NDN

Rock's House | Cartier Field | Back Room | Political | Career | The Pit | Alumni Events | McGraw's Bench | Jake's Field | Jackson's Rink | Olympic | Fantasy Sports | Chat

4.30 - Character Counts

Maurice Stovall's rise from disappointment to star was confirmed on day one of the NFL draft when Jon Gruden and the Tampa Bay Bucs selected the Pa. native in the third round.

Just one year earlier, Stovall was considered a bust by many who follow Notre Dame football.

But in less than 12 months of real coaching, Stovall jumped into the top echelon of wide receivers.

Said his father. "...he believed in coach Weis and coach Weis believed in him. If he could have played for coach Weis for three years instead of one, there's no telling where he'd be today. But we're not thinking about that. We're thinking about how grateful we are to be in this position with the draft and even more thrilled that next month Maurice will walk away with his degree."

But there were two other factors that weighed heavily in Stovall's favor on draft day and the first of those is character.

Said one draft expert, "he's a top character guy, a good player. I'm a little concerned he is a one-year guy, but that's really not his fault. They were atrocious on offense two years ago. Last year, he finally caught some balls. He got a lot of exposure at the Senior Bowl, and at the combine he was good. He's going to be a good player."

Gruden talked about character during both of his press conferences Saturday. He said the Bucs use off-the-field character as one of their key evaluation points. "It's always a risk when you draft anybody. Some guys more than others.''

Green Bay's Ted Thompson made the point even more succinctly: "The longer I'm in this, the more I'm convinced that character is overriding. And if someone, even if he's talented, if he's not the right fit for our place, then it's not the right fit.''

Stovall, still a youngin' by NFL standards, demonstrated much more than ability, he demonstrated a work ethic and team mentality. What that means to NFL teams is low risk, a point made clear Saturday by the rise of character and the fall of talent with character questions.

The other factor is an NFL endorsement from Coach Weis. Last year Justin Tuck, a likely first round pick this year, left Notre Dame with a year of eligibility and without the endorsement of Weis. He didn't go to until the third round and likely left millions on the table.

By contrast, Anthony Fasano, the sixth rated tight end on the board was surprisingly taken in the second round of the draft, by Weis's old mentor, Bill Parcells.

Said Bob Rang, an analyst for NFLDraftScout.com: “It can’t be understated, his impact,” Rang said. “The fact that Charlie is as respected as he is, that makes (that) so much more. He guarantees them a workout and then it’s up to the player at that point.”

And Weis made it clear that he'll fight for his players. As he said in a recent press conference: "I think one thing that has happened more than anything else this year that is favorable for them, is that they have a rapport with guys from the NFL because of so many friends that I have. Now these guys can call me up, and they know they have been weathered the way pros are weathered. And I’ll just leave it at that. But they know when these guys have been hammered the way pro guys have been hammered, they’re always willing to take a chance on them a little bit earlier because they know they’re not going to have to start from scratch weaning them in to what the pros are all about.”

And of course, Notre Dame is already training kids in an NFL offense according to Gruden, "Charlie Weis coming to Notre Dame exposed Maurice, I think, to an offense that much more resembles a pro game." That factor also played a part in Fasano's rise in the draft according to Cowboy chief Jerry Jones, "He's been in the scheme. Fasano knows our terminology," Jones said. "It's what they use at Notre Dame. He did there exactly what we're going to be asking him to do here."

Contrast Fasano with Dominique Byrd. Fasano was actually ranked lower than Byrd in terms of ability, but higher overall because of the non-physical attributes. Meanwhile, Michigan which has consistently recruited the best talent in the nation, failed to have one player drafted on day one (does any team waste more talent than Michigan?)

Character was at a premium in this year's draft and USC is paying the price for Pete Carroll's influence in that arena. It turns out that inviting a gangsta rapper (who's faced murder charges) into your team circle, re-inviting O.J. to practice (who's faced murder charges,) demonstrations of ripping off your shirt in front of recruits (some strange male testosterone ritual) and a mix of "it's all about me" Hollywood imaging is not valued by the NFL.

Go figure.

Wrote Peter King of CNNSI: "I think I was pretty darn wrong about Winston Justice and LenDale White, both of whom I thought were lock first-rounders, even with some of their off-field faux pas. Character counts more than ever, people."

The problem, as identified by Java (a USC guy) on WildWestSports.com is that Carroll is recruiting kids with a Hollywood ethos that isn't valued by society on the whole or by the NFL (recruits report that he travels with pictures of his players posing with Halle Berry to entice them.)

While it may be cool to hang with Halle, she doesn't pay on draft day.

Java recently wrote that character ".. keeps coming up in relation to USC guys. That is very sad. When PC took over, he had a ton of guys with good character who truly were thrilled to play for a winner. Palmer, MacKenzie, even Sultan and Fargas. Rogers, Graf, Torres, Hill, Polamalu.
Now USC recruits top talent but I have said for years these guys come in with baggage, to put it nicely. So, this is the first year you really have seen it, but the NFL is concerned aobut guys with top talent who have an entitlement attitude. I think it cost Bush being the first pick (think had htis not come out he'd have been traded for big time prospects and teams were scared off). Think is cost Bing big time, Byrd, White, Justice. Too bad, but Mike Williams had these concerns about THESE PLAYERS and voiced them before the 2004 season. Result? Everyone shouted Mike down, said he was an ingrate."

Understand that criticism was written by a very well connected USC guy, but Notre Dame goes after many of the same recruits, so while the selection process may be apart of the issue, environment, academic support and coaching are also important factors. It appears the USC problem is affecting even very good kids. Mark Sanchez is by all accounts a great student and great kid, but he finds himself in the middle of a scandal. The old adage holds, if you hang out with the wrong crowd, you don't need to be looking for trouble, it finds you. It's one thing to live in a town with troubling influences, it's a quite another still to invite the "gangsta" mentality to become a part of your program. That makes no sense to this pundit.

Hub Arkish of Pro Football Weekly said this could just be the tip of a very big iceberg at USC.

"When Pete took over, some doors were opened that are shut at most programs," he said, and that when recruits visit USC, it's obvious that that the lifestyle of a USC football player is much different from the lifestyle of a football player at most other schools, and recruits are taken in by it. He added that USC has some major problems with institutional control, and that the Bush story will by no means be the last one we will hear and compared the situation to Michigan basketball under Steve Fisher."

Carroll had his chance to demonstrate character and discipline when linebacker Rey Maualuga allegedly attacked a man, unprovoked. The response attributed to Maualuga after the witness said she would call the police, "I own the police." Carroll disciplined Maualuga by making him sit out the first half of the Stanford game and then giving him his most playing of the year against Cal.

That is why it's heartening to hear coach Weis say in clear terms that he's only going after kids with character on the recruiting trail and that he refuses to compromise. It was a lesson learned on his way to winning four Super Bowl rings and one that proves you don't have to compromise to win on the field or in the NFL draft.

4.26 - View From Afar

A look at how Notre Dame is being viewed around the country, from places where love has been rare.

Dennis Dodd, CBS Sportsline

Notre Dame is back in terms of success on, off and around the field. This was the biggest "get" of the Charlie Weis era. In less than one and a half years on the job, Weis has won nine games, coached up Heisman frontrunner Brady Quinn and won over the hearts of Domers everywhere.

As Clausen himself put it, Weis is why the quarterback came to Notre Dame.

Tom Beaver, GoBlue

Notre Dame's Junior Day this past winter had at least a dozen top 100 type kids from around the country, whereas U-M's Junior Day had 3-4, all from the Midwest. U-M's Spring Game -- 2-3 top kids, all Midwesterners again ... Notre Dame will again have 12+ (maybe as many as 20), again from all over the country. My worry: if U-M loses all three top road games this season, which it very well could -- at ND, at PSU, at OSU ... recruiting will really get tougher. If any of you, like me, are starting to hear a low-grade sucking sound all the time -- that could be the sound of ND sucking up top Midwest recruits ... ND beats USC for the Nation's #1 HS QB, who is from Southern Cal ... think about that one a second.

David Lassen, VenturaCountyStar.com

It's one more affirmation Weis is going to be a big-time success in South Bend. It's one more indication the Irish are back at the top of the heap in the recruiting wars, not by themselves, certainly, but in that small group of the most elite.

And it would certainly seem to indicate the USC-Notre Dame series just got a little bit hotter. USC, after all, rebuilt with a coach with an NFL background who came in, recruited like mad and started turning out exceptional quarterbacks (among other talents).

Notre Dame has upped the ante with a coach who had a more successful NFL background, appears to be recruiting like mad (even in USC's backyard) and certainly seems to be heading in the direction of turning out exceptional quarterbacks (among other talents).

Even better, for Irish fans and more depressing, for the USC faithful is that Weis and Notre Dame plucked this quarterback out of USC's back yard, after Clausen at one time apparently favored the Trojans.

Mike Farrell, Eagle Action (Fredo)

How big is quarterback Jimmy Clausen's recent commitment to Notre Dame? It's A-Rod to the Yankees, T.O. to the Cowboys and Shaq to the Heat. It's the Great One to the L.A. Kings, Tiger winning the Masters and Hagler-Hearns. In the college football recruiting world, this is as big as it gets.

When's the last time the nation's most hyped quarterback in years committed to the nation's biggest and most recognizable football program? When was the last time a high school football player committed, and it was mentioned on SportsCenter as a big deal? Who else has had numerous national television features done on him before he even threw a pass his senior year? The LeBron James of high school football, that's who.

What Clausen's commitment does for Notre Dame is obvious. It puts the marquee football program back on center stage and numerous blue-chip recruits will eventually follow Clausen to South Bend. It improves Notre Dame's chances of winning a national title even if Clausen never throws another pass. Clausen's commitment enhances Charlie Weis' reputation as a great recruiter and coach, and it leaves many scratching their heads at what Ty Willingham and Bob Davie were doing. Basically, it puts Notre Dame football where it expects to be -- on the lips of every college football fan.

In the meantime, the echoes are waking in South Bend. Notre Dame is back amongst the elite in college football recruiting -- the way it should be.

Allen Wallace, Superprep

Whether Clausen is a great quarterback in college or not, they are once again competing with truly elite programs for truly elite players. The bottom line is that Notre Dame is back.

Colin Cowherd, ESPN Radio

You have to be blind or in severe, irreversible denial to not see ND recruiting is back in a big way.

Tom Luginbill, ESPN.com

Even after a top-five 2006 recruiting class, Jimmy Clausen's commitment is the biggest piece of the puzzle as to the future success of Charlie Weis at Notre Dame.

Michigan Live


The pied piper of the Fighting Irish football program continues to reunite and reignite all of Notre Dame nation. He isn't afraid to talk about capturing national championships and producing Heisman Trophy winners.

One thing's for sure.

The infectious attitude from Weis is spreading far and wide.

LA Daily News

Clausen's decision, along with the possibility of Tyler following him to South Bend, could make Notre Dame the front-runner to secure the nation's top recruiting class in 2007.

~ The Rock

The Ten Secrets should be available by regular order again by the end of today. I had to make some cover changes for Books-A-Million which will soon be carrying the novel. Apologies for the delays.

4.23 - Let the Hating Commence

It started just after daybreak with Jimmy Clausen's announcement that he would be attending Notre Dame. A watershed moment for the rebirth of Notre Dame football. A clear signal that the best were coming back to South Bend, not for the tradition, almost perfect graduation rate nor omnipresent notoriety, advantages Notre Dame enjoyed even in the Davingham era, but for the coaching and the best chance to play in the NFL.

How crass you think, Rock. You're one of those "it's all about football" guys, you say to yourself.

No, I don't think that way, but there's nothing wrong with acknowledging the obvious: that the best athletes, just like the best businessmen and women, want to be mentored by the best. Mediocrity has no place in an institution that's meant so much and allowed Notre Dame the national standing to create leaders in all areas of society. The fact is that kids weren't coming to Notre Dame under Davingham because they were being shortchanged on coaching, coaching that was essential if they were to reach their career goals in football, and yes it's a fine career for some players.

Poor coaching has cost Notre Dame players, literally, millions over the years and they deserved better. Now they have it and that fact is so clear now that the top player in the land and maybe the top player of the last five years, publicly chose Notre Dame for it's coaching and he chose the Irish over USC, joining Reuland, Walls, Young and others in choosing South Bend in head to head battles between the two schools. The scales are tipping rapidly back to traditional form.

Now, let's stop for a second. The academics, graduation rate, the spiritual life, the tradition, the television appearances and the national standing are all integral pieces of the whole, but providing the best leaders and coaching is also part of that equation and upgrading that element has made Notre Dame a recruiting behemoth once again.

Now you can sell a player not just on the fact that Notre Dame is the highest profile program in the land or that he'll be assured of graduating with a valuable degree, but also that he'll receive the best coaching in the land and play for a national championship. Oh yeah, and Coach Weis has most of the NFL on speed dial and is not shy about using it.

One thing Holtz never got enough credit for was fighting for his players at the next level and Weis is showing that same that same leadership. Said Weis at his press conference yesterday (courtesy of IrishEyes, the best site on the net:)

"I think one thing that has happened more than anything else this year that is favorable for them, is that they have a rapport with guys from the NFL because of so many friends that I have. Now these guys can call me up, and they know they have been weathered the way pros are weathered. And I’ll just leave it at that. But they know when these guys have been hammered the way pro guys have been hammered, they’re always willing to take a chance on them a little bit earlier because they know they’re not going to have to start from scratch weaning them in to what the pros are all about. You think college football is a fast game, try going to the next level. There’s no comparison, it’s like night and day.”

The only real argument any school could make against Notre Dame in the past was that your talent would be wasted if you went to South Bend and you know what? That argument held water, but no more.

You know it because even USC fans, so self-assured during their run, are trashing everything from our coach's weight, to Clausen's hair, to the lawn care in the hopes that it's not true. A check around the internet showed that Notre Dame threads had started on every opponent board on the Notre Dame schedule (and many who don't even play the Irish,) some lamenting the return of Irish fortunes, others stuck in that river in Egypt trying rationalize that it's not really happening.

It is.

Embrace that hate, it's a harbinger of good times for Notre Dame Football.

On to the Blue-Gold game and admittedly I was in my car checking updates on my cell phone (not advised,) but there seem to be some consistent positives emerging.

1 - The punting of Geoff Price. The Texas native has always had a cannon for a leg, but has struggled with consistency, that problem seems to have been solved. He averaged over 40 yards a punt.

2 - The front four, played agressively and really controlled the line of scrimmage. Granted the OL was depleted and playing both ways, but Trevor Laws(you know he's got another year) and Derek Landri have markedly improved. Abiamiri was doubled teamed often, but has also received praise.

3 - Our secondary did not blow many coverages and Terrail Lambert may have emerged as legitimate starting candidate. This could be important because Lambert has the most speed on the team.

4 - It's only playing against the number two defense, but Sharpley looks to have evolved into the number two quarterback.

5 - It was an awesome crowd and an awesome day all around for the stud recruits at the game.

On the negative side, our offensive line (this goes both ways) could not dominate the line of scrimmage, our linebackers were pushed around, our best kicker is still in an Indiana high school (taken from Rock's House) and Quinn didn't have a great day.

Most importantly there were no injuries on the field and a record 42-thousand people turned out (more than state schools like Alabama and Texas and almost 3-times that of USC) to take in the day. There's something special going on in South Bend right now and to everybody but sportscasters with inferiority complexes and cranial limitations, that's as clear as a September gameday sky.


~ The Rock

4.21 - Recruiting a Dynasty

Last year's recruiting haul was an outstanding full first class for Charlie Weis that filled almost all of the holes that had been left by what many analysts called "lazy recruiting," and of course, a major coaching change, but there are few real stars in the class, players who are absolute can't miss prospects, game changers. The kind that can turn championship fortunes with one spectacular play. Weis laid a foundation last year that is allowing him to go after true superstar potential this year. And the superstars are flocking to South Bend this weekend for the spring Blue-Gold game.

Among those listed by Tom lemming as coming for the game is the most wanted man on the Irish recruiting hit list, defensive tackle Marvin Austin out of Washington, D.C. The one gaping hole not filled last year is at defensive tackle, where the Irish failed to land one true big man and numbers will become laughably thin after Laws and Landri go on to NFL paychecks. Austin, in Idolspeak, is the bomb. He's 6'3", 290-300 pounds, absurdly athletic for a defensive tackle (he runs sprints in track!) and is the considered the type of player offenses have to game plan around. Not far behind Austin on the hit list is tackle Joseph Barksdale, the Detroit, MI star is also coming in for some Blue-Gold love and has offers from all of the top schools.

If Austin is the steak, quarterback Jimmy Clausen is the sizzle. Some have called him the LeBron James of high school football. Clausen is the most highly sought after prospect the Irish have recruited since Ron Powlus. His recruitment could be even more important because five star wide receiver prospects Arrelious Benn of Washington, D.C., Duval Kamara of Hoboken, N.J. and Greg Little of Durham, N.C. are all watching closely. If Clausen commits, one or more could follow. If all of them jump on board, Notre Dame will have recruited its best skill position haul of the modern era and created a 21st century four horsemen of the apocalypse that no defensive coordinator will want to see on tape, no less in person. That's how important Clausen has become.

Also visiting is Clausen's teammate, running back Marc Tyler, son of Wendell Tyler and the top running back recruit on Notre Dame's board. The best tightend in the land is Mike Ragone out of Cherry Hill, N.J., those who have seen his tape say he could be the best Notre Dame has recruited and certainly the fastest, which is profound if you think about the conga line of top tight ends that have played in South Bend. Note that all of the above mentioned players, except Little, have been offered and are being recruited heavily by USC and two are in Poodle's backyard. Their school choices will send an unmistakable message that the talent flow spigot has been turned back on in the Bend (after years of Davingham stepping all over their hoses.)

Among my top three Irish targets on defense, along with Austin are defensive end Ben Martin out of Cincinnati and a hammer of a safety in Major Wright from Fort Lauderdale, Fl. Wright and Austin are coming in for the game this weekend. Martin gives you speed on the end that only comes along once in very long time and is Ohio State's top recruit for the position, as well as Notre Dame's top target. Wright is a flat out game changer who just destroys opponents at the point of contact. Those three players are the Clausen, Benn and Ragone of the defense in my mind. There's another Jersey Boy coming in this weekend as well, defensive end Justin Trattou of Don Bosco prep school, considered among the top defensive ends in the country and a top five player in the state of New Jersey.

Also coming in, according to Lemming is Robert Hughes a fullback from Chicago, Mike Romine, a highly recruited offensive lineman out of Tulsa, Ok. and another top offensive line target, Lee Ziemba, from Rogers Arkansas.

Weis has set the table to really go after only the cream of the crop this year. Last year Notre Dame entered back into the nations elite with a solid and deep class, this year the Irish are going after a haul for the ages and the hope is that the dominos will start falling this weekend.

~ The Rock

There is ONE signed copy of The Rock's first book left at the Barnes and Noble on Walnut Street in Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia. If you're in Philly, it's up on the third floor in the fiction section. Read the latest reader reviews on Amazon.com.

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

The Ten Secrets

4.18 - How Far We've Come

The spring Blue-Gold game is upon us: pollen clogging the senses, an inordinate amount of focus on what weight your key player came out of winter conditioning at (mine: Landri @ 277) and a glimpse at what every fan secretly hopes is the next National Championship team.

The problem is that you just can't tell much from a spring game. Countless spring MVPs have never done anything significant on the football field afterward. It's all good and fun, but in the end is just what Weis calls: "A Dog and Pony Show." And that's just fine for most. It is a chance to see your favorite players up close without all of the gameday hullabaloo, and of course, a great excuse to go drinking with your buddies. To quote JVan: "Bob Davie is the only Notre Dame coach to lose a spring game."

A quick rant: This year's game is sponsored by "Chick-fil-A." When did Notre Dame Football become a NASCAR event? Dr. White (what exactly is he a Dr. of?) should be forced to wear an "Eat Mor Chikin" t-shirt to his cocktail parties until he finds a suitable sponsor or dumps the hawking of Notre Dame Football all together.

See, there are only two ways to not make a boatload of money off of Notre Dame football: 1. Fielding an inferior product and 2. Ruining the brand name by selling out to the highest bidder and diluting the most treasured name in collegiate sports.

When parents were asked to name their dream schools for their children, along with Harvard and
Princeton, Notre Dame was in the top five. That's how powerful the brand name is right now.

Memo to Dr. White: Your first job is not to maximize revenue on the back of Notre Dame Football, it is first and foremost is to preserve everything that Notre Dame stands for and to do this at all cost. If you do this, it will be impossible not to make money. In short, your job isn't to try to squeeze more eggs out of a progressively weaker goose, just keep the damn goose healthy and strong and you'll have more than enough. Oh yeah, and next time not to agree to a crappy BCS deal that will likely cost the University 10-million a year in BCS revenue while Weis is coach. If you had just concentrated on putting a great product on the field, we wouldn't have been in a position to have a BCS dung sandwich shoved down our throats. Instead you were working on a whiz bang Jumbotron that "might" bring in two million a year in gaudy advertising that would dramatically change the atmosphere at the stadium for the worse and ultmately cost more actual dollars by harming the brand. Tennessee fans came here and called Notre Dame "football's cathedral." There's no need to turn the Sistine Chapel into a garish tele-evangelist money grubbing flea market to sell still more ND stuff. Notre Dame does not need to try to "maximize every available revenue stream" from its football program. In this case less is more. Keep the brand strong, don't dilute it and you can't help but make money.

Okay done channeling Simon Cowell, on to brighter things.

We'll do a spring recap and a recruiting update soon, but now is a great time to reflect on how far we've come. If you haven't seen oldies' video of last year's team, do yourself a favor, shut the windows, put on the video and start yelling at your computer like it's a television on gameday.

Meanwhile, FunkDoctorSpock, has posted this reminder to all of us to appreciate how far we've come in just over a year:

(Warning: The following is not meant as a "Just Trust Charlie" post. It is not in any way saying that Weis is incapable of making mistakes, either large or small. It is not an endorsement of the coaching acumen of Rick Minter. It is not an attempt to argue that Notre Dame does not have significant holes on its football team. Thank you and have a nice day.)

In some respects, Weis is a victim of his own success. Everything changed for ND after the USC game. And there is nothing wrong with that. ND fans are supposed to expect great things from the football program. It is in our DNA. Every coach is held to that standard. But that does not mean that we should forget just how far the program has come in roughly 16 months.

Weis inherited a program that was, based strictly on wins and losses, at its lowest point in over forty years. The 13 losses in two years were by far the most for the Irish since the days of Joe Kuharich (13 losses in 1960 and 1961).

Willingham inherited a team that had gone 14-9 in the two years before he arrived. For
Davie, a team that had gone 17-6. For Holtz, 12-11. For Faust, 16-6-1. For Devine, 21-2. For Ara, 7-12. For Weis, 11-13.

Also, the program went through what is without question the worst ten game stretch in its history during the tenure of the previous staff. The rate of blow out losses was unprecedented.

This is to say nothing of the public relations debacle that was only made worse by the clumsy way in which the firing of Willingham was handled by the University.

Since his arrival on campus, the total of Weis's work has been impressive. Not perfect, not infallible - but impressive nonetheless.

The characterization of his first recruiting class is up for debate. It was deliberately kept small in order to save scholarships for the future. Weis was not able to hold onto players such as Brandon Harrison, Lawrence Wilson and David Nelson. Unlike Willingham, he was not able to pull off a "wow" type suprise like the commitment of Rhema McKnight. The fact that the class was basically on par with the previous recruiting class can be characterized as an achievement or a failure, depending on one's perspective.

The first full recruiting campaign saw a distinct change in the M.O. of the ND football program. Weis was on the road in May more than any coach, either at ND or just about anywhere else for that matter, in recent memory. Prior to coaching his first game, he and his staff were able secure verbal commitments from several elite prospects, the most highly sought after being 5 star running back James Aldridge.

As the season unfolded, a huge concern for many fans was the lack of offers, and more importantly, the lack of commitments by top flight offensive linemen. Only Bartley Webb had made an oral/verbal/ejaculatory commitment to ND. Did this staff truly understand the dire need for quality OL on the roster? The staff lost out on OL they wanted, some going to places like Virginia Tech and
Alabama. However, on signing day, Notre Dame signed what is considered to be the best OL group in the country. ND took not one, but two elite OL prospects out of the state of Florida.

There were certainly missteps along the way. Both Butch Lewis and Gerald McCoy slipped away from the Irish, leaving the class short of an elite DT. This failure can not be ignored. The situation and need for DT's this year is just as acute as the need for OL was last year.

What is interesting is much of the same type of chatter is beginning to pop up on message boards. Not enough DT's have been offered, etc. This was being said about OL around August and September of 2005. Today is April 18th. Again, this is not an "oh, lets just assume that all is well and ND will definitely get quality DT's in this class". But there is evidence to indicate that this group of coaches knows how to effectively attack a recruiting campaign.

Overall, ND signed what was ranked by Rivals as being the #8 class in the country and by Scout as the #5 class.

Willingham's first group was rated #12 and #5. As for coaches that we all would hope that Weis is more in line with, lets take a look at Pete Carroll and Jim Tressel.

Carroll's first full class was ranked #12 by Rivals and #13 by Scout.
Tressel's first full class was ranked #5 by Rivals and #3 by Scout.

These rankings are not the be all and end all of measuring a recruiting class, but they are at least one indicator. Weis is slightly behind Tressel and slightly ahead of Carroll in this area.

Here is something else to consider in regards to recruiting. Last year, the first two commits were both on offense - a RB and a WR. This year, the first two are on defense - a DE and a LB.

Moving along to on the field performance. ND ended Weis's first season 9-3 ranked #9/#11, and in the BCS. The three losses were by a total of 20 points to #2 USC, #4
Ohio State, and 5-6 and unranked Michigan State. It was the first time that ND had finished in the Top 10 in either poll since 1993 and the first time that ND had finished ranked 11th or higher since 1995.

Overall, this was easily the best debut season for an Irish coach since Ara in 1964. Willinghams first team finished 10-3 in 2002 but finished outside the top 15 and the three losses were by an average of 20 points, not by a total of 20 points.

The season was without question a success on the offensive side of the ball. Jeff Samardzija was a consensus All American, ND's first in years. Brady Quinn finished 4th in the Heisman voting, the best showing by an ND player since Reggie Brooks finished 4th in 1992. Numerous offense records were not only broken, but shattered.

However, numerous questions remain on defense. The defense took a step backwards overall. While ND finished ranked higher in Pass Defense and Pass Efficiency Defense, the Irish were lower in Total Defense, Scoring Defense and Rushing Defense. ND gave up 34 point or more in each of the three losses. The defense was plagued by big plays all season, and this was obvious for all the world to see in the Fiesta Bowl.

But Weis had more success in his first year than the following coaches who won National Championships - Bob Stoops, Jim Tressel, Nick Saban and Pete Carroll.

Stoops took over a team that had gone 9-14 the previous two seasons and finished 7-5

Saban took over a team that had gone 7-15 the previous two seasons and finished 8-4.

Tressel took over a team that had gone 14-10 the previous two seasons and finished 7-6.

Carroll took over a team that had gone 11-13 the previous two seasons and finished 6-6.

Again, Weis took over a team that had gone 11-13 the previous two seasons and finished 9-3.

Does this mean that Weis will without question have the success that those coaches had? Of course not. One need look no further than Tyrone Willingham to understand that the first season is not the be all and end all for a coach.

And that is the ghost that I believe haunts many a Notre Dame fan today. Many were burned by the fools gold of Willinghams first season. I admit that I was among that group of fans.

Also weighing heavily on peoples minds is the egg that the team laid in the Fiesta Bowl. Even Bob Davie got ND to the BCS once.

Weis has made, and will continue to make, mistakes in recruiting, in game day decisions, etc. At times he will be out-coached. He will lose players on the recruiting trail. He is far from perfect. There has to be a happy medium between 'Charlie is God' and the other end of the spectrum.

What is impossible to deny is the progress that this program has made in a short time. ND fans should once again embrace and expect the results that one should associate with Notre Dame football. Weis certainly does. However, it does no harm to take a moment to truly appreciate the distance we have come

Apologies for the recent absence. I've been working on simultaneous book projects while engineering a career change and got buried in the minutiae.

~ The Rock

4.3 - Rockne's Secrets of Success - Parts 1-3

The following articles are taken from the Honolulu Star Bulletin

Part I

COACH Knute Rockne (1888-1931) was a man who looked for inspiration in unlikely places. He studied, developed, and put into use many of the successful motivational principles we take for granted today.

For instance, his thinking was so outside the box that Rockne studied dance troupes so that he could integrate the tempo, precision, and gracefulness of these dancers into his teams' trainings at Notre Dame.

He produced 20 first-team All-Americans and many top pro players, coaches, and career professionals. Now you can use these same principles to accelerate your own success in business and life.

As you read on, think about what great things you can accomplish if you were to apply these same principles of success in your life. How can you help your team be the best they can be?

» Look for ways to do things better than anyone else.

At the age of 19, when Rockne was working as a postal dispatcher in Chicago, he memorized every delivery route on the map. This activated his brain and challenged his memory.
Coach's insight: Focus is what made the difference for Knute. He knew he was not going to be a postal worker forever. So he focused on the fact that he was saving for college. He saw an opportunity to actually prepare for college while he was working, and focused on his long-term goals rather than the current situation.

By doing this, he improved his memory skills and freed his mind to focus on his goals and not waste time on fruitless distractions.

» Think of new and unique ways to overcome challenges and solve problems.
At a time when studying tapes of opponents' previous games was just a dream, Rockne once again thought outside of the box. He developed a team structure that would yield the information he needed to win. Knute used a two-team system where he would start his second team with strong defensive skills and a good punter in the first quarter. Their job was to play the first quarter without giving up any points. Meanwhile, Knute would huddle with the lighter, faster first team to observe and analyze the second team in order to decide what approach to use. The first team's mission was to score points during the remaining periods.
Coach's insight: Sometimes, what may seem like a step back can be a way to create the energy needed to lunge forward with full power.

Stepping back to observe and analyze when we want to move forward can be very difficult. It does no good to run into a situation if you don't have all the information you need, no matter how motivated you are.


Part 2
COACH Knute Rockne gives us a great model for success in business -- if we just look at the clues his strategies provide. Last week we covered two of his strategies. Here are strategies three and four:

» Keep an eye on the long-term goal, and plan according to that view.

Rockne knew this was a critical ingredient to the success of his team, and developed another exclusive practice that is now used by most schools.

By adding a new spring football practice, he was able to get a glimpse of the future. He wanted to see what his team would look like in the fall. So the spring practice gave him a chance to see what he had to work with. He could then plan and make adjustments far in advance of the regular season's play.

Coach's insight: It is helpful to see into the future as much as possible and develop a plan based on that vision.

Great leaders never plan based on what the current situation is. If they do, by the time the action is taken, it's too late.

When IBM was ready to release a new computer in the late '60s, it decided to scrap the entire model line, even though it was ready to roll. Why? Because the CEO at that time made a "you bet your company" decision, and it paid off, big time!

What was this decision based on? The current market? No. It was based on what the market and competition would look like in 2+ years. IBM jumped ahead of the curve by seeing into the future. They planned based on that vision.

» Do not let obstacles stand in your way. If an obstacle appears, find a way around, over, under, or through it.

Rockne would not let obstacles stand in his way. When he agreed to take his first coaching position he had no assistants to help him. He did it all -- coaching defense and offense-- and worked as the teams' trainer. On top of that, he taught chemistry and coached track at Notre Dame to support his growing family. (Sound familiar to you entrepreneurs/ business owners?)
Knute's reward? Under his coaching, Notre Dame won 105 games, lost only 12, and tied five. His teams went undefeated for five seasons! He was one of the first people to be inducted into the Football Hall of Fame in 1951.

Coach's insight: Very often in life, it is the challenges or perceived obstacles that eventually yield the greatest growth for us. By focusing on the big picture and your long-term goals, you will more likely see the challenge set before you on a more accurate scale. Rather than a mountain, it can often take the shape of a mogul on a ski slope. Moguls can be fun and often are put there to make our trip down the slope easier.

Part 3
For the past two weeks, we have been looking at how Coach Knute Rockne, football's first Hall of Fame recipient, used four success principles to lead his teams to victory and set many standards that the National Football League follows to this day.
Today, we'll look at how he applied Success Principle No. 5, one of the most important factors
that professionals can use:

» Small adjustments made on a consistent basis create winners.

Rockne recognized that small, incremental improvements are what made the difference between winning and losing. He introduced the satin pants that the team still wears in order to cut down on wind resistance. He was constantly tweaking equipment to reduce weight while increasing flexibility and protection.

Coach's insight: So many people in life wait for their "big chance" that never seems to come along. How many people do you know, hear, or read about who just stepped into the winner's circle in one fell swoop? I'd imagine that, if you are really looking at what it took to get that person to the point where they are today, that you can't think of anyone.

Celebrities who seem like "overnight" successes will tell you how long and hard the road was to get them to where they are today. But they persisted. They took voice coaching and acting lessons, and even failed on a few attempts climbing their way up. But, with each failure, came wonderful learning opportunities that took them up the next step to the top of their mountain of fame and fortune.

It takes time to become the person that can handle a certain level of success. The person who reaches the goal is not the same person who set the goal. (Think about that for a moment.)
Over time, with incremental improvements to help us grow and challenges to overcome, we become the person who can achieve and maintain a higher level of success.
Stop waiting for that "right time" and go out and make it happen. Take a cue from Knute Rockne and day-by-day you will achieve your dreams.

What can you do in your business or profession this week that will make you just 10 percent better than who you were last week or last month?

What innovative strategy can you implement in your industry that will set you just 10 percent apart from your competitors who all basically do the same thing?

Ask yourself these two questions for the next 21 days, and see how it sets you apart to join the winner's circle for increased profits, salary, bonuses, and personal satisfaction.

Then do 10 percent better!

4.2 - A Special Day

Sunday is a day of worship, so we'll spend an extra day sharing the thoughts of those who trecked out to the Flint Hills of Kansas to pay their respects to Rock.

First from Pangborn76:

It is now past 1:30 a.m. PST here in rainy, cold northern California. Yesterday was one of those "Notre Dame moments" that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

It was a quick and easy 25 minute drive from the motel in Emporia over to the historic one room schoolhouse where we assembled to venture across the treeless, blue stem grass prairie to the historic site. Although at first glance bleak, sparsely populated and desolate, the Flint Hills are actually impressive, giving off a feeling of the power of the land. Perhaps it was appropriate that Rockne met his temporal end here--the embodiment of the American Dream, in the heartland of America.

Getting there from highway 177, we traveled on school buses belonging to the local Chase County school district over an established "two track" road, which rose and fell and forded a stream before heading uphill to the monument. The owner of the land, Leonard Cornelius, is a resident of Texas but has a home built into the side of one of the hills clearly visible from the monument site. Thanks to him for permitting all of us to enter his property for the ceremonies. There were no cattle present on the property, but cattle will be trucked in from Texas within the next 30 days to feast on the blue stem pasture grasses.

I was impressed that media showed up to cover the proceedings--in fact, in addition to Ivan Maisel of ESPN, reporters from the Topeka Capitol-Journal and Kansas City Star were on hand, as well as two television crews (I spoke with the men from KSNW-TV Wichita/Kansas State Network). Maisel told me that he was assigned to travel to Manhattan, Kansas (the Bob Huggins story), and then, when he got out to Kansas, his desk instructed him to check out the Rockne memorial.

Two priests were present at the ceremony--Fr. Joe Eckberg gave the invocation and blessing of the memorial site, while Fr. Patrick Malone of Holy Saviour parish in Wichita said the benediction. Pat Reis '85 was emcee, and Pat Smith '67, the owner of a local cattle trucking firm, gave a nice talk about the history and significance of the Flint Hills region. Mr. Smith's remarks ended promptly at 10:48 local time, when a moment of silence was observed, and a flyover by a vintage (1948) single-engine aircraft occurred. Douglas Lingwood performed "Danny Boy" and "Amazing Grace" on the bagpipes. A wreath laying took place, and Bernie Kish (now working at the University of Kansas) presented Easter Heathman with a "shadow box" containing the interlocking ND. The ceremonies started at about 10:20 a.m. and concluded at about 11:15 a.m. The weather could not have cooperated more--it was in the low to mid 60s and perfectly sunny (the wind was maybe 20 mph). The cellular tower with which my Treo communicated was reported to me to be 11 miles away (it was on a ridge that presumably had line of sight with portions of the Kansas Turnpike).

One thing that remains constant about Notre Dame functions like this is the warmth and hospitality of those who put them on. I was lucky enough to have had the chance to shake hands and speak with Easter Heathman and his daughter Sue Ann Brown, as well as with a number of alums and friends of the university that attended. I didn't stay for lunch, but I understood that Mrs. Brown was assisted in putting on the luncheon by members of the local Ladies' Aid Society. Every attempt was made to make everyone feel welcome. I hope that I can be in a position some day to reciprocate.


With a follow from Bullhauler:

After the ceremony at the monument site, we all traveled back to the school house for lunch and an expanded discussion of Rockne etc. Well Easter was very late in arriving at the school.

Turns out that he absolutely insisted that his grandchildren get some baling wire out of his vehicle and wire the two boquets to their stands so they would stand proud and the wind would not blow them around. This task had to be done to his standards, and he wasn't going to leave til the mission was accomplished and all was secure.

Now that's just vintage Easter Heathman ...

Then this recount from iNDy-Irishfan:

I just finished my drive back from Kansas to see the city of Indy all abuzz for the final four. with all its glamour, it pales in comparison to the day I wintessed yesterday. I was a witness to one of the most awesome sites in the world in the Flint Hills of Kansas. Pat Smith '67, told us it was the largest continuous pastures in the world. With the Golden color of the pasture and the cloudless Blue sky it felt like ther was no where els I should be at that time.

We had started gathering a little past 9:00 am at the schoolhouse just a couple of miles from the crash site. they had 3 school buses to take us out to the site and a couple ot htem made more than one trip, by the time we were all out there I would say there were between 150 and 200 people out at the site.

John Happer who was on the plane with Rock was represented by about 9 family members,One of the Pilots was represented by a nephew, and There were members of the family present of Rockne's best friend Dr Nigro. It was really interesting listening to John Happer's daughter-in=law we chatted for a while and she told me that her husband was just a boy when it had happened but that they go out every year to pay respects.

It was a thrill to hear Easter recite Rockne's Prayer:
Dear Lord
In the Battle that goes on through life
I ask for a field that is fair,
a chance that is equal with all in strife
and courage to da and to dare;
and if I should win, let it be by the code,
my faith and honor held high;
and if I should lose, let me stand by the road
and cheer as the winner rides by.

They laid 2 wreaths at the monument one rectangular blue and gold carnations with the interling ND and the other a circular wreath that included 8 roses one for each person on the flight. After a moment of silence there was a flyover by a yellow 1948 plane that looked to be a piper cub. That set the waterworks going for me, I was all choked up. afterwards the played the fight song and the alma mater which was written for Rockne's funeral.

While out at the site Bernie Kish presented Easter with a shadow box with the interlocking ND. This is given By Notre Dame to Heisman Trophy winners when they return to Notre Dame and to dignitaries such as Condeleeza Rice.

All in all it was like a slice of heaven out there in that pasture on that day. Everyone was so friendly ad the whole thing was very well planned. I personally would like to thank the the Witchita Notre Dame Knute Rockne Memorial Club, Pat Reis '85, Pat Smith '67, Sue Ann Brown (Easter's Daughter), as well as the local Ladies' Aid Society who put on a fine luncheon and made us all feel very welcome. And a very special thanks to Easter Heathman who has cared for this site and has passed his story on to so many peopleand not just of Rockne but of everyone on that plane on March 31st 1931.

It was a trip I am very glad that I made. To all those I met and had a chance to talk to thank you for making it a wonderful trip.

3.31 - Rest in Peace, Rock

Then again, Rock probably ain't restin'. More likely he's got angels practicing a winged version of "the shift":
In the shift, all four backs were still in motion at the snap. Opponents were so dumbfounded by the shift that they couldn't find a consistent way to handle it. The rules board finally enacted a law against the shift.
ND8486 shared these thoughts of Rock's memorial(and iNDy-IrishFan, these pictures) to give you a feel for the day and the moment.
After supper tonight we gathered the kids and I got out the Denver Post newspapers from 3-31 and 4-1 1931. My wife's grandmother saved these. These were the only newspapers she ever saved. Her notes on the side mention her husband aged 32 wept at the news.
We read through the articles and looked at the pictures. The boys had lots of questions. We tried our best to answer them. I heard recently that Rockne's fame was only rivaled by Will Rogers at the time. He too died in a plane crash.

I think my wife's family was like4 a lot of Catholic families all over the country then. No connection to Notre Dame except the football team to follow in the papers and on the radio and the team's greatest coach. I'm sure the idea of this small Catholic team becoming the best in the land inspired many families like hers.

57 years later a member of that family (my wife) finally enrolled as a student at Notre Dame.

Their love of the idea of the place and everything it stands for was theirs to be part of forever.

Rest in peace, Rock. You did more than you could ever know. - ND8486