Never Accept Mediocrityposted by Scott Engler
This year, Notre Dame was in line for the top class in the country again, but worries about Weis's future have cost the Irish currency in the recruiting world.
Yet here we are reading about Joe Montana lowering the bar, trotting out the old Davieham party line that Notre Dame needs to accept mediocrity. "You can't ask any football coach here to be constrained like that on the academic side and to have a consistent team... Unless you try to relax some of that for the athletic programs here, it's hard to consistently compete with the programs that have different standards."
"With (coach Jim) Harbaugh and Stanford, if he fields a good and competitive team, they're happy," he said. "And once in awhile, they'll have a real good team. Here, you expect to be a little better than that. But that's the way it will be. A lot of peaks and valleys."
The fact is that Notre Dame recruiting was in the top 3, in aggregate, in the country over the two year period of 2007 and 2008 and the Irish beat every team in the country for players like Clausen, Floyd, Rudolph, Robinson, Ragone, Te'o, Johnson, Filer and Fleming.
There is no need to lower the bar; Notre Dame just needs to perform on the field. When the Irish are contending for a national championship, no team enjoys more advantages in notoriety and that translates into recruiting currency.
Montana's argument is backward. The inconsistency on the field over the last years doesn't stem from rigid academic standards that restrict recruiting, it stemmed from a lazy, narcissistic predecessor who didn't work at recruiting and a new coach who was still learning on the job.
When the Irish are winning, they can recruit against anyone in the country. That's not conjecture, that's fact proven over the last few years. If the Irish hadn't fallen apart after North Carolina last year, Notre Dame would have likely had the top recruiting in the nation over a three year period.
Montana's example to prove the point is just plain silly. "You look at the size of the SC's offensive line, and our defensive line," Montana said. "Not that there's anything wrong with it, but it's hard to make up 30-40 pounds per guy. Sometimes, as good as our guys can be up front, that's an uphill battle for 60 minutes."
Okay, two things on this. The first is that our offensive line outweighs their defensive line by more than the other way around. The second is that Notre Dame's defensive line, with Hafis Williams in, outweighs USC's defensive line. There's no 30-40 pound advantage unless Notre Dame chooses to go to a smaller defensive line. Size is not the issue ladies. Notre Dame has signed six defensive linemen over the past two years, four of whom are 280 pounds or more and two of whom are over 300 pounds.
Montana does uncover a kernel of truth when he talks about the challenge in recruiting defensive linemen with grades, "That's the biggest difference, on the defensive side of the ball. It's harder for Notre Dame to get those guys."
Standout defensive linemen with grades are notoriously tough to come by, but Notre Dame's current predicament (having to start so many young players on the defensive line) can't be blamed solely on that fact. Poor recruiting by Jappy Oliver, Rick Minter and Charlie Weis in Weis's first two years have put the Irish in this position. Notre Dame put all its eggs in the Gerald McCoy (Oklahoma standout) basket three years ago and lost when personal circumstances forced McCoy to stay home. Even if the Irish got McCoy, Notre Dame still didn't recruit enough numbers that year and now Tenuta might end up starting two red shirt freshmen, a sophomore and a junior, but again, that's more a result of poor recruiting planning and effort than a restrictive environment.
Weis, Minter and Oliver (who was an awful recruiter) sowed the seeds for our current numbers problem on the defensive line three years ago and we "crazy internet fans" were the ones sounding the alarm. There's some concern the Irish may be making the same mistake with offensive line recruiting this year.
One advantage other schools have is that they can bring in Junior College transfers to fill gaps as Alabama did last year with Terrance Cody. Without Cody, Alabama may not have been a BCS team. Notre Dame is at a disadvantage there, but can counteract that by always recruiting numbers on the defensive line. Notre Dame has twice this decade pulled in what many consider to be the top defensive line class in the country; it just has to work harder at this position.
Stepping back, the academics vs. excellence argument doesn't jibe with reality. The facts are that Lou Holtz recruited more top classes than our last three coaches combined and did it while winning graduation award after graduation award. It was Malloy's meddling that brought the Irish program down and his attempt to Stanfordize the school has set the program back a decade and a half. Irish fans shouldn't embrace Montana's attempt to do the same right now. Stanford is not an aspirational peer, unless the aspiration is to not pursue excellence.
If Weis were to win this year, Notre Dame will be able to recruit (as has been proven) with anyone in the country.
Academics and football excellence are not mutually exclusive; in fact academic excellence can be a great ally. Notre Dame graduates almost every player who comes on campus and helps poor students become good students through a rigorous support program. That's an enormous recruiting weapon when looking at the horrid graduation rates for African Americans in top football programs around the country.
While I'm sure Montana's remarks are well-intentioned in support of Weis, they're not true. Notre Dame faced the same charge before Montana arrived on campus and the Irish won. They faced the same charge again in the 80s and the Irish won. If the Irish win again under Weis, Notre Dame will probably go through a down cycle and face the same charge yet again in the future. This is nothing new. Father Ted Hesburgh addressed this issue years back when he said, "There has been a surrender at Notre Dame, but it is a surrender to excellence on all fronts, and in this we hope to rise above ourselves with the help of God."
No organization can accept mediocrity without that becoming it's destiny; it's a simple truth proven over centuries. Notre Dame can never embrace mediocrity on the field. What a terrible lesson that would be for our youth. If that happens Notre Dame will become just another fable... and a 100 years of winning that inspired millions to strive for excellence will become a cautionary tale of what happens when poor leadership inherits a legacy.