Can there be a Return to Glory?

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It's been over 20 years since Notre Dame won it's last national championship. Will the Irish be able to content for another anytime soon? (Photo - Robin Alam/Icon SMI)

One would have to go back to the year 1988 to find an undefeated Irish football squad, and the most recent National Championship team. By anyone’s account, that is a long time for such a storied program to reach the apex of college football. While other major programs have endured extreme  downturns over that same time-frame(See Oklahoma, USC, and Alabama) they have each found a way to race back to the top and hoist the trophy at year’s end. What is so perplexing to most Irish fans though, is how their program has remained soiled with the stain of mediocrity.

Since Lou Holtz left Notre Dame in 1996, Irish fans have watched five different men walk the sideline, all with similar results, excluding George O’Leary who never coached a game. Even though the college football world has done everything in their power to help keep the Irish relevant, at times it feels like that ND has turned their back on them. They still refuse to lower academic standards across the boards, that would allow certain athletes into the program. The University still takes a hard stance of the separation of academics and athletics, and while some would commend them, others find a level of hypocrisy in that decision. The days of the Irish being the only team on TV every week are done, and if you also take into consideration the reduction of scholarships, the playing field is a bit more even than what fans witnessed in prior eras.

The University has done a wonderful job of creating and updating the campus, but most would still consider South Bend anything but your typical college town. Instead of being able to blend the existence of city and campus, Notre Dame does its best(and rightfully so ) to separate the two.

The Irish are also fighting the elements during the winter months, and this is one area they cannot contend. While schools like Texas, Alabama, Florida State, and USC can offer incredible scenery and consistently warm weather, the Irish can only offer a dilapidated city and lake effect snow. For all of these reasons and more, the Irish have not only fallen behind other programs, but are dangerously close to losing any remaining relevance in today’s college football landscape.

Conference realignment and a new playoff system is the newest obstacle in Notre Dame’s way.  While the Irish still may find a place to put their piece of the puzzle, it is far from a guarantee. Notre Dame will have to win and win often if they have any hopes of making the four team playoff. In what Bob Bowlsby, the Big 12 Commissioner, deemed an “open marketplace for all schools”, Notre Dame will still have very little room for error. Irish fans will have to be patient and see how this plays out over the next 4-5 years, before passing judgment on this the new system. It will definitely be very interesting to see if it provides a truly viable opportunity for the Irish to have a shot at another National Championship.

That’s not to say that all is dark and gloomy in South Bend, there just seems to be more questions than answers right now. Most fans would recognize the improved play on the field in 2011, over the 2010 season. Even with the not so fond memories of the Jonas Gray’s fumble against South Florida, the final thirty seconds in Ann Arbor, and a second half collapse in Orlando in the Champs Bowl, the Irish improved in a lot of areas on the field last year.

Brian Kelly and staff, meanwhile, have been very busy putting together another very talented recruiting class, and should start seeing the results of their hard work in the upcoming season. The Irish face an extraordinarily tough schedule in 2012, which is rated the #1 toughest by CBS Sports.  While most fans would agree that an undefeated season is not a realistic expectation, they are hoping to see a team that plays consistent and smart football, and challenges teams like Oklahoma and USC from start to finish. If Notre Dame can do all of  this, it is not unreasonable to think they could collect 8-10 wins this season.

If the Irish fan base could convey one clear message to the University and it’s football program, it would probably go something like this:   The days of kids growing up and watching the Irish contend every year on TV are gone. The days of parents who remember the time when the Irish ruled the college football world, and pass those memories along to their kids are slowly fading away. If Notre Dame is ever going to regain its glory, and return to prominence – this is the time to do it. If another five years pass, and the Irish are still living in the world mediocrity, a true resurgence may not be possible.

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  1. Let’s not forget how Notre Dame was robbed of a national championship title in 1993 because of the ludicrous BCS rankings!! Notre Dame will bring he glory days back. Their time is not coming to an end. The Fighting Irish have always had and will always have a strong following of faithful fans! The most faithful in college football! Go Irish!

  2. Who would be able to guide the Irish to the promised land in your view?


  3. I am sure when recruits visit OSU and UM, they get the same feeling about the weather that they do in South Bend. These schools seem to recruit and rebound just fine. The Irish have put some consistent play together over the last few years that we have not seen since appr. 1995…Everett will be the starter. There is great talent on the team and behind Everett and I feel we will be just fine under Kelly’s tutilage….

  4. For more than two decades, Notre Dame has neglected its greatest teaching instrument-its football team. At one time the team’s success made Notre Dame unique. You learned that on any give day you could rise to the challenge and beat anything, or anybody, no matter what the odds. Everyone learned Rudy’s lesson: you never ever gave up. You learned about teamwork and that people who work together will win, whether it be against complex football defenses, or the problems of modern society. The team’s striving for incredible excellence permeated everything at Notre Dame. Every graduate believed that in his life he could take all those lessons and apply them to politics, to public service, to his family life and his faith.

    But two decades of neglect have put all that the University stands for in jeopardy. Who could not watch dumbfounded as the University let one athletic director hire one loser after another. The first an assistant coach- you never ever hire an assistant coach for the toughest coaching job in the nation. He then tried to hire the rambling Irish wreck, who was not even much of a coach, and didn’t even vet him properly. It was a huge embarrassment for the University. To save face he hires another, whose uniqueness as a black head coach makes him initially immune from criticism; but ultimately he is not a great coach. Finally, he tries to buy a big time professional coach, whose waddling across the field is an embarrassment to all great athletes. Even more embarrassing watching him yell at Brady Quinn on national tv. In the end the players gave up on him. The result was the worst football season in a forty years year. Someone was a completely poor judge of men.

    We get a new athletic director who says maybe Notre Dame might win a national championship one day. Hardly a commitment to excellence, when at one time the team fought for the national title every year. Then he hires a new head coach from a second rate football school in ten whole days, hardly an auspicious beginning.

    If you want to be the best, you take time, you prepare, you find the best coach in America. Even then the odds are long.

    It becomes quickly apparent that Brian Kelly is no messiah. There is no quick return to glory. The defensive coordinator the new coach brings allows the opposition 25 points a game on average. There are no shutouts. They lose more games in half a season than Ara Parseghian lost in four years. And this coach too humiliates his players on national TV by yelling at them. Such a lack of dignity and grace under pressure. Imagine, John Wooten, having ever having done such a thing. If they had been coached and trained properly, there would have been no need to yell. I pray that he can grow into the job. And can learn to motivate.

    Even worse the new athletic director says the new coach is like a great corporate ceo. I am reminded of the JFK quote: “My father always told me that all businessmen were sons of bitches, but I never believed it till now.” The team’s integrity has been sold: a new plush stadium, a TV show for the athletic director, gimmick helmets and shoes to promote sales, even a commercial where the sacred fighting Irish leprechaun is used as a prop. Shades of the gecko. Notre Dame football has become a business, not an instrument for learning, self sacrifice, excellence or teamwork.

    Imagine how the players must feel. When I was there you never ever criticized the team. That was gospel. I do not do that now. But, many of the best players in the nation believe Notre Dame has lost its will. And go somewhere else. Jimmy Clausen left early and I heard him say on national TV, he never lost a game until he came to Notre Dame and they went 3-9. And he was a great quarterback.

    Something is still terribly wrong. Not just football, but the University’s acceptance of this bumbling toward pathos and commercialism. Vince Lombardi said it this way: “Once you learn to quit, it becomes a habit.” This failure, this acceptance of failure, this benign neglect affects all the University does and the way it presents itself to the nation.

    Father Hesburgh once said: “ My belief is and always has been that the University ought to do everything, academics, athletics, you name it in a first rate manner.”

    But, the athletic director, the University’s President, the Board of Trustees and the Holy Cross Fathers have accepted something less.

    Unless that changes, what set Notre Dame apart and above, Duke, Yale or Harvard or Stanford, was its belief in itself. At one time the University’s team was an inspiration for poor and middle class kids all across the country, and no other school had such a faithful feeder system or a subway alumni. No other school had such a rich legacy. No other school had Notre Dame’s true grit, or its indomitable spirit. But that is all at risk now. Espn’s current definition of Notre Dame football, mediocrity.

    America’s greatest President Franklin Roosevelt knew the value of spirit:

    “It is not enough to clothe and feed the body of the nation, and instruct and inform its mind. For there is the spirit and of the three, the greatest is the spirit. Without the body and mind, as all men know, the nation could not live. But, if the spirit of America were killed … the America we know would have perished.”

    Our spirit, our legacy is at risk.

    I have been hard. Dale Carnegie teaches us that genuine appreciation and seeing things from the other fellow’s point of view are the keys to personal success. All the efforts of every member of the Notre dame family are appreciated and we can see that many of these people did their best and often above their best. But, another coach said it this way: “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”

    Its time to regain our legacy of winning and make sure that the spirit of Notre Dame never perishes. The team must rise to the occasion. And, it takes a great leader, a motivator, someone who can inspire. I believe Everett Golson is our man. Notre Dame our mother.

    1. Well said with respect to the fact there USED to be a great subway feeder system. Tuition at ND for 2013: 51,390. Its hard for poor/working class kids to relate

  5. I disagree with the fact that if the Irish don’t win now they will never be relevant. I also disagree that they can not rule the college football world for a couple of years. I will also disagree with Chi-town Chopper on the the Chicago league being the premiere prep league in the country.

    The problem with the Irish and winning is as follows:

    1. They have never been able to put together a solid defense, experienced QB and stable coach.
    2. They have not completed a searh for a qualified coach
    3. Coaches have been sub par and learning on the job
    4. No coach has had clear vision of how the University works and how they fit in.

    With that being said the talent is there. I love how those tools at ESPN say ND has no talent but every year they are ranked in the top ten in recruiting. How can they be so far away when I can name 4 star recruits all over the two deep. Are they not evaluating talent correctly? Are these atheletes not being coached up?

    I like what I am seeing from BK, he has a vision and recruits to that vision. CW’s problem was his inability to stick with a defensive philosophy and not making decision as to the vision of his defense. This ultimately in the end caused him to lose his job, going from a 4-3 to a 3-4 back to a 4-3. This is the first time in 8 years that these players will have a defensive coach and philosophy for 3 consecutive years.

    The key to this season is QB play period. If the QB plays well and doesn’t turn over the ball the Irish will be able to win 10 games. If not they will be 6-6.

  6. The question is “Can there be a return to glory?” and the answer is NO. As fans, we need to understand that ND will NEVER be what it once was. We will never be the only team on TV every week anymore and we will never be the only national brand anymore.

    What ND has to do is quit trying to live in past glory and re-invent itself, which I think Brian Kelly is doing. With the new play-off and no conference tie-ins, ND has just as good a chance as anyone to make it even as an independent. Kelly is showing that even with the strict requirements, we can still recruit so pretty good players. Who cares if they where some interesting looking uniforms once or twice a year, it’s all part of the re-inventing process.

    It is time to quit thinking about “Returning to Glory” and start thinking about “Arriving”. For most of the recruits now, all they know is an ND football team that has averaged 7 wins over the past 20 years, there is no glory. Kelly is creating a new excitement and if they have any type of success this year, ND will not be back, they will have arrived.

    I think the ND train is heading in the right direction and I look forward to the arrival of a new glory at ND.

    1. Scav,

      Well said. You hit it out of the park with that post.


      You question the hire of bk from cincy as “hiring a coach from a 2nd rate team”. The problem with that is a lot of really good coaches come from these teams. Urban meyer was the coach at utah and bowling green before florida. We all know what he did at florida. Also most coaches that land these bigger jobs and have success tend not to leave. So if we don’t hire asst coaches, nfl, or coaches from lower level teams our options are pretty limited.

    2. I agree with Scav. We should quit trying to live in the past. New times, new players. We’ll get there. You gotta believe and have faith!

  7. The big problem with notre Dame is the ridiculous schedules that they choose to play.I’m not saying play a Boise schedule but they need to have 4 or 5 easy games, more home games, etc.

    1. Pete for the win. Two “hard” games a year and we can compete just like all the other yearly contenders do. You’re not going to do it when your “non league” games are as hard as ours are every year.

      Fans want their cake and to eat it you. You can’t have it. Either play more Umass and Temples and go 11-1 or play an interesting and diverse schedule, go 9-3 and moan about the fall from greatness.

  8. I gotta think Ohio State and Michigan have pretty tough winters not to mention all the rain in Eugene, Or for the Ducks but they can still get top flight players, and coach them up. Maybe one of the biggest factors to contribute to the decline of ND football is the decline of the greater Chicago Catholic League prep system which fed alot of kids into ND. This used to be the powerhouse prep football conference in the nation. Now alot of families have moved to the suburbs out of this hell hole which Rahm-bo Emmanuel is about to flush the toilet on, and the feeder system has suffered. Its not the only reason, but maybe part of the reason for the decline in ND football, that many Catholic families dont have their kids in the traditional Catholic schools that make up the base for ND football. Im willing to bet a generation ago you would NEVER see a Michigan or Ohio State t-shirt on any kid on the South Side. Now its quite common and there are plenty anti-ND fans out here as well

  9. “While schools like Texas, Alabama, Florida State, and USC can offer incredible scenery and consistently warm weather”

    By incredible scenery I hope that you mean scantily clad coeds, becuase when it comes to ‘Bama and FSU, there isn’t a whole lot more than that. Tuscaloosa and Tallahassee are both shite-holes.

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