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Training table needs to become a reality

Dec 14, 2009, 7:30 AM EDT

As we look back at the 2009 season, there will be plenty of time to discuss what went wrong for the Irish. But any type of analysis begins and ends with the Irish defense.

The Irish finished 87th in total defense, and during the four game losing streak that ended the season, the Irish only forced two turnovers and surrendered over 400 yards to everybody but UConn. It was abundantly clear that while the Irish were inept in every facet, the team failed because it couldn’t stop the run. After listening to the comments of Jack Swarbrick on Friday, I think we’ve gained some valuable insight into the reasons why.

“The weight loss on defense was 13 pounds per player during the season,” Swarbrick said when discussing the need to improve nutrition for the football team. “Our weight loss on the defensive side of the ball was a little shocking.”

Those numbers provide resounding proof why the Irish defense wilted as the year progressed, and were buoyed when Swarbrick revealed that only 42 percent of the football team ate dinner at the dining hall on a nightly basis.

“That doesn’t mean they aren’t eating anything,” Swarbrick said. “We have to schedule a little smarter. You can’t create obstacles for yourself.”

People seem to wince when the topic of training table is brought up, as if the idea of serving different food to student-athletes is somehow an injustice. But Notre Dame absolutely has to make changes to their nutrition game plan, and the statistics Swarbrick brought up supply resounding proof that the athletic department is light years behind.

I had the chance to tour Oregon’s football facilities last season, and was amazed at the nutrition system they have set up for their football players. Attached to the weight room and training facilities was a juice bar, where a staffer prepares nutrition shakes for players before and after workouts. Talking with Florida strength and conditioning director Mickey Marotti, who ran Notre Dame’s program from 1998 to 2005, his staff at Florida puts a gigantic emphasis on diet and nutrition, something that I’m sure Notre Dame’s staff does, but is unable to implement without specialized meal plans for scholarship athletes.

It’s interesting that during his introductory remarks, Brian Kelly mentioned nutrition when asked about winning and losing.

“Eating at Burger King at 3:00 in the morning is not going to make you the best for your 8:00 o’clock workouts,” Kelly quipped.

(If Kelly knew how bad meal participation was among his players, he’d at least be thankful those guys were eating…)

From the sounds of both the head coach and athletic director’s remarks, a change is in the works. A Student-Athlete Advisory Council brought up the issue six months ago, and right now, the university is trying to figure out a model that works best.

“It’s at the top of the list. It’s just how do you make it work,” Swarbrick said. 

  1. Rob - Dec 14, 2009 at 8:02 AM

    I think this is an example of one of the reasons it wasn’t especially realistic to expect someone to come from the NFL, where the players are employees and professionals, and be successful managing college kids, who are kids and not emotionally mature enough in many cases to make good decisions about things like nutrition, etc. Charlie probably never had to worry about this in the NFL, so it’s not surprising that this caused problems for the Irish.
    I know that this was not always the case for the Irish, as when I was coaching HS ball we had the opportunity to tour the Irish facilities, including the weight room, locker room, stadium, etc. It was pretty cool. (This was pre-Charlie.) I talked to Arnaz Battle and several other players after their workout, Arnaz complained that EA Sports didn’t make him fast enough in their college football video game. Anyway, when we were touring the weight room, there was a small room, like a pantry, on one end, where players passed by after their workouts. It had 3 meal plans, one if players were trying to gain weight, 1 if they were trying to maintain their weight, and 1 if they were trying to lose weight. These were just for post workout snacks, I think the guys trying to gain drank two shakes, trying to maintain drank one, and guys trying to lose had a low cal version. I think they also had fruit for the players to eat. I specifically remember all the players drinking shakes, but the details are a little fuzzy. They were not made on site, the shakes were pre-packaged and in a small refrigerator in the pantry. Anyway, I don’t know if Charlie did away with this or what, but it doesn’t sound like it was emphasized if the defense lost 13 pounds per man during the season. That’s almost a pound per week, and that is unacceptable. Think how much strength they lost along with that weight. No wonder they got pushed around by Navy and UConn.

  2. mrrandolph - Dec 14, 2009 at 8:13 AM

    Another former Irish assistant on the staff of Florida. That atleast 5 by my count.
    Urban Meyer 1996-2000
    Steve Addazio(OC) 2002-04
    Charlie Strong (DC) 1995-1998
    Dan Mullen (OC-FLA HC-Miss State) 1999-2000
    Mickey Mariotti (Strength & Conditioning) 1998-2005
    And, if you have trouble on defense why all the deep passes. (ex. Stanford)and 1 play drives. Why not milk the clock and keep your defense off the field?

  3. mike - Dec 14, 2009 at 8:28 AM

    When I was at ND, there was a part of North Dining Hall called the ‘training table’ that was off-limits to all but athletes, and I at least thought it was open after normal hours. Does it not exist anymore?

  4. willmose - Dec 14, 2009 at 10:49 AM

    Darn if I was a little younger I could play defense for ND. Don’t worry about me, I could pack on 20 to 30 pounds during the season without a problem! But seriously, the Norte Dame football team has had a problem in the last few years losing games in the second half and losing a lot late in the season. This points to conditioning and coaching problems (not changing the game plans). As Vince Lombardi said “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” Nutrition is part of conditioning. While I seriously doubt that the Irish will eat their way into the top 10, nutrition as part of better overall all conditioning for the whole team is one piece of puzzle. Believe it or not, teams often win games, not because they have more talent, but because they are better conditioned than other team.

  5. NDFAN401 - Dec 14, 2009 at 3:08 PM

    It is surprising to find that the staff at Notre Dame is this far behind on something like nutrition. I would be surprised if this was the entire problem as during the final quarters and minutes of the games it appeared as though conditioning was also to blame. The players weight and work out habits and nutrition should be things that are all monitored not just for progress and purpose but also for health reasons.
    If you look at the children of todays society it is easy to see that nutrition is not something that is taught. The NFL has a program called PLAY 60 which is designed just to kids to participate in exercise for 60 minutes a day(how sad!). The kids that come through the high school athletics programs probably are not educated about nutrition and proper workout programs like they should be. Whatever steps have to be taken to monitor this area and make improvements it sounds as if it is worthwhile to do so.

  6. irishfanintx - Dec 14, 2009 at 7:17 PM

    I agree with NDFAN401 that that is very surprising to hear that ND is that far behind on nutrition. When watching the games this year I attributed the problem to strength and conditioning and poor technique. Hopefully the nutrition problem will be solved in plenty of time for next year and the conditioning and technique will be improved upon as well.

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