This slideshow is a presentation of the eight improvements Notre Dame needs to address in order to become an elite college football team in the 21st Century.
In my previous article I stated that with the new coaching staff being assembled and the dismal track record of the previous 13 seasons, now is the time for the University administration to look long and hard at changes for the program.
In presenting this list I want to make a couple things clear beforehand.
1. Some of my recommendations are bound to stir up controversy, especially with the more tradition bound alumni and fans. But keep in mind that I am very respectful of Notre Dame's traditions and believe that they should be kept as long as they are not detrimental to winning.
2. I do not offer up these recommendations with the belief that it will take every single change in order to attain success. Nor do I believe that some of them will indeed make a positive impact. But the most important thing is to consider the changes and bring in some fresh thinking.
Feel free to critique any of these recommendations or even suggest what you think should be done in the future for Notre Dame football. My hope is that Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick is seriously considering many options and plans on how to best guide this program in 2010 and beyond.
And now, the list begins!
One of the biggest things I’ve noticed during Notre Dame home games is the lack of intensity and loudness from the fans outside of the student section. In general, there are a lot of people lulled to sleep because of the abundance of TV timeouts and the sometimes painfully long contests.
Of course installing a jumbotron (or two) inside the stadium may seem like the ultimate sacrilege, but it could do wonders to pump up the genteel crowds and bring some life to Notre Dame games.
When places like Happy Valley, Death Valley, and The Swamp bring brutal home field advantage for their schools through constant noise, having Notre Dame crowds only get up for three or four third down attempts each game is just not going to cut it.
The possible need for extra music and sounds from the PA system goes hand in hand with the discussion about installing a jumbotron. Quite frankly, Notre Dame home games are too quiet, they do not offer enough loud home field advantage for the Irish and the band cannot sustain enough energy to an enormous stadium for such a long period of time.
Let’s be honest, the band of the Fighting Irish can only do so much playing the fight song and a handful of other tunes. With the ability to blare music and other sounds from the PA system, Notre Dame could get a significant amount of more fans involved and pumped up for an entire game.
What’s more, the use of PA music could be less appalling than the jumbotron for the traditionalists who wish to see Notre Dame continue playing games as if it were still 1928.
In the grand scheme of things, worrying about the type of playing surface probably isn’t the major factor holding Notre Dame back. But with a new coaching staff and philosophy coming in 2010, now is a good time to look at all issues, however small they may be.
And getting rid of the natural grass inside Notre Dame Stadium is something I have been promoting for a year or two. I know people will say it doesn’t matter because both teams are playing on the same surface, but I am convinced the ragged, beat up, slippery and shaggy field has been more detrimental to the Irish, who after all, play six or seven games on the surface each season.
I don’t have statistics to back this up, but it sure seems like Irish players slip a lot more often than their opponents at home and more importantly, it seems the team always plays better on artificial surfaces.
Placing field turf down to start the 2010 season could be a tiny edge that could help Notre Dame in the future. Plus, it will save the school a boat load of money in the long run.
I don’t want to decry the 7-4-1 schedule model or moan the addition of Western Michigan to next year’s lineup, but in the future it would serve the program well to find the best opponents available within reason.
The past few years have seen weaker Irish schedules due to Michigan and others being “down” but Notre Dame still plays a very competitive gauntlet. What AD Jack Swarbrick should concentrate on is ensuring the series with Alabama is signed, more competitive one-and-one series are scheduled and better teams to play in the now annual neutral field match up.
The good news is that already Brian Kelly has made it known that he wants to play the best teams in the country. Let’s hope he has the ability to get the school to schedule some prime time match ups in the coming years.
One of the biggest differences about being a football player at Notre Dame versus almost anywhere else in the country is that in South Bend the football team lives among the general student population. In just about every other school, football players live together, sometimes in what can seem like their own world created and nurtured by the football coach staff.
A change Notre Dame could institute would be to create football only dorms to ease the transition for the football recruits who are often coming from all over the country and thrown into a foreign and very different cultural life in South Bend.
Many alumni take pride that the football team is treated like any ordinary student on campus, but perhaps the team could perform better when living closer together? Would this lead to more cohesion? More film study? Would living together give the players better time management and the productivity which they desperately need (especially the underclassmen) balancing the hectic Notre Dame life?
There’s no two ways about it: Notre Dame needs a better strength and conditioning program. It has been stated for a long time that Irish players aren’t as fast as the top teams in the country and the team seems to always tire late in games.
The problem seems to be two-fold: The players have very busy schedules that allow precious little time for training and Notre Dame does not have the top-level resources and aids such as training tables to help players prepare and sustain themselves for football season.
If Notre Dame wants to be taken seriously and become an elite football team, then it needs to take the necessary steps to ensure the players are in the best shape possible. Perhaps this could mean building a state of the art training facility and training table inside my recommended football dorm?
There seems to be hope on the horizon as it has been reported that AD Jack Swarbrick will be looking to build a training table for the football team in the future.
This one is a biggie and is crucial to the long term success of the program. I would recommend the Notre Dame administration instituting a new “Six Recruits Rule” whereby the head coach will be allowed any six recruits each year without interference from the school admissions department.
It has been rumored that a plan like this was offered by Urban Meyer as a condition of him coming to South Bend in 2004 and in some respects Lou Holtz and Charlie Weis were able to state their case for borderline players in past recruiting cycles.
But if Notre Dame truly wants to compete at the highest level, then it needs to roll the dice and implement a program such as this where the head coach will have free reign over a certain number recruits each season. Many will argue that this will be like asking for off the field problems, but can’t the school at least give it a chance and see what could happen instead of defiantly turning away talented players?
With the hiring of Brian Kelly last week, it appears for now that Notre Dame made the best decision it could make for the long term success of the football team.
Kelly may not be a savior, but I have growing confidence that he is the right man for the job and will quickly bring in the much needed fundamental coaching the Irish have lacked for so long.
More than anything, Notre Dame has needed, even required, a great coach and Brian Kelly may be able to fix many of the problems currently plaguing the program. If he can bring back top level winning then most of these recommendations will not be necessary.
Still, it wouldn’t surprise me if Kelly and others around the program are turning over every stone and making recommendations of their own on how to best bring success to the Golden Dome.