Its 1996 and all is well in South Bend. The Irish are in the same sentence with the powers that be in college football and their coach is one of the best known figures in sports because he wins and is a great motivator. If I had stopped by the campus at exit 77 of the Indiana Toll Road and told you to enjoy the fading days Notre Dame football, how crazy would that have sounded?
If I had told you then that in the next 13 years this storied program would have chewed up and spit out three coaches all of whom hovered around .500, not played in a national title game, and had its graduation rate equaled or surpassed by so called "lesser" schools what would you have thought? How about that in the 13th year Notre Dame would have a must win game against Stanford to even be considered for a third tier bowl?
The ugly truth is that the echoes have been dead in South Bend for quite a while and only now is it apparent that rigor has set in. The body is cold, the echoes are dead ,and the future isn't what it used to be.
Notre Dame is going to hand Charlie Weis a really fat check in the next month or so and point him in the direction of Michigan City. That check is larger than most schools its size could afford, but the alumni have been in charge of this wreckage for a while now, so their wallets will take another hit and their egos will assert that its someone else's fault all the while believing the fairy tale that the echoes are about to awaken.
The hottest young coach in the game, Urban Myer, turned down Notre Dame five years ago and sent a university jet home empty to prove the point. Again yesterday he said that his interest in Notre Dame is in the past and that his future is at Florida. The echoes must ring loudly in some ears because even now, the blogosphere is full of stories about how this just means Myer wants more money.
Golden Tate and Jimmy Clausen are headed for their paydays on Sundays next fall, leaving a gaping hole in a .500 program. Losing a future NFL QB and wideout would hurt most programs, but how about one that is fighting just to get to average and hasn't had even an average coach this century?
Here's even more bad news under the Golden Dome;Notre Dame's broadcast partners are looking the other way. Westwood One is headed for a likely bankruptcy before next season and NBC is about to be sold to a cable TV outfit who looks at little past the bottom line. Does this sound like a combination that is going to want to be able to afford to support Notre Dame football in the manner to which it has become accustomed?
Good schools would start from scratch. Good schools would tell the alumni to butt out, let Jack Swarbrick find a young, unheralded coach who would work under a three-year contract and build a new foundation for the program from the ground up. Good schools would enjoy the ride back up;it won't happen in South Bend.
A smart school administration would start quiet talks with the Big Ten about joining its ranks while it still has a bit of leverage. Waiting until the radio and TV contracts dry up is waiting one day too long. The future of Notre Dame is tied to the money to be had in a strong conference with strong media ties and a chance to parlay a yearly championship game into money that would replace what will be lost as the last of the great independents.
Frankly, I don't expect any of this to happen. There are too many egos involved in the making of the present mess to just end it here. The next Notre Dame hire will be no different than the last three and the results will be no different. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, is the definition of insanity. The last 13 years have been insanely bad on Exit 77 of the Indiana Toll Road