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Friday, October 30, 2009

Men Without Chests

posted by Mike Coffey
Guest author: Frank Pimentel

In The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis argued that modern education produces "what may be called Men without Chests. It is an outrage that they should be commonly spoken of as Intellectuals. This gives them the chance to say that he who attacks them attacks Intelligence. It is not so. They are not distinguished from other men by any unusual skill in finding truth nor any virginal ardor to pursue her."

Sadly, we see this in full effect at Notre Dame today. First, in their initial bumbling attempt to defend the commencement invitation to President Obama, the University distributed laughable "talking points" to the Board of Trustees, which managed, in one swipe, to insult the intelligence of anyone who questioned the propriety of the invitation and to directly insult the initial Laetare Award honoree.

Then Fr. Jenkins compounded the error by issuing a statement to the effect that he, presumably in contrast to the shanty Catholic rubes who saw through the artifice concocted by Notre Dame in its perpetual desire for respect by those whose opinions matter in academia, was going to deliver an "inclusive and respectful speech." In other words, as Lewis predicted, those who attack him, attack "Intelligence."

Alas, the commencement debacle was not the most recent example at Notre Dame of Lewis’ foretelling. Last week, Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick announced that next October, Notre Dame would be fortifying its football schedule by playing Western Michigan University. Parenthetically, I’ll state that for all I know, WMU is a great school and runs a fine football program. But that’s kind of the point; about all I know of WMU is that it is in Kalamazoo – and I doubt that most anyone not from Michigan or northern Indiana even knows that.

Of course, that announcement understandably caused instant deflation among nearly anybody who harbors hope that the Fighting Irish will once again become the team it was under Rockne, Leahy, Parseghian, or Holtz. By way of brief examples, on our way to the 1988 national championship, ND played Michigan, Miami, and USC in the regular season. The next year we played Michigan, USC, Penn State, and Miami before the bowl game. In ’90 we played Michigan, Miami, Tennessee, Penn State, and USC in the regular season.

But that wasn’t the end of the consternation. Instead, echoing Jenkins’ pronouncements surrounding Commencement, Swarbrick announced with respect to the inevitable backlash, "It reflects a not very sophisticated view of what's going on out there." As with Jenkins, those who attack him attack "Intelligence."

But I am not fooled. In the case of football, the problem isn’t finding opponents on short notice, it’s finding opponents who will be bought, not expecting a return visit by Notre Dame. This scheduling philosophy, deemed "7-4-1" for shorthand, means 7 home games, 4 road games, and 1 "neutral site" game televised on NBC -- amounting in substance then to 8 home games and 4 road games. It requires materially watering the schedule down and making it, frankly, boring.

I believe this was intentional. Notre Dame knew that if it shorthanded itself by establishing a Potemkin 7-4-1 "requirement," it would eviscerate future schedules so badly that, by contrast, a league schedule (Big 10? Big East? ACC?) would be appealing. Of course, this is a false choice. Simply returning to a more balanced home/road schedule (6-6, or even 7-5), with the historical norm of playing home-and-home series with marquee schools, would immediately solve the problem.

But that itself is the problem. The powers that be don’t want the supposed scheduling problem solved. Rather, while alumni have always overwhelmingly opposed joining a conference for football, those in the Dome and JACC – specifically John Heisler – "know better" and want it (and for reasons having nothing to do with athletics and everything to do with those whose opinions matter in academia).

They don’t want to solve the scheduling "problem" that they created themselves. Rather, they have set us up to "solve" the scheduling "problem" by, sooner rather than later, throwing up their hands and arguing that the only feasible solution left will be to, surprise, join a conference.

But my Intelligence will not be insulted. Until Notre Dame places Men with Chests back into leadership positions, my checkbook – which had heretofore been open – will remain closed.

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

It Just Goes to Show

posted by Mike Coffey
Show what, I'm not at all sure.

Nothing, it seems, has been what it seems for the last couple weeks. Charlie Weis was fired, and then he was not. Jack Swarbrick was meeting with him next Monday, then it became last Tuesday when both were jetting around four time zones on the left coast. A presser became a release. Status quo became buyout financing became "responsible stewardship of university resources", and now Weis gets a continuance.

The inveterate straw-grasper in me sees plenty of lawyer-speak in that link. The release doesn't say Charlie Weis will be ND's coach in 2009, only that he will "continue" in the role, with Swarbrick "examining every aspect of the program" and making changes where he "think[s] they are needed". Plenty of ambiguity there, or at least enough to keep my soul from sinking, and we still have an epic tilt against the likes of, as Lou would say, the University of Rice to look forward to over the holidays before all's said and done.

Could this be the most Machiavellian approach to the AD chair we've seen since Gene Corrigan was in the house? Perhaps. Was retaining Charlie Weis truly the best option, based on a lack of a "home-run hire" being available? Maybe. Does Charlie know enough to, once again, go into the off-season ready to correct the errors of the previous fall? I guess.

Trouble with all that is, when you've had to dip the bucket into the well of patience as many times as ND fans have in the last 15 years, eventually all you hear is the thud of it hitting the sides. I'd love to give Jack Swarbrick and Fr. John Jenkins the benefit of the doubt here, but 50 times bitten, 51 times shy, I suppose.

At the moment when Swarbrick seemed truly to be examining all his options while waiting on a December 8th appointment, the entire process short-circuited, resulting in a piece of paper issued from the Joyce Center. It's hard not to think about how we've seen all this before. Look kids, Big Ben ... Parliament ... you noticing all this plight?

We should, I suppose, be grateful for small mercies. Swarbrick's predecessor would have attempted a press conference, and it doesn't take a lot of imagination to visualize the train wreck Mr. "Sunday through Friday" would have wrought. But that's cold comfort as I sit in the December chill wondering how the Decided Schematic Advantage is going to be realized, knowing I most likely am going to spend the next 11 months refereeing online fights about what "real ND fans" do/think/want or don't.

But hey, I'm all about chances, right? As of this typing, Charlie Weis is ND's football coach next year. So it's time to stop talking about what could happen and start talking about what damn well better happen, including some capital-R Realizations:

Number one, a head coach is not a special teams helper or a quarterbacks coach or a play-caller. He's a head coach, and he has other people on his staff to handle those other responsibilities. Notre Dame is not a place for those skills to be learned, but rather honed, and if you can't delegate what needs to be delegated, you won't do anything well.

Number two, what works in the NFL doesn't necessarily work in college. When you're not limited to 20 hours a week with your charges and aren't required to provide tutelage in fundamentals as well as scheme, you can get a hell of a lot more done. If you can't dumb it down and have it still work, you need to bring someone in to help you do it.

Number three, you're not going to get anywhere unless you listen. Not give lip service to listening, really listen. As the saying goes, A-level folks hire (and, by extension, listen to) other A-level folks. B-levels and below are afraid to "look weak" or otherwise allow themselves to grow, so they won't have themselves challenged. I don't know whether he needs security or patience or what, but the days of my-way-or-the-highway have to go, because this highway is leading us right to the gates of Hell. Find staffers willing to challenge you and put new ideas out there, and show you're willing to consider what they say.

Fourth, it's time to put your money where your mouth is. So much talk about the sizable buyout keeping you shackled to South Bend, are you willing to walk the walk and announce you've reached an agreement with ND to waive the buyout as of September 1, 2009. You're asking the fans to work without a net here in trusting you can change. How about inching out onto that limb with us?

That's a level of self-evaluation that must happen here, because without it, none of my requirements for 2009 will be met. What are those requirements? Glad you asked.

Win whatever third-tier bowl game ND ends up in this year. I'd also prefer some evidence it's going to be a good long time before we have to worry about a win or the venue, but I'll settle for Weis not becoming the first coach ever to have back-to-back losing seasons and still stay in his job.

Keep the recruiting class together, and add the likes of Xavier Nixon, Manti T'eo, and Jelani Jenkins. If recruiting truly is saving his behind, it'd better keep up.

Create an OL that could successfully block my grandmother, both on the ground and in pass protection. I don't give a damn what our pass/run play call mix is, but in situations where we absolutely have to do one or the other, we need to be able to do it successfully. A decent running game would have meant at least two more wins this year and two more not-so-close games. Lack of depth and stars isn't the case anymore.

On the raw W/L side, 11 wins, at least 10 of them in the regular season. Devil-like details would include no losses by more than 10 points, and that includes Southern Cal, and at least three wins by more than 21 points. It's time for the championship recruiting classes to become a championship team, and Weis is in the red on mulligans as it is.

If he's going to stay, that's what he needs. Otherwise, Swarbrick should spend the next 11 months getting the Tier-One hire on the line, because like it or not, Jack's now inexorably tied to Weis. Will he take him to new heights or pull him into the abyss with him? Only Weis' hypothetical knee doctor knows for sure.

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