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Sunday, January 26, 2020

Season End: The Law of Surprise

"Staring at empty pages
Centered 'round the same old fire..."

Dateline: Scotchlandia.

Kneeling at the altar of Bryan Gruley is not unlike getting in the Kool-Aid queue in Jonestown - they are not without their associated risks.  But approximately two weeks ago, there I found myself at a near-side Chicago bar, Wills Northwoods*, for a launch party of Bryan's latest novel, Purgatory Bay (available with a mere Amazon click).  

In his opening remarks he spoke of the writer's mantra, "Ass In Chair" or AIC, when spoken aloud could be heard as 'ache' which, ironically, is what one's ass would surely feel like if, in fact, you weren't strategic about the chair you selected.

And now you've got standing desks.  Where do those fit into the equation?  Ass in Air? Feet on Floor?  Neither sounds especially prescriptive.

Cardinal Biggles, fetch the comfy chair! 
But I digress.

Bryan was espousing the writer's creed that in order to write, and write well, one needs to sit yourself down and Nike-like, just do it.  But upon reflection, one wondered whether that was really the message I should be receiving that particular evening.  After all, his credit card was behind the bar and we had no compunction about saying, "hey barkeep, keep those 16 oz. Daisy Cutters coming until I can no longer make complete sentences..."

The more I considered the directive, the more I thought perhaps the Ass In Chair resolution was about reading his book.  Not sitting down to write anything like this blog.   So blame him for the tardiness of this post.  

But before you do - or while you are, if one is a skilled multi-tasker - purchase the book.  

It's fabulous.  

In my humble opinion, his best yet... he'll wow you with the technical plausibility of all the nefarious goings-on (he clearly did a ton of research) while reminding us all just how phenomenally disturbed he is, to come up with some of this stuff.  Not that that'll be much of a surprise to most of you.

What possible connection does any of this have?  Beyond the psychopathy of his main character, a high school senior w Division I (albeit Ivy League) athletic skills - and you thought Aaron Hernandez was scary - only this:

As we reflect on (and comment about) the performances of these kids, we don't really know 'em.  Or what they're capable of when triggered.  Just sayin'.  Let's keep it all in perspective.

* Corrigan brothers, this is the Packers bar where we went after the Miami game years ago. Mike's client (John something) had a sister running it... 

Word of the Week

Used in a sentence paragraph

As young Jerrence turned his thoughts forward, contemplating the 20so season - the meaningless and often misleading Spring game was less than three months away! - he pondered how the team could improve. 

Damned if he knew. A mere high school kicker by background, his grasp of the game ended at the Garo Yepremian "I keeck a touchdown" insight. 

Yet one thing he felt he understood from his private sector experience was the importance of culture and the necessary bonhomie teams needed to get them to a shared vision, goals and collaboration to succeed.  Clearly, something was lacking this past year - never did it seem ND fired on all cylinders for an entire game.  

He hoped the new staff hires / assignments would help get them there.  With Clemson on the home schedule and away games vs. Wisconsin and USC, ND was gonna need it.

Quote of The Day

"He's not the Messiah, he's a very naughty boy." 
Terry Jones
'Life of Brian'

RIP Terry Jones.

There's a substantial portion of Notre Dame fandom who would no doubt say the same about Brian Kelly, though one doubts 'naughty' would be the descriptor they'd use.

I few years ago PBS aired a one-hour special, Monty Python Conquers America (if you'd like to watch, here you go).  As one might expect, there are any number of established comedians who reveal how influenced they were by the 30 minute Sunday night Flying Circus shows.

I'm a lumberjack and I'm okay... 
Doug and Dinsdale Piranha 

The Village and Urban Idiot

Twit Olympics

That parrot is pining for the fjords.

The Ministry of Silly Walks

No one expects the Spanish Inquisition

In the early 1970's the permission for adults to be silly was, apparently, revelatory.  And I was pretty sure that epiphany rubbed off on more than just those on a professional comedic track.   

If only I had any visual evidence to prove that... 

What a great era we grew up in.

Season Observations
"But spirit is something
That no one destroys..."

One man's season-al observations:

1.  Offensive dysfunction.  One of the more open secrets that seemed to come out in December (and thereafter) is just how almost universally  disliked Chip Long was, practically across the entire coaching staff.  (Something Messrs. Gruley and Corrigan heard from a pretty wired Athletic writer as early as November.) It's hard to believe that lack of leadership chemistry wouldn't have had an effect on the offense.  

2.  Todd, We Hardly Knew Ye The other big staff departure was that of Todd Lyght, ostensibly to get closer to his family in southern California.  

But just how big of a loss is that gonna be?  For all the initial optimism over him being an All-America alum and Super Bowl winner, it never seemed like it truly translated into enthusiastic (or high end) recruiting.  

And one wonders just how great of a teacher he was - it wasn't lost on me that all the buzz out of this past week's Senior Bowl was how good Troy Pride Jr. looked - with a single week of professional staff coaching.  Hmmm.

3.  "How ordinawy..."    For most of this millennium, irrespective of the opponent, Notre Dame bowl games have been stressful affairs.  Never has there been the Lou Holtz 'give him two weeks and he can beat anyone' confidence in preparation.  So the World Camping Bowl game was notable in its workmanlike lack of excitement.  

Granted, a couple early turnovers by the Cyclones facilitated things but it's hard to think the outcome would've been any different even without them. 

The effect of better staff chemistry already?  

"Legacy! Legacy!"
4.  Legacy time.  Increasingly, one should probably get used to hearing about Kelly's eventual retirement in an upcoming 2-4 year window.  (Don't let the news of a Spring contract extension fool you - one assumes they've got to do that, minimally to defend against negative recruiting.)

Also get used to the pundits wishing to talk about the mark he'll ultimately leave on the program.  So it's interesting to hear Kelly publicly raise the bar on recruiting expectations.  "We can bring in Top 5 classes!"  

By many accounts, the difference between ND's top 10 rankings and the rarified air of Bama-Clemson-OSU territory isn't our academic limitations but Kelly's own involvement (or historical lack thereof) in the pursuit of the 2-4 elite athletes that represent program changers.  

One (or two?) more shots at BCS playoff / national championship before he leaves? Stay tuned!

5.  Tommy Boy. The ascendancy of Tommy Rees to OC, by virtually all accounts, was neither a surprise or unearned.  He's a smart, well liked dude.  And if one has ever hired someone who was super capable while also being a really poor organizational culture fit, you'd appreciate Kelly's erring on the side of someone he knows 'gets' ND.  

Color me optimistic.

6. "To Infinity And Beyond!" Looking to next year, we lose a few key players but consider this:  Michigan, LSU, Alabama, Oklahoma, Oregon, Washington will all be breaking in new QB's.  Obviously, Clemson (and to a lesser extent Wisconsin) won't.  But something to think about if ND likely starts the season ranked around 10th.

7.  "Don't give up."  One can debate whether this year was 'successful' or not. (With every passing day, I say 'yes.') But what I found perhaps most gratifying is how after the devastation of the Michigan game, they didn't pack it in.  Which would've been easy to do.  They didn't. Says a lot about the leadership and the state of the program.  

Much to be optimistic about.  Bravi a tutti.

Buddy's Buddy

Everyone has a favorite player through the course of a given season.   It may not be rational - not always the star - but someone you probably find likable.   That you think are probably good at what they do as well as being a good person off the field.  That may or may not be true in actuality (see Jerrence's fanboy crush on Art Best back in the day.)  
But this year, I think Buddy got it right.  Chase not only bailed the offense out of virtually every 'oh shit we might lose this game' jam they had, he also seemed to represent a kid who grew up, found himself over his four years at ND.  

How can you not like that?

Question of the Week

Forgive me for flogging this particular dead horse but... if there's one thing I learned this year, subscribing to The Athletic for ND coverage (as well as other sport you might fancy) was well worth the humble coin.  The Pete Sampson - Matt Fortuna podcasts, post-game review and mid-week topics, were especially interesting and insightful.  (Which is more than I can say about the drivel you getting here.) Nonetheless, a question from a recent January mailbag I thought might be topical:

Pete, have you been able to dig up any details on any of the “changes” Brian Kelly mentioned working towards in order to bring Notre Dame recruiting to the next level? You’ve seemed as interested as anybody about that comment, so I’m wondering if you’ve dug anything up yet.

One more for fun, if you were to pick one player on each side of the ball to surprise people positively next year, who would they be?

Way-too-early ranking: No. 10

Jon W.

I’ve done some digging on this issue and have been a bit surprised (for now) at the lack of major revelations. But when you take a step back, maybe that makes sense. If there was some huge adjustment that was painfully obvious, it would make you retroactively wonder what in the world the recruiting department had been up to for the past nine years. And overall, Notre Dame’s recruiting department has been and continues to be in a good place.

One angle where Notre Dame can be better is getting Brian Kelly move involved in the process with the right prospects. That doesn’t mean that’s an automatic reaction to the South Bend Tribune’s story on Jalen McMillian and Lathan Ransom. Should Kelly have been more involved with McMillan? It was worth his time. Would it have made a difference in the end? That’s debatable. I don’t think Kelly calling up Ransom would have swayed a prospect who had rated social life toward the top of his recruiting wish list. Still, Notre Dame can do a better job of identifying the few prospects where a recruiting relationship with the head coach matters, and then Brian Kelly needs to follow that advice. Do I think that’s going to be a game changer? I’m not sure. But if it puts the Irish in a better position with a few top targets, it’s worth the effort.

If there’s a more substantive change, I expect it to be Notre Dame digging deeper to find the next Kyle Hamilton or Chris Tyree. If there are 30 five-star prospects, my educated guess is Notre Dame could seriously go after a dozen of them. Figuring out that dozen earlier, working Kelly into that mix and then not letting up maybe makes a difference. Notre Dame didn’t have to recruit Hamilton unbelievably hard to land him. Tyree required a bigger effort, which included Kelly visiting Tyree’s high school during his junior football season. Find those guys. Don’t take no for an answer.

There was a question from Chayse S. about relaxing character/academic requirements, and I don’t see that as much of a solution either. I’d point to some of the guys coming out of Ohio State this year, starting with cornerback Jeffrey Okudah. He’s a Texas product who was open to leaving the state, obviously. He had a 3.7 GPA in high school. Notre Dame barely got a sniff. Or take Jordan Fuller, a safety with a 3.6 GPA from New Jersey. Notre Dame got closer with him, landing an official visit. These are top-50 prospects with top academic profiles that Notre Dame needs to do a better job with in recruiting. Are you going to get all these guys? Of course not. But there are more kids interested in academics who are elite prospects than you’d think.

As for your second question, does Kevin Austin count as a surprise player? He’d be my pick on offense. On defense, I’d take Jayson Ademilola because I think he’ll have a chance to win a starting job. But as a deeper cut, I’d take cornerbacks K.J. Wallace and/or Isaiah Rutherford.

Cocktail of the Week

Winter in Scotchlandia.  And we've the gin away, to hibernate with the other white spirit 'fancy boys' while the whiskeys, ryes and bourbons... and big, lusty Italian red's say, "out of the way snowflake, let the grown ups take over..."

The Call of the Wild Turkey
The Call of the Wild (1903)
By Jack London

New rule:  all protagonists should be dogs.  

In The Call of the Wild, our good boy Buck must answer the not-so-hypothetical question: If I were taken from my home in California and sold into slavery in the Yukon, would I rebel or give in - particularly since these fangs aren't doing much good in the suburbs?

Though written over 100 years ago, this Call still gets answered - in part because of Jack London's sharply observed signature theme of nature versus nurture.  

Drop a (Gold Rush-themed) Klondike bar (get it?) into this winter warmer that'll have you lying with dogs and toasting to your true nature.

*  2 oz. Wild Turkey bourbon
*  1 oz. Canadian Club whiskey
*  4 oz. hot water
*  2 oz. cinnamon syrup
*  1 Klondike bar

Pour the bourbon, whiskey, water and cinnamon syrup into a coffee mug.  Drop in a Klondike bar to melt.  Keep this one away from dogs.  

Source:  Are You There God? It's Me, Margarita
by Tim Federle

Wager 2019 - Taking the Leap..

                                                           "'Dear Mr. Fantasy, play us a tune
                                                             Something to make us all happy.."

Well maybe not all of us.  

Congratulations, Tim Corrigan.

(Would this be a bad time to say that you've always been my favorite brother?) 

Sure, I know there's a group of likely embittered sore losers - 'try living in Philadelphia for 40 years' Tim would likely say.   

But I am reminded of what the Philosopher Mitch McConnell would likely say in times of rancorous dissent and acrimony:  too bad.

TC’s Keanu Analogy
ND Connection

The Matrix
 Okay, so I didn't entirely get this film's concept - just like I probably won't understand if / how we get to 11+ wins.  

But in our 'ends justify the means' world, who cares?  We won't.  The film's financial backers certainly didn't... 

Brian M
John P
Pat B

Spit the       Elder
Jim S
Daryl M
Dave M
Peter B
Paul B



 If one viewed this film in greater esteem, I wouldn't disagree.  I mean, Keanu + Sandy Bullock + Dennis Hopper + Jeff Daniels?  Hello...

The point is, like this film, 10 wins would be considered very satisfying to if not all, a lot of folks,  including me.

Dave G.
Bryan G
Tim C
Kevin C
Joe S
Bob J
Spit the  Younger
Jim B
Ward H
Jerry W
Tom F
Tim S
Mike G
Brian W
Dennis R
Ryan C


John Wick
 All you need to know is they killed his dog. Even for the professional hit man, that's harsh. 

All bets are off after that. 

Like this movie, a 9 win season will leave you conflicted - it could've been so much better.

But damn there's some fun bits mixed in.

Bill B.
Jim T.
Jerry P
Mike C.
Joel G.
Kevin M
Alex S
Gary H


Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Will you be happy with a 'regression to the mean' type season?

Of course not.

Just like I had such high hopes for this film - utterly ridiculous in every way possible, where one walks out thinking "WTF was that?" -- similar to a 7-8 win season.

John L
Ray V



Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure
No one would ever call this great cinema but it was a bit of launching point for Keanu - and that's what one would hope 5 wins would be for ND... something to build on.


4 or less

The Replacements
Not, in fact, a bio-pic of the influential Minneapolis band (which, Keanu as Paul Westerberg would be BRILLIANT) - but rather a really bad football flick, even Keanu couldn't save this disaster.  

Honestly, there's no defense for this movie - just like a 4 win season.

Schedule - 2019

2      @ Louisville                W                    
14     New Mexico                W          
21    @ Georgia                     L                 
28    Virginia                        W                            

5      Bowling Green            W                           
12    USC                               W                                          
19     OPEN                                   
26   @ Michigan                  L                             

2      Va. Tech                       W                                  
9      @ Duke                        W                                  
16     Navy                            W
23    Boston College           W                             
30    @ Stanford                 W                    

28    Iowa State                  W

Schadenfreude of The Week

Just because one has let nearly a month slide since the final outcome of the season doesn't mean we can't still revel in the season-ending disappointment that so many of the nation's top programs have felt.


So without further ado, one last raise of the glass to those programs

1.  Clemson.  From time to time, I've wondered when will college football nation get tired of Dabo and Clemson's winning.  People like winners.  To a point.  And I think we hit that point. 

Granted, LSU was a really good story this year - between Joe Burrow and coach O (who should never coach anywhere else but LA ever) - but Clemson just seems to reload every year in a weak conference (whose poor strength of schedule did ND no favors this year).

This was good for college football.

2. Michigan.   In the spirit of 'do as I say, not as I do' I haven't quite gotten over the October debacle in Ann Arbor.  So seeing UM get put down by 'Bama applied a little psychic salve to those emotional wounds.  Very little, actually.  No one expected the Wolverines to win - they actually outplayed the Tide for a half.  

And to watch Shea Patterson regress only makes the aberrant performance against us all the more excruciating.  

3.  Oklahoma.   Stop me if you've heard this before:  the Sooners are now 0-4 in BCS playoff games, with average margin of defeat of 18 pts but no one gives them any grief about being frauds?  Maybe someone ought to start looking at the credibility of giving their QB's the Heisman every year... 

4.  Ohio State.   One could make a reasonable argument that this year's semi-final game, which the Buckeyes lost by six, was actually the national championship game.  

And yet, Buckeye Nation, no one cares. 

5.  USC.  I'm a year older and just as petty as when I was a sprightly 62. (My self-awareness, like a fine wine, only deepens w age.)   But unlike the Michigan game (perhaps conflicted because who likes seeing Alabama win either), seeing the Trojans get smoked by the home state Hawkeyes was just so... sweet.   

This after they're announcing they were retaining Helton as their coach.

Terry's Trolls

Truth be told, if I cared more about professional baseball, I could devote this entire list to the Houston Astros (and quite possibly the BoSox). And probably half a dozen other teams... the sport is quickly becoming the North American equivalent of international cycling - if you're not cheating, you're not trying.

Sadly, for better or worse, there's so many other idiots on the landscape outside of baseball to recognize - unfortunately a few uncomfortably closer to home than one would like.

So here goes...

1)  Jose Altuve   So many scoundrels, so little space.  Here's the thing:  I've always been able to rationalize PED usage by the pro's.  My working hypothesis is that these guys are so focused on getting an edge - they understand the razor-thin difference between success and failure at that level and maybe lose sight on the training side... things that'll make 'em stronger or heal quicker.  

Then there's this.  Out and out cheating. And yet, no contrition.   Verlander even jokes about the Astros 'technological expertise.'  Gives new meaning to the concept of the 5-tool player.

I wonder how one looks oneself in the mirror and still accepts the accolades? 

2)  Landen Bartleson.  Okay, when we said that we had some catching up to the SEC, this is not what we meant.  

More tragic than anything, here's a 18 year old Kentucky athlete who just kinda won the lottery - a full scholarship to ND that regardless of how his athletic career ended up could set him up for a promising future - and he blew it in the first month:

  • stolen car - check
  • burglary / break in - check
  • gun theft - check 
Ouch.  Given that he's 18, he'll be tried as an adult - he's in deep shit.  Beyond sad.

Preach, Robby. 
3)  Kelly Haters.  I know I should let go on this topic and yet...  This group, not small in size, hate the Tommy Rees hire (despite considerable evidence that this could work out very well), the Jurkovec transfer (despite him apparently showing very little in practice that he's ready to take over), the Bartleson flame out (despite there being an entire vetting organization that screens for fit).

And the great part is gonna be when Kelly retires in ~ 3 years, with the program in substantially better shape than when he arrived, this group will hate the new hire.

4) The British Royals.  For the record, I've never understood the world's fascination with Great Britain's royal family.  

I never even understood their citizenry fascination with it either.  

So this whole controversy about Meghan and Hezza declaring, "peace out" to this anachronistic silliness strikes me as both silly and a little perverse.

Hey Windsors, it might be time for you to re-think your organizational model.

5)  3 Arts Entertainment.  The production house of the new Call of the Wild movie.  WTF?!  This isn't Beethoven Goes to Alaska - Buck is a freaking sled dog, a husky or a malamute.  

Not since Tom Cruise and Matt Damon got grossly miscast as samurai has there been such culturally insensitive casting.   

Shameful.  Surely, Buddy is rolling over in his grave.

Harrison, I expected more literary integrity from you.  

Final Thought

Happy birthday (this week) to Jerrence's squaw wife of 34 years, Lap Dances With Wolves who texted a picture of Viggo Mortensen to him from her annual Sundance Film Festival volunteer fortnight.  The jpeg was accompanied with only these words:

Hall Pass.

Happy hunting, brave warrioress.

(Can you say 'restraining order'?)