Notre Dame Football Needs To Stop Playing Catch Up

© Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Upon reflection following his Notre Dame career, head coach Lou Holtz surmised that his biggest mistake as the Fighting Irish head coach was complacency. Following the teams success in 1988 and 1989, which brought a 24-1 record and a national championship, and having reached the “pinnacle” of the sport, he simply sought to maintain their status, instead of trying to grow on it. Subsequently, they stagnated while the rest of college football caught up, and they were never able to fully regain their dominant form.

Since Holtz resigned in 1996, they’ve been chasing a formula of excellence ever since, with different coaches, schemes, and athletic administrations. As a fan of the team since 1990 and my formative years occurring during the final years of the Holtz era, one thing has remained constant since Sweet Lou stopped roaming the sidelines: Notre Dame has been reactive every step of the way to the changes in college football, and as a result, has consistently been a step behind other power house programs.

Consequently, while the Alabama’s, Ohio State’s, Stanford’s and USC’s are on the cutting edge in the areas of training regimen, diet, recruiting tools, and facilities, Notre Dame finds itself lagging behind, trying to catch up to the latest edge those schools have had at their disposal for years. And when Notre Dame finally makes those improvements, the top schools have moved on to something else.

This isn’t about Brian Kelly and the job he has done. Notre Dame has consistently missed or failed to attract what most would consider tier 1 coaches. It’s time to start thinking about why that is.


For a long time during the Holtz era, the Notre Dame brand was enough of a selling point for most recruits. They played on national TV all the time, they had the (recent) tradition of winning, and they had a recruiting coordinator in Vinnie Cerrato, who some may say was a little loose with the rules and the way things were supposed to done. Not that they did anything illegal but, you know, maybe not in the best practices of university protocol and the types of guys Notre Dame brought in. Corners were cut. Which, surprise!, worked out really well from an on-field performance perspective.

Following his departure in the early 90’s, the administration cracked down on admissions and the types of players Notre Dame could offer scholarships. This lead to frustrations, particularly from Holtz’s successor Bob Davie, who was rumored to have steered Urban Meyer away from Notre Dame in 2005 because he didn’t think he’d be given enough leeway on the recruiting front.

To date, Notre Dame has been slow to upgrade their recruiting operation, only recently beefing up their social media and recruiting support staff, while Alabama and Ohio State have had literally dozens of people working in this area for a number of years.

This gap has been exacerbated by head coach Brian Kelly not placing a big enough emphasis on recruiting in his coaching staff. His first hire at defensive coordinator, Bob Diaco, was a serviceable recruiter, but he wasn’t excellent. His replacement was a total abomination. Brian VanGorder was an NFL guy who showed very little interest on the recruiting trail and it showed. Subsequently, big time defensive talents have turned Notre Dame away on signing day–they came in second last year to two five star and one four star linebackers last season, and saw four defensive players de-commit this year, including elite defensive end Robert Beal.

This isn’t to say Kelly doesn’t understand the importance of recruiting, or doesn’t take it seriously. I’m sure he does. But, he had to build a recruiting operation through a mandate from the administration, something a head coach at football power like Notre Dame shouldn’t have to spend time on. He shouldn’t have to ask for recruiting support staff, or a social media operation. These are things the school should be out in front of, but are just now getting caught up on in Kelly’s eighth season. He and those that came before him have been playing from behind, and that shouldn’t happen.

Strength, Conditioning, Nutrition

How many years running has this been a problem for the football program? 10 years? 15 years? We first heard about the need for a training table during the Weis era, when it was discovered that their late season collapses might have been due in part by the fact that the players were feeding their body with whatever they decided to eat in the dining hall. Now look, I’ve seen the spread at the dining halls, it is delightful. I’m also not a division one athlete whose body performance is put on display in front of millions on national TV. I’m also not a nutritionist, and neither are the players. The idea that in the late 2000’s they had a diet that wasn’t being monitored is mind boggling.

Remember, the installation of a training table was something that Kelly had to fight for as a pilot program when he was hired in 2010. And to make matters worse, six years into the implementation of this program we were still hearing stories from players, like receiver Chris Brown, who talked about his dramatic weight loss during the season because he didn’t have the money to eat nutritious meals and lived off of fast food. This was a major college athlete on a team that was a couple of plays from a playoff berth and he’s surviving on happy meals.

Kelly made major changes to the strength and conditioning program this offseason, which of course is a good thing, but again, year eight. There were stories of complacency in the weight room, a certain “get in here when you can” to put the work in mentality. They acted like a program that had arrived, even in the face of getting blown out in the Fiesta Bowl. Now they are forced to play catch up, again. They’ve got schools like Stanford, whom they play every year, with an innovative program that is the envy of college football and Notre Dame is cycling through their strength coaches and trying to get the training table right.


This is an area where Notre Dame has mostly striven to be competitive, but not ground breaking. They built the Guglielmo Athletics Complex in 2005 in a pretty welcome move; it wasn’t the best athletics center in the country, but it was certainly a very nice facility. Of course, now it needs updates, and those have predictably been slow arriving. And that underscores one of the problems with the way the program has been run in the last couple of decades; they make an improvement to catch up to the football world in terms of facilities, and they check it off the list like it’s a job well done and move on.

Predictably Notre Dame has been passed by other programs. Alabama famously built a nine million dollar weight training facility in 2013 which was an add on to an already state of art athletics complex, Oregon put together a 68 million dollar 145,000 square foot monstrosity also in 2013, and schools are constantly updating their facilities. And the thing is, the further away Notre Dame gets away from their dominant years, the more they need to sell their current product. Let’s face it, they are in South Bend. It’s not Los Angeles. It’s not Columbus. Players need a reason. And the current facilities are not a reason. They aren’t terrible by any means, but they don’t stand out. They are standard.

Notre Dame is updating the stadium by adding a jumbotron, building another press box and inclosing things a little bit, which is a good thing. The louder, the better. The challenge though, is to keep pushing forward, not just with facilities, but with all of it. What are other schools not doing in recruiting that Notre Dame can capitalize on? What are the cutting edge ideas in the weight room and in training that can be implemented? How can they make their facilities the best in the nation?

Notre Dame is too often playing catch up in these areas, and it has been a detriment to every coach since the Holtz era. They’ve relied too much on their name and past glory and have been slow to adjust to the changing college landscape. This isn’t about changing who and what the university is. It’s about making the decision to be the top in college football in every aspect. When innovations and ideas that are state of the art are implemented, it sends a signal not to just players, but to elite coaches, that Notre Dame is serious about and not going to be accepting anything less than the best. It goes from something that is not only talked about, but is shown.

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  1. One more time

    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 praqy that he can grow into the job.

    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 athletyic 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 terribly wrong. Not just football, but the University’s acceptance of this bumbling toward pathos. 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 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. It takes a great leader, a motivator, someone who can inspire.

  2. The article is spot on. Being “proactive” instead of “reactive” is the difference between success and failure in everything, not just football. Let’s face it we all love ND, the university and especially it’s football team, and always will but South Bend is a tough place to recruit to. USC (Los Angeles), Stanford (Bay area), Alabama (Coaching and NFL path). Kids have to have a reason beyond faith and football history to choose ND over other top schools. Notre Dame requires an elite student athlete. Academically focused and understanding the 40 year decision that attending ND is. To close the recruitment deal the athlete needs to see “state of the art” facilities, training, nutrition and coaching that evolves every year to keep it at the top of college football. If anyone should share the blame it is the University Vice President, James E. Rohr Director of Athletics, Jack Swarbrick and the top leadership of the university.

    Does ND football have a Director of Football Operations, Data Analysts, and all the other football personnel support staff that other top schools have. No
    Time for the Irish top management to wake up and catch up.

  3. I think a lot of valid points are raised within the article and apply to the program over the course for the last 20 some years. Speaking to the specific debacle last year, a lot of that I attribute to the decisions made by the football CEO, Mr. Kelly. A lot of the off the field stuff that occurred right before the start of the season were players engaging in activities that you can’t tell me BK didn’t address or talk about with his players yet it occurred, meaning, players weren’t listening to the head coach. That was indicative of a big problem right there. If players aren’t listening to the head coach, that is evidence of a disconnect, which further makes me wonder how much that extended to on-the-field activities last year. We will see how all the coaching changes pan out, given now we are in year 8 of the Kelly era. This program has to return in winning and beating significantly ranked opponents which includes getting to a major bowl and not getting the shit kicked out of them, but, instead, doing the shit kicking to their opponent. When that starts to re-occur consistently, that will tell me ND football brand is back on the track. If wins continue to get vacated, off the field shenanigans still occur and continued subpar W-L records happen, it’s time for further changes besides department heads ( assistant coaches).

    1. Nemesis,
      For what it’s worth, I’d like to echo much of what is in the article and all of your comments.

      I especially agree that we need consistency. The absolute lack of consistency between the LSU bowl game, the 2015 season and the 2016 season. A “down” year for us should be 8 – 4, NOT 4 – 8.

      Bruce G. Curme ’77 ’82

  4. This article is just a continuation on a theme that’s been ongoing for decades. The administration is only too happy to have piles of cash generated by the football program but they’ve been constantly lax in investing and reinvesting in the program. To that extent, they keep hamstringing their coaches with what can’t be done, won’t be done or what they’re blindly oblivious to.
    The only reason they won a national championship in ’88 and came close to another in ’93 is that they had Lou Holtz who was a true believer in Notre Dame. All it did was perpetuate the illusion and myth that ND should compete for national championships without putting in the all-effort to establish a modern program (a training table, fer cryin’ out).
    May have one of the oldest college football programs in the country, but that doesn’t make them any smarter.

  5. As a lover of the idea of ND since the Leahy era, I am convinced that the potential rebirth of the football team will lie dormant until all vestiges of “football factory” paranoia is removed from the sports department as well as the administration.
    Number1: giving consideration to a student football player, who, because of football may have need of academic considerations ( that is travel, out of classroom, etc) beyond other students should never be considered coddling, or preference treatment for football players.
    As long as sports players keep their grades acceptable and obey institutional rules, even with additional consideration from the school, nobody at ND should feel the need to be paranoid about ND being a football factory.
    I look forward to the time when on campus family members once again look forward to great football and take as much pride in that as they do in academics and character issues. There’s no sin in that.

    1. And there is no sin in letting student athletes transfer in since we have always allowed academic transfers to come in. We need to allow 1 transfer in per class, and also allow graduate student-athletes to transfer in. The student athletes need to transfer in after their freshman or sophomore year though; this is necessary to get a diploma from ND.

      Bruce G. Curme ’77 ’82

  6. Let’s not overcomplicate the issue here. If you have the right coach in place you win.
    Since the glory days everybody is pining for other sports at ND have succeeded at the highest level and won championships with this admin and philosophy.
    Bama was in ruins and then Nick showed up, USC was a disaster and then Pete showed up, Oklahoma was a mess and then Stoops appeared, heck even tOSU was a mess in the short interim between sweater vest and Urban.
    Does anybody really doubt that if Saban or Meyer was named coach tomorrow that ND wouldn’t win and win in a big way. And in a hurry too. It wouldn’t matter if Charlie Brown was the AD and Bart Simpson was the president.
    The Cubs analogy is perfect. 108 years of nothing, hire the best baseball mind ever and boom you win a title and appear to be on the verge of a dynasty.
    Now for finding the right coach, easier said than done.

    Fire everyone!
    Sincerely, BJ

      1. I don’t know if that’s Burgundy posting that comment, since he rarely posts anything of that sort, or did he go back to some comment BJ posted in the past and reposted here as Burgundy is prone to do.

    1. I think my friend Ron got religion. Must have been a trip to the grotto. Swarbrick has been responsible for this debacle for more than a decade. A salesman in a lawyers costume. Shoes helmets gimmicks fads nothing that was real. He even took the grass. Unless you fire Swarbrick and Kelly and replacement them with people who have some kind of soul you will
      get football as entertainment not as a metaphor for the greatness of Notre Dame. President@ndu.ed

  7. To all:

    The underlying theme of this article is ‘What is Wrong with ND Football?’ The author bravely points to ‘the Administration’. First, Greg, how about being specific. Who in the Administration is responsible? What can we, the fans and supporters of the school and FB Program do to help remedy the problem. I suggested bringing in someone with a keen FB mind who possesses a love for ND as well as for ND-FB. Put that person in charge of all things FB.

    If the University is ‘all-in’ then they have to realize that just replacing Swarbrick is not the answer, a new DC, or a new OC, or even new HC are not the answers. We have to do something drastic like what the Cubbys did in Chicago. We need a Theo Epstein kind of mentality. For 106 years the Cubs sucked. It was a staple of sports that they would never win a WS. My son who is a Cardinals fan rooted against the Cubs in the WS, not only because they and Cards are arch enemies but because the “Cubs losing annually was an American tradition”. ND losing in FB, I’m sorry to say, has become an American tradition also. I’m sick of it.

    1. Not sure where you’re going here. Cubs got new ownership that changed their ways. Is ND supposed to sell the school off and get a new president?

      1. @qb####,

        Sorry you missed the point. Maybe if we got a 5-star CB we’ll start winning again. I’m sure you are right.

        BTW, back in October of 2009, I was in that conference room when the new owner of the Cubs, Mr Ricketts, asked if any of us knew anything about baseball. Responses from all the attorneys went something like…yeah, I can renegotiate the TV and cable rights, another would work on concessions, another thought maybe adding pretzels with mustard might be a good thing, but the best was to suggest that maybe we can get that Harry guy to cut a record of Take Me Out to the Ballgame. And so it went for two years, ‘band-aids’, with pretty much the same results. Until (thank the Lord) they hired Theo away from the Boston Red Sucks. While at Boston, he did a pretty damn good job, much to my disappointment as a life-long Yankees fan. In 2011, Ricketts hired him as “President of Baseball Operations”. Something ND should do, only call it President of Football Operations. WS in 5 years. Got it?

        I don’t want to just put another ‘person’ between the HC and the Administration, I want to build a “Trumpian” wall, electrified and with a moat, between the two. I want the new PoFBO to oversee the hiring of ALL coaches, to establish a recruiting program like in the late ’80s-early 90’s. He would not have to go out on recruiting missions, or get involve in the daily practice grind, but his presence would loom large.

        Can anyone guess who I’d hire (clues)…Greg called him “sweet”, Coach Bob said there was no comparison to his recruiting mandate. OK, you guys got it.

        Or maybe all we need is another 3 star LB, I dunno…

  8. The same garbage that has been written for the last 10 to 15 years. Get a new head coach next year, it will make no difference. Until ND quits using the opposing team’s officials, ND is going downhill. It is obvious and quite simple.

    1. I agree 100% on using our own officials at home, or a split crew everywhere. We used to use Independent Officials when there were 12 Independents. Now there are only four Independents, but that is enough to make it fly again. I’m pretty sure BYU would be with us (I saw them get hosed big time last season…I’m sure they remember the game I’m thinking of). Father Jenkins should put the ACC on notice that their conference officials start flying right, or they’ll be grounded the first time possible with our contractual obligation, whatever that may be.

      Bruce G. Curme ’77 ’82

  9. Just want to thank everyone for the comments and feedback, hopefully you found it interesting and entertaining.

    Appreciate all of you for taking the time to read my work.

  10. Don’t the players have access to the training table throughout the academic year, or is it only restricted to times when they are formally meeting and practicing?

    1. After putting in that comment, I see you’ve been writing for quite a while. I haven’t noticed your name before. 🙂

  11. I agree, one of the best articles I have read on here! Sometimes as fans, it’s easy for us to forget recruiting rankings, All-Americans, etc., are not the foundation of a program. It starts in the administration, support structure, culture, nutrition, and routines/schedules of the program. That’s the foundation – and the results are the championships, 1st round draft pics, top 5 recruiting classes and All-Americans.

    Kelly has done good things on the offensive side of the ball. Not perfect, but it has been an improvement over Weis, Willingham and Davie. This past year, I stopped watching ND after the Duke game. First time since 1994 I missed a game. They hit rock bottom and the frustration of two decades caught up with me. Usually during the year, I only follow ND. Recently, I’ve started paying more attention to Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan, Oklahoma, etc. Not the games themselves, but the program behind the scenes.

    This article expanded on what I was seeing – ND is far behind its competitors. The college football world has changed.

    I’m 36, I knew the history of Notre Dame growing up, have memories here and there for the Holtz glory days. But what do 17-18 year old have now? The highlight might be the 2012 season and Alabama making ND look horrible. Besides that, there is no connection to tradition or excellence that resonates with an 18 year old. They don’t care about the 1980’s, or 70’s, or teams from the 60’s. They care about now and their future. The cold, hard facts are Alabama, Florida State, Michigan, Ohio State and others have vastly superior facilities, structures, and cultures to produce winning and an NFL future. They are actually very impressive – worth some time on the internet to see for yourself.

    I know a lot of us complained about Kelly being kept last year. But as this article pointed out, it is going to take more than that. It requires a change of the guard, a brilliant hire. The culture must be changed. Not just with the head coach, but the whole athletic department, commitment from the administration, facilities, etc.

    As others have said, I only believe that happens when it hits their wallets. Otherwise, they’ll maintain the status quo – and we will see the same mediocre/failing/sub-par results.

    1. Agree with it all. I played in the 80’s and was there for Holtz first year. ND has always gone out of their way not to show preferential treatment for the athletes. If I was missing a test because of travel to a game, I would have to take the test on the Wed before instead of the Mon after. Building sports facilities and having an actual training table is required for success, but ND won’t do it unless the average student also receives something of value. We used to eat cold pizza leftover in the cafeteria at 9 pm after practice, because having hot nutritious food cooked for us would be considered something above and beyond what the average student received. You can commend the school for the value it places on every student and for the lengths it goes not to show favoritism, but you can’t stay competitive with the major football factories.

  12. Great article. Right on the money. You move forward or atrophy and fall into mediocrity. It’s a slow creeping descent and by the time you find out what happened, it may be too late. This university has the money and resources to compete with Stanford (in cutting edge research) and Michigan (in plain spending money) and needs to get back ahead of the curve. Go Irish!

  13. I would hope that the author would send a copy of this excellent overview and critique of the once great program to Jack Swarbrick and Fr Jenkins.

    If you profess to have a goal of excellence then BE EXCELLENT in all phases of the program.

    This article is disconcerting and discouraging that the ND Football Program is second class compared to the
    ‘good’ programs we compete with both in games and in recruiting.

  14. Your article in regard to recruiting after Vinny Cerrato is inaccurate.
    There was one recruiting coordinator after Vinny and I followed him after Coach Holtz reassigned him.
    I promptly came in rearranged the entire recruiting effort and had a consensus number one class !

    Bob Chmiel
    Former assistant coach and recruiting coordinator.
    The University of Notre Dame

    1. Hi Bob,

      Thanks for reading and responding, I believe you are referring to the ’95 class, which featured Randy Moss, James Jackson, Kory Minor, Autry Denson, Jarious Jackson, et al?

      If it reads that I am disparaging the recruiting efforts of the Holtz era, that is an error on my part. Obviously, that class was phenomenal, even without Jackson and Moss being able to make it to campus. In fact, I don’t mean to disparage those in the recruiting department at all. I feel everyone did the best they could, and served the university well, with the resources they had. This piece wasn’t about finding fault with individuals during that era.

      Would you agree that following the ’95 class, and after Lou’s departure, things tightened up considerably in the recruiting department as far as the size of the net of players you were able to target, so to speak? Was this not a major concern of Bob Davie during this tenure?

      1. Greg
        You are a talented writer who has basically “done your homework.”
        The difference between Davie’s recruiting and that of Coach Holtz is the difference
        between Davie and Coach Holtz’s as coaches and leaders.

        If anything from all standpoints Davie was given an easier road in the process.
        I commend the current recruiting office under Mike Elston and Dave Poloquin.
        After a 4-8 season and the staff changes to finish the way they did took a great effort from a pure hard work standard to a wonderful organizational plan.
        Go Irish,Love Thee Notre Dame Bob Chmiel

  15. Forget it,never going to happen.ND for some reason prides itself on catching up just when its time to move on again and the cycle starts all over.Its become clear now that they have little interest in anything other then the money the program brings in.Making it better simply is not going to happen.

  16. Another problem that Greg only alludes to is that ND wouldn’t want some of the players with the ethos recruited by other teams. Look at Baylor 54 rape charges against players in the last four years. I agree that the importance of athletics as a binding at is vastly unrecognized by the administration.

  17. I’m not sure if the ND administration fully realizes how important a good football program is, and has been, to the overall vitality of the university. Without football, I’m sure ND would still be a good university, but my bet is that it would be smaller and less significant, along the lines of a good division 3 private institution. But because it has traditionally had a good football program, the school has been able to stay competitive in research, in academics, and in other athletic programs. Yes, the football program cannot drive the university; but the university cannot thrive as a world-class institution without a great football program.

    1. Norm Bell, Jr.

      Where has this voice of wisdom been?!

      I have to say that this is one of the most articulate, clear-sighted analyses I’ve ever seen posted at UHND.

      “Duranko” should learn to write and reason like Norm Bell, Jr.

      Welcome, sir, please don’t be a stranger!

    2. I have to agree with Norm. There are some in the land of CFB that think it’s one or the other. That to succeed you have to basically be an NFL development league. I see absolutely no reason ND can’t succeed in football and provide a top notch education.

      The state of ND Football has more to do with coaching and what Greg rightly notes are institutional problems. Norm correctly points out that the institution seems to have lost their way and seem to have this idea that to support football means sacrificing academics. The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

      1. I agree with you, Damian, although I don’t think that this is what Norm is saying. Which is why I disagree with him. They don’t have to be mutually exclusive, indeed, but that doesn’t mean that one is dependent on the other either.

    3. Oh, and well said Norm. You’ve basically hit the nail on the head. I admit I never put 2 and 2 together quite like that but what you said is exactly right.

    4. I can’t see my way to agreeing with you, and I’ll explain why.

      Notre Dame didn’t become the world class school that it was until Father Hesburgh took over in 1953. At that time, Notre Dame was at the pinnacle of college football. There’s an amusing anecdote about Fr. Ted refusing to pose for the cover of Time magazine holding a football when he first took over as president, stating in no uncertain terms that Notre Dame wasn’t going to be known for football before academic excellence any more. Shades of things to come, because he went about pretty much dismantling the football program. He got Leahy to retire, cut scholarships from somewhere around 26 to 13. Meanwhile, he went about recruiting the best and brightest for the faculty (including my father, if I may say so; Dad was there from 1956 till he died in 2014).

      Once football was no longer a central facet of ND’s reputation, it was time to bring it back. Fr. Ted opened things back up, hiring Ara and increasing the scholarships again. By that time, Notre Dame’s academic reputation had grown a great deal, from a university best known for being Catholic and having a great football team to a university with a national reputation for academic excellence.

      So clearly, that reputation didn’t come from football; in fact, one could argue just as well that it came from de-emphasizing football. I don’t think ND requires a great football program to be a world class university. Like the Ivy League schools, Notre Dame’s academics stand on their own merits. If, for example, it comes time that players unionize and demand pay, I feel pretty confident that Notre Dame–as Swarbrick has said they will–will go the way of the Harvards and Yales of the world and stop giving out football scholarships. If that happens, I don’t think that Notre Dame will suffer in its academics and research. None of the Ivy League schools have, and there are plenty of world class schools all over the world that don’t have sports scholarships of any kind. I just don’t see them tying together.

      So, while your assertion is interesting, I don’t see that you have backed it up with any evidence, and it seems there’s plenty of evidence that doesn’t support your point of view. I’m not saying that I’m against us having a championship-level program; I think if we are going to have a program it ought to be the best that it can be. But I can’t see that academics would suffer if we went to the Ivy League model. I just don’t see that they’re that strongly related.

      1. Bob,

        How much money has ND football generated over the decades, and not only for the AD?

        Make no mistake, ND would be a small, regional Catholic university without football. Would it be a world-class university without the revenues brought in by the football teams? Hard to prove or disprove a counterfactual. The reality, however, is that ND football has provided plenty of both actual and social capital over the last 100 years or so.

        But the question at hand now is whether ND can continue to have its cake and eat it. I’d say yes, but not with this administration. Time to change the university president, AD, etc.

        Stanford is just as tough or tougher than ND academically. They seem to be doing just fine. However, I think that has to do more with coaching.

      2. Bob,

        Don’t overlook the importance of the so-called moral economy of college athletics. You might say ND football brings in X amount of actual dollars which makes up Y percent of the school’s total budget or endowment. All well and good. But ND football’s value to the university is far greater than .8% or whatever you claim it is. In the words of the old MasterCard commercial: its priceless!

        Can ND survive without football? Today, no doubt. One hundred years ago? Much harder to say. Regardless, ND scholars didn’t make the school an iconic American institution. Rockne did. “The Gipper” did. “The Four Horseman” did. So on and so on.

        Moreover, ND football historically gave marginalized Catholic “subway alumni” a source of pride when faced by “WASP” bigots in the late 19th and early 20th c. Spelling bee champions can’t do that!

        GO IRISH!

      3. Bob,

        I think what you may be missing here is that it may be true the actual hard dollars football provides to ND may be as you say. I’ll take that as a fact for argument’s sake. What I think you’re missing is the brand name identity football brings to ND. Everybody knows Notre Dame. They hear the name all the time. Also, they know it’s a world class education. Without their epic history in football, I have to agree with SFR that I don’t think ND would have the brand name recognition it now does.

        I’m not necessarily saying some student looking at colleges would pick ND to go to school just because of the football team, but it gets ND noticed, and John Q Student may take a look at the school and decide to apply after seeing in addition to it’s football history, it actually provides a top notch education. I think that’s the point Norm may be getting at.

  18. Greg’s article is eye opening. I was aware of the problems on the surface, but not the details and how bad things were structurally.

    These are all things ND should keep ahead of the curve, and none of them involve ND sacrificing its core principles. These are basic core issues that can be solved with the right investment into their football program. Maybe these problems taken individually aren’t going to bring a program down, but all them taken together definitely can have an effect. That doesn’t absolve BK of his responsibility for a 4-8 year. There were definitely coaching issues too. But until ND gets with the times, a NC will continue to be elusive.

    But that’s the reason I resist this idea that ND should just give up and become a football factory and to Hell with the academic standards. There are plenty of other problems from coaching to structural issues that need to be address first.

    1. Stanford has higher admission standards than ND, and they (presently) have a more successful football program, too. They’ve demonstrated that it’s possible to have a winning team and high academic standards at the same time. Interestingly, Alabama offered 266 players in the 2017 cycle, Notre Dame 210, and Stanford just 67. That suggests that they have a very clear idea of the type of person they are looking for. It also suggests that an offer from Stanford carries a great deal of weight, since they get a significantly larger than average percentage of acceptances. (I looked back at 2016, too, where they signed 25 of 82 offers, while ND got 23 of 188.)

  19. Greg,

    Thank you for this article, it’s what I have been saying for years. Football is a necessary evil to the administration to keep the coffers full of money. As Notre Dame you can’t compete with programs like Alabama and OSU who put football first. You need a visionary leading the University and the Athletic department who is willing to find a way to keep academic excellence with football excellence. Personally I don’t see it and until we as fans vote with our wallet I don’t see them changing. The Administration will do just enough to keep the money rolling in, but I don’t see the results on the field, changing until Jenkins and some Board of Trustees are gone.

    1. I don’t agree with you, Jack. Football brings in a minuscule .8% of Notre Dame’s total endowment. The cost to ND of dumping the entire program would be about the same for them as taking the wife and kids out to Six Flags for a day would be for you. The coffers are full of money whether we have football or not, and fans voting with their wallets just doesn’t come into the picture. It seems pretty clear to me that you’re overestimating the importance of the financial aspect of the program to Notre Dame.

      What’s more, if Jenkins didn’t really care about football, you wouldn’t see him in the locker room during Kelly’s post-game speeches. Also, it may be that Notre Dame has been underfunding the program, but if that’s so, then we probably wouldn’t have been paying Charlie Weis all that money for five years after we canned him, too. Something tells me that it’s more likely that Jenkins has been slow to approve investments in upgrades to the facilities and the like. If so, then the “Crossroads Project” is a brilliant move, bundling academic and athletic improvements together.

      1. Bob,

        You are missing my point. ND is only a National University because of it’s football program. Georgetown is a National Catholic University with it’s proximity to Washington DC. Boston College is prominent because it is located in a major City. Notre Dame is in the middle of nowhere in Indiana. The closest city is Chicago and it is an hour and a half away. Football made the school and allowed them to use it to make their University what it is today. No one knows what the football program brings into the University because it’s a private school and the records are not release. You also forget what the amount of money that is brought in by merchandise, football home games and the various booster clubs around the US and people like the Subway Alumni. These revenue streams would not be available if it were not for ND football.

  20. Greg, “as a fan of the team since 1990…” all I can say is, I’m sorry about that. You missed what we who were fans then keep waiting to get back to.

    Interesting article. I along with most fans look at the details of the recruiting and general play of the team ND puts out on the field. Wow, all this time, since 1990, it was the administration. Nearly 30 years? That’s nuts. OK, how about a movement to put Lou Holtz in charge of FB operations. He would work somewhat in conjunction with the AD, but not have to concern himself with all ND sports, just FB. Instead of trailing other schools, let’s get ahead of them at least as it concerns FB. He brought a devotion to ND that I’ve not seen ever.

    1. I think Swarbrick is doing a great job, personally. He’s probably had to overcome a fair amount of resistance to putting up flashy facilities to attract players. There’s a bit of compromise going on here: Notre Dame has needed to upgrade to remain competitive, but they won’t do it at the expense of core values. One of those core values is that football players aren’t more special than the other students, and that’s a tricky to hold on to in light of the royal treatment that they get at some other schools.

      I don’t think that putting someone between Kelly and Swarbrick will really help the program, no matter what his devotion. Between the two of them, I feel pretty confident that they’ve done what’s needed to right the ship for next year. We’ll see.

      1. Since Notre Dame has become a “National Catholic Research Institution” (meaning ND has a set of butt kicking graduate schools – many of them endowed) there is no turning the clock back in Academia. After “the Campaign for Notre Dame”, launched in 1977, there is no chance that it will ever revert to the type of college it was in the 70’s or the 60’s.

        But it does need an administrative “culture change” and as soon as the guys in the ivory towers figure out that such a change would never threaten them in their Academic areas, the better.

        Bruce G. Curme ’77 ’82

      2. I’m not in the fire Swarbick camp, but it remains to be seen if I think he’s doing a great job.

        Things I do like are the upgrades to the stadium and football program, though as Greg noted, they’ve been behind the 8 ball there. But it’s moving ND into the 21st century nonetheless. I also do like the ACC deal. Despite some who say they don’t care about ND’s other sports, Swarbick has to care, it’s his job. He found a quality home for other sports and maintained ND’s official independence, despite our 5 game ACC deal (and the ACC is improving in CFB so that may help our strength of schedule down the road).

        I wanted to move on from BK after this past season. However, I’m willing to acknowledge that there may just not have been any quality HC’s available at this time. I don’t want to fire BK and hire anyone. They need to hit a home run with the next hire, we can’t afford another miss. Maybe next year if BK fails again, their may be good coaches to pick from. I do think some of BK’s moves, esp. with assistants, may have been with some pressure from above. Nothing happens in a vacuum.

  21. P.S. can you please get this article in front of Swarbick and Kelly so they can read it – Thanks!

  22. Been a fan of ND since the early 80’s when I was little, all while my friends were UofM and MSU fans. So I’ve taken a little heat over the years to say the least. I have been talking about ND facilities for many many years. I agree wholeheartedly with you on every syllable you wrote above.

  23. Lou, I’ll never forget your last game at ND. You choked so bad. You are up by 8 with a few minutes on the clock. You are at the USC one yard line. You are facing 4th down. You get greedy and go for the field goal. It gets blocked and the SC player runs it back for the TD. I knew We were going to lose at that point. They go for two. They tie it up and win in overtime. Why did you open the door and let the opponent in?
    Joe Montana fans take heart. Bill B. may be the greatest Coach. I think He could have had other fourth rounder qB’s win five super bowls.

    1. Mike,
      And I can think of a whole slew of first rounders Belichik could have lost with.

      Bruce G. Curme
      La Crosse, Indiana

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