Thursday, October 14, 2010

Irish Blogger Gathering: Easy Week, Tough Questions

As you know by now I put together this week's batch of questions for the IBG. Since this week's game is a bit on the boring side I thought it'd be worthwhile to drum up some more difficult questions that touched on program-wide issues and topics, with a little bit of season recap/prediction thrown in.

I've enjoyed reading the responses thus far by the participating sites and the emails that have been flowing in. Now it's time to belly up to the bar and answer them myself. Away we go!

1. The Irish have posted back-to-back victories over teams that have given us fits the past decade to pull back to .500, but when you head to the message boards on ND Nation, Rivals, etc. all you see is unrelenting negativity. Some cry Kelly's in over his head and doomed to fail, others bitch and moan about the run-to-pass ratio, and many more say that even though we've won the last two there's no improvement over last year's team. What's your take on the negativity that's swirling around the program on the internet? What message would you like to convey to ND Nation?

It amazes me that every time I go to these communities that are supposed to be comprised of Notre Dame fans and find the majority of people either unloading on the team or on each other. There's so much friendly fire that it just makes me sick to my stomach. It's embarrassing if the general public reading these boards takes it as a representative snapshot of the way most Notre Dame fans think or act.

Within these websites--whether it's Rivals, ND Nation, Scout, or wherever--little cliques emerge and constantly clash. Grown men sit in front of their keyboards and revert back to a 7th grade mindset; if someone disagrees with you then they're stupid, if someone shares information you don't (or don't want to) believe then they're a liar, and if you don't like someone then you will publicly attack them at every opportunity. Those posters are not the majority but they're certainly the very, very vocal and visible minority. It's a fascinating and depressing virtual world to observe that I doubt is unique to Notre Dame.

In terms of a direct message to ND Nation, there's a lot I'd want to say...but here's the quick and easy version:

I understand that it has been a long time since Notre Dame has been what we want and expect Notre Dame to be. Secretly deep down inside everyone was hoping that Brian Kelly would be Ara Parseghian and lead the Irish to an immediate resurgence. We need to remind ourselves that the '64 season is regarded as a miracle season for a reason: it was a miracle.

Unfortunately after six games we can say the rebuilding process is a much larger one than most originally thought, but Coach Kelly has almost two decades of head coaching success under his belt. Allow him time to mold the team and transform the culture of the entire program. And as the players learn remember that despite all his experience there's still a pretty steep learning curve for Kelly.

He's made some decisions that have warranted criticism in the first six games and that's fine if some feel the need to voice it because frankly it's deserved; but people need to stop acting like the first six games are a crystal clear indication that he's doomed to fail.

Recruits and their families read these boards and whether people want to believe it or not, what is posted on these sites has an impact on them. Would you want to play for a team with a fan base that's perceived to be negative, nasty, and irrational? If you claim to be a Notre Dame fan then stop posting things that could be counter-productive to Notre Dame winning football games down the road.

Feel free to analyze and criticize within reason, but remember your whole purpose as a fan is to support the team. Too many people forget or simply choose to ignore that fact.

2. When Western Michigan and Tulsa were announced as 2010 opponents last fall there was a full-throttle meltdown among ND fans that was surpassed only by The F-Word Incident in April in terms of sheer outrage. Well, if the opinions expressed then are the same now the apocalypse has finally arrived and a MAC squad is about to forever sully our field by stepping foot on it. Have your thoughts on the Western Michigan/Tulsa games changed since they were announced? Would you rather ND Stadium sell out and continue the streak that extends back almost 40 years or see the streak broken so that the powers-that-be know just how disrespected you feel by the audacity they showed in scheduling such inferior opponents?

The reality is Swarbrick's hand was forced into scheduling these games due to Kevin White's mismanagement of every aspect of the football program. It certainly was a letdown when those games were announced but I didn't think it was the end of the world like many seemed to think it was.

Judging by the schedules that Swarbrick is piecing together in the coming years I'd say these games against second-tier opponents will immediately disappear. There were limited options when it came to the 2010 schedule and it forced Jack had to take his medicine for the mistakes of his predecessor. The great thing is that he swiftly cured the problem by eliminating the 7-4-1 format. You really couldn't ask for a better and more decisive resolution.

And of course I want the sellout streak to continue. The people who feel the University is disrespecting them by scheduling Western Michigan and Tulsa need to step down from their pedestals, recognize the circumstances that brought these games about, acknowledge the fact that it's been solved moving forward, and get over yourself.

3. Most people painted AD Jack Swarbrick as the villain when the Western Michigan/Tulsa games were made public. Since then he's made drastic moves in locking down opponents on future schedules, went through the process of firing Weis and hiring Kelly, and navigated ND through the murky waters of conference realignment. Has your personal opinion on Swarbrick been altered over the past year?

I thought Swarbrick was the perfect man for athletic director since day one and his two years on the job have only strengthened that belief. He walked into some tough situations: the toxic atmosphere surrounding Charlie Weis and the football program, the limited scheduling options thanks to the 7-4-1 format, and the potential of major upheaval in college athletics thanks to conference realignment. In my eyes he handled each of those "crises" flawlessly.

First, he handled the firing of Charlie Weis with class and dignity. He and Charlie had a constant line of communication open over the course of the year which led to a difficult but civil decision. His orchestration of the coaching search was unbelievable--he dropped off the radar for a week and talked to almost a dozen candidates without a word leaking to the press. When he completed his thorough evaluation of the landscape he landed one of the most highly regarded, up-and-coming coaches in the sport. Did he approach Urban Meyer and Bob Stoops during this process and get rejected? Probably, but the way in which he managed the search made it seem as if we got our first choice which was the perception we needed after the previous three coaching search catastrophes.

When it came to scheduling he quickly junked the 7-4-1 format that had robbed Notre Dame of almost all flexibility in finding opponents. Swarbrick went out and inked deals to play traditional powers (Miami and Texas), old opponents that had fallen off the schedule (BYU), and new intriguing matchups (Maryland, Wake Forest). The lineup of games over the next five years looks far more like the interesting ones from the 90's than the watered down slates Kevin White tried to create.

Lastly, and most importantly, Swarbrick stayed strong, called the college football powers' bluff when it came to conference realignment, and kept Notre Dame Football independent. While Jim Delany and Dan Beebe were making all the noise publicly, Jack worked quietly and effectively behind the scenes to protect Notre Dame's best interests and according to some accounts may have helped convince Texas to stay put in the Big 12 which brought the whirlwind realignment to a screeching halt.

You could not ask for a better person to head the Notre Dame Athletic Department than Jack Swarbrick. He's as smart as they come, has a great understanding of the realities of the world of college athletics, and understands what's important to Notre Dame.

4. We're at the halfway point so it's a perfect time to step back real quick and evaluate what's happened thus far. What have been your two biggest surprises at this juncture of the season? Choose one positive and one negative.

Positive: Ian Williams...There are some other great options here (Gary Gray, David Ruffer, etc), but I thought Ian was going to be the weak link in the defensive line. Instead he's been the most vital cog. He deserves all the credit in the world for getting in the best shape of his life and taking a big step forward in his final year at ND. If he can keep up this production for the rest of the year

Negative: Self-Inflicted Wounds...I expected there to be plenty of bumps along the road this year, but I did not expect this many mental mistakes from a Brian Kelly coached team (and judging by his actions on the sideline and tone in interviews Brian Kelly didn't expect this many either). Too many times we've shot ourselves in the foot especially on the offensive side of the ball (key drops, dumb fumbles, costly penalties). I thought the number of self-inflicted wounds would drop significantly this season, but through week six we're still waiting.

5. Which player that hasn't contributed much to this point in the season do you see emerging as a contributor down the stretch?

The obvious answer is either Ragone or Eifert with the news that Rudolph is out for the year. I love Eifert (my preseason sleeper) and if he gets healthy he's going to be a force sooner rather than later. I also think there are a slew of others that have contributed but are going to bust out over the second half of the season (Slaughter, Fleming, KLM being three off the top of my head), but I'll try to pick a deeper sleeper.

I think Sean Cwynar will be a difference-maker over the next stretch of games after a disappointing start to the year. In the last couple weeks he's shown signs of life and started to get some penetration--including, if I'm not mistaken, on the 3rd and 1 against Pitt where ND stoned them short of the first down. He's going to be facing weaker opponents than he's seen thus far which should boost both his confidence and his stats. He's not going to be pushing Ian for a starting role, but he'll provide quality minutes that will allow Williams to stay fresher for the more crucial moments down the stretch of games.

6. Scholarships are running thin and some tough decisions are going to have to be made this spring when it comes to offering 5th years to current seniors. If you're Coach Kelly who do you offer and who is left out in the cold to make room for the incoming freshman class?

It's tough to speculate especially since we don't know what Floyd and Rudolph will do in terms of going pro and who realistically we can reel into this recruiting class over the next four months. Let's start with the definites.

IN: CB Gary Gray (best DB we have), S Harrison Smith (finally starting to realize his potential), OT Taylor Dever (starter at tackle)
OUT: DE Emeka Nwankwo (just hasn't shown anything in four years), Steve Paskorz (Ditto)

The debate will rage around the following three guys: OL Andrew Nuss, OT Matt Romine, and TE Mike Ragone. Nuss has spent time at both tackle and guard which means he'd provide some flexibility if he came back, Romine's star that once seemed so bright has just sort of fizzled, and Ragone has been hurt most of his career and inconsistent when not on crutches.

I think the apparent loss of offensive tackle recruit Jordan Prestwood ensures both Nuss and Romine will be back. If we have the chance to land a huge, stud recruit and can only take one then give me Nuss. He provides some extra flexibility since he can play Guard where we're dangerously thin. We've got a lot of young--albeit raw--tackle prospects (Nichols, Hegarty, Lombard) that could emerge like martin did this spring so I'd roll the dice and cut Romine loose.

Mike Ragone will have six weeks to state his case as to why he should be invited back. The reason he has a chance is because he's a much more effective blocker than Eifert at this point. If he can emerge as a solid contributor in the passing game that doesn't drop easy, catchable passes in the pinch then he could earn his fifth year. This will be his first consistent playing time since arriving at Notre Dame so perhaps it will give him an opportunity to get comfortable and eliminate mental errors. We can only hope.

Final Judgment: Gray, Smith, Dever, Nuss, Romine.

7. *****BONUS***** You've been challenged to a Tailgate Olympiad by some chaunce from Southern Cal and you need to assemble a dream team of your fellow Irish fans to compete in the following events: Full Beer Flip Cup (four-man team), Beer Pong, Hamburger Eating Contest (two-man team), Cornhole/Bags/Whatever You Call It, Individual Case Race, and Thunderdome (one shotgun per minute until someone can't answer the bell).

Your captaincy role on this team is Ryder Cup style so you'll be monitoring the proceedings rather than actually partaking. Throw some internet love out to your fellow tailgate All-Stars that have delivered through the years and let us know who you'd put in each slot to make sure Troy fell in the parking lot as well as on the field...and while you're at it, tell us what three songs you'd be blasting as you rolled to victory.

Full Beer Flip Cup: Chops, Panzer, Brad "They Call Me Mr. Balls" Blomstrom, Ringer
...These are four gamers. Chops is the King of FBFC, Panth and Mr. Balls have already proven to be deadly in our previous showdown with the chumps from Purdue, and Ringer has got the chugging speed to finish the job.

Beer Pong: Sanders and Sharky....Beer pong is not really big at our tailgates (we're more of a Jerry's Kids/Can of Shame crew), but these two were dominant over the years in other venues.

Hamburger Eating: Dip and Jeff "2A" Hausfeld (on the day of Bengal Bout weigh-ins)...Dip won eating contests in Spank Olympics every year it was held (if you need video evidence then youtube has it) and Jeff ate more in one sitting than I'd ever seen a human eat the day he weighed in for Bengal Bouts. He had a huge plate of collared greens, huge plate of macaroni and cheese, huge plate of friend chicken...then we immediately went to Outback where he ate an order of wings, a bloomin onion, an order of cheese fries, and a steak with whatever the hell sides it came with. It was staggering.

Cornhole: Kearney and Gotebeski (aka The Guru aka PFF)....The Fisher boys both posted high finishes in a big cornhole tournament Michigan weekend. I have faith that the amount of smack Kearney can talk would ultimately be the difference.

Individual Case Race: Bill "Dr. Doh" Kern...I'm just kidding--12 of the 24 beers would end up on the ground or on his shirt in the form of a luscious beer mane. The only correct response is Dan "Stu" Stypula. He's a drinking legend who could probably do every event in the Olympiad and win it all by himself, but we'll stick him in this slot to ensure a quick and decisive W.

Thunderdome: Deacon...The only man that equals Stu in a Tailgater of the Year scenario. And, as Reno puts it, "he hated USC like any ND student and legacy is supposed to: passionately and profanely." A tip of the cap to a man who was taken from this world far too soon.


1. What You Know...Because nothing makes me more angry or jacked up.
2. Last of the Mohicans...Played on loop the entirety of the contest.
3. Notre Dame Victory March...Like anything else would be acceptable.

1 comment:

  1. You based this entire post around the bonus question so you could share that footage didn't you... "HIS SHIRT IS WASTED" haha