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Our football players deserve better

Observer Viewpoint | Monday, November 15, 2004

When asked what could be taken from this roller coaster autumn, Irish coach Tyrone Willingham responded, “It’s a winning season.” Our players deserve better than that. All of the athletes at this University deserve special recognition for their efforts and the football players are no different. The group of men that represent this University every Saturday put millions of dollars into the pockets of our school year after year. They put countless hours into training and preparing for their games while we sit on our tails and play football on Xbox, and they attend real classes and earn real degrees when they could have played at a number of schools that would have been happy to hand them a bachelors in scuba diving.

These guys deserve far better than a coaching staff whose only consistent effort comes in lowering the expectations of critics and supporters alike. These athletes aren’t just hard workers either; they are all extremely talented as well. The reason we somehow managed victories against Michigan and Tennessee in the same season that we lost to Pittsburgh, Boston College and BYU is because our athletes have the talent to play with top-10 teams but our coaches don’t have the ability to prepare for the less obvious threats.

Our players deserve better than a defensive coordinator who has known about weaknesses in the secondary from day one, but rather than addressing those issues has simply relied on teams to run the ball against a front seven they know will stop them. Pittsburgh took care of that when Tyler Palko became the first quarterback in history to throw five touchdown passes against the Irish, and 10 games into the season might be a little too late to try to fix the problem before our date with a Heisman candidate in two weeks.

These players deserve better than an offensive coordinator who has had three years to implement his “West Coast” system but is still calling plays that don’t seem to form any kind of recognizable system at all. And before you look to Saturday’s performance as evidence of a leap forward keep in mind the fact that Division I-AA Furman scored the exact same number of points against Pittsburgh and had only 15 yards less than our offense’s 438.

Most of all though, our team deserves better than a head coach whose inability to show emotion has translated into an ability to evoke consistent emotion from his team and has transformed this season from one that could have been historical into one that is mediocre at best. Once again Willingham is asking us to look forward to next year, but there is one huge problem with that. For the seniors that lost their final game in Notre Dame Stadium there is no next year. This was true for the seniors who left Notre Dame with a losing season last year, and the same will be true for the seniors next year if something is not done. With the loss to Pittsburgh, Willingham’s record has dropped below Bob Davie’s record at this point in his tenure, and for the second year in a row Notre Dame has lost half of its home games.

Our players deserve to win all of their home games, they deserve to go to good bowl games, they deserve to win those bowl games, and they deserve a coaching staff that is just as talented as they are. Our athletic director needs to realize that while he may be here for decades, the student-athletes he oversees are here for only four years, and they deserve coaching staffs that will help them achieve the success and rewards that their efforts merit while they are here. Not next year.

Jonathan Umpleby


Fisher Hall

Nov. 15