Notre Dame Football? The problem is not the coach.

Okay, sports fans, here is something you will never read in The Blue and Gold.  Not because it hasn’t crossed their minds but rather because they need ongoing access to the players and coaches and I don’t.  They can’t afford to offend the administration.  I can.  You can thank Al Gore that this discussion can even take place.   But here it goes…. the real problem with the Notre Dame Football program is not the Head Coach.  It is not the past couple of Athletic Directors.  It is the administration post Theodore Hesburgh.

Blame Malloy and Jenkins and their team.  The administration had to go along with the subtle campaign against Lou Holtz, punching all of his buttons, hiring Bob Davie, Ty Willingham and Charlie Weis.   It was this administration that gave Charlie Weis his extended contract, which was deadly to him and the program.  The lack of administrative maturity and business common sense after Hessburgh is clear.  The brand of Notre Dame football has outgrown their competence.  They are in over their heads.

Now, I don’t blame the administration for its failings, it has a different agenda.  Its commitment is to the Church and its corporate and spiritual mission as an educational institution must take precedence over football.   When you are serving God and dealing with issues eternal, four or five years is not a big deal.  And football is certainly not a big deal.  Yes, the money can help God’s cause but if there is a mistake, well, “all things work together for good to them the love the Lord.”

I guess what I am trying to say is that it is our misfortune to be fans of a football program whose overseers are conflicted and therefore their program is destined to be flawed.   Meanwhile, some of us,  carnal and immature mortals that we are, care more about their football team than they do.

Twenty years ago, when college football was not a zillion dollar business it didn’t matter.  Now, these conflicts, academic and spiritual and business, can be the difference between success and failure.

At Ohio State, the football team and the school mission is synonymous.  Winning football means students and alumni money which translates into better academics and renown.  There is no spiritual dimension or even much of a conflict if a football player gets a bit of an academic pass.  There may even be a moral argument that it is in the best interest of students and teachers and the institution if the football player is given an edge.  To be tough on this special student could hurt many thousands of needy young men and women.

The point is, what would be “wrong” at Notre Dame could be considered “right” at Ohio State or Florida State or Texas.

Taking it one step further, it is far more likely that a recruiting coach from Southern California would send a prospect out to eat with a bunch of sexy co-eds than it would be for such a thing to happen in South Bend.  I am not saying it doesn’t happen in South Bend.  Top prospects are popular guys.  I am just saying that it is less likely to happen there.  And a coach who “let” that sort of thing happen would not last too long.

Now, I don’t want to take this too far.  I mean, this administration hired a guy whose every other word begins with “F.”  So they are surely trying to stretch a little, for the sake of Our Mother, of course.  And they have negotiated and renegotiated that golden ticket, the NBC contract, no small feat.  I’ll bet there are some good stories behind that.  I am just pointing out that by their very nature they are going to be less focused on this football business than many administrators because they have higher considerations.  Some of them may even resent or look down on their lucrative football income, as a necessary evil, in the true sense of the word.  This is what comes off as arrogance to many.

So, like I said.  I don’t blame the administration.  I understand.  I just wish they could find a way to resolve this.  I can see why they wanted Tony Dungy.  Their program needs integrity, in the sense of leadership that integrates all of these complex elements.  They can’t keep careening from the advice of one Alumni advisor and donor to the next.  Because none of them have the whole picture and they are assuming that the men in black are doing their due diligence and not just having knee jerk reactions.

It’s our fault for being stupid enough to get dragged into becoming fans of an institution that is so conflicted.   They want the money, after all “the wealth of the ungodly is laid up for the righteous,” and they can do great things with it, but they want much more than just a great football program per see and they believe that they have a higher calling and therein lies the conflict.

Alabama has no higher calling.

Published by Doug Wead

Doug Wead is a New York Times bestselling author whose latest book, Game of Thorns, is about the Trump-Clinton 2016 election. He served as an adviser to two American presidents and was a special assistant to the president in the George H.W. Bush White House.

9 thoughts on “Notre Dame Football? The problem is not the coach.

  1. Rumor has it that the reason it took so long to finalize stealing Brian Kelly from Cincinnati (in my completely biased opinion) is Kelly’s insistence on ND relaxing the academic standard for its players.

    Honestly, I wish him all the best with ND. The University of Cincinnati is better off for having him even beyond the football program. ND has bought the very best talent available, now we’ll see if they let him do his job.

  2. Stealing? Isn’t that a bit strong for something that happens on a regular basis, especially when a second tier team has success, and they get pulled up to a top tier team?

    Any reference for your “rumor?”

  3. Yeah, “stealing” was used tongue and cheek there. Rumor was from a local radio news report during the limbo phase between the Bearcat’s win over Pitt and the official announcement of Kelly’s run for the money.

    “Second tier” in collegiate athletics is all relative. Cincinnati was big time in the 60’s, terrible for decades after that, and started a legit re-build about 5 years ago. Florida was a nobody in the 70’s and ‘Bama had some really bad teams in the 80’s. They all ebb and flow with the coaches and $$$’s.

  4. I thought the “stealing” was tongue in cheek, others may not “get” it. As you probably know, nowadays, recruiting begins right after the regular season, not after the bowl games, so ND had to get this nailed down FAST, especially if they wanted Kelly, as others were probably courting him as well. Kelly was a natural “target” for Notre Dame. Took a college program from nothing to successful, local boy, even his name is Irish!

    The second tier teams used to be more variable, as it depended largely on local talent. Now that we have all of the major teams recruiting across the country (even foreign countries!), it is MUCH harder to do what Cincinnati did than it used to be.

  5. Everybody is local somewhere, so yes, I am a “local boy”, just trying to give you some insight from a local perspective. I understand how the coach game is played, Kelly left Central Michigan for UC in the same manner that he left. But that doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it. I think the LCK’s at the NCAA should step up and keep coaches at their respective schools until the season actually ends (bowl games included).

    Cincinnati was on the way up when Mark Dantonio left for Michigan St. and Rick Minter took the program from almost being disbanded to occasionally beating top 25 opponents. So Kelly didn’t take the program from “nothing” to successful, he took it from on the way up to top shelf. He even said things might have been different if Texas didn’t get a gift second back on the clock to beat Nebraska.

  6. Kelly may have continued the improvement, but the program could have just as easily fallen backwards when he came onboard, as often happens to second tier teams when the coach moves on to greener pastures when a measure of success is attained.

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