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Friday, December 17, 2021

Pre-Bowl: Recruiting, The Wager And Other Thoughts

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Dateline:  Flint Lake

Okay, so as I was doing a teensy-weensy research on past Wager winners (see below) I ran across something I wrote years ago - I think it was pertaining to Brian Kelly but it sure does now:  

How apt.  Yet it made me laugh.  Maybe the only thing about him these days that makes me laugh anymore.  (I am especially aggrieved about having witnessed his collaboration with his 5-star QB recruit, something one can only file under "Heinous things one cannot un-see.")

And while our former coach now goes by a far more efficient name, Voldemort, the fact is there shouldn't be anyone in the Notre Dame fanbase that isn't feeling extremely optimistic about the future of the football program.

Here come the Irish.

Quote of the Week - I

“What worries me, given the non-regulated nature of it right now, is its impact in recruiting. I think it’s going to be a mess. Recruiting this year is going to have some really horrible NIL dimensions to it."
Jack Swarbrick

In August

Quote of the Week - II

"I don't think people really say it this way, but let's not make a mistake: 

We have free agency in college football."
Lane Kiffin

After the Early Signing period this week. 

Recruiting / Bowl Game Thoughts

A couple thoughts...

1)  It'd be easy, and forgivable, to view this week's Signing Day as a bit of a disappointment.  A couple of WR's bailed (one in an especially sleazy fashion) and a high potential Safety flipped to his more local, Florida, school.  Shit happens

And this year, it seemed to happen to virtually everybody.  As the above quotes are intended to suggest, it's hard not to think of the Woodward and Bernstein quote, "Follow the (NIL) money." 

Yet, I have to believe that ND is not on the precipice of a dystopian future where their 'not playing the game' costs them countless 5-stars.  Will it cost them some?  Maybe.  Probably.  But ND is always going to appeal to a different type of kid (family).  And Freeman's repeated emphasis on aggressive recruiting effort portends a staff is that may not win every battle but it won't be because they are outworked.

2)  For anyone who thinks Kyle Hamilton and Kyren Williams are... what exactly?  Disloyal... poor leaders... not truly 'Notre Dame men'... because they've opted out of the bowl game?

I think you're being unfair.  

And stupid.

First of all, the bowl games - sadly - have become so marginalized with the BCS playoffs as not have relatively little importance.

Secondly, with a new coaching regime, ND is playing with house money in this game.  Short of getting blown out - something Oklahoma St. seems incapable of doing - there's virtually no downside.  

In fact, quite the opposite:  play loose and have fun.

And that goes for the team and the viewing audience. 

The Wager 

For the 10 finalists - here's the tie-breaker, amounting to 23 total points...

Section I:  Pick the winners, including the spread (1 pt. each) PLUS the Over / Under (1 pt.).
  • 18 points possible 

      Bowl                            Line                                                    Over / Under
1.  Peach.                Pitt (+2.5)  vs.  Michigan St.                          (57.0)
2.  Taxslayer.         Wake Forest (+5.0) vs.  Texas A&M            (58.0)
3.  Cotton.              Cincinnati (+13.5) vs.  Alabama                    (58.5)
4.  Orange.             Georgia vs.  Michigan (+7.5)                         (44.5)
5.  Outback.           Penn St.  vs.  Arkansas (+2.5)                       (46.5)
6.  Citrus.               Iowa (+2.5)  vs. Kentucky                              (44.0)
7.  Fiesta.               Oklahoma St. (+2.5)  vs. Notre Dame          (45.5)
8.  Rose.                 Utah (+6.5) vs.  Ohio State                             (66.0)
9.  Sugar.               Baylor vs.  Ole Miss (+1.0)                              (54.5) 

Section II:  For the Notre Dame game only.

-  How many false starts will the Irish have?  (1 pt.)
-  On which series will the 1st false start occur?  (1 pt.)
  • 2 points possible

Section III:   Who Wants To Be An Arts & Letters major?

Q1Who wrote the poem, “Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood”, whose protagonist speaks of his infinite love for the natural world while worrying about those who forget the purpose of their existence?

1) Brian Kelly
2) Elon Musk
3) William Wordsworth
4) Matt Lindon

.  Disney+ recently released the Jimmy Chin documentary, “The Rescue,” about the daring, race-against-the-clock rescue in 2018 of 12 boys and their coach from deep inside a flooded cave in Northern Thailand during monsoon season.  

Because of their lack of skill involving the niche cave diving avocation, which unlikely twosome did the Thai Navy SEAL’s reluctantly have to call in for help?

1) Lini & Ungie
2) Jared & Invanka
3) Beyoncé & Jay-Z
4) Two middle aged Brits

Q3. Every autumn, The MacArthur Foundation awards its Genius Grants to 20-30 individuals for their exceptional creativity, a track record of significant accomplishments, and / or potential for future creative work.  

And every autumn, Dr. Tím Tím patiently waits by his phone in his Philadelphia garret for a Foundation call that’s never going to come.  

What is the award amount that he’ll never see?

1) 10 Bitcoins, valued on the day of the award announcement
2) $625,000 over 5 years.
3) $250,000 of art-based NFT 
4) $1,000 coupon at the MacArthur gift shop.  

  • 3 points possible

It bears re-stating that beyond winning a cool $1,000 you'll be the recipient of the prestigious Artie award (to be held by me) while joining the pantheon of past winners:
  • 2020:  Mark Ungashick
  • 2019:  Tim Corrigan
  • 2018:  Brian Mullins
  • 2017:  Bob Jank, Mark Ungashick
  • 2016:  No winner (funds donated to charity)
  • 2015:  Jim Belnap
  • 2014:  Al Brunett
  • 2013:  Brian Ward, Ryan Corrigan

Re-Pete (Shameless steal of a Sampson / The Athletic article)

Journalism which ought to fill one with great optimism.

(And how rare is that these days?)

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Lamar Mickey walked back into his house with hot wings, baked beans and fries, prepared to meet the third Notre Dame coach who was scheduled to visit his family but the first to actually show up.

A week earlier, Brian Kelly was supposed to be there, but he canceled the day he bolted for LSU. Brian Polian was supposed to come instead, but the special teams coordinator had postponed the visit on the morning it was supposed to happen, unsure he’d even still be at Notre Dame. Those visits were supposed to come three days after Notre Dame’s regular season finale at Stanford.

Instead, Lamar and his son Jaden, the four-star cornerback from Corona Centennial (Calif.) High School, were left to try to make sense of a process that had gone sideways. So they called Marcus Freeman, who was still Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator, and explained Jaden planned to visit Oregon and Washington that weekend. Maybe a trip to Northwestern, too.

Freeman told the Mickey family he was meeting with athletic director Jack Swarbrick the next morning. And that Freeman felt he had a chance to replace Kelly as head coach, even as a 35-year-old with no head coaching experience. Freeman only had one request.

“If I get the job, I need you to cancel those damn visits,” Freeman said, as Lamar remembers.

Freeman got the job. Mickey canceled those visits. And a day after his introductory press conference, exactly one week after those Kelly and Polian cancellations, Freeman arrived at the Mickey home to eat hot wings, baked beans and fries. Defensive recruiting coordinator Chad Bowden recommended the menu. Lamar picked up the food. And the night became a reminder of why Freeman feels like the right man at the right time for Notre Dame.

Freeman made it easy to trust him in a moment when honesty could have felt like an act. That’s because Freeman had been accessible to the Mickey family over the past year. Jaden felt so comfortable with his new head coach that he spent the dinner asking about single-digit numbers and what early enrollment looked like. His mom asked about how Joanna Freeman was handling her new role as the head coach’s wife. The fact Freeman had yet to coach a game didn’t come up.

Notre Dame’s new head coach has a lot going for him, even without a head coaching resume. But it’s that accessibility that could make the 21-man class the Irish signed Wednesday the start of something new instead of the last gasp of something old.

A class ranked No. 7 on Rivals and 247Sports — that’s the highest the Irish have rated on national signing day in nine years — could have been a reason for defiant celebration. Kelly used to talk about “distinctions” and “shopping down a different aisle” on signing day. It took him almost a decade to embrace the idea Notre Dame could sign top-five classes.

It took Freeman one week.

This is all believable not because Freeman says it, but because he understands the work to make it happen.

“If these kids don’t know who the head coach is and have a personal relationship with the head coach, you’re at a disadvantage,” Freeman said. “I want these guys to be able to access me at all times, communicate with me directly on my phone, and understand this is going to be a very personal relationship.”

To underscore the point, Freeman said four-star linebacker Jaylen Sneed was calling him during the press conference. It’s unlikely Sneed ever had Kelly’s number. Kelly didn’t recruit with that non-stop human touch, one that can make the difference. Quarterback Steve Angeli had never met Kelly until he committed. Mickey only had one interaction with Kelly, after he’d already committed. Notre Dame almost lost Tyson Ford to Oklahoma because of that relationship-building failure. Ford had done about a half-dozen video calls with former Sooners head coach Lincoln Riley before he’d interacted with Kelly.

These are mistakes Freeman won’t repeat as head coach because he knows they will limit what Notre Dame recruiting can be, which means they would also limit how much Notre Dame can win. There’s a reason why the Irish linebacker haul included four four-star prospects. Linebacker is Freeman’s position.

“Your staff will follow the leader, right?” Freeman said. “If I’m the hardest-working, and I hope we’re all hard-working, but if I’m the most aggressive in trying to form relationships with these recruits, I hope I set an example for the rest of our staff that this is how we’re going to do things. Right?

“We’re going to outwork everybody in the country. We’re going to do things that no one else has done. We want to be unique in how we develop relationships.”

It’s clear Notre Dame’s staff will follow. Ten months ago, the Irish staff tried to defend Kelly in a video call with reporters, pushing back on evidence the head coach wasn’t involved enough in recruiting. No such defense of Freeman will ever be necessary. And Freeman’s push, supported by a stronger recruiting staff, should be the reason why.

Freeman laid down a marker this cycle about what Notre Dame recruiting can be. Those who pick it up will fit into this new era. Those who don’t, won’t.

“It motivates you, for sure,” said recruiting coordinator Mike Elston. “You don’t want to let him down. You don’t want to be outshined by the head coach who’s got 1,000 other things on his plate, and you’re really responsible for being the head coach of your position and the talent that comes into it. If you have any pride at all, and you want to impress the boss, then you’re going to work at that level, if not more. I think you’ll see that across the board.”

None of this is to say Notre Dame should apologize for a recruiting class that played to the program’s strengths, adding to a young offensive line with five more commitments, bulking up at tight end, continuing to grow along the defensive line. The Irish should feel good about what’s coming. Notre Dame should also know it has a head coach willing to pull the program further in recruiting, with the support of a staff happy to help him get there.

Notre Dame signed one top-100 prospect on Wednesday. Texas A&M signed 14. Alabama signed 13. Georgia signed 11. Ohio State signed seven.

That counts, too.

“As a competitor, the way he recruits and the way he goes about it, it raises our entire program’s level,” said offensive coordinator Tommy Rees. “And I don’t think that’s going to change, obviously, that’s only going to go up.”

It has to at receiver, where Notre Dame landed four-star Tobias Merriweather but lost four-star C.J. Williams on Monday night and watched three-star Amorion Walker flip to Michigan on Wednesday morning. That meant a class that wanted three or four receivers finished with one after the first day of the early signing period. The Irish don’t have a scholarship receiver in the junior or sophomore classes, with three potential hits among freshmen.

That’s the kind of recruiting misstep Notre Dame can’t afford. It’s one Freeman won’t tolerate.

“I saw it for the last 11 months that he’s somebody that’s going to raise the level of recruiting at Notre Dame,” Rees said. “As competitors, you don’t want to be the black sheep, you don’t want to be the one that’s not carrying the weight.

“As an entire staff, we’re gonna be challenged and pushed to recruit the highest level. And that’s why I say we’re not going to stop attacking the best players in the country, that isn’t going to stop. To me, that’s as exciting as anything that’s going on in the program right now.”

The 21 recruits who signed with Notre Dame on Wednesday felt that. The seven verbal commitments in next year’s class — including borderline five-star defensive linemen Brenan Vernon and Keon Keeley — feel that. If Freeman can take that energy and repurpose it across Notre Dame’s entire recruiting board, how the Irish recruited this cycle can be a launch pad instead of a finish line.

When Freeman arrived at the Mickey home last week and saw Lamar for the first time, the father of Notre Dame’s top cornerback commitment wasn’t sure how to react. Freeman wasn’t in a Notre Dame pullover; he was wearing a tailored suit. Freeman wasn’t just a defensive coordinator; he was running the entire show. Lamar asked if they should hug or just shake hands. Freeman went in for a hug.

“Same person,” Freeman said, “new role.”

Then, over wings, Freeman recapped one of the wildest weeks in Notre Dame football history. He applied it to how he chose Notre Dame over LSU a year earlier. He talked about what’s coming next for Notre Dame football. It was all so relatable, so easy for the Mickey family to process.

They didn’t need an introduction to Marcus Freeman when he showed up on their doorstep as Notre Dame’s new head coach. They already knew him. And that’s the entire point.

Source:  The Athletic
December 15, 2021

Schadenfreude & Tool!


What are the odds of him going away, never ever to be heard from again?

I know.  Unlikely.

But a girl can dream, can't she?

Final Thought

Happy holidays everyone - hope you're all getting to spend it with family, friends  - with those you love.  

Go Irish!  See you in 2022!

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