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I may not be pretty, but I'm fast.....
POTW 1/31/11 - 2/6/11
YES!!!!!! To the millionth power.
With great respect to your knowledge and wisdom, I'll meet you halfway on this one.
No one is expecting a national title in Kelly's third year, a la Rockne/Leahy/Parseghian/Devine/Holtz. No one was expecting one in Charlie's third year either because we knew how profound the graduation losses, especially Brady Quinn, were.
However, history almost everywhere — not just Notre Dame —shows that by the third year, the die is pretty well cast of what awaits, and by the third year the team does take on the image and personality of the head coach. There are always exceptions, but overall, that's the way it is.
Brian Kelly has five years (unless he violates some kind of morals clause, a la Petrino). It is Jack Swarbrick's hire, and he will do everything in his power to make his defining hire a successful one. I think we can both agree on that. I think we can also agree that Brian Kelly has proven himself at his other stops to be a very good football coach. I don't think we will ever see Cincinnati go 12-0 again.
The team underperformed in Kelly's first two seasons, overall. I don't want to see a third straight year of underperformance or status quo. I want to see some overachievement. The great ones have a knack for making more happen than what you expect. Lou Holtz lost his entire offensive line, his entire defensive line, Heisman winner Tim Brown, USA Today Defensive Player of the Year John Foley, Tony Rice couldn't pass to save his life ... and a team that was supposed to be "a year away" after an 8-4 season finishes 12-0. That's what great coaches do. No matter what the times, no matter what the era, that's what great coaches do.
Pat Murphy comes to a baseball program that was perennially under .500, gave out zero scholarships — and within three years he works miracles. Jeff Jackson comes to a hockey program that had the worst record in the collegiate ranks (5-27-6). Two years later they reach No. 1 for more than a month, and the following year they are in the Frozen Four. Great coaches do that. They make you say, "Wow, how the heck did he do that!?!"
I want so much for Kelly to succeed. I want him to be known as a great coach. To be great, 1) you do great things when nobody expects it and 2) you do great things when everyone expects it. I want to see something this year that makes me say, "Wow, what an amazing season he coaxed out of this team."
Joe Gibbs always said that survival in the NFL meant "don't lose three straight games." At Notre Dame, the bar is don't go three straight years without a BCS/major bowl bid. Faust, Davie, Willingham and Weis did not meet those standards. It's not make-or-break, but what happens is doubt and skepticism permeate when you don't do it. Last year was the year Kelly had to do it because 2012 will be tougher.
Methinks too many excuses are being made for the underperformance the past two years, be it back-to-back losses to Navy or Tulsa, or finding a way to go 8-5 last year. It's always easy to blame the predecessor or the culture, etc. The great ones whip it. I hope Kelly whips it.
I agree that things change — and that's why some might say year 2 is the new year 3 because of our fast-paced world. Stoops, Carroll, Meyer, Tressel, Saban, Chizek, among others, turned around "cultures" of losing in two years. Yeah, we didn't have a QB like Cam Newton. But Dayne Crist was a five star. A lot of coaches would have loved to have worked with him. Kelly supposedly did too.
If Kelly doesn't do it this year, I hope he still can in the future because I have no choice but to hope he can. But I don't want to hear anymore "we're headed in the right direction" or "the recruiting is improving" or "we're changing the culture" after three years. I want to start seeing something on the field that makes me say, "That's what I'm talking about!"
Sorry for the rant. It's the Hodges in me.
Lou, I'm in the Risksorter camp here. For the three year standard to apply, there has to be common denominators and there has to be an agreed upon set of characteristics of the 3-year period which define why it should be the standard. Your examples cross time periods, cross sports and cross different football landscapes. College sports in the aggregate is not enough of a common denominator to control all the relevant variables. Is it suggestive? Certainly. Definitive? Not for me.
As for the "agreed upon set of characteristics" there has to be an intrinsic nature of the three year period which defines it as standard. In other words, what is it about three that makes it the relevant number? It is not enough to say it often turns out that way.
As usual, I will turn to horse racing for an example. For the Kentucky Derby, there are quite a few "verities" which people swear by. I won't go into excruciating detail, but one example is that "no horse has ever won the Derby with only two prep races" going into the Derby, because it's never been done. Well, again that's very suggestive of the probabilities, but not determinative, because there's nothing in the intrinsic nature of training a horse which rules that out, and of course, it happened in the past few years. There are at least two more of these "articles of faith" which went by the boards in recent years, and one more will be put to the test this year when the horse "Bodemeister" tries to win the Derby without having raced as a two year old. Hasn't been done in 130 years. Of course, it's rarely been tried.
My point is that things that happen in clusters are signposts, not roadblocks. There has to be an underlying reason. No coach is dealt the same hand when he takes a new job. Mike Kryzyzewski's record at Duke in his first three years was 17-13, 10-17 and 11-17. Dean Smith's first three years were 8-9, 15-6 and 12-12.
Having said all that, I'm not trying to make a case for Brian Kelly. My observations mirror yours. However, I'm not going to hold his feet to the fire based on what I see in his third year. Or any coach's third year. Sometimes three years is enough, sometimes it isn't. Ask Coach K.
Like I said, there are always exceptions, and you bring up two very good ones. One of the best is Bill McCartney at Colorado, who was 1-10 in his third year (1984) before turning it around for good when he installed the option.
I'm not holding Kelly's feet to the fire. I do not want another coaching search. This program is screaming for some form of stability within. But this program even more desperately needs the kind of season, the "where did that come from" feeling, that truly gives it something to point at as empirical evidence rather than the trite and tired "we're headed in the right direction" cliche that every floundering or mediocre program in the country uses.
And yes, selfishly and impatiently, I want to believe that he can be an Ara or Lou, and that he has that ability to move mountains. I have zero doubt that Kelly will produce 9- and 10-win outputs. If Davie, Willingham and Weis did it at ND, he will too. I just want to see that little "extra," something you didn't expect, to make me truly believe that ND can reach a tier beyond that, and be what Stanford was a the end of the Jim Harbaugh era.
Lou, I agree that the fan base desperately wants a "where did that come from feeling" and sooner, rather than later. But, as I read this board, I keep getting the sense that expectations are tempered for 2012. I don't think an 8-4 season with a bowl win would push the fan base over the edge. Nor would it sell anybody that Kelly's "the guy." Much will depend on "how the team looks". I know that won't satisfy some of the criteria you've laid out, above, but there will be a need for that sense of being "headed in the right direction." I think part of the frustration in 2011 was the nature of the losses. They were either very winnable games (USF, Michigan and Florida St.) in which we effectively shot ourselves in the foot, or games in which, for a good part of them, we didn't look like we belonged on the same field with the opponent (USC and Stanford). If a 2012 8-4 season reflects more of that, the concerns will grow. Regardless, the "signs of life" phase, if you will, probably fits into your three-year paradigm, in that we better be seeing some good ones next year. After that, it's going to be put up time, and if we don't see a big move forward in the fourth year, I'm betting Swarbrick will be putting out feelers.
At day's end, we want the same thing, and believe it can be done at Notre Dame. Maybe our intermediary timetable differs slightly in terms of expectations, but at the end of five years, we'll have a good handle on what we have. Kelly may not be the coach Harbaugh is, but this is Notre Dame and he has the ability to draw in even more talent than Stanford, which should give him the ability to field a team that performs at that Stanford level. I don't feel that's an unreasonable expectation, and I remain open to the possibility that we will get there during Brian Kelly's tenure.
My whole point about change, Lou, is that, given the greater competitiveness in the game today and the difficulties ND continues to have in equaling the Faust and Holtz recruiting sucesses -- the failure to score that killer class -- Kelly stands only a very small chance of reaching his potential success pinnacle in 2012.
By the time Kelly got here, the program had been gutted, academics ruled, and the world had changed to a greater degree than ND had. ND had also decided, notwithstanding all of that, to jack up the difficulty level of the schedule.
I know the year three thing is a sacred cow for a lot of people, but all trends don't continue forever and/or everywhere for the simple reason that deviations tend to multiply over time. History is not predictive and, while it can rhyme, it seldom repeats, even though at ND it did in the third year for a number of great coaches. In each of those cases, though, the football landscape was pretty similar. ND still held sway.
My sense is that we're looking at a potentially new paradigm as Kelly goes about rebuilding a program in a way it never needed rebuilding before. He's doing it at a tougher point in time, and he's doing it with a less concentrated talent pool.
If I were to bet on Kelly succeeding, I would give him, say, a 60% chance, but I would not look to year three for the outcome. And I say that regardless of whether or not ND goes 6-6 or 10-2. He'll still need years 4 and 5 to win big if he hasn't in year three, or to establish consistency if year three has been successful. But, if he doesn't win big in year three, it won't necessarily mean he's blown it.
It's a different assignment Kelly has taken on. Circumstances are different, and a year three verdict seems, to me, unlikely and, in the current ND environment, unnecessary. If Kelly does poorly in year three, but well in years four and/or five, he will, indeed, have established a new paradigm. If not, he's out of here, and the 20-20 hinsight year three theorem stands. But only for now and not because it has been ordained.
In a world with as much change as ours, it's not only the historical paradigms that bear looking at.
Because the expectations are low in 2012, this is the perfect opportunity for Kelly and his staff to carpe diem. This is the fun part ... when no one is expecting anything. That's why Mike Brey said he was the "lossest coach in America" last season. There were low expectations as it was — and after Abromaitis went down, there were none.
Of course, that's the inherent advantage of coaching ND basketball as opposed to ND football. There really aren't any ghosts to chase.
I will say this again: Kelly has five years, year 3 is not make or break for him, and he has proven he is a capable major college football coach.
But is it too much anymore in ND football to just see a team again achieve a little more than what is expected? Does it always have to be "the next recruiting class"?
Yeah, I agree, Risk, this is what we've come to.
This is exactly what needs to happen. The fanbase may have lower expectations but the team should never have lower expectations. It is a perfect scenario for Kelly to build some "coaching equity" as Lou so eloquently puts it.
All that being said, its quite easy for fans to have lower, more realistic expectations at this point in the year. It's convenient and it's done more as a defense mechanism for fans than anything else. We all know what's going to happen the minute Kelly and Notre Dame blow a game.....worlds will collide and civilization as we know it will end. Don't let the lower expectations fool you, Kelly needs to step it up regardless.
Lou, who doesn't want a replay of 1988, the one-year-away wonders? But it was a number one recruting class, the second in as many years.
And you had Zorich, not Nix; an unbelievable backfield and receiver corps, including Rocket; Tony Rice, arguably one of the three greatest QB's to ever play at ND; and a guy like Ned Bolcar, though an AA in 87, technically playing backup to Michael Stonebreaker, himself an eventual AA.
Given those ingredients, 88 was a great, great year, but not a miraculous one. For the 12 team to come close to that would, to my mind, be the miracle.
What I'd like next year -- and it might be doable -- is something like the 2 loss 1 tie 1952 team. Given today's longer schedule, that would translate to 10-3. Throw in victories over OU , UM and USC, and it would go down in history as Kelly's astonishing breakout year, paving the way, at the same time, for a possible year four or five NC run.
And that next recruiting class might be one awesome haul.
Prior to the 1988 season, Zorich wasn't the Chris Zorich we knew, and Tony Rice wasn't Tony Rice the legend. Zorich was a relatively unheralded recruit with the prep team as a linebacker before he was moved to nose, a huge adjustment to him and he nearly left school. Then on the first day of spring, he dislocated his kneecap and had to miss the last 19 practices (that's when there were 20 not 15).
Rice was one of the most maligned QBs in ND history, completing 42 percent as a sophomore. The "Peoples Choice" was Kent Graham, a strapping 6-5 Golden Boy who had been the National QB of the Year in high school in 1986. A good majority of ND followers wanted Rice at RB, WR, CB ... anywhere but QB.
You know what the "great" receiving corps was that spring: Aaron Robb and Steve Alaniz. Eventually, Ricky Watters moved there, which he didn't want, and some thought he was wasted because he only caught 15 passes that year (which led the team). Rocket Ismail was not a natural as a freshman receiver (he was recruited for RB and really needed work on hands and route running), but Holtz found the right role for him, including blocking a punt (not returning it) at MSU to help turn around the game.
He turned Andy Heck from an average, free agent tight end to a 1st-round OT. Frank Stams had been a non-descript backup with 14 career tackles — and developed into a first-team AA. Tim Ryan was a linebacker who became a productive guard. Pat Terrell couldn't catch passes the way Holtz wanted, so he moved him to free safety .... and on and on and one. There were only three scholarship CBs on that team, one of them a recruit he didn't even want (Smagala).
Holtz and his staff didn't just open a can that said "1988 champions." He took raw material and developed it masterfully. Everyone was expecting another 8-4 type of year. Oh, and then in the regular season finale at the Wailing Wall known as the LA Coliseum, where so many ND teams had dreams crushed, he suspends his top rusher (Tony Brooks) and top receiver (Watters), goes nearly 30 minutes without a first down — and still beats 10-0 and No. 2 USC, 27-10.
They had every excuse in the book ready to have another 8-4 type of season, or to lose at USC, and to others.
I'm not expecting miracles. I'm not expecting 13-0. I'm not even expecting a top 10-15 final ranking. It would just be nice to have a season where you say at the end of the bowls, "What a dang good season. They did more than expected."
You can blame our obsessed smartphone world. No matter where you go people have their heads glued to these. How did we ever survive as a civilization before?
Now, everyone has to know what's going on all the time, even if it's something that doesn't (or shouldn't) affect their daily lives.
Shame, really. Athletes at all levels can't get us out of their lives, and for too many fans, they can't get deep enough into their lives.
Unquestionably, that 1988 season reflected a remarkable job of coaching, perhaps one of the greatest in NCAA annals. That roster also had twenty-nine players who went on to play in the NFL. Granted, many were underclassmen that year, but that number does not even include Tony Rice. That was prime time for Vinny Cerrato. If you want to talk about miracles, it would take a major one for Notre Dame to corral that kind of talent ever again. Nor had the Southern shift in football pre-eminence (from high school on up) taken root, then. So, yes, Holtz truly did a masterful job, but the talent was there. The names mentioned, above, were not unheralded recruits. The cupboard was well stocked, and then they only added to it. I think it will take quite a few years down the road to get a handle on what kind of talent is on the current ND roster. It truly wouldn't take much for this team to surprise and hit that 10-2 mark, with a couple of competitive losses. First, and foremost, one of those quarterbacks needs to experience a Rice-like awakening. There also has to be some kind of "culture shift," which I suspect happened with that '88 team, when the Faust legacy finally wore off, and Holtz was able to put his stamp on the team. I think this is the question many of us have -- does Brian Kelly have some kind of team culture "stamp" that can transform a team that gives away games like it did to South Florida and Michigan, to one that makes us catch our breath, and say "where did that come from?"
My expectations this season are tempered because of not only what I see on paper, but emotionally after last season, it's hard to keep putting your heart out there year after year when everything on paper tells you "this is the year they put it all together" only to have your guts ripped out by a team that can't get out of it's own way.
Recent history with this program tells us you're not going to get more than what the paper says you can get. Until we do get another "where did that come from" campaign, you start wondering and doubting. Last year was set up to be the BCS year we expect to have every 3 or so seasons. The next logical one is not until 2013.
Everyone on this thread is right in their thinking, 2012 is the year for the ND football program to have a ND basketball type of year where the team finally plays above it's head. I hope for BK's sake we do, because I really believe 98+% of ND boosters I know really want him to be "the guy."
My luck w/the Irish 20-6...GO IRISH!!!
Ham, I think you've found the philosopher's stone on this one. Not as in gold, but as in blue and gold. Your idea of a "culture shift" is dead on the money.
This is what every great coach must accomplish when taking over a poor or mediocre program. He must put his stamp on it and, in the process, rebrand the program -- make it over again into what it once was.
Are we going to see this in year three of Kelly, or might it take longer? My argument is that, given today's landscape, it is taking ND longer to reload, assuming it can reload to its former level at all. And, by reload, I mean restuff the talent stocking. Again, you're right on point with how much talent the Cerrato-Holtz classes had. They were those years' versions of the recent USC, Texas, OU, LSU, OSU and Bama powerhouses.
As in the mid-fifties and early 80's, ND has not only fallen from grace, but fallen harder and farther and in a structural way. ND does not play SEC football in any sense of the word. That is a "culture" ND does not share, and, as of last season at least, not one it could compete in or with. Will that change this year, as totally as 87 turned into 88? Again, I just don't think ND has the firepower. But go 10-3 this year and snare two top 5 recruiting classes, and, at that point, Kelly might have enough to make a run at it. That's why I still say it's a 5-year proposition, not 3.
Great post, by the way.
Zero argument about cultural changes and how the strength has gone into the Sun Belt, whereas when we were growing up, the Midwest or Midlands was more venerated as a hub of football.
The crux of my frustration is this: When you think they can be 10-2 (like last year), they go 8-4. When you're looking at 8-4, it's 6-6. When you think it will be a tough year and think 6-6, it's 3-9 (like 2007).
This year is a golden opportunity to do a little more than expected because I think nationally most would be looking at 8-4 as best case (although I have seen a few place ND between 15th to 20th).
Lou, let's give this a little twist because I find all of this so damn interesting. Kudos to all on this thread for making my week as POTW "namer" so challenging, not to mention Mr. Rice's thread, and the return of the Smoking Monkey. And we still have the Blue-Gold game to stimulate more juicy tidbits (hopefully).
Anyhow, as I look at those seasons you've listed, above, I can compact them into a 5-year span of 2007-2011. Perhaps you had others in mind, but those fit right in for me. I'm sure you can come up with other disappointments in the past twenty years, but those kind of jumped off the page. I won't point fingers, but if there was a culture of underachievement, that was it. So, we're pretty much at the jumping off point now. If the seeds of change were planted by Brian Kelly, they should take root soon. We shall see.
However, what it is exactly that we shall see is a matter for a different kind of analysis. Once again, I have to put on my handicapper's hat, and talk about how we project future performance at the race track. Well, naturally, it's based on past performance, but not simply on whether a horse won, finished second, or brought up the rear. Some really sharp people break down the races into how fast the horse ran, allowing for all kinds of mitigating factors, how much trouble he got into, etc. It's more complex than I'll discuss here, but the point is that if you looked at Notre Dame's season without the win/loss element, you have an interesting story. Again, we're talking about this solely for the purpose of projecting future performance. It doesn't wipe away the pain of the losses. When you get right down to it, 2011 was a bizarre season. If you watched just the ebb and flow of play, you'd be scratching your head when you found out that the team finished the season at 8-5. Clearly, turnovers are at the crux of it. Quarterback play was a major factor. Field position on punt return differential was significant. Unaccountable defensive lapses were huge. Going back to my horse racing analogy, if a horse had this kind of "trouble line" in its past performance, you'd be thinking it isn't going to take much for this horse to take a big jump forward. It is unlikely that all those variables will come into play in exactly the same way.
Five years is a nice round number, as in what we generally give coaches to prove themselves. Five years is also the span of this specific period of underachievement. Is it the legacy of the prior regime? Or are we still in a holding pattern with another coach who can't get us back on track? To me, five years means there's a corner ready to be turned, and a deceptive level of performance last year suggests that there might be more gas in the tank than many are willing to believe.
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