Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Say it with me: Benefit of the Doubt

In today’s world people feel the need to render immediate and radical judgments based on the events that happened in the preceding moments. Columnists and television personalities grab pens and microphones and attempt to say the most shocking thing they can think of in an effort to grab attention.

Need evidence? Look at all the columns that buried Notre Dame Football in December and said they were doomed to be irrelevant forever. Want evidence outside Notre Dame? Look no further than that frequent guest on Outside the Lines (Feinberg? Feinman? I can’t remember his name—he’s bald with glasses, looks like he’s about 50, and has not smiled since his 9th birthday) who pronounced the University of Florida football program dead the week after Urban Meyer said he was stepping down.

“Experts” on ESPN get in front of a camera or computer and spout off for millions to see without any sort of fear repercussions for how inaccurate and ignorant their statements turn out to be (we should name this the Colin Cowherd Corollary). I suppose it makes sense then that countless people follow suit on the internet. Armed with $9.99 a month accounts on premium sites like Rivals and Scout they storm message boards, attacking those who disagree with their opinion while offering up irrational and short-sighted arguments in bulk.

Lately on the Notre Dame boards it has been constant showdowns over the Irish struggles in the waning days of this recruiting cycle. There are those who believe Brian Kelly can win national championships whether it’s with 2-stars or 5-stars. On the other hand are people who think the lack of success on the recruiting trail these past six weeks is all the evidence needed to show he’s going to be a complete and utter failure. Let’s break down exactly what each side is screaming at the other.

“In the last two weeks we’ve had Blake Lueders decommit, missed out on long-time ND legacy Anthony Barr, and Gio Bernard has one foot out the door. All were four stars. Meanwhile, Kelly is handing out offers to three stars like hot cakes. Kelly is a terrible recruiter who will never get it done relying on three-star talent!”

Pump the brakes, Sparky. Any time a new coaching regime rolls in there will be some turnover with recruits. It’s unfortunate that we missed out on these specific guys but it’s not entirely unexpected and it’s certainly not the end of the world. Lueders opted for Stanford where Randy Hart (who recruited him to Notre Dame) is now on the coaching staff. With Anthony Barr there seemed to be other circumstances in play (girlfriend transferring to UCLA, best friend is Neuheisal’s son) that led people to believe that even though it made sense he’d go to ND he was never the stone cold lock most assumed. Bernard is the lowest rated of this trifecta and frankly I don’t think anyone is too upset about losing him, they’re just dismayed by the trend.

In terms of the three-star offers going out, these aren’t panic decisions. Kelly recruited these players during his time at Cincinnati and is well aware of their capabilities and how they’d fit in to what he’s trying to do. It’s true that you can’t win championships relying totally on three-stars, but it’s also true that they can be key cogs in getting there. Kelly has shown through the years that he’s a winner who is quite capable of developing talent. He needs to be given the benefit of the doubt on these calls until proven otherwise.

Let’s also not forget that we’re still in the hunt for monster recruits Seantrel Henderson and Christian Jones and in good position for other highly touted prospects like Matt James and Dietrich Riley. I’m sure inking 2-3 of them will soothe some of the dissenters. I’m even surer it won’t silence all of them.

“Look at what Kelly did at Cincinnati with two and three star talent! He doesn’t need five star players—he can develop three stars into five stars! If the so-called best in the nation aren’t interested in us then we won’t be interested in them.”

This is flat out wrong as well. What Kelly did at Cincinnati was incredibly impressive but the whooping Florida put on the Bearcats in the Sugar Bowl only highlighted the fact that you’ll never take home the ultimate prize with a roster chock full of two and three star talent. That result doesn’t even remotely take away from the accomplishment of taking a perennial doormat like Cincinnati to back-to-back BCS games. The stats don’t lie—Kelly is a great football coach…but part of building a national champion is not only excelling on the field but also on the recruiting trail. This is something he’ll have to learn to attack with the same vigor he approaches coaching.

Part of the reason ND slipped in recruiting was the fact that we adopted an arrogant attitude about it. We thought that because of our name and brand the top players would line up to play under the dome. That’s simply not the case anymore. In today’s recruiting world we need to go out and make very clear the fact that five star recruit X is vital to our program and sell the living crap out of how he fits in to it. If that means coddling a few egos along the way in order to get where we need to get then so be it.

Charlie Weis’ biggest contribution to the Notre Dame program was the blueprint he provided for luring the top talent in the country back to South Bend. He worked harder than anyone in college football, developed fantastic relationships with players and their families, and did everything in his power to show recruits why ND needed them and why they needed ND.

This is the first time Kelly has been involved with a program on the highest level of college football and there will be a learning curve. The fact that he’s been a head coach for so long means it won’t be as steep as it was for Charlie Weis or Bob Davie, but there will still be one. That being said, the guy’s record is impressive and everything we’ve seen and heard from and about him suggests he’s a sharp guy who will make whatever necessary adjustments he has to in order to be successful. This is another situation where patience must be exercised.

Irish fans need to stop, take a deep breath, and be reasonable. I think it’s safe to assume that if you’re paying to be a member of a Notre Dame site you’re a fan of the Irish. It’s time to stop all this friendly fire. The constant attacks back and forth within our own fanbase are borderline embarrassing.

The fact is Brian Kelly is still over 200 days from running out the tunnel of Notre Dame Stadium for the first time. He’s still months away from coaching his first official practice at Notre Dame. To start handing out verdicts one way or the other is completely ridiculous. There will be plenty of time to dissect and pass judgments ad nauseum this fall in terms of the product on the field. Off the field we're still a full year away from an appropriate time to start passing judgment on Kelly's recruiting prowess.

I realize “giving the benefit of the doubt” is going the way of Atari, typewriters, and Urban Meyer's concern for his health and family, but it’s a mantra that every Notre Dame fan needs to drill into their brain over the next eight months.

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