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Holtz, Kelly, Luck and the Will to Win

  • hemy

    I have found myself recently reminiscing on three plays in each of
    Lou Holtz's first three seasons with ND and Brian Kelly's first two
    seasons, wondering in each case, whether the outcomes were
    simply the luck of the draw or the product something inherent
    in the personalities of the two coaches.

    Holtz:

    1) 1986--With ND trailing 37-35, USC appeared to have made a 1st
    down on 4th and inches around the ND 16 or 15 yard line
    with time running out.The PAC-10 officials ruled otherwise, the
    ball went over to ND on downs, Rodney Peete was penalized for
    unsportsman-like conduct and Lou Holtz and the Irish went on to
    win in what many view as a program turning-point;

    2) 1988--Michigan's Mike Gillette stands ready to kick a game-
    winning field goal; ND takes time out, the announcer says that
    neither Lou nor Bo can do anything about it now and Gillette
    goes on to miss, wide right and a little short; ND wins the first
    game of an amazing 23 straight;

    3) 1988-With 45 seconds left, Miami elected to go for two
    points with the score 31-30 ND. The conversion was
    knocked down by Pat Terrell after a bull-rush on Steve
    Walsh from "Bo" Williams. On the subsequent on-sides kick,
    the ball took a nice bounce and was smothered by Anthony
    Johnson.

    Kelly:

    1) 2010--With 4th and about 12 from Michigan State's
    39 yard line, the Spartans line up for a game tying kick.
    Its a fake, ND's defenders are caught flatfooted, bump
    into each other and MSU wins in overtime;

    2) 2010--In an admittedly emotional week with the tragic
    death of Declan Sullivan, G.J. Kinne of Tulsa hits Ricky
    Johnson on 3rd and 26. Tulsa maintains possession and
    Kevin Fitzpatrick kicks Tulsa's game-winning field goal at
    the end of the same drive. ND throws an interception on
    its last possession and Dayne Crist and Armando Allen are
    lost for the year;

    3) 2011--After being shocked at South Bend by South Florida,
    ND plays much better at Michigan the following week only to
    fall behind with time running out. Led by Tommy Rees, ND
    scores a touchdown with 28 seconds left. Everyone around
    me is wiping their brows in a sigh of relief---"It would have
    been terrible to lose this one" is the collective feeling. But,
    a "wheel play" generates 68 yards for Michigan and with 2
    seconds left, Michigan wins.

    Six games, six plays, three wins, three losses. There is an
    ebb and flow to football and many times, the difference between
    winning and losing is not really that great. Suppose, for
    example, the PAC-10 officials had ruled first down; Gillette
    had made the field goal; and Terrell had not batted the
    conversion attempt down? Would we then have said, " I
    thought ND was supposed to be back under Holtz, but
    we can't seem to turn the corner in the really "big games."

    What if ND had defended MSU, Jamoris Slaughter had
    knocked the ball down against Tulsa and the wheel route
    had been defended. Would BK be viewed any better?

    Maybe; maybe not. But, did ND under Holtz possess
    a will to win that it has not yet found under Kelly? I
    really believe Kelly has improved ND substantially
    over where we were when he was hired. I also believe
    that ND will be, under Kelly, very, very competitive. But,
    what is it that Holtz had that ND won those early
    games (that in retrospect could have gone the other way)
    while ND, under Kelly, amazingly, often unbelievably, has
    lost them(often in circumstances where ND did overall "play
    good enough to win")?

    Looking at these games in particular (and others can come
    to mind), ND could have lost under Holtz but didn't and
    could have won under Kelly but didn't. Is it simply luck?
    or, was there an "ingredient" Holtz had that Kelly has yet
    to master?

    This post has been edited 2 times, most recently by hemy 23 months ago

  • +1, great post. We need to start winning those type games again. I'm not sure if its luck, etc., or whatever. But we need to find the "it" again. I think the whole mentality of the program and fanbase now is "how are we gonna lose this one" because we haven't been able to win one of those games. I think once we get over the hump, i thought we would have by now, we will start to get that positive vibe and start winning consistently again. At least i hope so,lol.

    Two time Poster of The Week, 2011 and 2013.

  • Hemy, you those are excellent questions and you have framed some key concerns. I honestly don't know if we can ever find the answer to them, but that won't stop the speculation. I believe there's some form of intangible that exists within a team that propels them to make a critical play when needed. I have no idea what it is, how you get it, or how much a coach has to do with it. For the past two years, some people have said, and I certainly considered it a possibility, that there was a residue of losing mentality that carried over from the Weis years. But, there's no way to know that. Others have said that Brian Kelly doesn't have it. Perhaps. His prior career, however, belies that, and I remember one game in particular, the final regular season game against Pitt, when they came back from a large deficit to preserve their undefeated season. One would think that team had the requisite character we're hoping to see at ND. As is the case with many of these unanswered questions, we'll know more at the end of this season.

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    I may not be pretty, but I'm fast..... POTW 1/31/11 - 2/6/11

  • That's why they call football "a game of inches." The great ones seem to get it done time and again. The mediocre to good ones don't.

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    My luck w/the Irish 20-6...GO IRISH!!!

  • I would argue that it started earlier than Weis, maybe started under Davie or Willingham.

  • I agree with what ^^^^^^^^^^ he says.

    FC

    2 Time POTW in a previous life Plus 1 on 24/7 = Gringo Mafia Professor Emeritus of Veterans Affairs.

  • That's a good point, Silver, but I think in this instance, people were pointing the finger at players who played under Weis, fair or not. In truth, I think both points were made at various times during the season.

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    I may not be pretty, but I'm fast..... POTW 1/31/11 - 2/6/11

  • I think this idea is quite interesting and presents some good points and food for thought. But I'm going to try to balance it with a little parity:

    1993 Lou Holtz's ND was cruising toward another national championship only to lose inexplicably in the last seconds to BC (after having to come back from several scores down) on a FG by a kicker who had only played football for two years,

    2010 Brian Kelly's team beats USC despite a plethora of turnovers and a backup true freshman QB, aided by an inexplicable dropped pass by Ronald Johnson on the final drive and then an interception to seal it.

    I myself don't have much of a point except that looking at the past to draw conclusions necessitates a wide perspective.

    So, personally I'm going to try to hold off for a year or two before going down that road.

    I do think that like others have been saying, there has been somewhat of a losing culture in ND football that is hard to overcome after all these years, exemplified to me when Brian Smith tried to tell Louis Nix over Twitter that it doesn't matter that you have heart and the will to win, having SEC-type athletes is what's important. So Kelly has a lot on his plate, and whether or not his will is enough to do the job is yet to be determined for me.

    This post was edited by Guyjin 23 months ago

    POTW 10.1.2012

  • I'm a firm believer that Luck is when Preparation meets Opportunity. In the scenarios outlined above, it seems to me that Luck favored Holtz because his teams were better prepared.

    Cowboy Up!

  • I think there was also a Miami fumble in their 31-30 loss to ND in 88 that was questionable. It was on the goal line in either the 3rd or 4th quarter, and Johnson really freaked out at the call.

    I'm not sure it would have been called a fumble today. I think it was on a pass to that big back who used to circle out of the backfield. Can't recall his name. I always thought there was a good chance he had possession. The thing is, it could have been a TD.

    I also believe that Peete got an incredibly bad spot in the 86 USC game. Couldn't believe the Pac 10 officials saw it the way they did.

  • hemy

    risksorter,

    You're correct---it was a pass to Cleveland Gary that was "fumbled" on the 1 yard line. I was going to
    cite this in the earlier post but Miami got the ball back almost immediately when Rice fumbled so I
    did not use it. On the USC spot, some said it was an attempt by the PAC-10 to help USC get rid of their coach,
    who I think was Larry Smith.

  • ND has been paying for that Holtz good luck in 80's since.

    1) Gordon's kick, a wobbly smelly turd (kind of like BC in general) that somehow made it through.

    2) Leinart, down, not out of bounds - clock runs out and ND is probably in the national championship conversation that year.

    3) Gray's fumble. It changed the dynamic of the season

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  • It was the beleaguered Ted Tollner, as the broadcaster astutely noted.

  • hemy,

    Thanks for continuing to provide so much to this board to stimulate conversations.

    If I remember correctly, it was actually 37-27 at the time in the 1986 USC game. Wally Kleine made a huge surge to push back Peete, but it appeared he had made the first down. Still, ND had to drive 85-90 some yards, and get the two-point conversion too. It's not about just getting the break — but also capitalizing on it.

    Looking back, so many say the season changed on Jonas Gray's fumble versus USF. My response is "There are 56 minutes left!" You're down 7-0 ... okay, that happens. There are 56 minutes left. It seemed Notre Dame flinched.

    There is seldom ever a season at Notre Dame, or many other places, where you can't say three or four plays might have made a difference. But that's missing the point. There is a special prayer Lou Holtz had the team say that ends with "the future is a whole string of nows."

    It's the same with a football game. People point to a play or two and say that was the difference ... but what about the string of other plays that led to that one at the end?

    The Gerry Faust era drove me crazy because all we would ever hear at the end of each year was "three plays away from 9-2 or four plays from 10-1?" Yada, yada, yada.

    Take the 1983 season (please!) In the finale, ND lost 23-22 at home to Air Force when Mike Johnston's 31-yard-field goal was blocked on the final play. That one play is pointed to as the culprit. What about blowing a 22-10 lead late in the game while making one mistake after another? What about getting another field goal blocked earlier in the game — by the same player, no less. The point is, it never should have come down to one kick. Yet, Faust apologists always made it sound like the team was "snakebit" or "being tested to separate the what from the chaff among the fans."

    A week earlier, ND needed to convert a third-and-inches with a minute left at Penn State to seal the game. Instead, it lost three yards, punted, and Penn State scored the winning TD in the closing seconds to win 34-30. What is forgotten is right before halftime, ND had the ball near the PSU one and had a couple of plays to run — but no time outs. A sneak is called, fails ... and time runs out before another play can be called. Those things get overshadowed because it sounds better to say "one play away."

    It's not an accident that Faust's (God bless him) lost these type of games.

    ND had Michigan down 24-7 last year but couldn't close. It wasn't because of one play. It was a whole string of nows earlier that led to the bad ending. It just becomes easy to scapegoat one play.

    One of the foremost attitudes that has to be eradicated is the belief that you are better than your record but just get "bad breaks." Once you can step out of that culture, that's a positive move in a different kind of 12-step program in athletic competition.

    "Those that complain about the way the ball bounces are usually the ones that dropped it."
    — Lou Holtz

  • Great point Lou. As I have told my baseball teams for 32 years: No one play ever wins a game. No one play ever loses a game.

  • Well said Lou. I was a senior in high school and was at that Penn State game in 1983, i was beside myself with the sequence at the end of the first half and being stopped on third and short that would have iced it. I believe Pinkett had over 200 yards rushing that day and we couldn't get the half inch on 3rd down.

    Two time Poster of The Week, 2011 and 2013.

  • In my 25 years of watching ND football I believe the one exception to the rule that 'no one play wins or loses a game' is the Jonas Gray fumble.

    That fumble had the consequence of completely devastating the psyche of that offense. It put JG on the bench for a good part of the early season, it ruined Dayne Crist, and Kelly's subsequent lack of confidence in Dayne resulted in a rash switch at QB that became painful to observe after the Air Force win. It precipitated the Kelly raving lunatic typecast on national television (thus impacting some really top notch recruits), it deflated a fan base that believed we had all the pieces for a special season within minutes of the first snap (how many of spent all of last summer waiting for that kickoff against USF), it gave USF a feeling that they could win this game and it was a 14 pt swing at home.

    Most importantly it made turnovers the focus of the season, which clearly got into the heads of the Irish for the remaining 12 games.

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  • The 8-5 season last year was not the product of Gray's fumble. Gray's fumble was the product of a team that couldn't protect the football. Its as simple as that.

  • I give USF credit for making a great strip of the ball on Gray. The bounce of it was more damaging than actually losing it. Still, 7-0 with about 56 minutes to play should not psychologically damage a program. You have to be mentally prepared to deal with such setbacks.

    For example, the night before the showdown with No. 1 FSU in 1993, ND had "visualization sessions" before the game. Lou Holtz told them that what will happen is on its first possession FSU will drive 80 yards for a TD for a quick 7-0 lead. (Actually, it drove 90 yards to take a 7-0 lead). He wanted to instill a huge message: Don't panic, don't flinch! Stay with the plan, don't get into clock-watching, execute the next play and put the blinders on so you have complete concentration.

    Competition at this level will sometimes yield crazy, unexplainable situations. Sometimes you have to go into a damage control mode physically or mentally.

  • The difference may be that the players Holtz inherited were more talented than the ones Kelly inherited from Weis, sure Weis had a #2 ranked class but really looking back where would that class rank right now? I’m guessing not in the top 10.

    Difference to me is Holtz was able to get the players to buy in and coached them up, Kelly is on the right track but I think there was something deeper in the ND program that was harder for most fans to see and for Kelly to get rid of: Entitlement.

    I think those days are gone, hopefully the Rees decision will back that up.

    Every year we as fans find those 2-3 plays that we think could have changed the season, but quickly forget the plays that went our way that saved the season. I think it balances out in the long run, I think right now we are coming to the end of bad streak of plays. Won’t really know until November 25th 2012 though.

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    POTW 3-21-11

  • last time i remember watching an ND game and the thought of "IT" came to my mind was the UCLA home game in 2006.

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    POTW 3-21-11

  • Therein lies the point I made at the top of this thread. "The great ones seem to get it done time and again. The mediocre to good ones don't." The great coaches prepare their clubs for any scenario, mentally and physically, and they don't flinch in the face of a little adversity. Last summer, BK said the 2011 team was "the most focused group he has ever coached." It was obvious in the first quarter of the first game of the season they might have been focused, but they were not prepared for some game day adversity.

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    My luck w/the Irish 20-6...GO IRISH!!!