Few people are as qualified to talk about life on the Notre Dame hot seat as well as Bob Davie. Out of college coaching since he was relieved of his head coaching duties, Davie now broadcasts football games for ESPN and ABC.
Davie was on ESPN Radio this morning with Colin Cowherd to discuss the situation and had some interesting insights into what’s going on.
It’s a feeding frenzy right now,” Davie said. The real problem you have if your Charlie Weis, because I certainly felt it is, one-half of the people sitting up there wearing the Notre Dame jerseys during the game, half the student body, half the alumni, maybe half of your own team, can kind of be hoping maybe you do lose, just to make the decision an easy one. It permeates everything you do, it just becomes so negative and you really do feel like its us against the world.
If you take the pulse of the average Notre Dame fan right now, I think that’s the exact situation the team is in right now, and a very big reason why Weis was correct in just establishing tunnel vision and keeping his team focused on the challenge ahead.
Davie also weighed in on what it’s like dealing with the Notre Dame administration in a time like this. While the people on top of the university have changed since Davie was head coach, last season’s uncertainty at least makes you think that the M.O. hasn’t changed.
“The administration becomes very quiet, there’s very little feedback, because they’re right now figuring out their plan, Davie said. He’s sitting right on the bubble, you would hope you’d have the next three game, potentially the bowl game, to figure out your fate so you can do it on the field, but you start to panic a little bit administratively, because things start happening.”
Davie pointed to the scrum for Urban Meyer when Notre Dame was looking to hire a coach after they fired Tyrone Willingham, and how many felt it was the inaction of the university brass that contributed to Meyer taking the Florida job over the Notre Dame offer. For the record, Davie thought that Meyer wouldn’t have taken the job regardless of the time frame or money.
One of the more interesting points Davie made was when he also talked about how difficult it was to build an elite defense at Notre Dame, which is interesting because Davie seemingly always struggled with his offensive production, not necessarily putting together a capable defensive unit. He thought the difficulty bringing elite defenders onto campus crystallized the issues that Notre Dame has when trying to become a truly elite football programs again.
“They want to be all things to all people. They want to be an Ivy League kind of setting, the Catholic university, it’s about doing everything right, everything structured. That’s not really defense. Defense is blowing guys up, attacking guys and living on the edge. It’s not really about talent, it’s about the culture, that’s there on the campus, kind of like at Stanford. You’re going to get offensive guys, you’re going to be able to perform offensively, because that’s the kind of guys you’re going to get.“
I’d argue that Davie failed at Notre Dame because he wasn’t able to get the type of explosive offensive performers needed to win, in large part because he never adapted to the new offensive innovations that were taking over college football. Yet Davie actually advocates that Notre Dame should switch back to an option-based, running, ball-control attack.
“You can’t throw the ball any better than Notre Dame throws it right now. They’ve got three first round guys that touch the ball every time… Does the offense match and help the defense? That’s what it comes down to winning. They might be better off in a scheme like Georgia Tech, that helps the defense.
“You get a guy like Brady Quinn coached up, and he’s really good and Notre Dame is really good, and then he graduates. You have peaks and valleys because you’re in a system that’s very NFL oriented, but it’s hard to have the next guy that way. It took time to get Brady Quinn to be Brady Quinn. It took time for JImmy Clausen to be Jimmy Clausen. So the system needs to be geared a little bit more to run the ball.
“In the big picture, you need to help the defense, you need to play great special teams. It takes a unique guy to have the right kind of mindset and lack of ego in some ways to know how to win at ND.”
Therein lies the double-edged sword. Notre Dame wouldn’t have the offensive weapons if they didn’t play Charlie Weis’ NFL system. While it may be complicated, it may take developmental time, it’s a system that talented high school recruits want to play because they’re convinced it’ll get the to the NFL.
If Notre Dame switches to an offensive attack like Georgia Tech, they’ll still run into the same problems on defense, and while they’ll be masked more by the protection they’ll get from a running clock and a risk averse offense, they’ll still need to find a defensive coordinator that can coach up players and get the in position to make plays.