Here’s a couple of examples:
Notre Dame Football Exists only in the Record Books
By Ivan Maisel
History will record Dec. 3, 2004, as the day that Notre Dame football died. The Fighting Irish will still fight. The gold helmets will still reflect the Golden Dome. But the House That Rockne Built, the monolith that bestrode the sport for eight decades, expired Friday when Urban Meyer turned down Notre Dame to go to Florida.
That’s Florida, whose winning tradition goes all the way back to 1990.
Notre Dame football, that national championship machine, exists only in the history books. My generation knows that tradition. Meyer knew it. He coached there. He drank the Irish Kool-Aid. And still he said no.
It’s as if Meyer were an up-and-coming businessman offered the national sales franchise — for typewriters. Thanks, he said, but I think I’ll sell computers.
Florida won over Meyer for a lot of reasons — a reported seven-year, $14 million contract, an abundant talent base and admission standards that a coach “can work with.” The bottom line, however, is winning. If Meyer thought it would be easier to win at Notre Dame than at Florida, he would be wearing blue and gold today.
Instead, he has gone to the Eastern Division of the Southeastern Conference. Meyer decided it would be easier to win coaching against Mark Richt, Philip Fulmer, Steve Spurrier and Nick Saban every season than it would be waking up the echoes.
Somewhere, Beano Cook just fainted.
Notre Dame officials and Florida officials both went to Salt Lake City. Either the Notre Dame officials suffered from the worst case of overconfidence since Dewey defeated Truman, or Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley and his checkbook made Notre Dame appear to be the small Catholic university that it really is.
When NBC fouled up the election results in 2000 — in Florida, as it would happen — Tom Brokaw said he had egg on his face and an omelet on his suit. There isn’t a dry cleaner within 300 miles of South Bend who could tidy up the mess the Notre Dame administration made.
How in the name of Frank Leahy do you fire Tyrone Willingham without having Meyer in your back pocket? How does a school embarrassed by hiring George O’Leary three years ago come back and embarrass itself again?
I suppose the damage isn’t irreparable. The great thing about college football is that the right man on the right campus at the right time can work miracles. California, left for dead for the last 40 years, has been resurrected by Jeff Tedford. Notre Dame could find a Tedford. It may even be able to find Tedford.
Forty-one years ago, a little-known coach named Ara Parseghian arrived and resurrected a program that had suffered a 10-year drought. There may be an Ara out there now. But it feels like something has changed in the DNA of college football. Notre Dame is no longer Notre Dame.
Schadenfreude is not an Irish word. It’s German for enjoying the trouble of others. Even Willingham, class act that he is, must have had trouble suppressing a smile Friday.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
The sad truth about Notre Dame
Losing Meyer to Florida may be the ultimate wake-up call for reeling Irish
It was an innocent statement to an inquisitive newspaper reporter, but in saying what he did, Urban Meyer’s father may have summed up the entire dilemma facing Notre Dame football.
“Unless he’s still drawn to the aura of Notre Dame,” Bud Meyer told the Palm Beach Post prior to his son’s decision to spurn the Irish, “the better job is Florida. … If you go where you can’t win, you won’t be coaching long.
“I told him,” continued the elder Meyer, “if he wants to win, go to Florida.”
One can only wonder how many similar conversations have taken place these past few years in the home of blue-chip recruits across the country.
“Well, son, Touchdown Jesus sure was impressive when we visited, but if you want to win go to Florida.”
Or Michigan. Or Ohio State. Or USC. Or Miami.
Of all the humbling moments in recent Notre Dame history, losing Meyer to Florida on Friday may just be the biggest wake-up call of them all. Here was a guy who has made no secret of his undying adulation for the Golden Dome, a Catholic, a Midwesterner, a Lou Holtz disciple. If Meyer doesn’t want to be at Notre Dame, who does?
From its last bungled coaching search three years ago to Lorenzo Booker’s nationally televised Signing Day rejection to the increasingly frequent on-field defeats, Notre Dame is finding out the hard way that Knute Rockne and the Four Horsemen don’t have nearly the kind of pull they once did. Not for the type of coach a school needs to field a nationally elite program these days. Not for the type of players it needs, either. Fact is, the reality of the past decade is a far-fresher image to both parties than old news reels.
Certainly, Notre Dame is not alone in receiving this lesson. It’s not altogether different from the one being doled out at Penn State, Nebraska and Alabama. Like these programs, until the Irish snap out of their ongoing state of denial they won’t be able to do anything to change it.
In the weeks to come, Notre Dame athletic director Kevin White — who by all indications had his sights set on Meyer, and only Meyer — will attempt to woo one or all of the other big names being bantered about for the position: Jon Gruden, Kirk Ferentz, Charlie Weis and a host of others. At some point, each will have the same conversation Meyer had with his dad, and each likely will come to a similar conclusion: It sure would be great to be part of that tradition, but if I want to win, I should probably stay where I am.
In light of what happened to Tyrone Willingham, no accomplished coach in his right mind would take a look at Notre Dame and conclude going there to be anything other than career suicide. “Three years to break a decade-long string of mediocrity or I’m out? Thanks, but no thanks.”
There are, however, any number of aspiring young candidates who would covet the opportunity. Guys, be they major conference coordinators or mid-major head coaches, whose profile right now is no higher than Bob Stoops’ was at the time Oklahoma hired him in 1998. Or Ferentz’s before he went to Iowa. Guys who would bring the type of spunk and energy needed to raise the talent level in South Bend.
But Notre Dame in its arrogance would never give such a coach a fighting chance. The first blowout loss, the first 6-5 season, and Irish fans would bury him like they did Willingham, declaring the poor sap in over his head, not deserving of the privilege of coaching at their school. Unless the next coach comes bearing the Notre Dame crest or a Super Bowl ring, he’ll be held to the same unrealistic standards as Willingham and Bob Davie. Any coach’s career record at each juncture will be compared with those of Frank Leahy and Ara Parseghian. Like Davie, they’ll find themselves sitting in an ESPN booth before they know it.
Want to know what’s wrong with Notre Dame? Ask Bud Meyer.
As for his son, we’ll find out quickly enough whether he’s truly the offensive mastermind he’s been portrayed as at Utah. Not only will he be following in the footsteps of the game’s last sainted offensive whiz, Steve Spurrier, he’ll be coaching against him. Not to mention the defenses of LSU, Tennessee and Georgia.
But unlike Notre Dame, where it would have taken at least a couple of years to build up the necessary personnel to fit his system, Meyer is walking into a virtual goldmine of raw talent: a quarterback, Chris Leak, who has all the tools but has been held back at times by his coaching; versatile running backs such as Ciatrick Fason (if he stays), Deshawn Wynn and Skyler Thornton; and an orgy of speedy homegrown receivers (Andre Caldwell, Chad Jackson, Jemalle Cornelius and Dallas Baker). At Utah, Meyer was left to inherit once-in-a-lifetime (for Utah) players such as Alex Smith, Steve Savoy and Paris Warren. In Florida, such athletes grow on trees.
It likely only will take a couple of years to determine whether the coaching prodigy Meyer will be a raging success yet again, or whether this giant step humbles him.
It may take a whole lot longer than that to determine the same about Notre Dame.
Stewart Mandel covers college sports for SI.com.