I was doing some hearty coverage of Notre Dame football last night when I came across a blog that made some forthright comments which aroused my interest. Here is a short summary of what was written:
*Charlie Weis is not the problem at Notre Dame
*No coach in South Bend could recruit like Carroll at USC
*Notre Dame is like a small market MLB team
*ND as a program & school cannot recruit dominant defensive players
*Weis has pretty much maxed out ND recruiting
*The program has a bigger image of itself than in reality
*Notre Dame is a "rich man's Stanford", a second-tier school that can't hang with the big boys in college football
*ND has zero shot at beating USC until at least 2013
*Weis' biggest problem is his physical appearance
Let those comments sink in for a moment if you can. Now, I know a lot of Irish fans are going to be somewhat surprised by all of this, but you have to ask yourself: how much of this is true?
I have to admit, I believe a lot of these comments are very true.
Do you think the Notre Dame program has a bigger image of itself than in reality? I'm not sure how the powers that be who are running the University truly feel, but a quick look at history would seem to demonstrate that football is not a priority, or at the very least, not one of the top one or two priorities like it used to be.
In other words, Notre Dame is not a football factory. We all know this and we all know Notre Dame is not the veritable minor league training ground and stop off point for football players the way USC and Florida are.
So, the issue of where this self image comes from is not really about the school itself (except the coaching staff who obviously need to promote that image with statements like "9-3 just isn't good enough"), but it comes from us, the fans of Irish football.
But nothing really bothers me more then if someone says Notre Dame needs to get back to being an elite program because it's NOTRE DAME. Why don't people say the same things about Army? The USMA has a proud tradition of excellence in football, why don't they compete for national titles?
I know the comparison with Army is a bit of a stretch, but my point is, at the end of the day Notre Dame's tradition and past mean very little. Sure the storied tradition helps somewhat with recruiting and the large fan base with deep pockets boost the University's capabilities, but I just don't like the notion that Notre Dame has to be an elite program just because it's Notre Dame.
Make no bones about it, this has been a bitter pill to swallow for many Irish fans. We have a glorious tradition of football, but the playing field is so undeniably un-level and it is difficult for Notre Dame to compete against such stacked odds.
Sure it sounds great and makes one feel proud when we chastise the program, coaches, and other fans for accepting not just mediocrity, but really good football too, all because this is Notre Dame and it should not be happening.
We've witnessed a program, on its knees from lack of recruiting, climb out of that hole and become respectable again. It's very possible we could see this program go from 3 wins, to 7 wins, to 10 wins, but there will still be thousands of people claiming this is not good enough because this is NOTRE DAME. I don't like that perspective.
Which leads me to Charlie Weis and I agree that I don't think the problem is the head coach right now for Notre Dame. In fact, as time goes on I think we'll see that he's done a pretty impressive job of taking this program to the next level from its 1997-2004 darkness, although he may never get it to an elite level.
But again, does anyone really think another coach could bring Notre Dame to the level of USC right now? Even if we assume someone like Brian Kelly is a better college coach, that still leaves the Irish quite a distance from being elite, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
What Notre Dame desperately needs are a couple of Buck Nasty defensive linemen who can dominate the way they do at USC, LSU and Florida. But Notre Dame makes it all but impossible to recruit that stud DT from Long Beach, California with a 2.5 GPA, nor does this kid have any desire to go to Notre Dame. Brian Kelly, Jon Gruden, or any other coach won't change that fact.
Not only does Notre Dame need some Buck Nasty's on their defense, but they need to continually bring in a couple every single year if they want to be a truly elite team. Manti Te'o would be an example of the type of player Notre Dame would need. The Irish need about five or six more of him to be seriously discussed as an elite team.
Just think about it for a moment. The signing of Te'o was heralded as a momentous steal by Weis and Te'o has come in with deserved hype and expectations. But he's just one player. USC has been churning out Manti Te'o type players every season for the past decade.
How many current Notre Dame defensive players would start at USC? How many would even play at all over four years?
And I do think a lot of people are overly harsh of Weis because of his physical appearance and his demeanor which fuel a lot of the hate that is thrown his way. That and the dismissal of Tyrone Willingham.
I suspect if Jim Harbaugh had the exact same record as Weis at Notre Dame we'd be hearing, particularly from non-Irish fans, about how hard it is to win in South Bend and that Harbaugh was doing a great job of digging the program out of the days of Willingham.
As it is, Weis has done an excellent job of recruiting but he still has not been able to recruit dominant defensive players just like his predecessors could not stretching back to the mid 1990's. I’m not going to say that Weis is going to win a title in South Bend, but I think he is clearly bringing the program in the right direction.
There are two things I will stick fast to about Weis. First, he is one of the best offensive minds in all of football. Clearly this guy can score as evidenced by his complete obliteration of the Notre Dame record books over the past five years.
Secondly, I don’t blame Weis for the 2007 season as I still blame Willingham for that and I view it as an aberration of a season. Weis came in and won 19 games in his first two years and then didn’t just forget how to coach folks. Weis will never lose that badly ever again at Notre Dame.
Charlie Weis’ winning percentage currently stands at .589 which is slightly better than his predecessors in Willingham and Davie. If Notre Dame is able to win the rest of their regular season games, Weis’ will move to a very respectable .629 winning percentage.
What’s more, if we take out the aberration of 2007 completely, Weis’ winning percentage is .681 which would have him scratching at the door of where other elite coaches are. Minus the 2007 season and plus six wins to close this season and Weis would be at top 12 winning percentage of .720 behind the likes of legends and legends to be Carroll, Paterno, Stoops, and Bowden.
Many will cry that I can’t remove 2007 because it still counts, which is true, but the reason I bring up these numbers is that Weis could very well be in to the .650 winning percentage range within a calendar year. That would put Charlie Weis at just about the same winning percentage as Frank Beamer’s career at Virginia Tech.
While some call Notre Dame a mid-major along the lines of Michigan State or Boston College, and others shout that Notre Dame must be an elite school, I think the Irish’s potential is somewhere along the lines of Frank Beamer’s Virginia Tech program.
Without the Buck Nasties continually prowling the field on defense for Notre Dame, as they do at USC and Florida, the Irish can never attain the level of success like the Gators and Trojans have over the past decade.
But that doesn’t mean Notre Dame cannot be successful. With the level of recruiting that Weis has been bringing in for a few years, the Irish can be very similar to Virginia Tech and go out and consistently win 10 games a season and try and run with the big boys every three or four years.
It’s time to stop complaining that Notre Dame isn’t an elite program anymore and put some things in perspective. Charlie Weis has done a great job recruiting and has this team’s stock rising. Two months from now we may be smiling at the renewed success in South Bend and another ten win season.