It’s so hard for a choosy guy like me to pick my favorite media cliché that best represents the penis envy of every N.D.-hating moron with a pen or a microphone. From “N.D. is racist” (for firing an incompetent moron) to “The academic standards are too high to recruit top athletes,” the choices are wide and varied.
For me, though, I’d have to say that the brain-fart I enjoy most is the race-baiting, anti-N.D. media figures, struggling to come up with valid criticisms of Charlie Weis now that the firing of Tyrone “Radio” Willingham has been justified about 15 times over, clinging to their last bastion of hope: Weis is winning with Ty’s players.
It’s a notion that comes up from time to time by those who have some level of an ax to grind with a given program, usually after they’ve fired a head coach under visible circumstances – I’ve even heard it tossed around about Jon Gruden’s Super Bowl season (with “Dungy’s players”), as if Tony Dungy had anything more to do with that roster than a few first-round playoff exits and watching his star players implode and mail it in once the postseason hits.
If anything, it’s most often a seriously damning indictment of the coach’s predecessor, because if the prior man-in-charge legitimately had the same collection of players, he apparently couldn’t accomplish the same things as his replacement. In other words, I took the same guys and did what you couldn’t.
Having said this, legitimate examples do exist of this phenomenon taking place under the appropriate circumstances. We do occasionally see a very accomplished coach step down and have his less-skilled successor manage to keep things afloat for a season or two before steering the program onto a sandbar. And in these cases, the successor was without a doubt winning due to the prior coach’s players (or perhaps more appropriately, winning with the prior coach’s system – players, ethics, principles, etc., which inevitably linger in the short-term of their mentor’s departure).
A great example is Tom Osborne resigning after building a dynasty at Nebraska, which culminated in 3 national titles in 4 years before retiring after the 1997 season. His replacement Frank Solich stepped in and actually put together a string of decent seasons, from their near-miss 1999 squad that finished 12-1 and obliterated defending national champ Tennessee in the Fiesta Bowl (and probably deserved to play F.S.U. for the title over the mighty Hokies, who built their unbeaten season on 1-AA patsies) to the 2001 team that played Miami in the B.C.S. championship game.
Right around there, however, is where the program no longer had any remnants of the Osborne era on its roster, and the program not-so-coincidentally became suddenly and alarmingly ordinary. The Huskers ceased to be competitive with the stronger programs in their own conference – let alone the entire nation — and Solich was canned in the aftermath of the 2003 season.
But perhaps the absolute gold standard of piggy-backing a prior coach’s success is none other than Uncle Fester himself, Miami’s Larry Coker. Prior to taking over at the helm in 2001, the Miami program had been resurrected from the dead by Butch Davis.
Saddled with sanctions, scholarship reductions, and bizarre off-the-field instances (including finding one of their players laying dead in his apartment bathtub), the Hurricane program was a total and literal shit heap. The best players in the state were now heading north to play for Steve Spurrier’s Fun & Gun Gators or to Tallahassee to take advantage of Bobby Bowden’s outstanding Free Shoes and Merchandise Plan at Florida State.
Davis took over and recruited both athletes and accountability. Team unity was developed. The same program filled with a roster full of thugs on the take from rapper Luther Campbell just a couple of years prior was now spending its Thanksgiving holiday delivering meals to low-income families in the Miami area. Excellence in all phases of the game became the expectation, and before you knew it, the Miami program that previously maintained a questionable high annual ranking due to flashy skill position players running up big passing stats and scores against weak schedules now had a ridiculously loaded defense and a running game so stacked that future NFL superstar Clinton Portis began his career as a defensive back.
After two straight New Year’s Day dismantlings of Joe Hamilton’s prolific Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and Spurrier’s S.E.C. Champ Gators, Davis bolted for the NFL, leaving Offensive Coordinator Coker as the next in line to run the show. And for 2 straight seasons, he certainly looked the part, winning one national title and coming within one horrific pass interference call of another.
But much like Solich, once the players who were recruited and developed under Davis’ watch were gone (most of them currently spending their winter vacations at the Pro Bowl in Hawaii), the program took a very immediate and precipitous drop, to the point that they didn’t even belong on the same field as L.S.U. to close out last season, and have kicked off 2006 with an even-worse-than-it-looks 1-2 record. He’s now a dead man walking (metaphorically speaking, of course – not literally like Paterno).
University of Miami Head Coach Larry Coker answers questions about his employment status
Going back to my original point, I’d now like for someone to make a reasonable comparison between the above situations and Charlie Weis pulling a top-ten finish out of a program that had spent two years racking up blowout losses at a rate never before seen at the University of Notre Dame. Tell me how the Irish shattered every conceivable passing statistical record, came within one illegal push of beating the #1 team in the nation (who had beaten them by 31 points during each of Willingham’s three seasons), and earned a B.C.S. bowl berth due to the outstanding foundation laid by Tyrone Willingham’s inept staff. Explain to me in credible terms and reasoning how Weis was helped along.
As a compromise, I’ve decided we can make a deal that will make everyone happy: Michael Wilbon (when he’s not on the verge of a stroke on “P.T.I.”), Rod Gilmore (when he’s not giving head through a glory hole in a highway rest stop), Mark May (when he’s not heroically attempting to prove that he’s the biggest moron God ever created), and the Reverend Jesse Jackson (when he’s not…..never mind – it’s too easy) can continue to give Willingham some measure of credit for the players that are currently setting offensive records under Coach Weis.
But in exchange, they all have to come right back next year and give him every bit as much blame for the fact that the Irish will have a whopping total of approximately 20 upperclassmen on scholarships (half of whom likely wouldn’t crack the two-deep portion of the roster of the average Top 30 program), forcing us to throw the freshmen and sophomores from Weis’ first two recruiting classes (not coincidentally ranked in the Top 5) all over the starting line-up. I expect them to remember this when we’re struggling to have a winning record in 2007.
Do we have a deal?