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No Bowl Could Be Blessing In Disguise For Notre Dame Football

Teddy MitrosilisAnalyst IDecember 5, 2009

15 Oct 1994:  A mural called Touchdown Jesus adorns a wall overlooking the Notre Dame campus and football stadium in South Bend, Indiana. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Daniel/Allsport
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Fighting Irish officially pulled the plug on all bowl consideration Friday, announced athletic director Jack Swarbrick, and that’s the best news that can come out of South Bend if you care about Notre Dame.

“After meetings involving our coaching staff as well as the leadership group representing our football team, we have made the decision to remove ourselves from consideration for any postseason bowl game this year,” Swarbrick said in a statement.

The Chicago Tribune first reported the story Friday morning, and when confirmation came from Swarbrick in the afternoon, it hardly surprised.

Notre Dame had a possible opportunity to participate in a bowl game later this month, but, really, what was the point? At 6-6, the Irish had to wait for all of the teams with seven victories to finalize their bowl plans before Notre Dame could circle their date.

At that rate, Notre Dame would be picking from the bowl game scraps. Golden Domers, how does the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit sound to you? Or, Touchdown Jesus, can we interest you in the GMAC Bowl in Mobile, Ala.? Those were the two most likely options for Notre Dame if they were to accept a bowl bid. I’d rather stay home for winter break, too.

Bowl games offer additional revenues and exposure for the programs that participate, but neither of those factors are enough to entice the Irish. They don’t need more national attention, and with an unparalleled TV deal, they certainly don’t need to be chasing pennies.

For some programs, any bowl game is progress. For Notre Dame, the only positive that could have come from heading to Detroit on Dec. 26 is a locker room full of free pepperoni pizzas after the game. That’s it. If they win, who cares? They are “Notre Dame,” they are supposed to win. If they lose, it only confirms how far this program has seemingly fallen from national prominence.

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It was a lose-lose for a program­, and university, that carries itself with pride and incessantly works to uphold history and tradition. Give credit to Swarbrick for making the best decision for the program during a time when one of the most immaculate logos in college sports isn’t gleaming in its custom gold.

If Charlie Weis had not been canned following a fifth season, then Notre Dame probably would have remained in consideration for a bowl game. But after the circus that followed Weis around from the start of training camp in August to the end of another uninspiring season in late November, Swarbrick had no other choice to make.

It would have been too difficult to get the team ready to compete in a only a few weeks after Weis cleaned out his office. Prolonging the firing and allowing Weis to coach one last bowl game in South Bend would have been irresponsible.

“The unique circumstances surrounding our program at the current time prevent us from making the commitment required to compete in a bowl game,” said Swarbrick. “If the landscape had been different, we would have been thrilled to take part.”

With those last words, Notre Dame football will hibernate until next fall, but Swarbrick needs to remain front and center this winter. As ugly as things have looked at Notre Dame in recent seasons—and losses to the likes of Navy and Connecticut will stink for a while—I’m one of the few people who believe that Notre Dame isn’t as far away from regaining national prominence as it seems.

Yes, the program that is supposed to be competing with USC and going to BCS bowls is coachless. Quarterback Jimmy Clausen is all but headed to the NFL Draft come April (with only a senior season left and a new coach on the horizon, what incentive is there for Clausen to return?). Golden Tate, Clausen’s best receiving target, may take the pro plunge, too.

But these are holes that can be filled rather quickly if the right foundation is in place. That foundation is in the hands of Swarbrick. Notre Dame doesn’t need to find Weis’ replacement by tomorrow, but they need to find the right guy this time around. Forget the “sexy” name. Swarbrick needs to get in touch with what makes Notre Dame football unique, and then he needs to find a coach that is cut from the same cloth.

Swarbrick needs a guy that is tough, can coach defense, can put the right coordinators in place to complement his own football philosophies, and can recruit. These are essentials. But most importantly, Swarbrick needs to find a guy that is drunk on the South Bend mystique and is courageous enough to implement his own values in a program that has lost itself.

For the right guy, Notre Dame is still a dream job. The academic tradition is rich, the campus is pristine, the alumni are passionate, and, oh yeah, the Fighting Irish and NBC are tied at the hip. Notre Dame shouldn’t be a tough sell for potential recruits. If a kid is worried about the expectations and the pressures of turning this ship around, then he probably isn’t the type of player the Irish need, anyway.

Notre Dame isn’t USC, Florida, or Texas. They have a hole to dig out of before they can even sniff that level of national competence. But Notre Dame doesn’t need a coaching bigwig to get there.

Brian Kelly has sworn by his Cincinnati Bearcats in recent weeks, and Jim Harbaugh has repeated how much he loves Stanford. Maybe one of those tunes will change by the time the holidays pass, but it doesn’t much matter. Those two names aren’t the only shows in Notre Dame’s bag of tricks.

Notre Dame has simply gotten soft since the days of Brady Quinn, Jeff Samardzija, and Tom Zbikowski. The Irish don’t need players who enter boxing matches in their spare time, as Zbikowski once did, but they absolutely need to regain some of that attitude.

No bowl this year is a blessing in disguise for Notre Dame if Swarbrick uses his time wisely. He ought to take the next week or two to flip through the Notre Dame history books in an attempt to reconnect with what once made this place a podium for national recognition.

If Swarbrick can find the right coach to return the football program to its roots,  then there won’t be any Domers complaining about no bowl game in 2009 in the years to come. Why?

Because Notre Dame is still a university and program that, if done right, can become inundated with postseason games in a hurry.

You can reach Teddy Mitrosilis at tm4000@yahoo.com.

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