Culture Change Leads to National Identity

Oct. 27, 2012; Norman, OK, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish linebacker Carlo Calabrese (44) sings the Notre Dame alma mater with the Notre Dame leprechaun after Notre Dame defeated the Oklahoma Sooners 30-13 at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-US PRESSWIRE

One of the most difficult tasks a coach has when taking over an underperforming program is changing its culture. While a clichéd phrase used far too often in sports, it’s used in nearly every sport and at every level because of its accuracy. Just ask Kansas head coach Charlie Weis when he recently engaged in a football practice without his seniors in order to “develop younger players for the future” after a horrid start to the Jayhawks’ season. Mike Leach at Washington State also has first-hand experience in culture conflict. After struggling throughout the early phases of the Cougars’ season, Leach criticized his seniors publicly, saying, “Some of them have had kind of this zombie-like, go through the motions, everything is like how it’s always been, that’s how it’ll always be. Some of them quite honestly have an empty-corpse quality. That’s not pleasant to say or pleasant to think about, but that’s a fact.”

The symptoms Leach described are ones I have experienced first-hand. Though Division I football is light years ahead and a sport removed from high school baseball, I played for a losing program. The worst memory of my high school athletic career involved taking a 25-8 lead against a conference opponent and the helpless feeling that followed as we watched the opposing team rally to a 28-25 victory. I stood at second base, mitt in hand, eyes lowered and zoning out at the infield dirt, shaking my head. As run after run tallied, all I could feel was inevitability, and all I could think, “Here we go again.” Confidence is nearly impossible to measure but absolutely necessary in the recipe that is winning. Hoping to win when taking the field is not enough – expecting to win is a must.

After twenty years of disappointment and “successful” seasons that truly lacked foundation, perhaps no program in all of college football was in such dire need of cultural adjustment as Notre Dame. Brian Kelly accepted the challenge of turning an Irish squad who had gone 16- 21 the three previous seasons into a winner. To highlight just what a challenge twenty years of mediocrity truly is, there were devastating tumbles. A blowout loss to Navy. A last second defeat at the hands of Conference USA member Tulsa. An inept showing against South Florida that set the tone for a season that failed to live up to expectation. All harsh lessons in how difficult change can really be.

Now, in Brian Kelly’s third season, the Irish are learning lessons of a different kind. Notre Dame realized they’re capable of winning close contests with their two-minute victory over Purdue. Michigan State taught ND the belief they could win on the road at night. The Michigan game showed one player, despite Denard Robinson’s amazing gifts, is not invincible and can be beaten. The Hurricanes provided the Irish secondary with confidence it could stop an explosive aerial attack. Stanford illustrated the Irish could win a battle of brawn, and BYU gave the Irish an opportunity to win within the confines of a trap game.

Should it, then, surprise anyone that Oklahoma quarterback and former Heisman candidate, Landry Jones, was grounded and literally looking up at current Heisman finalist, Manti Te’o, after a sack? Or the fact the Sooners’ coach, Bob Stoops, was the one turning purple on national television and not Brian Kelly? That Oklahoma’s players, such as wide receiver Kenny Stills, were the ones losing their composure and being flagged for pushes? That Irish safety Zeke Motta, when a Sooner wide receiver decided to challenge him with a war of words on the field, refused to be intimidated and stood his ground?

To quote Manti Te’o after Notre Dame’s victory, “Today is no surprise.” While the Irish football team was not caught off guard by its demolishing of Oklahoma, it certainly surprised the college football world, highlighting the next evolution for the ND program. The culture at Notre Dame has changed – now it’s leading to a national identity.

Las Vegas had the Irish as double digit underdogs. ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit, only a season removed from labeling Notre Dame’s defense a “high school defense”, summed up the national attitude toward Notre Dame on College GameDay hours before kickoff. Herbstreit’s crystal ball told him ND’s front seven would have to dominate for the Irish to “even compete” against the Sooners. The Irish defensive line didn’t have to dominate to win – they had to dominate to even compete. Lack of national respect can only be rectified in one way, and that is to continue winning to the point you cannot be ignored.

Notre Dame walloped the Oklahoma Sooners despite their previous 79-4 record at home the past 14 seasons, and they did it in front of one of the largest college football audiences of the season, with the Notre Dame-Oklahoma matchup beating out the World Series in key demographics.  Oklahoma came into the game averaging 200 yards per game on the ground, and they were only able to muster 15 total yards for 0.6 yards per carry against the Irish. The Sooners were averaging 45 points per game, and Notre Dame held them to 13. Bob Stoops had built his Sooner reputation on his stingy 15th ranked defense and the Irish brushed them aside as if a bug on Notre Dame’s windshield to national relevance, rushing for over 215 yards on Oklahoma.

Notre Dame Road to the Playoffs '17: Week 11 Game Guide

Notre Dame’s culture has changed and they believe they can win against anyone. And the Irish seem hell bent on making the national media believe it too, even if it means dragging pundits like Kirk Herbstreit along for the ride.

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  1. irisheye62 5 years ago

    and I would like to see how our d. would stack against Braxton Miller who is a great talent—BTW ND Southy–Catholic is spelled with a capital C unless you refer to the ENTIRE Christian Faith ( Catholic and Protestant ) in the sense of being Universal.

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    1. ND Southy 5 years ago

      Look, I get that OSU fans are obnoxious but no need to take shots at a man who has been dead for years. Very difficult to call a man anti-catholic when he was among the first to recruit and play african americans. And he was among the first to hire african american coaches. Ara and Lou got their start with him so how bad could he be. The only reason he didn’t play ND was he didn’t want to “polarize” the catholic community in Ohio.

      Woody often referred to himself as one of ND’s best recruiters because he would always tell kids if you don’t come to OSU then ND is a fine school so they wouldn’t go to Mich.

      I’m not trying to be a Woody apologist as I have never me the man. I just felt like it was a needless jab that was way off topic as you stated.

      Your a ND alum, act like it.

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      1. irisheye62 5 years ago

        blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah —
        I remember the good and not so good -and see more of the not so good of OSU living here. That said, my reason for bringing up Hayes was in the context of wishing we could have played them in the first place for years. But he did not allow it. That fact hardly speaks ill of him. Move on. Don’t lecture–move on to another post. Go Irish!

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  2. irisheye62 5 years ago

    I know this is not topic but I can’t help it living in Columbus, OHio. I REALLY WISH Woody Hayes was not so anti-Catholic and anti-Notre Dame. THIS YEAR we would wipe the floor with the mediocre and undefeated Buckeyes-
    ( whose schedules include Miami, OHio and UAB and a downgraded, flight grounded numerically incorrect ( as always) Big “10” —One great game against the Huskers–and outside of that—just a last second against Purdue—and nothing but bland –along with their best bland band in the land and borrowing a hymn tune for their alma mater and a mentality that thinks the suns rises and sets on High Street on one of the ugliest campuses in the USA. Irish 67-Buckeyes 0 –( and I even like Braxton Miller) Again–I know this isn’t topic but if there was a time to make the self centered buckeye fans eat crow–this would be a fine time to do so. Thanks Woody for your anti-Catholic stance in life. How is that working for you on the other side?

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    1. ND Southy 5 years ago

      Way to be catholic and above it all. I’m sure you’ve met Woody many times and therefore can speak factually on what kind of person he is.

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      1. irisheye62 5 years ago

        I actually DID meet Woody a few times. It is a FACT he did not play ND–and he did not take too kindly to the University on or off the field. Not above it all Southy–just factual. Until you live in Columbus, OHio, you don’t know the facts of how tiresome it gets year in and year out about their hate of ND and how the sun rises and sets on High Street. Loyalty is one thing. Being myopic is another ( and they are just that.) I wasn’t being “above it all” as you say–I’m just proud to be an ND ALUM, ND FAN, win or lose and would like the opportunity to have played OSU more than what we have done. That’s all–and it’s not above it all. Lighten up, Mr Judgemental.

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      2. JDH 5 years ago

        Irisheye is correct in his history. Woody Hayes, regardless of your opinion of him, would not play ND unless they agreed to play OSU in Columbus every year. He felt threatened by their success and avoided them.

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      3. irisheye62 5 years ago

        I admit, I was off topic -jsut a bit. However, the Hayes thing merely spun out of my observations of our current d. against an amazing talent in Braxton Miller at OSU. It would be nice to see us play against such a great talent like Miller who has carried that team and our how our Dl. would respond. THAT is how things spun. THat is all. ( BTW, Moose Krause was told by Woody himself that he didn’t want more than one tough game on his schedule a year if he played Notre Dame. Although he played Okla. and a few others –it was rare. He wanted to avoid ND altogether. AND the man was not religous–WHAT Happens to him ( or anybody else) in the afterlife is up to GOD–not me. I never suggested that as some would say. It was a light hearted observation with our talented d. going against some talented QB’s. That is all–nothing more or less. GO IRISH! BEAT PITT!
        ( and by the way, JDH, thanks for your back up. I have met Woody–and Holtz and Devine and Ara–and Tressel and Cooper and Bruce from OSU. I live here. Holtz and Ara are one of a kind-second to none) The subject is closed. JDH thanks again–GO IRISH NO LET DOWN BEAT PITT!! BEAT THEM ALL!

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    2. Shazamrock 5 years ago

      Unfortunetly for Hayes, any non Buckeye fan really only remembers him for cold-cocking that poor, oblivious Clemson linebacker, who had just picked off a pass and was streaking down the Ohio State sideline.

      Then… BAM! old Woody Hayes lurched off the sideline like a pissed off Dick Butkus and gave him a forearm shiver that took the kid clear off his feet and left him looking out his earhole!

      The look on that kids face has often been called “The Hayes Daze”!

      I don’e even remember what the result was on the field.
      (Personal foul, first down, TD…)

      Unsportsmen like conduct at it finest!

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      1. irisheye62 5 years ago

        and unsportsmen like conduct at its finest continues sadly. Again, the only reason I mentioned North High Street was that I wish we would have and could have played them for years. In light of this years d. -it would have been a heck of a game. That’s all–some made more out of my comments than what was meant. Honest to goodness.

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  3. Patrick 5 years ago

    I’m a die hard ND fan. I don’t see ND as #1 . . . yet. There’s no argument for removing an undefeated, defending national champion as #1 until they lose. And Alabama hasn’t lost yet. I don’t care if they are winning by 3 points every game or 30. Until they lose, they stay #1. If the roles were reversed, and ND was defending national champs, we’d all say the same thing.

    Hopefully things play out and ND gets to play them for the national title. The last thing I want to hear is ND plays K-State, beats them, and a 1 loss Alabama team finishes 2. All we’ll hear is how they’d kick ND’s a$$ any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

    So my opinion, as of this week:

    1) Alabama
    2) Notre Dame
    3) Oregon
    4) Kansas State
    5) LSU

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  4. Sad Warrior 5 years ago

    Rick-Yes and no. That issue will be decided on the field if all the pieces fall into place. I think the Irish defense would put any team in the vice. With the offense catching up, look out!

    Go Irish! Hooah!

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  5. Rick 5 years ago

    Is being objective even a possibility? Notre dame has moved up 21 spots in 8weeks! Most preseason polls had the Irish around 30th. Were they wrong about them? Absolutely! But do you think they are better than Alabama Oregon or kstate?

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  6. qb2333 5 years ago

    Can someone explain to me wtf “eye test” means anyway? Is it about shiny silver helmets and putting shellackings on crap teams by 50+ every week? Give me a break

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    1. ND Southy 5 years ago

      It means reading an eye chart. What do you think it means?

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  7. ChrisJ 5 years ago

    To be completely honest, we’ve played a harder schedule than any team in front of us thus far and I feel we should be ranked higher than we are. The fact is we scheduled potential conference winners in every conference besides the SEC and Big East (although PITT usually challenges for the title). Michigan and Michigan State for the Big 10. Miami for the ACC. Oklahoma for the Big 12. And finally USC for the Pac-12. We’ve run all of that already besides USC, yet we are only at 3.

    Alabama has beaten 2 ranked teams along the way, including one top ten in Michigan and then Mississippi State.

    Kansas State has beaten three ranked teams, including one top ten in Oklahoma, and then West Virginia and Texas Tech.

    Notre Dame has beaten four ranked teams, including two in the top ten in Michigan State and Oklahoma, and then Michigan and Stanford.

    These votes to the top teams, especially Alabama, is based on what they did last year and not all about what they have done this year. Nobody has beaten more ranked teams than ND has and NOBODY has played the schedule we have. The teams we have scheduled and run through are all better than average teams year in and year out, yet we are getting criticized for our SoS because these teams aren’t doing their best. Guess what…they are still better than average and better than Western Kentucky, Florida Atlantic, Ole Miss, Missouri State, North Texas, and Iowa State. Hmmm, our ‘cupcakes’ have been Navy and Purdue. Hardly cupcakes…ask Ohio State fans that…

    In my opinion, we should be ranked #1 based on the ranked teams we have beaten and the schedule in general. Sure, our schedule lightens up and other teams are getting tougher, but I’m talking about right now. I just don’t agree with the Coaches/AP. Computers have it right.

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    1. Sad Warrior 5 years ago

      ChrisJ-your argument is sound and very well put. Oh, and by the way, we totally agree!

      ND needs to lay a big one on Pitt and get the new guys some p.t.

      Go Irish! Hooah!

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    2. ND Southy 5 years ago

      On paper you may be right but based on the eye test Bama is #1. Having said that, it doesn’t really matter yet and the best team doesn’t always win the NC.

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  8. Patrick 5 years ago

    I don’t care who ND plays in a national title game, as long as they finish undefeated – and get there – a chance exists.

    This is a far cry from the abominations of the last 20 years, which along with you guys, I’ve suffered through. The Syracuse loss. The Navy jokes. The 3 pt win against San Diego State. The humiliations in the bowl games. The constant media song that ND can’t compete, it’s too cold and ugly in Indiana to attract good talent (funny you don’t hear that about Kansas State, Ohio State, Michigan, etc).

    Keep winning each week and let’s just get a shot. I have a personal connection to the NY Giants. And all this talk of Alabama reminds me of the Giants vs Patriots Super Bowls – especially the one in 2008 (which I was present at). Crazier things have happened than Alabama losing a football game.

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  9. Toulmin H. Brown 5 years ago

    Alabama has played football virtually as the German Army took smaller countries in thw 1930’s .. Then Hitler attacked Stalin.

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    1. Sad Warrior 5 years ago

      THB-What the hell? Did you forget we KICKED the Nazi’s ass? We destroyed one of the evil forces of all time. This is a poor analogy and will rub the Bama fans badly.

      Go Irish! Hooah!

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      1. JDH 5 years ago

        I also find it an odd analogy. But I think he’s saying that ND is going to be like Stalin? Am I getting that correct? So Operation Barbarrosa was a failure for the Reich due to Russian will and culminated at Staligrad? Yes? 🙂

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      2. Sad Warrior 5 years ago

        JDH-Good point. We didn’t consider that aspect of THB. He or she is a commodity with some different perspectives. We still feel it is an odd analogy. Had Hitler not been a fool the Soviets would have been finished. As for Stalin, he murdered more people than Hitler. I find both of them to be reprehensible and hope they are in hell.

        No more on that! Go Irish! Hooah!

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      3. Shazamrock 5 years ago

        Sad Warrior,

        “Rub the Bama fans badly” ????

        Are you really implying that Alabama fans know World History?

        Ask a Bama grad what they know about Germany, and they will tell you that they make one hell of a chocolate cake!

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      4. Sad Warrior 5 years ago

        Shaz-hilarious! I guess I should have said the Bama football team. I had forgotten how astute and advanced a degree from ‘Southern Directional Institution’ is viewed. Now you’ve gotten me poking fun at the lame folk.

        We do have one troop here that is from Bama, but loves LSU! He claims that if you ask a Bama fan about Germany they will tell you that they should never have attacked Pearl Harbor! And I always thought that the attackers were from New York City?!

        Go Irish! Hooah!

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      5. irisheye62 5 years ago

        Sad Warrior–it is a bad analogy and it rubs me badly. Toulmin has some “interesting” posts. Oh well–as long as we are all Irish–I guess. SHAZ and STEEL FAN ROB for Presidential Cabinet! Go Irish Hooah!

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      6. Shazamrock 5 years ago

        No offense, but the only cabinet that I’m interested in is the one that has liquor in it!

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      7. irisheye62 5 years ago


        NO offense taken.

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  10. chi-town copper 5 years ago

    Great article. I was battling some co-workers on ND’s chances of playing for the title if we win out and everyone infront of us wins out (trying not to look too far ahead). The consensus was we dont get in if that happens. If Alabama beats LSU they are a lock and who knows with K-State. I was curious what people thought our window was, ie next year and the ones that follow when we lose our seniors if we dont make it all the way. I know im putting the cart before the horse but just curious.

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    1. Shazamrock 5 years ago

      chi-town copper,

      Assuming we win out.

      On one hand, I kind of wish there was a play-off THIS year, where we could have the chance to play our way into the title game and not have to worry about polls and computers.

      On the other, if you remember Stanford a couple of years back, they probably should have been in the title game but I think they got passed over because their fans have a history of not travelling well.

      ND will fill any stadium (see last year’s attendence record in the bowl game against FSU) and generate interest.
      That means better profits for all those involved.

      ND has caught flack for being picked for bowl games over other teams who had the same record or even better, for this very reason.

      But I think a game like Alabama vs ND would be, on a national scale, not only a welcome change, but a true block buster in terms of revenue.

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