.
Steven Filer 6-4 220 Fr.
Anthony McDonald 6-3 220 Fr.
David Posluszny 6-2 214 Fr.

While Nagel's leaving was being announced, Will Yeatman's return to the team was made official. It will be interesting to see the Irish work Yeatman back into the team given the strong spring by Mike Ragone. Yeatman is likely still the starter, but for the first under Charlie the TE situation is more of a #1A and #1B than clear cut #1 and clear cut #2. Yeatman is the bigger and better blocker at this point -- no lacrosse means he presumably didn't lose the 15 pounds he did last year --while Ragone is the faster player. Given ND's OL question marks, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Yeatman and Ragone on the field at the same time a fair amount early in the season.

Another return that hasn't been made official but is expected is the return of Pat Kuntz. He's listed in the student directory once again and online chatter is all pointing to him being a full member of the team when they start summer school on June 19th. His return is a much needed boost to the thin and young defensive line. Teams are going to line up and try to run on ND until the Irish prove they can stop it. Getting Kuntz back gives ND one more experienced player to try and slow down the opposition's run game.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Scratch his name off the list | by Pat

While the list of potential replacements for Kevin White grows longer, here's one name you can officially cross off the list.

Chris Zorich has a new career — at a very familiar place.

Notre Dame's former All-American nose tackle has returned to his alma mater to become the school's manager of student welfare and development, the Tribune has learned. His main role will be to develop and implement programs for student-athletes that stress academic success, personal development and career preparation. He also will direct Notre Dame's summer sports camps programs.
Welcome back, Chris. If you take a look at the athletic department directory, it looks like Zorich will be working with former hoops fan favorite Harold Swanagan and former softball assistant coach Charmelle Green, who is the Director of Student Welfare and Development.

"Value Over Replacement" | by Jay

I'm combing through the newswire from over the weekend looking for any word of possible AD candidates, and I have to pause for a moment. CBS Sportsline just put out what's maybe the fifth mostly-identical laundry list of names I've seen (Chryst, Orsini, Gene Smith, etc.)

The problem is, I see no corroboration that any of these guys are actually being considered. Reporters seem to be simply sifting through current ADs with Notre Dame somewhere on the resume (as former player or employee), whether or not that person is really a candidate. (Hansen in the SBT at least got his headline right on his regurgitation, saying, in effect, "here's a bunch of guys in athletic directing who passed through N.D. at some point.") In short, they're picking names out of a hat.

Without debating the merits of any of the names mentioned -- and some of them may be worthy candidates -- I expect and hope that we don't limit ourselves to a pool arrived at by Googling "athletic department + Notre Dame." The N.D. athletic directorship is a fairly unique position and defies the usual job description. As such, we need to look beyond the usual suspects.

White Out | by Jay

Late Friday the news broke: athletic director Kevin White has left Notre Dame to take the AD job at Duke. Pretty surprising; even Father Jenkins, according to some folks who attended the reunion weekend and heard him speak on the topic, said he had only learned about the development in "the last 24 hours."

Here's a succinct summary of White's departure (and some career highlights and lowlights) from the Northwest Indiana Times. More to come.