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In Wilbon's World

Expect less, South Bend

It's been 21 years since the Fighting Irish played for the national championship in college football, and it's killing Notre Dame. Bob Davie didn't make it and was fired. Tyrone Willingham didn't make it and was fired. Charlie Weis didn't make it and now he's been fired. So Notre Dame will look again, attempt to woo whoever the school thinks can return the football program to its presumed rightful place at the top of the college football pyramid. They can't stand an absence this long.

Since Notre Dame started winning football championships, in 1929 it's never gone this long -- 21 years -- without winning. Everybody's won since Notre Dame has, and by everybody I mean Alabama, Michigan, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Southern Cal, Nebraska, Tennessee, Texas, Florida State, Florida, Miami, LSU ... all the heavyweights. Okay, Penn State hasn't won in that period but the Nittany Lions did go 12-0 in 1994. So all the heavy hitters have won the championship or gone undefeated since Notre Dame last did. And they don't like that in South Bend, where they still think it's their birthright to win national championships.

Charlie Weis, who declared his superiority as a strategist the day he was hired, was no closer than Willingham and Davie, which is why he had to be fired, even if Notre Dame will pay millions of dollars to Weis for the stupidity of giving him a 10-year extension before he proved he could win. It's difficult to discern who was more arrogant, Weis or school officials who handed him the contract. Of course, it won't stop Notre Dame from going after the biggest names in the business.

Maryland might be scared off by a price tag of $9 million or so to meet current contract obligations and hire a new hot shot, but there's no such fear at Notre Dame. Bob Stoops, what with folks at Oklahoma getting restless for him to return to the winner's circle, Nick Saban, for enough dough, is always available. One would think that Jon Gruden could be pried out of the Monday Night Football booth to return "home" to South Bend where his dad coached to turn it around. Cincinnati's Brian Kelly has the resume (undefeated at Cincinnati) and the right last name to be coveted at Notre Dame. And as a Northwestern alum, I certainly hope ND gets one of the above because a kid named Pat Fitzgerald from the South Side of Chicago who has won 17 games in his last two seasons in the Big Ten and knows the recruiting ground already and how to coach/graduate kids at an incredible rate isn't going to escape notice in South Bend for long.

The question is, will the absurd expectations, which haven't been met in two decades, scare off the best coaches? Why would Urban Meyer leave Florida, as some in South Bend thought? He wouldn't, of course. It's a backward move for Meyer, for Stoops, for Pete Carroll, for any coach who already has a top 10 program. Notre Dame folks don't live in the reality of today, where everybody is on television, where everybody can recruit players good enough to one day play in the NFL. The college football landscape has changed dramatically since Notre Dame was last a national threat. And their dream list of coaches, which we're now told includes Tony Dungy, demonstrates just how out-of-touch Notre Dame is with this new world of college football, one in which Texas Christian and Boise State can be better than Southern Cal.

Florida State is about to be introduced to this world, too, although forcing Bobby Bowden, 80, into retirement now is likely what school officials figured they had to do if FSU is ever again going to catch the University of Florida. If they were inclined to let Bowden have one more take-a-bow season, getting thumped the way the Seminoles did by the Gators Saturday had to throw the decision-makers at FSU into a panic. Not surprisingly, they decided Bowden had to go now. Bowden won two championships at Florida State since Notre Dame last won. And in Florida State's first nine seasons in the league, Bowden went 70-2 with nine league titles. At one stretch, his FSU teams were ranked in the top 5 for 14 straight seasons. He and Paterno simply have to be the best two coaches in college football since Bear Bryant. But the falloff has been so dramatic the last three years there was simply no reason to think FSU would return to the top 10 -- and still might not under Jimbo Fisher -- without Bowden's removal or forced retirement. It had become fairly clear by now that he wasn't going unless he had to.

Coaches have often said they're reluctant to retire because they fear death is right around the corner. I've looked at Bowden railing against retirement in recent years, especially this year, and wondered how much he's experiencing that fear, of life and football being one in the same for him, of feeling irrelevant without going to that office every day, meeting with assistants and watching film and meeting with players, without being on the practice fields, without game days. But the man who essentially invented Florida State football as we know it became a victim of his own outrageous success in the 1980s and 1990s. And places with expectations, like Notre Dame and Florida State, don't like not living up to them, no matter the cost, no matter who has to be thrown overboard in the process. So, the band plays on.


Michael Wilbon

 |  December 1, 2009; 1:14 PM ET  |  Category:  College Football , NFL Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Why does nobody ever bring up that Notre Dame does not grant redshirts unless its a medical one? This puts their program at a huge disadvantage.

Posted by: ironman20740 | December 8, 2009 12:11 PM
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bigmac is right, ND should expect the best year in and year out. I can't stand ND but they're easier to hate when they're good.

If you want to rebuild a program, you start with the defense. A good defense will keep you in games you shouldn't be in and give you time to implement an offense.

With that said, ND should hire Gary Patterson away from TCU. I live in Fort Worth and trust me, the guy can flat out coach, especially defense. He is a master of taking a high school linebacker and spinning him down into a blazing edge rusher; turning a safety into a blazing linebacker, etc. Anyone familiar with Jimmy Johnson's days with the U knows how effective that approach can be.

Want to talk about coaching kids up? Patterson gets to pick kids in Texas after UT, OU, A&M & LSU have taken their share, he does not do well in recruiting head to head with those schools. He competes for recruits against Texas Tech, UH and Oklahoma State and only wins about 30-40% of those recruiting battles.

Rant over. Hire Patterson.

Posted by: sleastacks | December 1, 2009 5:28 PM
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Jimmy Carter once told Americans to expect less. They promptly voted him out of office and replaced him with Ronald Reagan, who said we should continue to strive for greatness and expect more from each other and for this country. Notre Dame feels the same way about football as Americans feel about their country. They refuse to expect less and continue to strive for greatness. If Ara Parseghian and Lou Holtz (who were both told that Notre Dame couldn't be great anymore, but ignored the skeptics and won national championships) say that Notre Dame can be great again, I will side with them over a sports writer.

Posted by: bigmac128 | December 1, 2009 5:02 PM
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ND gets what it deserves; Karma for the shabby treatment of Ty's tenure is a bitch, ain't it?

I'm not against FSU wanting to let Bowden go. Sometimes a Great is shown the door (see Eddie Robinson/Grambling for an example).

If Bowden were available, would Maryland hire him to replace Fridge? I mean, if he is still viable, why not? But they wouldn't because he's been done for a few years now; it was time. Not pretty but sometimes the Great ones outstay their welcome and have to be forced out to make way for new blood.

Let JoePa have kept on losing, they woulda done to him too...they've been trying for awhile now til he turned it around.

The BCS is helping dictate moves like this more than Alums and AD's and Prexys. This is Pro Football for everyone but the players and wins/money matter more than memories.

Posted by: kahlua87 | December 1, 2009 4:55 PM
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