Notre Dame Football: What We’ve Learned at the Midpoint

Photo: Matt Cashore // USA TODAY Sports

A bye week serves a useful purpose for college football teams, particularly when it occurs during the halfway point of the season.  In addition to a week of rest and recovery for players, the extra time off allows for a period of self-evaluation of what is and isn’t working for a program.  For Notre Dame, the question is whether one week is long enough to address the ever-expanding list of concerns.

This was supposed to be a year where the stars aligned for Notre Dame.  Talent was never a question.  In August Pro Football Focus awarded Notre Dame the distinction of having the No. 1 offensive line in the country, and many NFL Draft experts agreed, projecting Mike McGlinchey and Queton Nelson as first-round draft selections.  Even the biggest preseason question mark for Notre Dame was never truly considered a weakness.  The fact Notre Dame hadn’t settled on a starting quarterback between Malik Zaire and DeShone Kizer heading into fall camp didn’t stop outlets such as Bovada from naming both as Heisman candidates.  The talent was there, but what led many members of the media to vote Notre Dame into the preseason top ten was the manageable schedule.

Notre Dame’s schedule is what ultimately prompted me to predict an 11-1 season for the Irish in 2016.  Nearly every opponent either had a new head coach, a new starting quarterback or an extreme amount of talent loss (and in some instances teams had several of these issues).  I was concerned about Notre Dame’s defense – particularly defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, who I was never sold on – but felt the offense was strong enough to carry the team against weaker than usual opponents.  But here we are, seven weeks into the season, and Notre Dame sits with a 2-5 record.

What happened to Notre Dame Football?

Those looking for a straightforward, black-and-white answer will be disappointed.  Nearly every position group has played a role in the death spiral Notre Dame currently finds itself in.  VanGorder led an Irish defensive unit that led the nation in the number of 60+ yard plays surrendered from scrimmage and was the last group in the country to register a sack.  Offensive line coach Harry Hiestand’s hyped offensive line has been a disappointment and allowed N.C. State’s Bradley Chubb and Stanford’s Solomon Thomas to be one-man wrecking crews.  To date the offensive line is tied with Florida Atlantic for 99th place in sacks allowed, and the 4.7 yards per play earned against Stanford would rank Notre Dame 108th nationally.

Yet, both units have played well enough for Notre Dame to win.  Interim defensive coordinator Greg Hudson inherited what many believed to be an unfixable situation and has managed to squeeze production out of it.  Between N.C. State and Stanford Notre Dame’s defense only allowed an unthinkable 11 points.  And despite the struggles of the offensive line Notre Dame outgained the Stanford Cardinal and matched their yards per carry (4.4).  The greatest problem facing Notre Dame currently is that the program looks directionless, and nowhere is that more visible than at quarterback.

Head coach Brian Kelly pulled starting quarterback DeShone Kizer at the beginning of the fourth quarter after Kizer, under pressure from a Stanford blitz, threw an interception on fourth down.  The immediate consequence of that decision led to Notre Dame losing to Stanford but the long-term consequences are yet unknown.  Zaire, with no time to warm-up, was put in a difficult position and was inaccurate with his throws.  Yet Kelly waited too long to put Kizer back in the game, providing him only one final drive to try and bring Notre Dame back to tie the game.

The one area of strength Notre Dame had in a season of uncertainty was at quarterback, and that strength is now in doubt.  Kelly informed the media after the game that there is no controversy and that Kizer is the undisputed starter, but what may appear matter-of-fact to Kelly isn’t necessarily so for Kizer.  After failing to convert a must-have 4th down on the final play of the game a downtrodden Kizer fell to the ground and stayed there until a teammate came and picked him up many moments later.  Kelly may view Kizer’s brief demotion during the game as just an in-game tinkering of strategy, but the damage to Kizer’s confidence as well as his trust in Kelly may have been the biggest losses from Saturday night.

Bye weeks may be times for self-evaluation, but for Irish fans, it’s just reliving an unexpected nightmare.

Scott Janssen is a blogger for The Huffington Post and has authored several nationally-featured articles, including an appearance on MSNBC as a sports contributor.  He talks football 24 hours a day, much to the chagrin of his wife and those around him.  Scott can be reached at scottjanssenhp@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter.

 

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98 comments

  1. SubwayAlum 3 years ago

    BK’s legacy…will be most remembered for his final season of 3-9 or possibly 2-10.

    Not too far fetched to expect loses to Mia, Navy, VaT and USC. That’s 9. After watching Army this past weekend…I might throw that one into the mix. Thing is, if he loses to Mia, Navy and Army…he’ll never get a chance to lose to VaT and USC. Regardless, if he coaches (ugh) the entire season then 3-9 should be enough to say bye-bye to that pompous ass. If necessary, make it a package deal…include Swarbrick.

    Although once he’s fired, I’ll miss counting the number of words he speaks between interjections of… “you-know”. Throw in those little head wiggles and bottom lip twitches and…well all together he’s just, ‘you know’, Brian (twitch) ‘you know’ Kelly.

    My choice…Jon Gruden. Once upon a time he actually wanted to coach ND, he has credibility with prospective pro QB’s (has a history of coaching them pre-draft), additional credibility with having been a pro coach (recruits like that), and finally listening to his game-time color broadcasts…he’s calling the plays just before they develop in front of you.

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  2. bruce johnson 3 years ago

    Jack is clueless
    De Meyer nd commit just flipped to Michigan

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    1. bruce johnson 3 years ago

      Jeter

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      1. George 3 years ago

        He’s probably not a fan of two and three win seasons. His objective of winning was not in line with the University’s.

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  3. bruce johnson 3 years ago

    A good lawyer looks at the evidence

    Jerry Faust 30-26 .535
    Brian Kelly 57-28 .671
    Lou Holtz 100-30 . 765
    Ara Parseghian 95-17 .836
    Dan Devine 53-16. .764
    Nick Saban 112-18 .862
    UrbanMeyer 56-5 .892
    Les Miles 111-34 . 770

    Do the math, look at the evidence Jack it makes the case for a change but not any change
    This guy can’t shake down the THUNDER

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    1. Ron Burgundy 3 years ago

      If only your parole officer had looked at the evidence we all could have been spared.

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      1. bruce johnson 3 years ago

        After watching the administration’s indifference
        over the last twenty years I think i need psychiatric counseling to convince me that it will never get any better and give it up; but all old Domers who have seen the glory are a bit crazy and just can’t give it up. its the Rudy syndrome

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      2. Ron Burgundy 3 years ago

        First cogent comment in years.

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      3. Bob Crum 3 years ago

        Dude,

        Sometimes your comments piss me off! Most times though, you crack me up!

        Go Irish!!!

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    2. Shazamrock 3 years ago

      Evidence?

      -Jack Swarbirck:
      Graduated magna cum laude in economics from Notre Dame in 1976 and earned a law degree from Stanford in 1980.
      Very successful, on the fast track for further success until he comes back to ND as AD, replaces the grass with turf, and is eternally Cursed by Bruce Johnson.
      The Football Team is immediately besieged by injuries.

      -Brian Kelly:
      The winningest active head football coach with over 200 career wins (228-85-2).
      Leads ND to the National Championship game in only his second season.
      Doubted in a post by BJ just prior to kick-off in the National Championship Game, ND falls just short vs Alabama and is eternally cursed by bj thereafter.
      ND fails to make the playoffs every year since.

      -Bob Diaco & Brian VanGorder:
      Two up and coming defensive coordinators.
      Diaco directs a “ bend but don’t break” defense that leads ND to its first ever 12-0 Regular season but is cursed by Bree Johnson for not employing a “completed sell out” approach in the National Championship Game. Calls for a new Defensive Coordinator.
      Brian Vangorder brings in a blitz happy defense and is promptly cursed by Brock Johnson for not playing a bend but don’t break defense.

      -ND Leprechaun # 79:
      ND Leprechaun #79 is eternally cursed by Brue Johannson when Mark May is allowed to don the sacred Leprechaun outfit on ESPN.
      ND never receives another favorable call or replay booth decision.

      -Urban Meyer.
      Meyer has his 2016 Ohio State Buckeye’s undefeated and has the inside track to the National Championship when Bucky Johnson begins his obsessive chant for Meyer to come to ND.
      The very next game Meyer’s Buckeye’s blow a 14 point, 4th quarter lead, to unranked Penn St. ending their chances for a National Championship.

      -The 2015/2016 Chicago Cubs.
      Bruce “Artie” Johnson, a 70 year, lifelong, die hard Cubs fan, who, after the 2015 Chicago Cubs lose in the playoffs, pulls his interest in the club and vows to never watch another Cubs game.
      The following 2016 season, the Cubs dominate major league baseball, winning a franchise record 103 games, the national league pennant, and a trip
      to the World Series for the first time in 71 years!

      Does all this evidence point to just some Rotten luck? Dark Karma? Bad Juju? The evil eye? The stink finger? The Kavorka?
      Or could it be something else, something darker, more sinister?

      Like the CURSE of the BJ’no ?

      Do the math.

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      1. Bruce G. Curme 3 years ago

        Shazamrock,
        I’m glad that a few of you are standing up for Mr. Swarbrick (spelling?). He’s done a great job over a lot of sports, and Coach Kelly was a good hire, no matter what happens in the near future.

        Bruce G Curme
        La Crosse, Indiana

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      2. George 3 years ago

        I had a much different interpretation of Shaz’s post. Although I think he’s onto something with his “cursed” line of thinking.

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      3. bruce johnson 3 years ago

        You like em because he is better tha faust I don’t like him because he isn’t as good as Devine Ara or Lou
        We just have different standards. But we both love the place

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      4. bruce johnson 3 years ago

        Kelly 228-85 that’s a .63 winning percentage overall correct?

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      5. Bruce G. Curme 3 years ago

        73% ?

        Bruce GC

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      6. bruce johnson 3 years ago

        .73 is correct in mac and big time but I submit the Mac numbers are equivalent to jerry faust’s s record

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  4. ChrisJ 3 years ago

    Pete thinks good special teams play will solve everything. While I agree that field position helps, does anyone have a statistic of how much special teams play really helps a team haha? My guess is 98% of points scored is by the offense or a field goal which I guess is special teams. But wait, didn’t we recruit the best field goal kicker in the nation in yoon? So I guess your argument really doesn’t have any substance to it at all haha!

    I’m obviously trying to be funny and make a point that all you folks that keep talking about special teams needing to be better, that is NOT the problem of this ND team or any other for that matter. It’s a “nice to have” more than anything. When newsome bombs one downfield or sanders takes a return to the house every so often, it’s just a plus. The focus should be fixing the issues on offense and defense in my opinion.

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    1. Bruce Gregory Curme 3 years ago

      Chris,
      Special Teams, when not simply given lip service, is a bewildering array of assignments, like the swinging gate assignment for example. Special Teams is punt return, fair catches, and punt blocks. It is going for two – or preventing a two point play. It is faking field goals and punts. It is onside kicks, and your hands team to stop their onside kick. Add that to your list, and a few more “special situations” and you see that it can be the margin of victory (Alabama vs. Clemson, for example).

      The question has always been this: How much practice time do we think it’s worth? There are already TWO games we lost because of Special Teams breakdowns (IMO). That is not to say that the other two units had nothing to do with those losses! But in any close game, Special Teams can be the difference.

      Bruce GC 77′ 82′

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  5. bruce johnson 3 years ago
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  6. bruce johnson 3 years ago

    Do the math Kelly is 57-27 at nd
    Urban Meyer 50-4 in last four years at osu
    It’s simple go get urban Meyer
    Do whatever it takes!

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    1. Ron Burgundy 3 years ago

      Your math is wrong.

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      1. bruce johnson 3 years ago

        57-28 Kelly
        50-5 Meyer 4 yrs

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  7. pete 3 years ago

    I admit I was over the top with Alabama and Ohio State scoring half their points on special teams. What I meant is that their special teams are consistently good and mostly always impact games in a positive way. Notre Dame has really good special teams talent but it seams it is always 1 step forward 2 steps backwards. Also, yes recruiting is crucial and the lifeblood of any program but the great coaches know how to prepare their teams make great game day adjustments, put their players in great positions, maximize the players talents. Kelly and his staff haven’t shown me they can do any of the above. Also, the teams that have beat Notre Dameare not very good. Texas – 3 losses, North Carolin State- 3 losses getting beat 51-13 today. Michigan State 4 looses in a row. Stanford mediocre and duke – please.

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    1. George 3 years ago

      “Are not very good” is being kind

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    2. Bruce G. Curme 3 years ago

      Pete,
      Some of our special teams are really good; obviously we have practiced our PAT block, for instance. In other areas, I doubt we even have a “special team” for the situation (i.e. stopping a two point conversion attempt, punt block, fake field goal, and others).

      Practice time is limited by the NCAA – I get that…BUT YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR (in practice time).

      Bruce GC
      La Crosse, IN

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  8. George 3 years ago

    BK claims this year’s team is their youngest since 1972. And here all this time I thought the team sucked for a variety of other different reasons. Oh well, mystery solved I guess.

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  9. pete calco 3 years ago

    what good are great recruiters if they can’t coach. Notre Dame has recruited some great special teams talent over the last several years and they have not been elite or impact games in a positive manner. Look at Alabama and Ohio State, half the points they score every week is through special teams. Also, Heistand has brought in some great lineman and Notre Dame still can’t dominate in the run game. Is it his fault. I don’t know maybe its the play calling, scheme, philosophy Kelly uses. All I know is Michigan was terrible 2 years ago giving up sacks, not being able to run on anybody. Harbaugh and his coaching staff come in with a pro style I formation offense and now look how good they run the ball.

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    1. Ron Burgundy 3 years ago

      I did look at Bama and tOSU but they do not score half their points on special teams every week.

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    2. Michael the Archangel 3 years ago

      ‘what good are recruiters if they can’t coach?’
      Coaching- BVGs plan- didn’t pan out. As the Hawk would say,
      ‘ He gone! ‘ Under Elston and Hudson- not too shabby- both in the hurricane and back at home.
      Hey, pete, I feel your pain. 2-5 isn’t what even the ‘debbie downers’ expected.
      They could be 5-2 or better easily but for a few plays made and a few more stops.
      That ND didn’t is the result.
      Firing everybody else might not be the Trump card to play.
      But back to ‘what good are recruiters . . .”
      When BK leaves next year, ND will need the best Frosh they are currently recruiting to win more.
      Recruiting is more based on what your school can offer, but also the ND Staff’s relationship with the recruit. We’ve all heard OL or RB recruits talk about Hiestand, or Denson or Sanford, or Booker and Lyght as a key reason for signing on.
      2-5 is what ND fans got now.
      The future of ND FB is all we got now, and recruiting remains critical.
      And yes, ‘play calling and scheme and philosophy’ leading to strategy and confidence make a difference, and the VanG Plan has left the building. Having no plan b, I’ll watch and see.

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      1. Bruce Gregory Curme 3 years ago

        MA,
        Like USAF Irish said “Hudson was a Plan B”

        It has worked for the “D” – but how well remains to be seen. Can they step it up another notch against Miami? I think they can, but they need to show up and show us.

        Bruce GC
        La Crosse, IN

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  10. pete calco 3 years ago

    Well it looks like Kelly is coming back in 2017. Not sure he will do this but he needs to shake up his coaching staff. First, a new d coordinator, let him pick his assistants. Next, new special teams coach. Finally , fire Booker, reassighn denbrock to tight ends receivers coach, give complete control of offense to Sanford, fire lingo, Notre dame needs a new strength coach, fire harry, bring in top flight oline coach. If he doesn’t make all these changes look for next to also be mediocre.

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    1. Michael the Archangel 3 years ago

      Not in agreement that BK needs to overhaul his assistants.
      Of the five losses so far, ND was in the position to win all five. It appears confidence (and perhaps game planning & strategy) are the issues. PLus, ND either starts slow, or sputters in the third quarter.
      Booker and Hiestand are excellent recruiters- such an overhaul would send the signal to recruits that BK has no confidence in the coaches these recruits have built a relationship with. At this stage of his tenure, BK firing, reassigning, and displacing a chunk of his staff would cause greater uncertainty in the recruits’ minds than is already there. Either you accept BK and his staff or you replace BK and his staff(although IMO Denson and Sanford would be asked to stay regardless of who replaces BK when he leaves).
      As for a new DC, I have no issue with what Hudson and Elston have done with the D’ since BVG left so far.Obvious stat: Miami QB has substantial different completion success with pressure vs. no pressure (32% vs. 67% completion rate) being put on him. Excuse the obvious: but since the ’85 Bears, pressuring the QB leading to D’ success is obvious- see Super Bowl champs Denver LY vs. NC etc. etc. etc.) If you lose, at least lose being aggressive and not passive in your D’ approach.

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  11. Michael the Archangel 3 years ago

    If you’re cheering for ND to keep losing to get rid of BK,
    Faghettaboutit.
    “Shocking” news update re: ND head coaching choice for 2017

    http://www.cbssports.com/college-football/news/uh-oh-brian-kelly-gets-the-dreaded-vote-of-confidence-from-notre-dame-ad/

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    1. bruce johnson 3 years ago

      Swarbrick refuses to accept responsibility for hiring a Mac level coach at nd and for letting Kelly keep the largest defensive loser in its history, Brian van gorder. This guy is the problem. Another Kevin White. Fire him. Hire Lou as a consultant to find us a sd with real football experience and the best coach in America. Screw you Jack

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      1. Shazamrock 3 years ago

        ( Incantation #143)

        “Knucklehead, Knucklehead full of spite…
        Be gone your curse from our site.
        As thunder roars and north winds blow…
        Return us now our good mojo “

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  12. Rich M 3 years ago

    The problem at ND is obvious. Three reasons they are 2-5, 1. ND’s players are just not as good as the five teams that have beaten them. They have been beaten in every phase of the game! So that would be a problem in the recruiting department.
    2. Honestly, Kelly has underachieved here at ND. That’s right “underachieved”! Too many mediocre seasons and just when you expect a 10-2, 11-1 they throw in a 9-3, 8-3! That doesn’t cut it at ND. Don’t tell me about the academics. It’s time for them to look elsewhere. I doubt that they can steal him away from VT, but Bud Foster is where I’d start my search. He has a track record of excellence on the defensive side of the ball. I doubt they will be able to convince him to come over but the lure of big money and coaching at the storied Notre Dame just might at least make him think twice about it! 3. Last but not least, and yes I know everyone has an opinion but I’ve got to tell you the play calling has been horrible. Someone please tell Kizer to throw the ball away rather then take a ten yard sack! Come on guys, that’s lack of coaching. ND’s season does not get any easier. USC, Navy, VT, to name a few have a real chance of beating the Irish. That would, if you’re counting give us at least 8 losses. Enough said. Go Irish!!

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    1. Ron Burgundy 3 years ago

      Thanks for breaking things down for us in a simple easy to follow essay.
      For your next installments can you tackle these issues:
      Global warming
      How to throw a knuckleball
      NAFTA
      And the whereabouts of Sad Warrior.

      Stay classy.

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  13. Terry McManus 3 years ago

    BK is in Kizer’s head and is destroying Kizer’s self-confidence. I have said a number of times that BK is a control freak and won’t – or can’t – do the best thing for Kizer, which is just turn him loose and when Kizer messes up don’t let the whole damn country watch him bawling Kizer out on TV.

    The kid is smart, he probably already knows what he did wrong, so pat him on the butt and move on.

    To my eyes Kelly has lost control of the team – they seem to have tuned him out.

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    1. Brad Sinclair 3 years ago

      You are right on with your comment re: control. The Stanford game showed me that this team is simply not prepared to do much of anything. It seems like they have forgotten basic fundamentals, e.g., tackling, blocking. I watched a DB get totally fooled by a RB in the Stanford game. It looked like he was planning to tackle the runner once he got to a certain place rather than simply running him down. In any case I am reminded of a line by John Oliver. ‘Look way, way up, up above the blue in the sky. That’s rock bottom.’

      I hope we are at rock bottom and can start climbing again.

      Go Irish!!!

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  14. Brad 3 years ago

    Notre Dame isn’t getting Dantonio, Shaw, Petersen, Saban, Meyer, Haarbaugh. Those guys aren’t coming.

    Notre Dame will wait one year too long to fire Kelly and miss out on Herman, Fleck, etc and get stuck with some retread

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    1. Ron Burgundy 3 years ago

      Bummer

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    2. Damian 3 years ago

      I doubt ND would get Herman anyway. All signs point to him going to LSU. He also may very well stay at Houston (though the Big 12 not expanding may have dampened that a bit). Houston is building a program and he may decide he has a good thing going there. But otherwise I think he’ll land at LSU.

      But there is always some up and coming coach out there. But you’re exactly right, Saban, Meyer forget it. I mean, they would look like idiots if they went after Meyer again after he already left them at the altar once. If ND was indeed his “dream” job, he blew his chance.

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      1. bruce johnson 3 years ago

        Stupid pride you go beg him and give him a raise

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      2. bruce johnson 3 years ago

        Call me when you graduate from nd

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      3. bruce johnson 3 years ago

        You guys make me laugh.
        You can’t see what is right before your eyes. Go ahead and love this Mac level coach. It’s s sacred place
        and I attended it when it was so. If I defend it its my right. I love it so.

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      4. Damian 3 years ago

        Don’t even bother arguing with BJ. He has himself convinced Saban and Meyer are waiting by a phone for that call from ND.

        Start going after coaches you have no chance with, esp. in this day and age with 24 hour news, and all ND will start to do is really look like a loser. “Look, another coach turned them down”. Do that enough times you get a reputation and then you’re lucky to get a high school coach and you end up with a coach like Faust (who, unlike BK, is actually a decent guy otherwise).

        ND needs a new coach and needs to be realistic. BJ seems to forget many of our past elite coaches were not elite when hired. They BECAME elite. Look no further than BJ’s idol, Urban Meyer. He once was an up and comer from Utah. Hardly a destination. I would argue BK was an outlier case. Hire 9 out of 10 coaches with his background and you score a home run and have an elite coach.

        But BJ is one of those guys who you can’t argue with. He starts with his usual name-calling whenever anyone dares disagree with him.

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    3. bruce johnson 3 years ago

      You think like a loser

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      1. Damian 3 years ago

        No, a loser is someone who asks someone out on a date who already adamantly told you no. That is what Urban Meyer did. Not only did he say no, but he/Florida had to give money back to Utah for him to say no to ND. A loser is someone who goes back on bended knee to that person so they can kick you in the teeth.

        But keep living in your dreamland.

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      2. SteelFanRob 3 years ago

        So your whole plan, bj, depends on begging?!

        Who’s the loser?!

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      3. SteelFanRob 3 years ago

        bj,

        Only a ND grad can objectively talk about ND football?! If that’s what you think, then you have no respect for ND’s heritage. The Subway alums are as much, if not more, a part of the fabric and lore of ND football as the university’s grads.

        If you in fact graduated from ND, and of course we can’t prove or disprove your assertion, then you would show more respect for the Subway alums on this board.

        Moreover, you wouldn’t insist on the university stooping and degrading itself like a cheap b _ _ ch pursuing coaches that have shown no interest in the job or have in fact already spurned the Irish before.

        Perhaps you graduated from ND. Who knows. But your logic and mode of argumentation by way of ad hominem attacks and endless repetition indicates you certainly didn’t graduate summa cum laude or magna cum laude, that fore sure!

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      4. Shazamrock 3 years ago

        Give him a break.

        You realize…

        He attended ND in the mid to late 60’s when it was still an all-male school, the stadium held 59k, they played a 10 game schedule, there were 31 Universities who played football as Independents, and long haired hippie protesting was the in thing to do. (among other things)

        That was 50 years ago.
        (Which means if he attended ND while he was in his early 20’s like most, then the old coot is pushing 70)

        If you go some years back, he actually used to have some interesting stories about the glory years.

        Not so much lately.

        Maybe it’s better to just humor paw-paw?

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