Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Student and Friend

I finally got the AC article written, no thanks to my clunky tape recorder.

Austin Carr: Student and Friend

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Kansas City is Lovely This Time of Year

Finally back after a plane delayed thanks to a computer crash in Dallas. I'm hoping to have a writeup or two on Irish Eyes in the next 24 hours. But a couple notes floating through my head.

SWA's new boarding procedure is good, but the people who camp out 30 minutes before departure have been replaced by the people who, if their number is lower than yours, absolutely have to worm their way in front of you even if you're both standing in the same five-number area.

I got honey roasted peanuts both ways. I used to think those were reserved for the Florida routes. The FA on the flight there refused to take my money for my screwdriver, wishing me "happy holidays" instead.

Never been to KC before, seems like a nice enough town. Traffic accidents make the 10pm news, which is refreshing in a way. The Crowne Point Hyatt is a high quality place.

The event was outstanding. AC knew Collis Jones would be there to introduce him, but didn't know a lot of his teammates were showing up. The look on his face when he saw John Tracy and Jackie Meehan walk in was priceless.

Speaking of which, I give Kevin White a lot of grief on this blog, so I want to make sure to give him kudos for making the trip out to KC on Sunday with John Heisler when he could have bolted down to the USVI's for some sun or been noodling around South Bend after a long day on Saturday and with another long day in Terre Haute for the cross country NCAAs today. Say what you want about him (and I say plenty), but I appreciate him making that kind of effort.

I understand Jim Lynch was in the group as well, but I didn't get a chance to make his acquaintance. Good of him to cross the sports lines that way.

Dick Barnett is an interesting guy. Very focused on education, which is good in this day and age. Quoted poetry both in the presser and at the event. I'd love to see him talk at ND sometime, his speech was engrossing.

Kareem also spoke about the importance of the college experience, and you can tell he doesn't think much of the one-and-done philosophy. He was his typical, understated self.

There were video tributes before the event. Mike Brey's was the only one that didn't sound like it was being read off cue cards. Whoever put together Coach K's certainly skimped on the makeup -- the guy was virtually glistening with some kind of secretion. Never let 'em see you sweat, Mike.

I hung around the ceremony after AC was inducted long enough to listen to Lefty Driesell, who has always been an entertaining character. He was doing fine until about three quarters of the way through his speech, when he told us all he referred to his African American players as "players with good suntans." Air went out of the room a little bit after that. It'll be interesting to see how ESPNU handles that before the broadcast.

AC is the second ND representative in the college hoops HOF, joining former coach George Keogan. ND needs to send the HOF guys a picture of Keogan so they can include it in the interactive history stuff they have there. Next step is to get either KC or Springfield to recognize Adrian. ND, to their credit, is working as hard as they can to make it happen. I'd rather see KC get him first.

If you have some spare good prayers, Frannie Collins could use them. The architect of the "DC Connetion" that brought players like AC and Collis Jones to ND, along with Bob Whitmore, Adrian Dantley, Duck Williams, and the rest, is in poor health these days, and I hope the ND family can keep him in their good thoughts.

Last, but certainly not least, I was the only person there representing any of the ND publications. I got the whole trip done for less than $300, guys, and I don't get paid to do this. Shame on you salaried first-row-in-press-row guys for blowing it off.

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Ask and Ye Shall Receive

Or so the good Lord has told us. So no sooner do I hope Charlie will be willing to go to others for help in the offseason than he talks about his plans to do that very thing.

During the NBC broadcast of the Duke game, Weis talked of plans to return to the Patriots' organization to allow them to scout his ND program and help him identify the flaws in his approach. He'll be working with Bill Belichick, Duane Charles Parcells, and the guys with whom he had so much success in the NFL.

I like it. Charlie is going to bring in some new ideas and get critique from outside the program. Sometimes you need to step back and get the commentary from people that aren't as close to the situation as you. If it leads to an improvement in the workings of the team and the program overall, it's an excellent thing.

But I'm guessing there'll still be some discomfort in some quarters with Weis returning to his NFL roots for this education. I think those folks are uneasy about it for the same reason Peter Vaas' daughter is getting such negative blowback about her appearance on the game telecast (and as an aside, I'm trying to figure out who was more foolish: NBC for thinking that interview was a good idea, or Ms. Vaas for agreeing to proclaim her switched allegiances to a national audience). If you're in the ND family, people expect you to be ND uber alles. If you can get something from within the family, people expect you to stay within the family. When you go outside or proclaim an outside source as being your preferred method, you're going to create some internal irritation because you're perceived as somehow splitting your loyalties. For a school that proclaims "God, Country, Notre Dame" as a way of life, that kind of "disloyalty" is off-putting.

As I said yesterday, my family is very important to me, and I'm not inclined to get something from someone else if I can get help from (or help) them. But in this case, I'm thinking Weis' plan is the best one. For one, the Pats are probably best equipped to give Weis the most comprehensive review of what he's doing. In February, college coaches are consumed with recruiting and getting spring ball ready, assuming they'd be willing to help ND and Weis in the first place. NFL teams, on the other hand, are in their offseason, and have both the time and resources to really dig deep and give Charlie the analysis he needs. Two, for better or worse, Belichick and his folks are the most likely to be blunt with Weis about what he's doing wrong, and they're also the people whose comments Weis is most likely to take to heart. Right now, Charlie needs an outside perspective, and it's best to go the route with the highest chance of success.

There is one potential drawback, though. If the answer to Weis' questions boils down to his schemes being too complex for players who have only 20 distracted hours with the coaching staff per week, the degree to which the pro coaches can help him might be limited. These guys made their bones in the pro ranks, and might not have the familiarity with college-specific aspects of the game. For that education, Charlie may be on his own, and it's at that time his ND family will come in handy for him. If that ends up happening, I remain hopeful he makes use of those resources.

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Friday, November 16, 2007

The Five Families

I'm lucky I come from a large family. Not my immediate family, as my wife and I only have two kids, and I was the oldest of four growing up. But my extended family is quite large. My mother had over 25 cousins, with whom she was close growing up, and our annual reunion picnic typically draws over 125 people, all of whom I know well. This year, my great-uncle, at a spry 81 years of age, single-handedly bounced my sister and I out of the beanbag tournament. I think calling him "Rick Ankiel" for the rest of the day went over his head.

Looking at it closer, I guess you could say I'm a member of five families:

  • My nuclear family

  • My birth family

  • My wife's family

  • The Notre Dame family

  • The NDNation family

We don't always get along, of course. We fight as all families do. I sometimes have to raise my voice to my son to get him to put his clothes away. I argue with my cousins about Mike Brey's and Charlie Weis' coaching merits. A couple times a month, I'll get into it on the boards about ND's direction, both athletically and otherwise. But at the end of the day, even if we've pissed each other off, we're still a family.

There are also the synergistic benefits in all the families. My brother-in-law is a crackerjack estate lawyer, and my wife's and my wills and whatnot are solid for the first time in our lives. If I have a question about finance, I can call my brother or my dad, and writing issues can be brought to my mom or my cousin, both of whom have extensive experience. Cross and Oldtown have always been fonts of legal and procedural wisdom. Cash and NDMD have given me so much medical advice they should be billing Blue Cross on my behalf. And if there's a better source of general experience and knowledge than the Back Room, I haven't found it. On the flip side, I've provided IT advice as best I can to most, if not all, of that list.

It's not always easy to ask for help from your family. Some see it as exhibiting weakness. But that's what families are for. They lend you their experience when you're trying something new. They lend you their perspective when you're screwing something up. And they've always got your back, even at times when you haven't demonstrated you deserve it.

So what does all this have to do with ND? Right now, plenty.

A couple months ago, I talked about Charlie's conversation -- the one where he was going to look in the mirror and decide it was time to trust people more. I'm not sure he's done it yet, as things haven't appreciably changed in the weeks since I wrote it. Rumblings of discontent with Weis' interpersonal skills have been there since he arrived in 2005, and while winning in the first two seasons may have dampened any negative consequences, 1-9 may be having the opposite effect.

In the last couple of weeks, Irish alum and archetypical old fart Bob "Hug and Hobby" Kuechenberg has pimped himself out to any media outlet who'll have him, complaining that all his friends say Charlie is an "ogre" who doesn't treat people in the ND family well. I know Miami fans and any fans of NFL teams that have almost completed an undefeated season are familiar with Kuech, since he usually makes his opinions known on those subjects. This time of year, the most dangerous place in the world is between Bob Kuechenberg and a microphone. But although Kuech may be a nimrod for running his yapper, it's a variation on the same theme.

In a related story, my friends all now believe Bob Kuechenberg to be a grade-A toolbox. Based on the standards Kuech has set in this debate, I now feel safe referring to him as one.

Although Charlie is no doubt eccentric in his way, and can be megalomaniacal (and maybe even paranoid), he's shown a good side as well. For every story I've heard about him being a blowhard, there's been a corresponding story about his caring nature. Anecdotes of selfish behavior are offset by stories of him going out of his way to help people.

And then there's Hannah and Friends. As the parent of an autistic child, I know first-hand what you go through trying to get your child the help he or she needs. Weis is not only doing that, he's using available avenues to set up resources for other kids and parents. I have a hard time reconciling those efforts coming from a fundamentally selfish person.

Let's be clear -- Charlie ain't no saint. His single-minded pursuit of things leads to episodes where he doesn't treat people the way he should. He's so focused on what he's doing, he doesn't lift his head up and see what others in his world bring to the proverbial table.

In other words, he forgets he's a member of multiple families as well, the Notre Dame family among them.

My interaction with Charlie Weis is limited to about 30 seconds at a basketball game two years ago, so I won't claim to have any ability to influence the man. But if I were sitting in his office talking to him, I'd remind him of the people in his families that care about him, even when it doesn't seem he cares about them. Those people have resources that can help, and they want to use them for that purpose.

It isn't always easy to ask for help. It's even less to ask people you've wronged to forgive you. But people don't enter the ND family because it's an easy place to be, and failing on your own is not mitigated somehow by being a solo effort.

The patience of truly listening doesn't develop in a day. But it has to start somewhere.

Ara said it best: Anything really worth having, you have to pay the price for. If Charlie Weis wants a successful career at Notre Dame, his price is the love and humility required to truly embrace all his families -- nuclear, coaching, players, ND, all down the list -- and make them a full part of him.

Their strength and knowledge will see him through. But he has to start out showing a little strength of his own.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Getting the Clap

The good folks at made the new montage video available on their site here (if you click on Video View), which means I've had a chance to watch it a couple times and digest its content further.

I still believe there's too much emphasis on the current team. The current-team stuff in the video is great as a standalone, and should be used when the player intros start. Right now, there's the black screen and interlocking ND over "Carmina Burana O Fortuna" as an intro to "Hate Me Now". The first scene after the fade-out of the current video should be the first player being introduced. Meanwhile, they could beef up the footage from the past, adding more action shots.

But more important than that is the music. I've been trying to figure out why it doesn't work for me, and I had an epiphany last night:

It doesn't give me the clap.

No, not the STD. The energy.

Aside of it just being a great song and ND's musical heritage, one of the reasons the Victory March has always worked as a hoops intro is its driving rhythm that invites the crowd to clap along. That clapping, in turn, creates an energy in the crowd, which we've been looking for in the Joyce in recent seasons. The old "Halloween" intro worked the same way -- that DO-do-do-DO-do-do-DO-do-DEE-do baseline evoked a similar pulse from the stands, and as a result, everyone was fired up.

The music in this montage doesn't do that, primarily because the beat is too slow. That's always been the problem with "Hate Me Now" (along with me being perplexed an ND team would use a song whose video features a rapper carrying a cross with a crown of thorns on his head), but "Remember The Name" by Fort Minor that the new montage uses has the same issue. The beat is there, and if we were dancing, it wouldn't be a problem. It's just too slow to get a crowd really fired up.

I referenced the Sox the other day and their montage. Both "He's a Pirate" and "Thunderstruck" have a fast cadence to them. A fan put together his own montage on YouTube and used the theme from Van Helsing, which has similar characteristics:

This theme pervades these kinds of intros at other places. The Chicago Bulls (and, I'm led to understand, the Philadelphia 76ers) have long used the Alan Parsons Project's "Sirius":

Not only does it have that driving rhythm, the long bass tone to start the song creates anticipation energy in the crowd.

You see further examples of solid beats with the Phoenix Suns...

... and the Toronto Raptors:

The current one is excellent and can work, but if there are going to be future tweaks, a better beat should be considered.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

We Need a Montage

Tonight was my first opportunity to watch the 2007-08 Irish live. Since my schedule won't allow me to do it again until (what will hopefully be) the streak-breaker against NIU in December, I tried to take in all I could.

There's plenty of analysis on The Pit right now, and I'm pretty much down with all of it. This is going to be a damn fun team to watch. They're unselfish, they hustle, they put (successful) effort in on D, they distribute the ball, they've got ballhandling skills and body awareness.... After suffering through football season, this is going to be a breath of fresh air for Fighting Irish fans.

But rather than focus on that, since the Pit is getting the job done, I wanted to focus on a new addition to the Irish gameday experience -- new player intros.

They still use the same song to introduce the players (along with those air cannon things I'm not fond of). But there's a new wrinkle this year via video. On two drop-down screens positioned in the rafters behind the baskets (approximately where the screen appears in this picture, they followed the intro of the LIU starters with a video montage that showed previous ND players and the current team (over music whose title I can't remember -- I know the "Here Come The Irish" tune started it out, but I'm hoping one of the younger set can remember what I can't). During the spotlight intro, a picture and info of each player was shown when he was introduced.

OK, let's get right to it. I loved it. I loved every freaking part of it with my whole body. This is just the kind of thing I was hoping we'd get with the upgraded video whatevers in the Joyce, and it seems my hopes will be realized in a snuggly fashion. FisherJ08 opined it would "make the 'More awareness of basketball history' crowd very happy". Darn tootin.

(And yes, I realize I strongly oppose the addition of a video screen in ND Stadium. Football and basketball are very very different animals)

But I wouldn't be me if I didn't mention two things that would make it even better:

1) Better music. In the interest of full disclosure, I hate that "Here Comes the Irish" song with the white-hot hate of a thousand suns. But that aside, I don't think it drives enough. You need something with a solid beat to get the crowd fired up. Whiny lilting lasses don't get that done.

2) More history. They opened with pics of AC and AD, of course, had at least one of current ND radio personality (and dred-sporting) LaPhonso Ellis, and including a picture of Colin Falls and Russell Carter was a nice touch. But there was way too much of the current team. I'm not advocating taking them out entirely, but the crowd is about to spend the better part of two hours watching these guys, and there are good pics of them during the intros already. Let's see a little more Hawk, Hanzlik, Pax, Rivers and Garrity, and a lot more action shots. I need to see Dwight Clay stick a dagger in John Wooden's soul every game. Need. Every.

As a White Sox fan, I'm intimately familiar with their intro montage:

The first part, which shows the various uniforms and trophies, uses "Elk Trot" from Last of the Mohicans. It then segues into the history shots (with some of the previous season thrown in) set to "He's a Pirate" from the Pirates of the Carribean movies. The actual player intros are done to AC/DC's "Thunderstruck". If that intro doesn't fire you up, you're the third eunuch -- dead. I believe it was put together by former Irish hoopster Brooks Boyer and his marketing squad. Perhaps he'd let us borrow it.

I think the whole video intro concept is an excellent idea, and a standing ovation to the ND marketing folks that put it together. With a tweak or two........

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