Thursday, January 15, 2004

Let's start with the book report - Leahy's Lads by Jack Connor. I recommend it highly. Connor, a former player, went around and interviewed many of the former players from the 40s. This book includes small accounts of each of the games, but mostly it's a collection of anecdotes and inside jokes catalogued so the players themselves can remember them. This "by the players, for the players" approach makes this a very amusing and enjoyable book.
I won't go into too much detail, but here are two things I wanted to point out:

Coach Yonto's Playing Career
The Coach got most of his playing time as a "burly" backup fullback on the 1945 squad, when most of ND's regulars were off to war or playing for service academy/training base teams. You see, for most of '44/'45, college age men were often required to transfer to a school that had their particular training program - ND for Navy, Great Lakes for the Army, or one of the service academies. Anyways, when most of the players came back for the 1946 season, the team was stacked. In fact many third stringers who saw little to no action for the Irish that year went on to incredibly successful NFL careers. So, Coach Yonto was relegated to the "B" team, sort of a JV team that went around playing other schools' B teams. One day, the B team was scrimmaging the first-teamers. The Coach took a handoff and bucked into the line. He came out with a leg so badly broken, his foot was turned at a 90-degreee angle. Ouch. Many people thought he would never walk again. Fortunately he could, and Jack Connor praises his success as a defensive guru under Parseghian, Devine, and Holtz.

Ziggy Czarobski
A great tackle (and member of the Polish Sports HOF) who played before and after the war, may I be the first to nominate this man for Bone Legend. Among his bone-esque accomplishments:
Beat Purdue: It may have been Ziggy who first coined this phrase. Coach Leahy always judged how the coming Saturday's game would be by how the team was at the beginning of Monday's practice. A loose, talkative team meant that they weren't too worried about the coming contest. A quiet team, however, meant there was some anxiety over the coming game. That, of course, meant Leahy would have to work the team harder in the coming week. Knowing this, and being always the "class clown" of the team, Ziggy acted quickly when the team was silent the Monday before a Purdue game. As Leahy approached, Ziggy began clapping and chanting "Beat Purdue! Beat Purdue!" Soon, the whole squad joined in and the team was loose and relaxed for the rest of the week.
The Muggers Club: This exclusive club, comprised mainly of the war vets on the squad, liked to meet weekly at one of the local licensed establishments to drink, share stories, and do other poker night-esque things. The club was very exclusive, and each member had a beer stein with his name engraved on it. Leahy know he couldn't be too hard on the war vets, so he let them have their fun in Ziggy's little club.
Tackles practice: Often, the team would split up to pratice by position. Knowing how long-winded the tackles coach could be, Ziggy and fellow tackle George Connor (a former Bear and Jack's brother) took turns asking questions of their position coach, while the guards worked hard and looked over in disgust. Sound like Bone Circle to me.

NDNation Issues
Monk: As evidenced in Shake Down the Thunder, the debate of overemphasis of football has been with Our Lady's University since the program began. Surely, Monk isn't a huge fan of watching football, but is he really against it? His coaching hires haven't been great, but it wouldn't be the first time 2 straight bad coaching hires have been made. Plus, he did fire the guy who hired Bob Davie. The administration has always grappled with the football program, so I don't know if it's a reasonable scapegoat in this case.
Kevin White: The man has great taste in ties. That being said, let's look at his dealings in the football head coach department:
1. Fired Bob Davie. The "first" time an ND coach was fired, but it was justified. Bob knew he had a great job, so he wasn't going anywhere no matter how much he sucked.
2. Hired George O'Leary. I had a feeling this guy wouldn't be the savior when he came in, but White wanted someone who "got Notre Dame." I've come out and said that White may not necessarily "get" Notre Dame - hiring practices, "aspirational peerdom," deemphasis, the conference talk, but I think this all remains to be seen.
3. Hired Ty Willingham. More below.
Ty Willingham: I'm willing to give him a second chance. His first year was made by great seniors who finally had a reason to be enthoused. Last year can be chalked up to "one bad year for the new guy" - hopefully. I'll give Ty some time, but still it is frustrating seeing the times when he's not being the ubercoach - not making decisions you'd expect a coaching genius to make (then again, I'm no coaching genius either), the 30+ point shutouts, the list goes on. Still, as a college coach (that is, a molder of students as well as a leader of athletes), he may have been the best guy available.
Jon Gruden: The first F-bomb at a pep rally, and he would've been canned. I just don't know if he would have fit in with the administration (you don't have to be their puppet - just let them think they have control over you). Plus, we see he had a case of the sophomore jinx too this past year. Then again, that may be a positive sign. Most of Gruden's troubles came from clashes with the spoiled, self-centered athletes on the Bucs. That could be a sign that Gruden is a big-time discipline guy, which is a great quality for a college coach.
Steve Spurrier: Ah, no, I don't think it would work. He'd be at odds with the administration from day one. His "my system is perfect, my players messed up" philosophy is not what you want to teach college athletes. Plus, if we find out he starts getting into shady recruiting practices, that's it. Ara Parseghian always believe that if you needed to buy a kid with cars and under the table gifts, that kid isn't worth it. Spurrier may be a great Florida "college" coach, but I don't think he'd be a good student-athlete coach.
Olympic sports: I have absolutely no problem with sports other than football doing well at ND. Heck, I am ND Women's Basketball's number 1 fan, at least according to Karen Swanson and the rest of the players on my signed poster. So, hoorah for swimming and lacrosse and fencing and soccer and all the rest.
aspirational peerdom: I'm not even sure I know what this means. Sure, ND wants high academic standards. It's always been that way - starting back in the early 1900s when the Holy Cross priests decided to give a small Catholic school a cutting-edge, mainstream curriculum. The key is to work with it. Leahy found a way to win with reduced scholarships, so it can be done. And, there will always be snobs who go to ND because they were rejected from Harvard, but the school will always have enough hard-working Catholic midwestern kids who go there to live out their dreams. [a basis for the NDNation drinking game: every time you read the phrase "aspirational peer," chug an "aspirational beer"!]
recruiting: Yeah, I'm sure all the spoiled kids will want to go to warm weather schools and have cars handed to them, but once again, we don't want those kids. Get the good kids who are just as talented, or get the good kids who have almost as much talent, and use your coaching skills to make them better.
strength and conditioning: One NDNationer blamed the strength & conditioning program for the recent trend of great in HS->mediocre at ND->decent in the NFL. The only example I have of this is Julius, so I can't make too many assumptions based on one person. I can tell you, however, that Darrell is very large with very little body fat, and that Ced is in such good shape this year (compared to freshman year's Bookstore Tournament) that one Internet draft preview actually said he needed to put on some weight to play DT in the NFL!
independece: The place where I worked over the summer was a tOSU hotbed. One guy was almost drooling over the thought of tOSU, scUM, and ND in the same conference. Should we join one. I'm still in the camp that says, if we play well enough, we don't need to. What about the BCS? Well, after our recent bowl performances, we'll need to gain the bowl sponsors' trust back, which once again starts by playing well. Plus, USuCk has just proved you don't need to play in the BCS championship game to call yourself champion. Conferences: great for our other sports, but not for football. Let's hear it for a better football team.

OK, that's all I have for today. If I feel like it in the next couple days, I might actually look at the NFL playoff games... gasp!... before they play them! We'll see how that goes.