Ten years later, Davie heads back to the sidelines


Just shy of ten years from the day he was dismissed as the head coach of Notre Dame, Bob Davie will be heading back to the sidelines, accepting the head coaching position at New Mexico. Davie replaces Mike Locksley, who failed to last three seasons amidst a turbulent run in Albuquerque that included sexual harassment charges, fist-fights with assistant coaches, and 26 losses in 28 games.

Davie’s return ends a decade long sidebar where the former Irish coach went from in-over-his-head to talking-head, spending the last ten years becoming one of ESPN’s prized football analysts. That he’s landed at New Mexico — arguably one of the toughest spots in college football right now — is a testament to Davie’s desire to get back into coaching, and New Mexico’s potentially radioactive status in the eyes of other head coaching candidates.

In retrospect, the hiring of Davie at Notre Dame can only be seen as disastrous. Selected by the Irish administration over names like Dave Wannstedt and Gary Barnett (choices that very well could have been just as mediocre), Davie spent five seasons learning the ropes at a time when college football was in the midst of an arms race. After taking the Irish to a BCS bowl on the back of an opportunistic defense (also known as smoke) and an offense that didn’t make mistakes (better known as mirrors), Davie got a five-year contract extension, only to be fired a season later when the Irish stumbled to 5-6.

“I felt we were in a place that I could no longer say that we could actually stand up and say that we were putting together a program in place that could contend, if not win, the national championship,” athletic director Kevin White said. “I really believe we need to restart this thing.”

That restart is a process that’s still ongoing… a decade later.

Looking back at a slew of articles from the days after Davie’s firing takes you back to a far different time, but one with striking similarities. Even then, Irish fans thought they could lure Bob Stoops to South Bend, just a season off a national championship. Even then, Tom Coughlin — not a Super Bowl winning coach yet but a man with complete control of an NFL franchise — was seen as the perfect fit to many media members and Irish fans, even though the man had the Jacksonville Jaguars at his fingertips. (He even had a hand in hiring the secretaries.) And of course, who could forget the love affair known as Jon Gruden, Part One.

There’s no need to take people down that rabbit hole, but how it ends up isn’t pretty. In picking Davie, Notre Dame chose a first-year head coach at probably one of the most inopportune times to do so, sticking with the status quo when the game was changing around it.

In choosing George O’Leary, and then firing him because of inaccuracies on his resume, the Irish were forced to pick the second man who would say yes to the job, a far cry from Kevin White’s second choice for the job, as some inside the Irish program spun it.

But we come not to bury Davie, but to praise him. After five years in the Notre Dame pressure cooker, Davie got incredibly comfortable in the booth, able to provide viewers with enough Xs and Os amidst his football colloquialisms. He even got to a point where he was able to question other coaches clock management skills and playcalling abilities, deficiencies that once had Irish fans banging their collective heads against walls watching Davie struggle with the same things.

Again, this post isn’t to rip Davie, it’s to marvel at what’s to come for a man that’s been out of college football for ten years and is ready to re-enter a game that’s night and day different than the one he left. I for one am excited to see what Davie can do with the spotlight off of him and Notre Dame in the rear view mirror. It’s not Slippery Rock, but the once revered defensive coordinator will finally have a whistle back in his mouth as he gets set to coach some “footbaw.”

(Enjoy a greatest hits column from the old Blue-Gray Sky — the many faces of Bob Davie.)

Even amidst chaos, Kelly expecting USC’s best

JuJu Smith-Schuster, Rocky Hayes, Blaise Taylor

USC head coach Steve Sarkisian was fired on Monday, with interim head coach Clay Helton taking the reins of the Trojan program during tumultuous times. Helton will be the fourth different USC head coach to face Notre Dame in as many years, illustrative of the chaos that’s shaken up Heritage Hall in the years since Pete Carroll left for the NFL.

All eyes are on the SC program, with heat on athletic director Pat Haden and the ensuing media circus that only Los Angeles can provide. But Brian Kelly doesn’t expect anything but their best when USC boards a plane to take on the Irish in South Bend.

While the majority of Notre Dame’s focus will be inward this week, Kelly did take the time on Sunday and Monday to talk with his team about the changes atop the Trojan program, and how they’ll likely impact the battle for the Jeweled Shillelagh.

“We talked about there would be an interim coach, and what that means,” Kelly said. “Teams come together under those circumstances and they’re going to play their very best. And I just reminded them of that.”

While nobody on this Notre Dame roster has experienced a coaching change, they’ve seen their share of scrutiny. The Irish managed to spring an upset not many saw coming against LSU last year in the Music City Bowl after a humiliating defeat against the Trojans and amidst the chaos of a quarterbacking controversy. And just last week, we saw Charlie Strong’s team spring an upset against arch rival Oklahoma when just about everybody left the Longhorns for dead.

“I think you look at the way Texas responded this past weekend with a lot of media scrutiny,” Kelly said Tuesday. “I expect USC to respond the same way, so we’re going to have to play extremely well.”

Outside of the head coaching departure, it’s difficult to know if there’ll be any significant difference between a team lead by Sarkisian or the one that Helton will lead into battle. The offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach has been at USC for six years, and has already held the title of interim head coach when he led the Trojans to a 2013 Las Vegas Bowl title after Lane Kiffin was fired and Ed Orgeron left the program after he wasn’t given the full time position.

Helton will likely call plays, a role he partially handled even when Sarkisian was on the sideline. The defense will still be run by Justin Wilcox. And more importantly, the game plan will be executed by a group of players that are among the most talented in the country.

“They have some of the finest athletes in the country. I’ve recruited a lot of them, and they have an immense amount of pride for their program and personal pride,” Kelly said. “So they will come out with that here at Notre Dame, there is no question about that.”

Irish add commitment from CB Donte Vaughn

Donte Vaughn

Notre Dame’s recruiting class grew on Monday. And in adding 6-foot-3 Memphis cornerback Donte Vaughn, it grew considerably.

The Irish added another jumbo-sized skill player in Vaughn, beating out a slew of SEC offers for the intriguing cover man. Vaughn picked Notre Dame over offers from Auburn, LSU, Miami, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Texas A&M among others.

He made the announcement on Monday, his 18th birthday:

It remains to be seen if Vaughn can run like a true cornerback. But his length certainly gives him a skill-set that doesn’t currently exist on the Notre Dame roster.

Interestingly enough, Vaughn’s commitment comes a cycle after Brian VanGorder made news by going after out-of-profile coverman Shaun Crawford, immediately offering the 5-foot-9 cornerback after taking over for Bob Diaco, who passed because of Crawford’s size. An ACL injury cut short Crawford’s freshman season before it got started, but not before Crawford already proved he’ll be a valuable piece of the Irish secondary for years to come.

Vaughn is another freaky athlete in a class that already features British Columbia’s Chase Claypool. With a safety depth chart that’s likely turning over quite a bit in the next two seasons, Vaughn can clearly shift over if that’s needed, though Notre Dame adding length like Vaughn clearly points to some of the shifting trends after Richard Sherman went from an average wide receiver to one of the best cornerbacks in football, and Vaughn will be asked to play on the outside.

Vaughn is the 15th member of Notre Dame’s 2016 signing class. He is the fifth defensive back, joining safeties D.J. Morgan, Jalen Elliott and Spencer Perry along with cornerback Julian Love. The Irish project to take one more.

With Notre Dame expecting another huge recruiting weekend with USC coming to town, it’ll be very interesting to see how the Irish staff close out this recruiting class.