Posts Tagged ‘Tyrone Willingham’

In defense of John Latina (?)

Thursday, November 29th, 2007

A lot has been made of the awful mess that was the 2007 Notre Dame offensive line. Some of this blame has gone towards Charlie Weis, in particular for to his decision to run non-physical practices that lacked real hitting. A significantly larger portion of the criticism has been directed at the offensive line coach, John Latina, who many believe has failed to generate a dominant unit in his tenure at Notre Dame.

I think both of these criticisms hold some merit, though neither gets at the whole story. My gut reaction on the criticisms of Coach Latina is to say “Hey, forget the situation - a winner wins and this man hasn’t been able to do his job.” Nevertheless, after reflecting on the situation it’s clear there are plenty of other reasons why the Irish have been hamstrung up front with the big uglies. As the season ends and the coaches head out on the recruiting trail, it seems increasingly likely that Latina - who has paid visits to Hafis Williams and Kenneth Page in the past few days - will be with the Irish into 2008. Thus it seemed worth looking more closely at the past three years to see whether the calls for his firing are valid or not.

First, though, a bit of background on Coach Latina for those unacquainted with his resume: during his six-year period as an offensive line coach at Temple from 1983-1988, Latina had three lineman drafted by the NFL and four signed as free-agents. Temple tailback Paul Palmer led the nation in rushing in 1986. Following that, he produced seven NFL linemen in five years at Kansas State (1989-1993), six All-ACC linemen at in five years at Clemson (1994-1998), and eleven NFL linemen in six years at Ole Miss (1999-2004). Ole Miss allowed the fewest sacks in the SEC, and in two of his years at Clemson the Tigers were among the top two in the ACC in rushing yardage.

All of this sets him up as a man who came to Notre Dame with quite a distinguished background and an excellent resume. But all that really ought to matter to Irish fans is the job he’s done since 2005. So let’s take a look, shall we?

2005

Situation: Weis is entering his first year and the Irish have an offensive explosion, jumping to one of the top rated offenses in the nation. Brady Quinn has a breakout year, and Darius Walker rushes for nearly 1200 yards.

Offensive Line:

  • LT - Ryan Harris (6-5, 288, JR) - Mike Turkovich (6-6, 290, FR)
  • LG - Dan Santucci (6-4, 290, SR) - Brian Mattes (6-6, 285, SR)
  • C - Bob Morton (6-4, 292, SR) - John Sullivan (6-4, 298, JR)
  • RT - Dan Stevenson (6-6, 292, SR) - Scott Raridon (6-7, 304, SR)
  • RT - Mark Levoir (6-7, 311, SR) - Paul Duncan (6-7, 292, FR)

Evaluation: This was clearly the best offensive line of the past three years. ND had an almost all-senior starting line and all were legitimate talents. The biggest glaring spots here are the lack of sophomore and junior depth as well as how light all these seniors were. Ty Willingham preferred the lighter/quicker offensive lineman, which doesn’t gel with Weis’s pro-style offense. Latina seems to have been able to install the system well with good players despite their physical limitations.

Grade: B+

2006

Situation: The Irish come into the year ranked #2 in pre-season polls and looking to improve on their 9-3 record and BCS bowl loss. Brady Quinn is looking to be one of the top Heisman candidates, and most of the skill players are back to back him up.

Offensive Line:

  • LT - Ryan Harris (6-5, 292, SR) - Mike Turkovich (6-6, 290, SO)
  • LG - Dan Santucci (6-4, 290, 5th) - Eric Olsen (6-4, 290, FR)
  • C - John Sullivan (6-4, 298, SR) - Bob Morton (6-4, 292, 5th)
  • RG - Bob Morton (6-4, 292, 5th) - Brian Mattes (6-6, 287, SR)
  • RT - Sam Young (6-7, 292, FR) - Paul Duncan (6-7, 292, SO)

Evaluation: The team as a whole didn’t live up to the hype, getting beaten soundly by top competition. While most of the blame lies with the defense giving out points to anyone who asked, the offense looked lost at times, and certainly didn’t dominate like they did in ‘05. The linemen were about the same size as the previous year, so either they hit a ceiling for gaining weight or they were not coached well in terms of gaining size. Young started all thirteen games as a freshman and did well for the situation while having some struggles. Clearly depth was becoming a pressing concern as the two-deep now had two sophomores, two freshman, and one starter being a potential backup for Sullivan. In the NFL draft, Harris was selected in the third round and Santucci in the seventh.

Grade: C

2007

Situation: Notre Dame is turning the page, having lost most of its starters from the previous year. Though no one is actively saying it is a rebuilding season, all signs point to a downturn from the previous two. Virtually the entire two-deep is being replaced along the line, and there are new receivers, running backs, and quarterbacks. However they are all more highly touted coming out of high school and ND looks to use youthful talent over experience.

Offensive Line: (granted there was a lot of movement)

  • LT - Sam Young (6-8, 310, SO) - Taylor Dever (6-5, 289, FR)
  • LG - Mike Turkovich (6-6, 301, JR) - Thomas Bermenderfer (6-5, 285, JR)
  • C - John Sullivan (6-4, 303, SR) - Dan Wenger (6-4, 287, SO)
  • RG - Eric Olsen (6-5, 303, SO) - Dan Wenger (6-4, 287, SO)
  • RT - Paul Duncan (6-7, 308, JR) - Chris Stewart (6-5, 339, SO)

Evaluation: Well, the team was awful, and a lot of the troubles extended from the o-line. The Irish gave up record numbers of sacks, penalties, and negative yardage plays. That being said, this fact can be traced largely to the fact that there were only had two returning starters among the ENTIRE two-deep, one of whom was a true sophomore. The unit showed moderate improvement as the year went on, but still lacked any real luster. Sullivan did not look like his old self, and Wenger actually looked like one of the best players on the unit by season’s end.

Grade: D

The upshot of all of this is that it would be wrong to lay all of the blame for ND’s struggles up front at the feet of Coach Latina. Sure, we’re three seasons in and the Irish have yet to have an overpowering offensive line unit, but a lot of it is attributable to size issues in 2005/2006, depth issues in 2006/2007, and inexperience issues in 2007. It seems that Weis may hold off passing judgment on Latina until the end of the 2008 season and I would advise others to do so as well. While we haven’t seen much in terms of a finished product, the Irish have been working hard to develop their current players (18 lbs. by Young in one offseason - whew!), and it’s highly unlikely that they’ll have another situation where they have to replace almost the entire unit in one season. In any case, next year eight of the nine players who were listed along the two-deep from the end of the 2007 season will be back: the line’s performance in 2008 should give us a much better indication of whether Latina is up to the task.

100 reasons why I love Charlie Weis and am glad he’s our coach

Thursday, November 15th, 2007

With his team at 1-9 and its offense mired in the pits of Division I-A, Charlie Weis has taken a lot of much-deserved (and some undeserved) flack for the job he’s been doing as head coach of the Fighting Irish. And since I’ve been about as negative as anyone - well, maybe not quite ANYONE - about Weis, I think it’s time for me to come clean and make it known that my opinion of him is by no means exhaustively negative. Hence here are 100 reasons why I love Charlie Weis and am glad he’s our coach:

1. He’s a Jersey guy. Me too, or at least I was until I moved to California. And Jersey guys stick with Jersey guys.

2. He’s a Notre Dame alum. Again, me too, though I only got a lousy graduate degree. And if I love the place this much never having lived on campus for an extended period of time or gone through all the rest of the crazy brain-washing (an ND logo stamped into the middle of your WAFFLES?!), think of how much he cares about it.

3. He’s a family man. Seeing the way he relates to his wife, son, and daughter is really heartwarming. And say what you will about having Charlie Jr. on the sidelines: the fact is that it shows a level of attachment and devotion to his son that’s remarkable in a guy who works 20-hour days. Speaking of which …

4. He works like all hell. Want to catch Coach Weis on his way to work in the morning? Try tripping past the Gug on your way back from closing down the ‘Backer. In any case, be flexible with your definition of “morning,” and DEFINITELY don’t wait for the sun to rise.

5. He’s as pained by the losing as anyone. Do not - I repeat, do NOT - mistake his occasional press-conference brashness for a lack of awareness of how bad things have been this year, let alone a glib attitude about it. If your team got its butt hammered in, you got booed, and then you were dragged in front of an audience of overeager reporters with lots of dumb questions, you’d get pretty pissy as well. And hey, what do you want him to say? “We suck, we have sucked, we will suck, and I quit”? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

6. He gives back. Lots of ND football coaches have started charitable organizations after they’ve retired, but Hannah and Friends has been running from day one. And a lot of Weis’s efforts have been tied directly to the local community, which is admirable given the touchy history of town-gown relations between South Bend and the university. Even his lawsuit, which I must admit wasn’t my favorite decision (you know, high cost of medical services due to malpractice insurance, lawyers = scum of the Earth, etc.), was going to be used to help others rather than pad his own pockets.

7. He cares about his players. Weis got a lot of praise for driving Robert Hughes back to Chicago after his brother was killed, and rightly so. But the fact of the matter is that this fits right into a much more overarching pattern: sure, he manages to anger or even alienate some of his players, but at the end of the day they know it’s just because he’s trying to push them to do well, like an overbearing dad making his kid practice the piano because he really, really, REALLY wants him to be good at it. Peel away those layers, my friends, and you’ll find love at the core.

8-26. Nineteen wins in two years. Say what you will about ‘06 having been a disappointing campaign, but ten wins is ten wins. Say what you will about the quality of the opponents he beat, but you can only win the games you play (and it’s not as if Michigan, Tennessee, Georgia Tech, Penn State, and UCLA are a bunch of nobodies). Say what you will about losing the “big games,” but he’s run into some downright juggernauts, especially in the postseason. If his teams had had any semblance of a D-I defense, not to mention better offensive lines and maybe some more talent at the tailback position, they very well might have won a pair of national titles. After the misery of the decade or so that preceded ‘05-’06, those wins were glorious to behold.

27-30. Four Super Bowl rings. Yeah, I know he wasn’t the head coach, and I know he was able to ride the coattails of Parcells, Belichick, et al, but championships are championships, and I’ll take a guy who’s won them over a guy who hasn’t.

31-98. Jimmy Clausen, Armando Allen, James Aldridge, Duval Kamara, Omar Hunter, Kerry Neal, … well, you get the point. That’s 68 recruits in three years, with a bunch more on the ‘08 “big board” who still have lots of interest in the Irish. Compare that to his illustrious predecessor, who recruited a total of 52 in his three seasons, barely more than Weis & Co. brought in through their first TWO. It’s not just about the rankings, either: you can’t win with an empty cupboard, and trust me, Ty left it BARE.

99. His players believe in him. Make no mistake about it: you don’t have top-notch recruits with offers from Everywhere breaking down the doors to play for you the week after being present for a 38-0 spanking if you’ve “lost the team.” Nor do insomniac offensive linemen pad over to your office in rainbow flip-flops and knock on your door at 5:30am to ask how to be a better leader unless they think that leading is a worthwhile endeavor. Sure, there may be some players, especially among the upper classes, who’ve sort of thrown in the towel, and there’s no doubt that this team has often played tentatively and has had a tendency to get discouraged when things have gone wrong, but a lot of them seem genuinely excited about the future of the program. And that’s a hell of an accomplishment when you’re 1-9.

100. The glimmers of hope. Clausen dropping a beautiful pass over two defenders. Kamara stiff-arming an undersized defensive back and plowing through a pair of tacklers to pick up eight yards. Armando Allen bursting around the outside for a gain of eleven. James Aldridge running over a would-be tackler at the line of scrimmage. Golden Tate snagging a touchdown bomb, with his FINGERNAILS. Kerry Neal and Brain Smith playing like men possessed on the outside. Darrin Walls looking more and more like a shut-down corner every week. Chris Stewart crushing defensive linemen to open up holes for his tailbacks. And on and on the list goes … no doubt this year’s team has been a HUGE disappointment, but the flashes we’ve seen (and yes, they’ve only been flashes, and have been few and far between the lengthy stretches of awfulness) have made it clear that Weis and his staff have brought in some extraordinary talent. At this point it’s about developing these kids and teaching them to win.

Of course, none of this counts as evidence that Weis will definitely, or even probably, be able to accomplish what he needs to in order to right this oh-so-sunken ship. But just as he’s responsible for a big portion of the damage, it’s also going to be his task to repair it, at least for the time being. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

On being in denial

Sunday, November 11th, 2007

For me, it all started with the Michigan State game in 2006. The Irish had started off the season with a pair of relatively lackluster wins - a 14-10 squeaker at Georgia Tech, a 41-17 win against Penn State in South Bend that was frankly much closer than the scoreboard made it out to be (the Nittany Lions kept pace with the Irish in terms of overall yardage, but turned the ball over three times) - and then suffered an absolutely inexplicable 47-21 spanking at the hands of the Michigan Wolverines, the first genuine blowout loss in Charlie Weis’s young career as a head coach.

Now it was late September, the fourth week of the season. My wife and I were watching the game in the lounge area of a Northern California restaurant, since we don’t have cable at home and ABC was showing the stupid USC game. We were eager to see our Irish rebound from the last week’s tough loss. Let’s just say they came out a bit flat. As the Spartan lead grew from 7-0, to 14-0, to 17-0 at the end of the first quarter, then stayed in the high teens as MSU matched the Irish score-for-score through the end of the third, a chorus of voices resounded in my head: first quietly, then louder and louder as the situation grew more desperate.

What if this is the beginning of the end? What if last season was a fluke? What if Weis really just isn’t a good gameday coach?

Each time I’d find myself asking one of those questions, I’d abruptly shut it down with a well-placed excuse: it was Rick Minter’s defense that couldn’t stop the Spartan attack; MSU had a 3-0 record coming in; it wasn’t Weis’s fault if his players couldn’t motivate themselves. As the voices persisted, the excuses matched them blow-for-blow.

Then, of course, it was time for the BIG excuse: a stirring, inspiring, exhilarating, insert­­-­­­­your-word-here-just-know-it-was-awesome fourth­-quarter comeback led by the unparalleled Brady Quinn and a suddenly revitalized defense. The Irish rattled off 19 straight points in the rain in East Lansing, moved their record to 4-1, and kept the whatifs at bay for the time being.

Three weeks later, though, they were back: after another pair of sloppy performances against inferior opponents (easily blameable, of course, on Minter’s defensive schemes), the Irish found themselves trailing again, this time late in the fourth quarter against UCLA. The voices were screaming, my heart was pounding, the rage inside was building up … and then … AN UNBELIEVABLE PLAY BY QUINN AND SAMARDZIJA! THE IRISH WIN! TAKE THAT, VOICES!

Never mind the fact that the only reason the offense got the chance to pull that rabbit out was that Bruin frontman Karl Dorrell failed to run out the clock on the preceding drive; never mind that finding yourself in a position where you need to go 80 yards in 34 seconds against a 4-2 team is hardly evidence of great coaching; and never mind that this sort of hole-digging - anybody remember Stanford in 2005? - had been one of the trademarks of the Weis era. We WON. The voices were WRONG. Charlie Weis was the BEST.

Fast-forward to November 2007. The excuses have had their day. Sure, the team is young - but we’re three months into the season now, and there’s little doubt in my mind that the squad we saw yesterday would STILL lose 33-3 to Georgia Tech, 31-10 to Penn State, 38-0 to Michigan and USC, and so on. Sure, the defense has given up some serious points in the last couple of weeks - but it’s hard to blame them for getting discouraged when their offense can’t even move the ball against AIR FORCE. And yes, I’m well aware that this program is dealing with overcoming a stretch of really bad recruiting, that there’s very little talent (or leadership) among the upper classes, that injuries have been a problem, that there’s a learning curve - for coaches and players alike - in adjusting to the college game, and so on and so on.

But there are NO EXCUSES for what we saw in yesterday’s game:

  • Drive 1: 1 play, 28 yards, fumble.
  • Drive 2: 5 plays, 10 yards, punt.
  • Drive 3: 4 plays, -9 yards, turnover on downs.
  • Drive 4: 2 plays, -1 yard, fumble.
  • Drive 5: 3 plays, 3 yards, punt.
  • Drive 6: 13 plays, 52 yards, field goal.
  • Drive 7: 7 plays, 50 yards, touchdown. (Extended by personal foul penalty after failed conversion on third-and-long.)
  • Drive 8: 3 plays, -4 yards, punt.
  • Drive 9: 1 play, 0 yards, halftime.
  • Drive 10: 5 plays, 11 yards, punt.
  • Drive 11: 5 plays, 17 yards, punt.
  • Drive 12: 10 plays, 57 yards, touchdown.
  • Drive 13: 8 plays 71 yards, touchdown.
  • Drive 14: 4 plays, 9 yards, turnover on downs.
  • Drive 15: 8 plays, 40 yards, turnover on downs.

That’s FOURTEEN real drives, TEN of which failed to result in points, and another that should also have gone for zero if not for an idiotic hit out of bounds. It’s SIX sacks given up. It’s 58 rushing yards on the day, an average of ONE-POINT-FIVE per carry (factor out the sacks and you get 30 carries for 105 yards … still not sufficient). It’s … well hell, IT’S A SEVENTEEN POINT LOSS TO AIR FORCE, and it’s INEXCUSABLE.

Let me make one thing clear: I am NOT saying that Charlie Weis should be fired. Weis deserves the same treatment that Ty Willingham got: a chance to follow up a dreadful season (and the 5-7 campaign in 2004 was clearly that) with a good one. If the appeal to equity isn’t enough to convince you of this, then 19 wins in two years and a trio of top-ranked recruiting classes - not to mention the mass chaos that would ensue on his departure - ought to do the trick.

But come on, folks. It’s time to face facts. For two years now, the only thing consistent about this team has been its inconsistency. There have been - and still are - some great players, and they’ve made for some great moments. And maybe - MAYBE - getting to the light at the end of the tunnel (where we WILL get, mind you) won’t require changing things at the top. In the meantime, though, we need to be honest with ourselves about what’s been going on.

Through two years of sloppiness and inconsistent play, I stood firm. I accentuated the positives until the negatives faded from view. I drank the Kool-Aid like water, and shouted down the haters with the best of them. And whenever my wife would ask me, in her wide-eyed way, whether Charlie Weis was after all not that good of a coach, I’d squirm, shift my eyes, and stammer out another excuse.

I thought I was keeping the faith. It turns out I was only in denial.

It’s happening again …

Thursday, November 8th, 2007

Why is it that every time I get good and mad at Charlie Weis - you know, mad enough to hop on the next flight to South Bend, march over to him and Charlie Jr. on the sidelines, grab them by their necks, and shove those stupid headsets up their asses - someone has to come along and say something stupid that makes me feel obligated to run to his defense?

Actually, wait. Before you answer that question, let me start you off with a hypothetical scenario.

Imagine you’re the general manager of a baseball team, and you have to choose between two players - call them “Smith” and “Jones” - whose numbers over a three-year stretch look pretty much identical:

  • Smith: .278 avg., 87 HR, 282 RBI
  • Jones: .274 avg., 88 HR, 289 RBI

Taking a look at those stats, you might conclude that Smith and Jones are players of pretty much the same caliber. If you did this, though, you’d be the biggest idiot to occupy a front office since, well, lots of the GM’s who apparently occupy them right now. Why do I say this? Because a judgment like that ought to be based, not just on a brute overall comparison of two three-year stretches, but on at least a year-by-year breakdown of their statistics. If you did such a thing, something like the following could very well turn up:

What these numbers would reveal was that Smith and Jones achieved those similar three-year statistics in very different ways: Smith did it with a single great year followed by two mediocre ones, while Jones had two solid years and a third terrible one. As a GM, you might come up with all sorts of possible explanations for these numbers, which you’d have to play off against each other to reach a final verdict: perhaps Smith was using steroids, or just got really lucky, in that Brady Anderson-esque first season; perhaps Jones was injured, or poorly protected in his lineup, or once again just really unlucky, in that third season; and so on. Obviously it would be tough to figure out which of these explanations was the right one - the only point is that looking only at un-parsed numbers that span three full years isn’t sufficient to make a judiciously informed decision.

Now imagine that you’re a sportswriter with an agenda, and you’re covering the free agency situations of Smith and Jones. Perhaps Jones is in fact offered the better contract because of the judgment that, well, he had two good seasons followed by what may very well have been a mere aberration, while Smith had just one good season before sliding into mediocrity. (Obviously there would be a risk here, since maybe Jones really is a .220-13-54 hitter after all: but hey, we can’t predict the future.) If you were a sportswriter with an agenda, you might gloss over the fact that Smith’s and Jones’s numbers look so different when you break them down into one-year chunks, and instead cook up some OTHER, more exciting explanation of Jones’s superior contract offer: perhaps he’s better-looking, or darker- or lighter-skinned. Maybe the fans like him more. Heck, maybe Jones is sleeping with the owner’s daughter. The details don’t matter - the point is, it would be very easy to use the Smith-Jones situation to make an argument like this:

  1. Smith and Jones have nearly identical three-year numbers, so that can’t be the explanation of the difference in their contract offers; and
  2. There’s this OTHER difference between Smith and Jones - appearance, skin color, fan preference, whatever - that’s pretty salient; so
  3. That other difference must be what accounts for their different offers.

Such an argument, though, would be demonstrably faulty: for you’d have failed to take into account the many other less-newsworthy but still quite plausible explanations that might be given to account for their different offers - in this case, the most obvious one would be the different YEARLY statistics that the two players put up. But if you were a sportswriter with an agenda, this wouldn’t matter to you: you could gloss over these natural explanations in order to get on your moral high horse, and argue - or perhaps just insinuate - that something unjust was going on. You know, “Come and see the violence inherent in the system,” and all that.

Which brings me back to Charlie Weis. Here’s the illustrious Gene Wojciechowski, writing for ESPN.com:

When [Tyrone] Willingham finished 6-5 in his third year (by the way, he beat eighth-ranked Michigan, ninth-ranked Tennessee, Michigan State and Navy), [Notre Dame President Rev. John] Jenkins called for the punt formation. It is that glaring difference in treatment that legitimizes questions asking whether Willingham’s firing was racially motivated. If nothing else, it keeps alive the perception that racial undertones were at work.

Wojciechowski’s argument has exactly the same form as the inanely stupid one offered by our hypothetical journalist-with-an-agenda: since Explanation A (in this case, the coaches’ records in their third seasons) doesn’t account for the difference in treatment, it simply MUST be based on something MUCH more insidious, and the most reasonable candidate is skin color.

Of course, Wojciechowski doesn’t actually come out and SAY that it’s a matter of racism: he simply says that the situation “legitimizes questions” about such a possibility, and “keeps alive the perception” that this might be so. But the same could be said for, say, the government’s response to crazy conspiracy theories about 9/11 or the JFK assassination: MAYBE the reason they’re not addressing these theories is because of a huge cover-up, but it’s much more likely to be due to the inanity of the theories themselves.

The same point applies here: you can say all you want - and Wojciechowski damn near says it all - to paint a picture of Weis and Willingham as coaches with nearly identical tenures, but the fact is that there’s a completely race-independent explanation of why Willingham was fired after three years while Weis won’t be:

The obvious explanation for the Weis/Willingham situation is, in other words, just like that of the Smith/Jones one: namely that TWO IS GREATER THAN ONE. Willingham was fired in 2004 because he’d had TWO straight mediocre seasons (not to mention a prior record as a head coach) that strongly suggested that 2002, i.e. his ONE good year, was the same sort of aberration as our hypothetical Smith’s supposed breakout year, and Weis will be retained beyond 2007 because he has had ONE (very very very) bad season, and the TWO good ones that preceded it suggest that it may (though I stress MAY) be the current one that’s the aberration. When you actually look at the numbers, no explanation could be more obvious than that.

But if, like Wojciechowski, you’re a journalist with an agenda, you can paper over those kinds of statistics. After all, you can’t dispute the numbers:

Weis is 20-14 after his first 34 games; Willingham was 21-13 after the same period and 21-15 when he was fired.

Oh, and in case you haven’t heard, Weis is WHITE, and Willingham is BLACK. Q.E.D.

[APPENDIX: Let me just add two things. (1) I'm NOT saying Charlie Weis is a good head coach, or even that he doesn't deserve to be fired. (2) NOR am I saying that the confidence I once had that Weis could turn this thing around is anything but very fragile right now (see here and here, for example). The ONLY point I was trying to make is that it is simply ridiculous to act as if the only relevant variable differentiating Weis's tenure from Willingham's is the color of their skin. It's not, and Wojciechowski should be ashamed of himself for trafficking in this sort of innuendo. His article embodies all the reasons why so many people in this country are unable to take the issue of racism seriously.]

The buck stops … where?

Friday, November 2nd, 2007

I know I’ve already gone after him once today, but I just can’t help it. Via Matt Hayes of the Sporting News, here’s an account of what’s been going on at the University of Washington as the Huskies have lost five straight games following their 2-0 start:

For the past two weeks, Ty Willingham and his staff have been — and it pains me to even write this — blaming players for the team’s shortcomings.

This a 2-6 team whose two wins are against a horrible Syracuse team and Boise State — before new quarterback Taylor Tharp got comfortable.

Washington has given up 1,719 yards and 147 points in the last three games, and these are some of Ty’s remarks:

After a loss to Oregon, Ty said the Huskies “need more bullets” in their gun to compete. Of Southern Cal — which isn’t part of the last three losses — Ty told the Seattle Times, “How many of our starters, when we lined up against USC that night, would’ve started for them?”

Later, Ty had to “clarify” his comments, and came up with this jewel: “We need to put (players) in the best position possible, that’s the job of a coach. And at the same time, your players have to make the plays. It’s always a combination, it’s never just one.”

So this is what respected Washington president Mark Emmert — a UW alum who loves football and has been through the meat grinder as chancellor at LSU — is paying millions for? Let me explain something here; it’s a very simple process:

1. Staff recruits players.
2. Staff coaches players.
3. Players perform how they are coached.

That’s it, people. If Washington is struggling, it’s coaching. Willingham has three recruiting seasons under him — more than enough time to start a turnaround or at least become a respectable team that can beat the Arizonas of the world.

If it weren’t for [Jake] Locker, this team would be winless. Instead, the staff is spineless.

If this team is lacking “bullets” as Ty says, it’s his fault. It’s like the classic Seinfeld episode where George rebuffs a date because she’s bald. Elaine so eloquently says — hands coned around her mouth — “You’re bald!”

So Ty’s players aren’t good enough?

You’re the guy recruiting them!

Somewhere, wacko Notre Dame fans have to be smiling.

“Smiling” isn’t quite right, since I do actually feel for all the members of the Husky faithful who’ve been taken in by this loser, and who’ll have to wait at least another half-decade to undo the harm he’s doing to their program. But yeah, that pretty much hits things on the nose. (The Seinfeld reference is especially well-placed; one imagines a disgruntled UW alum tossing Willingham’s headset out of an apartment window, and Ty leaning halfway out as it falls to the street.)

It’s worth comparing Willingham’s explanation of his team’s suckitude with the Charlie Weis’s answer to a reporter who asked him about the factors that led to Notre Dame’s 1-7 start (I quoted this earlier in the week):

Well, first of all, let’s start with coaching, because what you just did in your question is gave me about 15 different excuses for us being 1 and 7, so why don’t we just start with 1 probably, with the transition that we’ve had from last year to this year, have not done the best job of having the team ready to go on a week in and week out basis, and we probably should leave it at that one because if you are looking for me to give you a whole dossier of problems that have happened this year, there would be too many things. If you want good fodder, let’s just throw me out there, okay. … I think that if you start with the head coach doing a better job, then you’d probably have a better record.

And there you have it, folks. Weis is willing to recognize what Willingham is not: that excuses don’t count for anything when you put a poor product on the field.

To be more precise, the real point is this: OF COURSE the circumstances in which both Weis and Willingham have found themselves this season have been less than conducive to winning. But that doesn’t change the fact that those circumstances are in part their own responsibility, nor does it make it okay for them to shift the blame to their PLAYERS, of all people. When you’re a third-year head coach, explanations of your team’s failures start and end with you.

Hayes deserves some serious kudos for calling Willingham out for this bullcrap. I’ll be dollars to donuts we don’t see Pat Forde or Jon Chait doing the same thing any time soon …

(HT: stonebreaker22.)

Quote of the week

Friday, November 2nd, 2007

Ty is a damn joke, the domers were right.

- From an unidentified commenter on a post at Wizard of Odds about the anger among Washington football fans at the spectacular job Tyrone Willingham and his staff are doing at running yet another once-proud program into the ground. See here for some very funny stuff up the same alley. (HT: Rakes and domer.mq, respectively.)

But we all knew that. The real question is whether Jon Chait is right about Charlie Weis. Tune in Saturday to find out …

Taking Stock, Part III: Dig deep

Thursday, November 1st, 2007

(This is the third in a series of three posts analyzing the season so far and looking ahead to its remainder. Part I, “19 reasons why Notre Dame’s offense has sucked so badly in 2007,” is available here, and Part II, “Identity crisis,” is here.)

If it’s true, as I argued it is in the first two posts of this series, that the primary reason Notre Dame’s offense has been so bad this year is because of Charlie Weis himself, and that putting this season together with the last two gives us reason to think that the same characteristics that seem to make Weis a very good or even great coach for a bunch of hard-working, self-motivating, experienced veterans like the ones he had in 2005 and 2006, make him a downright awful coach for a bunch of unpolished youngsters like these ones, then an obvious question we need to ask ourselves is whether he’s going to be able to help this current group make the necessary transition. There’s no reason to think that the raw talent isn’t there; the issue is that of developing it in the right ways.

One aspect of this, which many people picked up on in commenting on the earlier posts (see OCDomer’s helpful response here, for example), concerns the purely “physical” aspect of their development. Can Weis and the rest of his staff help these players build the strength and stamina they need to perform at a high level? Can they teach them the “fundamentals”? Can they help players like Jimmy Clausen and Armando Allen put on enough weight - of the right kind, mind you - to absorb the physical pounding that comes with playing D-I football? And so on.

But while I think these kinds of questions are really very important, they actually weren’t the focus of what I was trying to bring out in my earlier posts. At the heart of my argument on Tuesday was the idea that many of this team’s biggest problems so far have been mental rather than purely physical: they’ve been tentative, distracted, easily discouraged, and so on. Similarly, my argument on Wednesday centered on the proposal that there was something about the psychological make-up of the 2005 and 2006 teams that made them respond well to Weis’s coaching style in a way that this one hasn’t. To be honest, I have little doubt that these guys will get there physically; the real question for me is whether they can keep their heads in the game.

Here’s what Aaron Taylor had to say about this in a (somewhat over-the-top) post he wrote after standing on the Notre Dame sidelines for the USC game:

These players are done. They don’t seem to play with passion or even be bothered when things are going wrong. In fact, it almost seemed like they were used to it. Laughing and joking on the sideline by a select few players while receiving the worst beat down in the 70+ game history with USC. What’s worse than them laughing was that no one seemed to do anything about it. No one yelling at the players. No one holding each other accountable on their respective sides of the ball. No one finally saying, “enough is enough” and doing something about it. Blank stares and apathy by starters and veterans. Guys seemingly relieved when something goes wrong and it wasn’t their fault. Embarrassing … and they just seem to take it. Except for the defense, however, as Corwin [Brown] and his boys come to play.

In my mind, it’s this sort of thing that’s far and away the biggest threat to the development of the current freshmen and sophomores. If they get discouraged and hang their heads when things go wrong, then the way Charlie Weis coaches will consistently be received as overwhelming and overbearing. And if this kind of behavior really is characteristic of their mindset right now, then that gives us reason to think that they many never become the kinds of players they need to be if they’re going to become winners down the line.

While I obviously wasn’t able to be on the sidelines for the SC game, a worrying moment for me came right at the midpoint of the third quarter. The Irish trailed 31-0 following Vidal Hazelton’s touchdown reception, and faced a third-and-three after Armando Allen had churned out a seven-yard run. Evan Sharpley broke the huddle, and you could see Sam Young and Mike Turkovich give a half-hearted clap, sigh, hang their heads, and shuffle over to the line of scrimmage. It was the look of a group that had been whipped: a team that HAD said “enough is enough,” albeit not in the way one would hope for.

If Taylor’s diagnosis is right - and it should be said that similar rumors have swirled around this team for much of the season - then there’s a LOT to be worried about. One scenario this recalls is the end of the 2004 season, which started off with an embarrassing 2-6 record that included a 38-0 blowout loss on the road to Michigan, a 45-14 smoking at home against Southern Cal, and a 37-0 home defeat to Florida State. After squeaking past Navy and BYU at home and easily beating Rutgers (you know, back when they were awful) on the road, Tyrone Willingham’s Irish were left a chance to finish the season at 6-6 and put themselves in contention for a bowl invitation they’d almost certainly receive. We all remember how that ended: Notre Dame lost, 38-12, to a Syracuse team that one week earlier had been simply spanked by Rutgers. And in the eyes of many of the Irish faithful, the sorry performance on that day was an example of a team that had quit on their coach.

Unlike Willingham’s team, which headed into that last game with a shot at a .500 regular season record, the current group of players has no hope for a postseason bowl. But that doesn’t make the end of their season any less important. It’s not just that the Irish need to win out these last four games and end the year at a somewhat respectable 5-7, or even that they need to generate some positive momentum heading into the offseason, but that they need to show that they aren’t going to go the route that the Irish of 2003 went against the Orangemen. This team needs to show some heart, some spirit, some drive: they need to push around their undersized and under-talented opponents, to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, to hit - hard - and wrap up, to give evidence of what Weis’s offense and Brown’s defense can do when the balance of the talent is on their side. In a word: they need to show that they’re not going to quit.

Let me reiterate: the primary reason I say this is not because of the remainder of the 2007 season itself. This year is lost, no doubt about that. The key issues have to do with the development - in particular, the psychological maturation - of the young players: are they going to allow themselves to be mired into a cycle of losing, with everything that attends it? Or are they going to break out, push harder, and continue to improve themselves? Are they going to develop the tough, dedicated, non-defeatist mindset that allowed Brady Quinn and his colleagues to play so well under Weis in 2005 and 2006? Or are they going to go a different route?

After the sorry performance against USC two weeks ago, and Taylor’s description of the mood on the sidelines, it’s natural to think that this team has already made its choice. But I want to suggest briefly that such a judgment would be unfounded.

In the first place, it’s worth pointing out that the practice reports we’ve seen following the SC game have generally painted the picture of a pretty fired-up team. Here, for example, is Ben Ford’s account of what things were like just three days after the loss:

The energy level was extremely high, starting with the defensive linemen, where Justin Brown and Kallen Wade raced to the blocking sled. Wade — who’s got a much longer stride — won by a length. (Sorry, that’s a little Breeders’ Cup excitement working its way into a football blog.)

But the receivers were by far the most energetic group today. Coach Rob Ianello had them running the running backs’ gauntlet — that’s a first, as far as I know — and the players let loose with some great Captain Caveman-style yells, especially [Robby] Parris and walk-on Nick Possley.

But in my mind, the far more important sign is another thing that happened right after the USC game: Michael Floyd and Jonas Gray, two highly-regard recruits who had been watching the game from the same vantage point as Aaron Taylor had, made verbal commitments to the Irish, turning down offers from numerous teams having considerably more on-the-field success. They had been with the Irish players before, during, and after the loss; they had gotten an in-depth look at what the attitude of the team was like. And yet - or and so, we might think - they decided that this was a group that they wanted to be a part of.

It might be easy to chalk this up to a couple of kids looking for early playing time, but that would be a mistake. Floyd, for example, had an offer from his homestate school, the woeful Minnesota Gophers, where he could likely have started from day one. Gray’s case is even more instructive in this regard: in giving his pledge to the Irish, he reneged on an earlier commitment to Nebraska, a move that suggests that in his mind anyway, the two programs are headed in quite different directions. Notre Dame, he seemed to be saying, is genuinely rebuilding, while the Huskers are simply falling apart.

It’s hard to imagine how Floyd and Gray - as well as other recruits, like Trevor Robinson and Kenneth Page, who were also high on the Irish after visiting for the USC game - could have gotten such a positive impression if the attitude on the team had been as thoroughly defeatist as the picture Taylor paints. Notre Dame’s recruiting successes this year suggest, not just that Weis, Brown, and the others are terrific at that aspect of their jobs (though they surely are), but also that there is a sizeable contingent of players who are happy to be at Notre Dame, genuinely excited about the direction the team is headed, and devoted to turning this ship around.

All that really matters, of course, is what happens on the playing field: and that’s why these next four games are so important. In the first place, if the Irish continue to be embarrassed and fail to show tangible signs of improvement, it’s easy to imagine that a good number of their committed players might decide that they’ve been mistaken about the overall direction of the team, and jump ship. Secondly, though, there’s the psyche of the current players - the ones who will make up the core of this team in 2008 and beyond - to consider: any positive momentum they can build over the remainder of 2007 will do wonders for their confidence, and go a long way to making them the kind of “Weis guys” that I’ve been arguing they need to become, while continuing to struggle in the ways they have so far will seriously undermine this possibility.

It’s time for this team to show us what they’ve got, and to decide for themselves what kind of team they’re going to become.

Trojans inspect playing field, continue to whine

Saturday, October 20th, 2007

I know I promised an injury update for today’s game, but this article in the LA Times was just too funny to let pass. So instead of the usual detailed breakdown (quick version: Aldridge won’t play, Grimes has reportedly looked a bit hobbled in practice, Wenger is back, no word that I’ve seen on Crum; and see here for the veritable litany of busted Trojans), I submit to you: The Victors, Two Years Later.

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Most of USC’s players strolled casually onto the field at Notre Dame Stadium on Friday for the Trojans’ walk-through before today’s game against the Fighting Irish.

But Desmond Reed never broke stride as he sprinted to the far end zone on grass significantly shorter and more manicured than it was in 2005, when Reed suffered torn right knee ligaments and nerve damage while turning to field a ball on a kickoff return. [Ed: TURNING to field it, mind you - on which see more below.]

Reed said last year he thought the grass was grown long intentionally to slow down the Trojans and that it caused his injury.

“They actually cut it,” defensive line coach Dave Watson said.

Said Dennis Slutak, USC’s director of football operations: “You could actually hit a golf ball out of this.” [Ed: Apparently Slutak isn't much of a golfer. Somebody want to get Ty Willingham on the phone to help him out?]

That’s right, folks. Two years after winning - WINNING!! - at Notre Dame stadium in a game that ended with a series of questionable calls and non-calls which Charlie Weis and (so far as I can recall) the rest of the Irish chose not to question, and after which Weis took his son into the SC locker room to congratulate the players and coaches on their victory, following which the Trojans won out the rest of the season on their way to the BCS national title game, their players and staff are STILL complaining about the length of the grass back on October 15, 2005.

Nor are their gripes limited to Irish fields of lore. Pete Carroll, for one, is already gearing up to make excuses for this year’s game:

… on Friday, after walking the field, Carroll said he was surprised it did not have a uniform feel.

“I don’t understand why it’s like that, I mean who plays here?” he said. “They sharing it with a local JC or something?”

It’s hard not to take this as evidence that either (1) Carroll can’t read or understand English, or (2) he’s a whiny scumbag who’s unwilling to respect what an opposing coach has to say about the state of his own playing field. Otherwise, the Poodle’s remarks might have taken account of this, from Weis’s Tuesday press conference:

this is the Midwest, and we’re going to play five games in a row at home. That’s where we are right now. Now, fortunately this is only game two. But it isn’t like our grass grows like we’re living in the south. It is what it is. It’s patchy and it’s not the same as playing on Bermuda grass in the south. It isn’t like we were playing on field turf; I don’t think that would go over too well in Notre Dame tradition. It’s grass, it’s mid October, it’s not as perfect as it would be earlier in the year. That’s just the way it is.

That’s right, Petey. It’s SOUTH BEND FRICKING INDIANA. It’s either too hot or too cold or too sunny or too rainy or too damn snowy about, oh, 257 days a year, and so the grass don’t grow quite like it does in sunny LA. And no, the only junior college with which the Irish are sharing their field is the one whose football team you coach. (Zing!)

Now, you might think that Reed’s gripe is a bit more legitimate, given the seriousness of the injury he suffered against the Irish two years ago. But if you did think that, then you’d be failing to take into account the excellent detective work that the guys at the IRT did before last year’s SC game:

How many of these pundits have actually gone back to watch the play which ended Reed’s season? Not many. If they did, they would clearly see that this was a player way out of position in the first place. It is our assertion that the grass was not the culprit here, but a player out of position.

Now, with the help of photographic evidence obtained through NBC we can reconstruct the play and prove that Reed is to blame for the injury. Not the grass.

Reed1.jpeg

This is the first screenshot from the kickoff where Reed was injured. This is the first moment the Reed enters the screen. He is the cut off figure on the right hand side of the photo near Notre Dame’s 14 yard line.

Reed2.jpeg

Here is Reed running back to field the kickoff between the 8 and 9 yard lines.

Reed3.jpeg

At the five yard line Reed makes a weird turn to try and field the ball flying over his head. This is where he goes down.

Reed4.jpeg

Here is Reed laying on the 2 yard line as the ball sails over his head. Clearly, if Reed was positioned to field the kick-off on the goal line, there would be no discussion of tall grass and Weis’ desire to injure and maim opposing players.

You make the call. Here at the Roundup, though, the company position is that the Trojans are a bunch of whiny bitches, and they’re going to get their asses handed to them this afternoon, no matter what the field may look like.

Go Irish, dammit.

It’s the execution, stupid.

Tuesday, October 16th, 2007

Amidst all the armchair analysis of Saturday’s loss to Boston College, many excellent points have been raised about what the Irish are and - especially - aren’t doing right: offensive line and quarterback play on the bad end; the all-around liveliness of the defense and the play of individual standouts like Trevor Laws, Brian Smith, and Darrin Walls on the good. But one point that many people, both on the IrishEnvy boards and elsewhere, have kept coming back to as an area that has hurt the Irish is Charlie Weis’s play-calling. I’ve said in many little discussions already that I think this argument is silly, but I thought it was worth writing a longer post detailing exactly why I think this.

Let me preface my argument by saying that I’m well aware that I know absolutely nothing about play-calling. Heck, I don’t even play Madden. But given the specific sort of argument I’m going to make here, I think that’s a good thing: I’m not going to sit here and tell a Super Bowl-winning offensive coordinator how to do his job; instead, I’m going to show you exactly how the plays that Weis called against BC regularly put the Irish in a position to convert simple first-downs and so move the ball down the field. My focus, in other words, will be (once again) on specific boneheaded mistakes rather than abstract generalities.

To start, let’s look at OCDomer’s breakdown of Saturday’s offensive drives:

  1. 6 Plays, 3 yards, punt.
  2. 5 plays, 16 yards, punt.
  3. 3 plays, 9 yards, punt.
  4. 3 plays, 9 yards, punt.
  5. 10 plays, 22 yards, ball turned over on downs when punter’s knee touches ground while fielding low snap.
  6. 5 plays, 9 yards, Clausen pass intercepted.
  7. 1 play, 0 yards, Clausen pass intercepted.
  8. 7 plays, 79 yards, TD pass from Sharpley to Parris.
  9. 3 plays, 7 yards, punt.
  10. 6 plays, 16 yards, punt.
  11. 6 plays, 15 yards, missed 41 yd FG attempt.
  12. 11 plays, 53 yards, ball turned over on downs.
  13. 4 plays, 0 yards, ball turned over on downs.
  14. 1 play -1 yard, game over.

It’s certainly easy to look at that drive chart, together with a box score that shows that the Irish had only 222 total yards to BC’s 459 (not to mention the fact that ND is still ranked 111th or worse in every major (andminor“) offensive category) and conclude that coaching is at fault, and - as I’ll argue shortly - I think you’d be quite right to do that. But that doesn’t mean the fault is with PLAY-CALLING. Here’s a breakdown of what brought those drives to a halt (some of which is noted by OCDomer):

  1. 6 Plays, 3 yards, punt. [Holding by Young forces 2nd-and-20.]
  2. 5 plays, 16 yards, punt. [Clausen fails to hit open Parris in near field on two consecutive throws.]
  3. 3 plays, 9 yards, punt. [Allen fails to convert on third and three.]
  4. 3 plays, 9 yards, punt. [Hughes fails to convert on third and one.]
  5. 10 plays, 22 yards, ball turned over on downs when punter’s knee touches ground while fielding low snap. [Olsen false starts on 2nd-and-10; Clausen under huge pressure next two plays.]
  6. 5 plays, 9 yards, Clausen pass intercepted. [Drive starts with 1:19 on clock. Young called for holding on 1st-and-10.]
  7. 1 play, 0 yards, Clausen pass intercepted. [Dangerous pass by Clausen bounces off Carlson's hands and is picked off.]
  8. 7 plays, 79 yards, TD pass from Sharpley to Parris.
  9. 3 plays, 7 yards, punt. [Kamara drops a first-down throw on 3rd-and-3.]
  10. 6 plays, 16 yards, punt. [Sharpley misses on two consecutive downfield passes to Parris.]
  11. 6 plays, 15 yards, missed 41 yd FG attempt. [Turkovich whistled for holding on 1st-and-10; Duncan burned badly to give up a sack; Walker misses FG attempt.]
  12. 11 plays, 53 yards, ball turned over on downs. [Turkovich called for holding on 4th-and-1 TD throw.]
  13. 4 plays, 0 yards, ball turned over on downs. [Parris drops a downfield throw by Sharpley; Sharpley throws the ball to nobody on 4th-and-10.]
  14. 1 play -1 yard, game over. [Kneel-down to run out clock.]

So there you go. Out of twelve failed offensive drives (obviously the last one doesn’t count), the Irish had five that were handicapped by penalties along the offensive line, two that ended on failures to convert short yardage on third down, two that each involved a pair of poor throws to open receivers, and two others that ended when third-down throws were dropped by wide receivers. Put that together and you get six of twelve drives that would have been sustained if not for straightforward offensive incompetence (dropped or mis-thrown passes and an inability to convert short yardage) and five more where the offense had to face extra-long yardage situations because of penalties. That’s eleven of twelve failed drives (the one that is left out here is the one that started and ended with Clausen’s second interception) grinding to a halt because of nothing but old-fashioned on-field ineptitude.

So here’s my question: how is ANY of this the result of the plays that were called? It seems to me - and perhaps someone who knows more about football can show me where this is wrong - that all a coach can do in the play-calling department is put his team in a position to convert one first down at a time so that they can move on down the field. This is going to be immensely hard to do when the offensive line moves your team backwards rather than forwards with dumb penalties, and it is also going to be hard to do when you call plays that should be good for first downs and your team FAILS TO EXECUTE THOSE PLAYS. So far as I can tell, not even ONE of ND’s failed drives on Saturday is attributable to Weis having called the wrong plays (whether it was not running enough, not passing enough, not passing the ball downfield enough, and so on and so forth): instead, in every case where there weren’t penalties along the o-line to move the team backwards (and indeed in some of those cases, too), the offense had a chance to convert a third down and extend their drives, a play was called on which they could clearly have done just that, and they failed to do their job. It is simply beyond me how this loss could be ascribed to the plays that were called rather than what was done with them once the huddle was broken.

None of this is to say that Weis’s play-calling has been beyond reproach in PREVIOUS weeks; I no longer have my notes on them, but I sincerely doubt you could make this same sort of argument (at least with this same force) in those cases. (The Georgia Tech and Michigan games are especially striking examples of goofy scheming.) Nor - as I’ve already mentioned - is it to say that he’s beyond criticism for Saturday’s loss. In fact, I can think offhand of at least ten other things for which Weis deserves a lot of flack:

  1. An offensive line that can’t block.
  2. The fact that the (in many case most veteran) members of said line continually commit dumb penalties.
  3. A team that is unable to convert in short yardage situations.
  4. A pair of quarterbacks who were barely above 30% passing on the day.
  5. A veritable smörgåsbord of dropped passes by the wide receivers.
  6. The fact that his team seems regularly to come out flat in big games.
  7. The fact that his practice routines didn’t get his players ready for “game speed.”
  8. The way the wheels have tended to fall off for this year’s team as soon as they’ve faced the tiniest bit of adversity.
  9. The fact that many of the members of his coaching staff don’t seem to be able to get their jobs done.
  10. The fact that the Irish are 1-6 this year (and 1-8 in their last nine games).

All of these things are, in part at least, the fault of the head coach, and many of them bring out the sorts of problems that doomed the Irish against BC. Weis DESERVES to be blamed, in other words, for the way his team has failed to execute: but last Saturday at least, the plays he called would have enabled his team to move down the field if they’d managed to do just that (i.e., execute).

(While we’re at it, let me point out a few things that handicapped the Irish against BC but were NOT Weis’s fault:

  1. The fact that his #1 tailback (Aldridge) left the game with an injury after getting only five carries.
  2. The fact that his #1 wide receiver (Grimes), his top middle linebacker (Crum), and a starting offensive lineman (Wenger) as well as a backup (Romine) all weren’t able to play because of injury.
  3. The fact that that was one of the worst-officiated football games I’ve ever seen.
  4. The fact that BC has sold its soul to the devil in exchange for theological liberalism and a win-streak against the Irish.
  5. Ty Willingham’s recruiting (yes, that old hat).

Again, I’m certainly not saying Weis is blameless - on that, see the above. I’m just saying we’ve got to keep the whole picture in mind.)

Whew. That was a long post for such a silly argument. But in many ways I think the complaints about the plays that were called on Saturday illustrate people’s inability to look realistically at a game and diagnose what actually went wrong as opposed to trotting out the same old gripes week-in, week-out. There is a LOT that is wrong with this team, and a LOT of that is arguably the fault of Charlie Weis. Foremost among these problems is a failure to move the ball on offense - but so far as I can tell, the chief problem against BC wasn’t on the sidelines. It was on the field.

Shut up, Fredo.

Wednesday, October 10th, 2007

While doing some research into the infamous 2002 “Neon Jersey Game,” in which Tyrone Willingham inexplicably had his 8-0 Fighting Irish team dress up like limes to face 4-3 Boston College, I came across these charming quotes from post-game interviews with BC personnel:

BC head coach Tom O’Brien: “The kids were excited when we saw the green jerseys. They took the green jerseys as a sign of great respect, as if we were something to be reckoned with.”

Sophomore tight end Sean Ryan: “I felt ‘Wow’, we really are playing Notre Dame. They really respected us. They really thought that we were a challenge for them and that meant a lot to me and a lot to our teammates, too.”

The Irish lost that game, of course, as they fumbled the ball away three times, threw two interceptions, and gained only 184 total yards against a banged-up BC defense. Afterwards, Golden Eagles players tore apart the visiting locker room at Notre Dame stadium celebrating their victory.

This was the beginning of the end for Willingham, as his Irish finished the ‘02 season with a squeaker at Navy, an easy win over Rutgers, and consecutive blowouts on the road at USC and in the Gator Bowl against NC State. The next two seasons featured two more awful losses to BC: a 27-25 loss on the road in Chestnut Hill in 2003, and a 24-23 loss back at Notre Dame Stadium in 2004 that infamously featured a Notre Dame punt on 4th-and-5 from the BC 30-yard line with three-and-a-half minutes to go in regulation, and a comically inept field goal attempt as time expired.

(I was there for the ‘04 game, and it was probably my lowest-ever moment as an ND fan: I’d driven 700 miles back to South Bend after spending fall break on the East coast, tailgated in the pouring rain for hours until I was drunk enough to think that Willingham might not blow it, screamed, shouted, sang, danced, cursed, and shook my keys just like I was supposed to, and then (in an admittedly Fredo-esque move) nearly came down with pneumonia after the game thanks to one of the worst colds of my life. Thanks, Ty.)

Anyway, though, let me set the record straight: Notre Dame DOES NOT CARE about Boston College. Nor do we “respect” them in any significant sense. This is why BC’s nickname - which they share, by the way, with a certain illustrious former U.S. Attorney General - recalls the stupidly inept brother who was sickly as a child, failed to avenge his father’s death when given the opportunity, betrayed his family to a Cuban gangster, and then was unceremoniously shot in the back of the head and dropped at the bottom of Lake Tahoe. The fact that BC fans get as geared up for Notre Dame as teenage girls do for a Justin Timberlake concert does not entail that this attitude is reciprocated.

Perhaps these bits from Eric Hansen’s latest column in the South Bend Tribune will help to put the ND-BC “rivalry” in a bit more perspective:

  • BC has only been ranked higher than its current No. 4 slot three times in its history, all during the 1942 season. It spent three weeks at No. 3 that year and one week at No. 1, losing to Holy Cross 55-12 as the nation’s top-ranked team.
  • This is only the third time in the 17 meetings between the two schools in which BC has been the higher-ranked team.

So no, Fredo, you can’t come back in the family. You’re stupid and incompetent, and we know you’re doing an okay job right now running that casino out in Vegas, but we also know that your head’s getting too big and soon you’re going to start doing stupid things like beating your wife, getting hooked on coke, banging hookers, and attacking software engineers in local sports bars. We don’t love you, we don’t want you, we don’t care about you, and as soon as mom passes away we’re going to blow your brains out and tell everyone you died in a boating accident. No matter what you keep telling yourself, that’s the only reason you’re off the ND schedule after 2010: this is not a rivalry game, you’re no more relevant than Cincinnati or Rutgers, and Notre Dame needs you far less than you need them.

Enjoy the undefeated season and the #4 ranking while they last: if the past is any guide, it might not be much longer.

(Via bamfshirts.com)