Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Notre Dame, You're not what you think you are.

The truth is a hard thing to accept especially if you're a "storied" program like Notre Dame. Most people of the 21st century can't recall the glory days of Knute Rockne, The Gipper, The four Horseman and the national championships of days gone by. Much like washed up superstars of any sport, Notre Dame is living on what they once were and not what they are.

Legendary figures like Knute Rockne and Ara Parsegian have been featured in numerous documentaries, movies and news reports extolling their greatness. It seems as though Notre Dame fans, administrators and media fail to realize that big time football has certainly evolved. It's almost as if the school's administrators haven't heard about the invention of electricity. Are they aware that fire has been discovered? Obviously the world of big time college football is still flat in South Bend.

Notre Dame has been through 4 coaches in 18 years since winning their last national championship in the 1990's. Lou Holtz recruited players like Tony Rice, Raghib Ismail and Jerome Bettis. The 1990's hailed the slow death of traditional powers after the NCAA limited scholarships in the 1980's. Now upstart programs like South Florida can compete with Florida, Miami, and Florida State for top tier talent. (Not to mention every state that gets the sloppy seconds) Gone are the days of Joe Montana, Joe Theisman, and Paul Hornung signing with Notre Dame for their religious and the dream of a playing on hallowed ground.

The Boise State's of the world can go into the living rooms of big time recruits and promise a shot at a decent education. They can also sell kids on how they also play against top flight competition and on their relationships with NFL scouts. Sure a recruit can get all of those things at Notre Dame but why go to a school that plays the likes of Navy, Michigan State and Army. Sure they got Brady Quinn, Arnez Battle, Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate to commit there but all of the men that recruited those great players got fired.

Bob Davie, Ty Willingham and Charlie Weiss were all shown the door after having winning records. Weiss was rewarded a raise after getting Notre Dame to a BCS bowl in only his second season. The ten year extension not only made us scratch our collective heads but it also caused us all to know that this would end pretty ugly. There are some key factors that support my rationale.

1. Every coach that were the "hot candidate" during the eras of Davie, Willingham, and Weiss said thanks but no thanks to Notre Dame.

Guess what Notre Lame fans (sorry but I couldn't resist) its still happening. Urban Myer has said no for the second time. Bob Stoopes is a Deity in Oklahoma. Talented coordinators on both sides of the ball have opted to sign deals as "coaches in waiting" (This is more like waiting to cash in on a trust fund when you turn 40 and you're 15 now)

Mack Brown bolted for Texas after a successful tenure at North Carolina, A school not necessarily blessed with a "storied" history for football. What about Jim Tressel's rise from the Division II ranks. Brian Kelley has climbed through the ranks like Mack Brown and Tressel but Kelley will be more of the same at Notre Dame. (Contrary to what the national media is selling us) He's a skinner version of Charlie Weiss with a lot less arrogance.

2. Notre Dame Athletic Director Jim Swarbick is on the hot seat.

Sports administrators at major college football programs take their fair share of criticisms but not nearly as much as they should. He wasn't the guy that fired Willingham. He certainly isn't the imbecile that decided to give Weiss that ten year extension but that seat will get even hotter after Kelly doesn't get it done at Notre Dame. Sure he's been there 18 months but do you think he pulled the trigger because he thought he had to or did the powerful boosters and alumni pull his chain?

3. Kelly isn't a significant upgrade from Charlie Weiss.

Kelley's teams have dominated lesser leagues offensively. The Big East isn't the MAC or Sun Belt. He will see the likes of USC, Michigan, and Michigan State yearly. Sustained success is not something that we should attribute to Kelly's resume. His tenures at Grand Prairie State, Central Michigan and Cincinnati lasted an average of just over three years. He's smart enough not to promise any "schematic" advantages. He needs to show that he can win close games defensively.

It took a last second touchdown for the Bearcats to put away Pitt. Notre Dame lost several close games this year. They're record could have easily been 8-4 or 9-3. Will Kelly commit to both sides of the ball or will he still depend on his offense to compensate for an inefficient defense? Look for him to do what got him there. What got him there will ultimately seal his fate.

4. Will NBC stay in love with mediocrity?

The allure of tradition earned the program an exclusive contract with NBC. Notre Dame has pulled out some hat tricks under their previous regimes to at least seem some what worthy of exclusivity but what if Kelly gets shown the door? What if the occasional 10 win season gets old? Any thing's possible but I don't expect Notre Dame to loose their big time deal. The contract buyouts alone for Weiss in 18 million dollars. Tack on what they had to pay Willingham and Davie to go away, that's a strong indicator that this program has money to burn. Their contract with NBC runs through 2013.

The first year will yield some excitement for change sake but it will take at least two years to recruit the type of players that can run his system. This isn't Cincinnati! Notre Dame still remains one of the top academic institutions in the country. He will find out what Bob Stoopes, Urban Myer, Jon Gruden or any other big name coach already knows. Notre Dame though powerful and mighty at most points in its history, can no longer competed in the new world of college football. It's just that simple. Let the countdown began for the coaching search that will start in 2014.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

What's the exit strategy for Tiger Woods rebuilding his public persona?

I've read several columns by some of the giants of sports writing and was very intrigued by the death sentence that most of them pronounced over Tiger's career. What's strange is that these people have written about Tiger's greatness much like the disciples wrote about Jesus in the gospels. But the cruel irony is that most of the writers all remind you more of Judas more than Matthew, Luke, Mark and John. Tiger has to do a better job of choosing his twelve apostles the next time.

Let's face it, Golf is a country club sport being dominated by a 30 something year-old black guy. The PGA tour's wagon is hitched to Tiger Inc. Woods is the most prominent golfer in an environment that governs the socioeconomic landscape. Some of the most sinister and ferocious business deals are decided over a golf game. This is where the strategy of gradual progress(or the appearance of it) takes place for a multitude of industries. It's where Fuzzy Zoeller can make jokes privately about the masters menu and no one would say, "Cut it out." All of us are different people privately than we are publicly, So why the outrage?

Is it just me or is the coverage of sexual scandals perceived differently by the public? Country club men like Mark Sanford, Elliot Spitzer, Jim Nance, Rodger Clemens, Bill O'Riley and John Edwards draw a different type of indignation from the media. Men like Kwame Kilpatrick, O.J. Simpson, Michael Jordan, Isaiah Thomas, Kobe Bryant and now Tiger Woods (yes Tiger Woods) experience a different public flogging than their white male peers.

In 21st century America, do we still consider Black men as the only sexual deviants? Is Tiger's crime really jungle fever gone wrong thus some of the venom? By the looks of Tiger's mug shot, Elin defied a lot of the stereotypes attributed to the sweet innocent blond. She went off the deep end like most faithful broken hearted women do. (Cue up Jasmine Sullivan) Look for Tyler Perry's Diary of a mad Swedish woman in the fall of 2010. I know, I know I'll move on because this is a sports column right?

So far Tiger has taken some steps at redeeming his image. Here's some key factors to why Tiger will bounce back.

1. The latest statement to the media makes him appear more human than robotic.

Somewhere in middle and urban America, there's a man who identifies with Tiger about compromising his values. Tiger's story was fascinating before but the admiration for Tiger reaches a new plateau. Few will acknowledge or even try to understand how not being wanted can either motivate or send a person on a downward spiral. At first, He was just inspired by Tiger's plight to fulfill his Dad's prophecy of someday ruling the world of the country club's most sacred and prominent sport. Besides this man can probably tell you a thing or two about not being wanted. Especially in certain professional environments. He's even taken some golf lessons to align more with the spirit of what Tiger does and represents. This is way to rub elbows with his peers in his chosen profession. Despite the hostility he perseveres, destroying the stereotypes by performing at a high level equal or even superior to his peers. So for this guy, Tiger Woods will always be a hero because he understands Tiger's real challenge.

2. The public's outrage or lack there of will dictate how fast Tiger recovers.

Don Imus lost his job because the wrong ears heard a very bad but funny joke. (Don't tell me you didn't laugh just a little bit at Imus) The people that defended Imus blamed Al Sharpton for the firestorm but a man with a perm will never have that much power. Advertisers pay attention to whats good for the bottom line and not necessarily to whats politically correct. If enough consumers stop buying Nike's because of Tiger's affair, then and only then will Nike cease its longtime relationship with Woods. Besides they wanna "support" him through this firestorm. God forbid that Reebok swoops in like a knight in shining armor after Tiger successfully repairs his image.

3. America loves a comeback story.

American pop culture has its moments of temporary insanity. We have a fanatical love/hate relationship with our heroes and sheroes. We can to turn on them like faster than a New York minute. Especially after they've exceeded our proverbial limit of success we think they ought to have. Michael Jordan retired after his gambling issues surfaced during the 1993 playoffs. His 1995 return propelled him to new levels of popularity.

Kobe Bryant's return to popularity after his very public fall from grace is even more remarkable. Bryant's rape allegations had an O.J. Simpson like feel to it. He even implicated Shaq during his questioning causing most to still clown him in certain social circles of the NBA. (If you could be a fly on the wall when Kobe's name comes up in a black barbershop you'd really understand) Now after five plus years, Bryant has produced an NBA title. Coupled with MVP awards for the NBA finals and regular season, Kobe has rebuilt his image and regained his endorsements.

Alex Rodgriguez has survived steroid allegations while still playing baseball. Helping the Yankees to a world series and finally peforming in the clutch has temporarily silenced that that scandal. Didn't Nascar quietly settle Maurcia Grant's lawsuit? It's about strategy. A publicist is a public figures best friend.

So all hope isn't lost for Tiger Woods. Reportedly he's changing his prenuptial agreements, getting counseling, and skipping his charitable tournament to prepare for the comeback. If you're over thirty this should remind you of the first line of LL Cool J's 1991 hit "Mama Said Knock you out". LL was wrong about not calling it a comeback. For Tiger it is.......