Great Grantland article on ND and their never-ending "Return to Glory"

Submitted by Real Tackles Wear 77 on May 26th, 2012 at 4:57 PM…


I really enjoyed this piece, especially when the author describes Brian Kelly as "a very good football coach who hasn't yet gotten a handle on the larger burden of the job, whose red-faced sideline tirades against his players have only diminshed his stature". That was one of the most spot-on descriptions I've read.


What do you all think?



May 26th, 2012 at 5:23 PM ^

On the "red meat" level, it's great. But it seems a little lazy. It strikes me like one of the "RichRod is losing because he isn't a Michigan Man" articles from a couple of years ago. It is probably true to some degree, but it resorts to platitudes and doesn't come up with anything novel.

It's fun, but it's the low-hanging fruit.


May 26th, 2012 at 5:28 PM ^

after he channelled his PSU sorrows into a malicious dig at UM after the Sugar Bowl. His writing there was transparently arbitrary and agenda-driven, such as calling CFB's 15-year-old overtime rule a "loophole (!?)" mixed in with various malicious digs.



May 26th, 2012 at 6:58 PM ^

"With every Champs Sports Bowl defeat, the notion that a small, independent Midwest Catholic institution with high academic standards can become a national power — and can recruit nationally — in a sport weighted toward the South (and toward superconferences) starts to feel less and less tenable." - from the article

There isn't really much in this article that hasn't already been discussed to death elsewhere, but here is where he probably could have just ended it, because this is really the crux of the Annual Return To Glory celebration.

It's not a new conclusion, but ND is refusing to change with the rest of the sport, and it will make the football program increasingly marginal if they don't do something in the next few years (never mind the paltry returns from the Big East TV deal in other sports). They'll be able  to win a fair amount perhaps, they'll still recruit nationally, but it won't be under conditions that would satisfy the ND faithful.

If this occurs, it won't matter who they hire, even if they "get it" by their standards - they will simply need to reinvent ND as a school  that understands college football in 2012. That's really part of the problem - it isn't so much their coaching hires not "getting it", but the whole damn school and its fanbase obviously missed the last 40 years of cultural shift in in CFB. It may even have to get to a point where schools simply exclude ND from their schedule, whether it is because of expanded conference schedules or more attractive opponents. 

I also don't know how long NBC would be willing to shell out $15 million per year for a product that is gradually  being boxed into the I-90 corridor in Indiana when they could jump into the uberlucrative market of first-tier rights elsewhere potentially. 

snarling wolverine

May 26th, 2012 at 7:04 PM ^

ND "gets it" enough to regularly land top 10 recruiting classes.  (People who bring up their academic standards as an excuse can never seem to explain that one.)  Year after year they bring in recruits who, on paper at least, are studs.  They may be failing to develop them, but I think that's more on the coaching staff than the institution.  I believe they have excellent facilities and pay well enough for assistants.



May 26th, 2012 at 8:11 PM ^

You're right, of course - they do land top 10 classes on a regular basis, but for me, this brings up an interesting question semi-related to what I said - why is the track record for player development what it is? That's essentially a management issue, and it would be interesting to know what the boundaries of authority are among  various members of the coaching and departmental staff. It also seems like there is a disconnect between want ND wants in the way of success in CFB 2012 and how it chooses to approach the problem.

They are either hiring the right people to solve the  wrong problem or the wrong people to solve the right problem. Pay isn't the issue - Notre Dame pays above average, but there are plenty of highly paid people with highly paid staffs that produce good results but with horrible professional development practices. It still isn't a great scenario in the long term, as such staff (and players, in this instance) will still suffer higher turnover than average. 

I wasn't speaking to their recruiting successes so much as their inability to understand how they fit in - if they fit in - with the current state of affairs in CFB.  They could certainly still be this successful on paper, but that doesn't matter if it doesn't consistently materialize on the field (not necessarily in the win/loss column, but from an individual player standpoint) or if those people come to believe they will be more successful elsewhere. Culturally, there is something fundamentally wrong in South Bend, it seems. 


May 26th, 2012 at 9:16 PM ^

Your mention of ND salaries made me think of this recent news story:

Between what they're paying Brian Kelly and staff, and ex-coach Charlie Weiss ($8.7 million since he left ND and perhaps $2 million+ per year through Dec. 2015), ND may be paying out more for coaching football than any other school in the nation.

As to the article, there are other places not in the south with just as high or higher academic standards that are able to succeed.  The problem with ND is a large portion of their fanbase is delusional and think they should be competing for NC's, when they haven't been at that level in decades.


May 26th, 2012 at 10:08 PM ^

I think player development is almost entirely on the coaches. You could certainly argue that it comes down to the players, their work ethic, attitude, ceiling, and capabilities but it is hard to say that they do not have good athletes and they still produce pros. If a guy like Chris Petersen can win BCS games, compete against good teams at the top of major conferences, and get guys from Boise State drafted in the first few rounds, Notre Dame looks sad by comparison given their history, facilities, and resources. It may have been different if they would have been able to get Barry Alvarez but the coaches they have had since Holtz have lost more frustrating games by being outcoached than they have won for the same reason.

With regards to talent, one thing that may have shifted some away from them has been USC's recent dominance over ND. Througout the 80s and 90s, that rivalry mainly went to ND. I don't know how many (if any) recruits went to USC instead of ND because of this but California was always a place ND recruited well. In the last two years they had four recruits from California. In 2002 alone they had four. I think their "ability to recruit nationally" was always overblown (Michigan has been doing it at least as long) but I also think it is nowhere near what it was.

snarling wolverine

May 27th, 2012 at 10:27 AM ^

On player development, one thing I've thought about - which I hope is not the case but might be - is that perhaps ND is stricter about PED use than other schools.  It's been said that PED testing in college sports (and particularly football) is basically a joke.  

(FWIW, I've heard that U-M is one school that does strongly discourage PED use as well - at least that was the case under Carr.  I hope it still is true.)


May 26th, 2012 at 5:53 PM ^

but offers little insight. I'd like to think that Kelly's a little further out the door than the article suggests, and ND very close to killing the goose that laid the Golden dome. I still don't think they fit the B1G's general profile, and earnestly hope that they can whither on the vine; I'd even stop playing them.


May 26th, 2012 at 6:02 PM ^

Since when has ND not been able to recruit nationally. The 2013 class has 12 commits from 11 different states. I also think the article fails to mention ND playing some ridiculously hard schedules the last decade. take this year for example @ MSU, Michigan, Stanford, @ OU, and @USC.  That a lot of games vs top teams.

That being said they have had a few easy schedules in the past ten years. I really don't know why they haven't been more successful.


May 26th, 2012 at 6:36 PM ^

Even when they have played as many or more schools as a conference member has, their Independent status has often allowed them to schedule softer competition intermittently, which allows them to rest and look ahead. As opposed to a Zbig Ten school, which doesn't get to, say, schedule an FCS or MAC school between away games against Nebraska and OSU.


May 26th, 2012 at 7:13 PM ^

That is a good point. I still think they have had some tougher schedules than people give them credit for. 2002 they played against 5 teams that ended the season ranked in the top 25. 11-2 USC, 11-3 maryland, 10-3 michigan, 9-4 florida state, and 9-4 pitt. 2003 they also had to play 5 ranked teams. 12-1 USC, 10-3 michigan, 10-3 washington state, 10-3 florida state, and 9-4 purdue. 2006 they had to play 11 win USC, 11 win michigan, and 11 win LSU and those were their 3 losses. Thats 3 teams that finished in the top 8. I agree that they have a lot of years with fortunate schedules, but they also have had years with brutal schedules.


May 26th, 2012 at 7:29 PM ^

Sure, that's a legitimate point, but it's also cherry picking, and result oriented. I mean, the fact that Purdue wound up having a good year doesn't make the scheduling more brutal. Purdue is a rival, and over the arc of history, that's not an unfavorable game to schedule. The same thing applies to Maryland. And if these teams were played at a time they were riding high, it has to be scheduled far enough in advance that you wouldn't assume traditionally weak schools like Maryland and Purdue would be anything other than what they usually are.
Also notably weak here is Pitt and Wazzu. In fact, aside from USC and Michigan, who are rivals and can't be avoided, FSU and LSU are the only really impressive name on these schedules, ane even LSU didn't strike fear in the hearts of teams then like they do now.


May 26th, 2012 at 7:44 PM ^

Well i was trying to give more examples of years where the schedule was difficult so naturally I was cherry picking. I also think looking at the final record of that years opponents is a good way to see how difficult the schedule was that year. The purdue, maryland, pitt point I totally agree on and that is why I think that some years they end up with very easy schedules and some years they end up with very difficult schedules. When those types of teams have a really good year it can make the schedule very difficult. I disagree about the 2006 LSU team, they were good.


May 26th, 2012 at 8:00 PM ^

I agree LSU was very good. Verrrry good. But, again, my point about scheduling is that a school that takes schedules that are difficult in advance are different than schools that happen to take schedule that just happen to be difficult. From the advance, LSU would indeed be taking a tough team. But the perception of LSU after 2006 and before 2006 are different. 2006 was a turning point in LSU football.


May 26th, 2012 at 8:34 PM ^

Thats a good point and the more I think about it the difficult schedules is a pretty weak excuse as to why they haven't been very good. The years they have easy schedules they still haven't done very well. I think I was trying to maybe explain why they have had some 9 and 10 win seasons but not 11 or 12 win seasons. Playing us and USC every year during the 2000's would make those kinds of seasons difficult. Still ND constantly underwhelms, I feel bad for my friends that love ND football.


May 26th, 2012 at 6:32 PM ^

There is no reason ND cannot be relevant. They DO in fact recruit nationally, and do it well, regardless of their dearth of achievement since the War of 1812. Their lack of conference works to their favor in scheduling. The only piece they have yet to put into place is a genuinely elite coach. Five years under Jabba the Weiss would make anyone look bad. And before any one says it, I don't consider a dominant pedigree in the Big East to be proof of Kelly,s quality. The Big East is simply a lower level of competition, and I say that as someone who went to a Big East grad school. Get the right man in their and ND will be right back on track.


May 26th, 2012 at 10:44 PM ^

the real question is why haven't they been in almost two decades?

They've had privileged status within the BCS but have never won a BCS game. Maybe if they were part of a conference that would be fine, but they are not. They need to win - not just a winning season but a dominating type season. Does anyone really think they will put that together in the near term? Not me.


May 26th, 2012 at 7:19 PM ^

I agree they do recruit nationally, but cannot develop the depth based on their standards that a natipnal championship football team needs.

Notre Dame has a very simple choice. Be the "Academic-Catholic" institution who they claim and strive to be or be a DI football powerhouse.  They have tried to straddle the fence more than most schools (yes, even our beloved Michigan), however at some point they need to make a decision; much like Yale some 50 years ago to be either an academic powerhouse or an athletic powerhouse.  Places like Stanford, Michigan, Cal, Virginia have all maintained high accademic standards, however we all know that there are different standards for our high power athletes, You listen to Notre Dame and they want it all, but in todays college footbll world that will not suffice. Same reason the SEC has won successive national championships.


May 26th, 2012 at 10:44 PM ^

between M and ND going by mean and median GPA/ACT of recruited revenue athletes? Honestly, I'd be surprised if either school had much of an edge on the other.

Also, Stanford might not have the same standards for football recruits that they do for an average applicant, but their standards are ridiculously high compared to the rest of the Pac 12 or the Big Ten (excepting Northwestern).


May 26th, 2012 at 8:47 PM ^

This is an OK post if it was "Joe's Sports Blog."  The author, though, is supposed to work for an elite blog, and supposed to produce elite results.  

Anyway, I'm still waiting for someone else to connect the dots and mention what the book "Under the Tarnished Dome" did to Lou Holtz and to Notre Dame.  In retrospect, it literally brought down the program and the coach.  Neither has been able to win a National Championship since, and the window for Holtz obviously closed when he retired.  

In an era where almost any given member of the media is increasingly prone to brag, "my pen is mighty," it surprises me even more that this book has never been given its due as an agent of change in South Bend.

Mr. Blue

May 26th, 2012 at 10:25 PM ^

The main flaw, or inaccuracy rather, of the article is that he mentions Brian Kelly's red-faced tirades, when in reality they are purple-faced tirades.


May 26th, 2012 at 10:38 PM ^

Excuses not withstanding. Their message boards are littered with half-ass repudiations of "today's game" and "the southern black athlete not interested in academics" as the reason they cannot  win. As others have mentioned, they pull classes in the top ten (at least on paper) that seem to be racially, ethnically and geographically diverse. Maybe as much as anyone.Yet, they seek to scapegoat atmospherics that are beyond their control and devolve into racism, classicism and self-loathing built on an ancient standard of excellence. They suck  - and I enjoy every bit of their great leap into mediocrity. Go Blue!


May 26th, 2012 at 10:59 PM ^

Bottom line: if Boise State can consistently beat top teams from major conferences (including the SEC) then Notre Dame should be able to win, especially with their hand-picked schedule.


May 26th, 2012 at 11:14 PM ^

An interesting article, but I don't buy the argument. ND is fairly unique in a few ways, but not uniquely harder--I just think that getting the right coach is very hard for any school. Politics is important, but Weis was horrible at the politics and at worst it barely shortened his tenure, if at all. If he had won, he'd have been lionized, and nobody would care that he was prickly.

The writer makes says it's hard to balance great tradition and modern relevance, but relevance is easier to build when you've got tradition, and when you look at the last three coaches, top recruits are clearly coming to ND. They'll eventually find the coach that can put it together and be competitive again. Hopefully not for a while, but it'll happen.


May 26th, 2012 at 11:23 PM ^

This is the same author that uttered the following after the Sugar bowl:


Nobody carries the flag for misguided Big Ten pretension quite like Michigan does, so let us permit the Wolverines their moment of glory before Urban Meyer squashes their dreams for the next decade.


May 27th, 2012 at 8:30 AM ^

This is the same article we've read for years about ND. They are always portrayed as some tiny academic institution that wins because of guile, faith, and the apparent ability to only recruit the best alerts and thinkers in the country. And when they don't, the arguments go that times have changed and that perhaps it is no longer possible. Yet, schools like NW and Stanford find ways to keep winning with higher academic standards. As do UM and Cal. And while ND players are portrayed a virtuous men, they still get busted for the same crimes as the convicts at Miami, DAY, and the SEC. So no, I'm not buying that ND can recover and return to glory because their glory never existed the way they imagined, and they seem unable to recognize that to recapture and sense of accomplishment would be to open their eyes.


May 27th, 2012 at 9:54 AM ^

Don't forget that Notre Dame has also recently played teams like Tulsa, Duke and Western Michigan on their recent schedules as well.  

But the larger problem that Notre Dame has in its scheduling is an inability to get major programs on it outside of USC and Stanford in the last two months of the season.  It's been  roughly seven years since an SEC team (Tennessee) has been on the regular season schedule, for example and until the home-and-home series with Oklahoma, it's been awhile since teams from that conference have shown up as well.  To further illustrate the problem, ND has a four-game series with Texas starting in 2015 with three of those four games being season openers and the last being placed in mid-September.  What would held ND out scheduling wise is having UT play them in October or November.

That's not to say there are exceptions.  ACC teams have been willing to play them late in the season (Duke, North Carolina, Maryland, Wake Forest, Boston College) and Miami has a three-game series scheduled with ND in the next few years that will occupy a late season scheduling slot.  The same goes with teams currently in the Big East, such as Pitt (moving to ACC) and Syrause (also moing to the ACC) and UCon.  Outside of Navy and the other armed service academies plus schools from the Mountain West and as I mentioned above, Conference USA (Tulsa) and the MAC (Western Michigan).  

But is that enough to hold together a schedule that will be interesting enought not only to Notre Dame fans, but to the networks (particularly NBC) and to the larger college football audience?  If NBC's ratings in recent seasons are any indicator, the answer is no.  That's not to say that ND won't shoot right up to the top of the college football world if that program became a consistent double-digit winner that annuallly played in major bowls.  I have no doubt it will happen--but can ND really become a major program again in terms of on the field results?

I think one factor that gets overlooked in all this is when college football went to 85 scholarships, the margin of error for top programs was narrowed somewhat.  A rash of injuries or a couple of subpar recruiting seasons could make a major program struggle.  If you don't have the right coach in place to work thru those problems and to recruit to such a level that attrition, etc. is less of a factor, then even a college football king could have problems.  We've seen this in recent years at Michigan, Miami, Washington, Texas, Oklahoma, etc.  UCLA has had major problems over a long period of time becoming strongly relevant again, and to a lesser degree, the same has happened in South Bend to Notre Dame.

The other factor in all this is the blossoming of television coverage of college football.  If you go back two decades to the tail end of Lou Holtz's careeer at Notre Dame and compare it to today and you'd see a major see change not only in how the sport is covered, but also in the breadth of coverage.  The number of teams that are on some channel has grown exponentially, not to mention the transmission methods outside of network television.  I can sit on my porch (or most any place in the world with internet coverage)  in the autumn and watch all of Michigan's games on either a computer or a tablet right now--that's quite diffrent from twenty years ago.

Simply put, Notre Dame (and most every other major program) has even greater competition not only for recruits, but for publicity.  Another factor is money--when you see that each of the Big Ten programs will be getting $25M from the conference this year as part of their annual distribution in FY 2012 and see that the same number in FY 2004 to FY 2007 was about  $10.7M per annum and you get an idea that football programs around the country to varying degrees are all getting much better funding and access to resoures. 

These are interesting times for Notre Dame.  The most recent around of conference realignment has further weakened the Big East, which acts as the parent conferece for its non-football programs.  Will ND try to continue that associate membership relationship with the BE or will they look to the ACC or the Big 12?  ND also has to have some concern surround the future structure not only of the playoffs, but where they fit into a world dominated by perhaps four conferences.  If Divison 1-A gets downsized in some manner from the approximately 125 teams it will grow to in a few years to an entity that has 64 to 80 programs, where does Notre Dame fit into all that?

I suspect we'll see at least two ACC teams moving into the Big XII to make it a twelve-team conference before long.  If that's all that happens and a four-team or Plus One championship is set up that allows ND and BYU to pariticipate in it, then Notre Dame can probably hold tight for now as long as NBC continues to subsidize them.  

If there's a more seismic shift (not likely, but possible) and we see a 16-team SEC and/or a 14-team Big XII emerge in due course, then we might be looking at a whole different situation here vis-a-vis Notre Dame and its relationship with the Big Ten or the Big East/ACC.

I think the main point behind the article is relevant though.  All major programs in college football need the right guy to navigate their teams in this ever changing environment and Notre Dame is no exception.  Brian Kelly might not be that person--we'll know more in a couple more years' time.  But he has additonal burdens to deal with regarding expectations, the brand's history, etc., that perhaps other coaches don't have to deal with to quite the same degree.  That said, if you're the head coach at Michigan or Alabama or Texas or USC, then you face much the same things as the HC in South Bend.






UM Indy

May 27th, 2012 at 10:22 AM ^

Lou Holtz is a native of the State of Ohio, not the State of West Virginia. If I know that off the top of my head, why can't this hot shot sports writer know it or figure it out? This mistake, together with the unoriginal nature of the rest of the points, leaves me unimpressed.


May 27th, 2012 at 12:30 PM ^

Holtz was born in East Liverpool, Ohio (70 miles south of Youngstown) & am not sure how long he lived there. I drive the "Lou Holtz Freeway" every time on my way to work. Holtz went to Kent State and played LB there if you can imagine that


May 28th, 2012 at 2:18 AM ^

I think it was a situation where he was either born in Ohio and raised in West Virginia or born in WV and raised in Ohio... I think both of the cities involved (East Liverpool and Frisbee) are on the border so he might have just moved around in the same immediate area.

Either way, Holtz is definitely a Midwesterner at heart and a Woody disciple to his core. The accent and the fact that he made his career in the south throw people off, though. 


May 28th, 2012 at 2:15 AM ^

I think it's really just more of a perception issue... Notre Dame's past 20 years have been below expectation, but once you start comparing them to pretty much anyone else over a comparable timespan, it doesn't look that bad. Every power program in the country has had lean years over that stretch as well as mediocre years and good years. The highs might not be as high, but compared with their closest peers (us, Ohio, PSU), they're not so far behind the curve. The problem is, they expect to compete with Tennessee when Tennessee is a powerhouse and Alabama when Alabama is a powerhouse and USC when USC is a powerhouse without being at all cognizant of the bad to mediocre years that come in between those dynasties. 


May 28th, 2012 at 11:07 AM ^

I would agree with you to an extent: ND's highs have not been as high as schools like UM, Ohio, and USC, but I would add that there lows were generally lower too.  Here's a list of ND's record:

You have to go back 15 and more years to when Lou Holtz was coach to see anything resembling what should be a national brand football team. Most fan bases of top football schools will tolerate the occasional 8-5 record, maybe even grit their teeth through one 7-6 record every decade, but in the 15 years since Holtz was coach, on the high end, there were two 10 win seasons and two 9 win seasons, just as you said, the highs not quite as high. They squeaked into no. 9 in the AP poll during Weis's first year, the only top 10 finsih in 15 years.  But then there is one 3 win season and three 5 win seasons, and the bowl W-L was atrocious. I'm not a big fan of Brian Kelly, but at least he has won a bowl game and has them at 8-5.  But, ND has not finished in the top 25 since the 2006 season.