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We need a college coach

Stephen Pladna | Monday, November 9, 2009

I just wanted to vent a little — no big deal. I am not a die-hard fan but I do get upset when we throw away chances to win. I will feel better just putting it down on paper, so to speak. And I realize, too, that there are many, many other facets of Notre Dame than football, but being in the limelight, it gets a lot of press.

Let me preface my remarks by saying that those coaches I will mention I believe to be good, honest people. But I like to make the comparison to Jimmy Carter: he was a nice guy, too. But all three of them were sadly not good at the job they were ultimately given. As an outsider, non-player with a useless opinion, I see how all these people had wonderful skills at one level, that did not transport to the college level.

I am a Notre Dame alum that has seen the Ara years and those since.  I have just finished over half the new book “Resurrection,” if for no other reason than it has quite a lot of history of what went on before. The parallels to now are scary.

I have seen great years, good years and purely dismal years. Winning and losing are all part of the experience, and I can live with both. I have seen some great chances taken by the University in coaching decisions (I, for one, really thought Gerry Faust would be very successful — his high school record was stellar). I have seen the program go through radical shifts and changes in the philosophy of how the team should be built and perform (most turned out adversely). And I have seen (though I was very nervous) the seemingly better chance taken with the advent of Charlie Weis — another coach with purely stellar credentials from a different level of football.

I have seen sad things, too. I saw the university tarnish itself permanently by the early dismissal of Tyrone Willingham. I have seen the proven ways of recruiting and team building — those that brought Notre Dame success — thrown out for something supposedly better (these were where the dismal years came in). And over the last couple of years, I have watched our team consistently shoot itself in the foot many times over.

So here we are. The last four years have been very, very rocky. The team does not seem to be able to stabilize on either the side of mediocrity or the side of excellence.

We have a defense that one minute is stopping teams on the one-foot line for three plays, and the next is allowing totally uncovered receivers to romp into the end zone. (Let me say that I think the defense has shown gargantuan glimmers of greatness, saving at least three games so far in the waning minutes when the offense spent all day putting hardly any points on the board.) I don’t know if game stress or what keeps them so variable,  but if we have anyone to thank for the wins we do have, it is the defense.

I could accept all this if I thought those directing things knew what they were doing, but it sure looks to me like the players are being given lousy choices in plays.

When I see a player that is near the top of the heap in offense, when I see a team that amasses huge amounts of gains (but only between the two 20-yard lines) I am aghast. Notre Dame has unfortunately been totally inept in scoring when they are inside the 20-yard line and have a first down — even inside the ten. I know the real estate gets smaller down there, but come on. We have some fantastic performers and for some crazy reason they cannot play the same when close to the goal. I don’t blame the players, I blame the play calling. What good is the 350 to more than 400 yards of offense per game if it is only gotten running back and forth but not scoring?

We need to go back to our roots. We need a proven college coach like Ara (he had a known, proven record at Northwestern). Heck, most of the coaches since Ara were very good. If you realize that no one can win all the time forever, then it is clear that Notre Dame has shown the ability to find a coach to put us back where we used to be (not winning every year, but certainly among the elite groups). But all the good ones were proven college coaches — not from high school and not from the pros.

I am done now, for what it’s worth. The scary part is that after the Navy game, Coach Weis made the statement that the outcome of this game would not affect the way he coaches. In reading the “Resurrection” book, this is what Devore and Kuharich said.  The parallel I see between Kuharich and Coach Weis is interesting — too close for comfort if you ask me.

When anyone stops learning from their mistakes, they cease to function effectively. Charlie may be trying to prove something that just will not come to pass — just because you want it does not make it happen. You cannot be good at everything in every way (“render unto Caesar”). Notre Dame needs an offensive coordinator really, really badly.


Stephen Pladna is a 1974 graduate. He can be contacted at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.