GOOD OL’ HARRY
Last week’s Irish Illustrated piece on former Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith is another example of why the last 35 years that this sportswriter has spent covering Notre Dame football has been so enriching.
This is not to say that other major college football programs do not have good, well-spoken, thoughtful players. It’s also not to say that Notre Dame doesn’t have any bad eggs come through the halls of the Gug.
But more often than not over the last 35 years, like about 20 times to one, the good far outweigh the bad, and Harry – as teammate Manti Te’o used to call him – is a living example of the good.
It was satisfying but not surprising to find Smith, whom we hadn’t spoken to since his last game in a Notre Dame uniform (Florida State, 2011 Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando), to be the same down-to-earth, humble, take-nothing-for-granted individual that he was in the second year of the Brian Kelly regime.
Anybody can say anything to make another think he is a humble man. You can fake your way through that and fool most of the people most of the time. But that was never the person Smith was at Notre Dame, and his genuineness four-and-a-half years later still shines through.
Despite the $51 million contract and $10 million signing bonus (about $30 million guaranteed, including bonus), Smith refuses to take an “I’ve arrived” attitude. Not that all that money is a burden. He’s not exactly singing the blues these days. But he feels a responsibility to live up to those numbers, and that’s the Smith we knew from his Notre Dame days.
Many former players, when asked to reflect on their struggles at Notre Dame and, in some instances, with the head coach, take a much different approach years after they have left. Not Smith. He had nothing bad to say about Charlie Weis, mainly, he said, because he’s never been a coach and wouldn’t presume to know what Weis or any other coach has to confront in that position.
Stories like Smith’s, over the last 35 years, are commonplace, which is why it’s an honor and a privilege to have a career covering Notre Dame football. It’s not always fun and games. The football season is a grind for anyone that has an every-day tie to the program. Notre Dame football would benefit from taking a page from men’s basketball where every decision isn’t treated with end-of-the-world importance.
But Notre Dame football is an animal that is much more difficult to control than all the other sports at Notre Dame combined. When you consider what is expected of the Notre Dame football player, the scrutiny and the pressure that goes with it, this school produces an inordinate number of “good kids” who grow to appreciate everything that comes with this unique place.
So to Harry and the hundreds of Notre Dame football players that have made a 35-year career mostly enjoyable, thanks for representing our alma mater with distinction.
Only good things, at least as much as foresight allows us to see, can come from the announcement of an alliance among ACC, Big East, Atlantic 10 and Colonial Athletic Association basketball officials.
In short, the alliance will allow the four conferences to “work together on all officiating matters and will serve to enhance training, development, recruitment, retention and feedback for its basketball officials.”
There’s no such alliance among football officials. It’s still broken down by each individual conference. On the surface, a similar grouping seems like a very good thing for football, too.
College football fans would be astonished at some of the haphazard ways in which rule changes/tweaks are incorporated on the fly from year-to-year and, in some instances, week-to-week. Frequent “memos” provide a change in the way a rule is enforced or interpreted. No formal discussion, just the printed word.
Can you imagine how much margin for error there is with a change incorporated via memo?
There are “nuances” to every rule that are open to interpretation, and thus, a varied interpretation from crew-to-crew and conference-to-conference is commonplace.
Forming an alliance that creates a like-minded view of the game and its rules could only enhance the consistency.
MISSED WITH CRIST
A nod to South Bend Tribune writer Eric Hansen for a question asked of Brian Kelly in a recent interview.
Question: “If you could have a do-over on how you coached one player at Notre Dame, it would be what player?”
Answer: “That’s a good question. Dayne Crist.”
It’s a very interesting response because that’s exactly who I would have expected Kelly to say, or at least should say.
It brought to mind the Boston College game in Kelly’s first year with the Irish in 2010 at Alumni Stadium. It was astonishing to see Kelly’s reactions toward Crist’s play that night.
Now keep in mind that this was Kelly’s fifth game as head coach of the Irish, and after defeating Purdue to open the season, Notre Dame was riding a three-game losing streak heading to Chestnut Hill, including a 23-point shellacking by Stanford in Notre Dame Stadium the previous week.
The pressure was on, the kind of pressure only the head football coach at Notre Dame (and the quarterback) can understand.
Crist completed 24-of-44 passes for 203 yards that night with an interception, a couple of touchdown passes, and a rushing touchdown in Notre Dame’s 31-13 victory over the Eagles. But it was Kelly’s reaction to every Crist miscue that night that was so astonishing.
You didn’t see a vast majority of it from the TV coverage. But in person, from a binocular’s view from the press box, Kelly’s reaction to virtually every Crist miscue was pronounced. His body language did nothing to assist Crist, who didn’t always handle pressure, let alone personal attacks, well.
Who’s to say that Kelly’s handling of Crist would have made a dramatic difference in Crist’s performance over the long haul? But had Kelly been able to tap into Crist’s physical talent – which was immensely greater than the skillset of Tommy Rees – the early years of the Kelly regime (10 losses in two seasons) might have been quite a bit different.
No free pass for Crist. He needed thicker skin to be the quarterback at Notre Dame. But he didn’t get much help building his confidence, which was what he needed more than anything else.
(Note: Add Dayne Crist onto the list with Harrison Smith et al.)
Is there a more astonishing record in college sports than Stanford’s 22 straight first-place finishes in the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA’s) annual award?
Commonly known as the Directors’ Cup, the Cardinal have won the award every year that it has been presented to the Division I program with the best cumulative record of all sports.
It’s not like Stanford isn’t competing against quality sports programs in warm weather locales. Yet for 22 straight years, they’ve defeated every Division I program in the country en route to the Directors’ Cup.
Notre Dame, as a cold weather school, is at an extreme disadvantage compared to Stanford and others. Yet the Irish have made tremendous strides in recent years, especially since – surprise, surprise – Jack Swarbrick arrived eight years ago.
In 2005-06, then under the direction of Kevin White, Notre Dame finished No. 6. Seven years later (2012-13), under Swarbrick, the Irish placed No. 9 with the football team’s 12 victories providing a significant boost.
Notre Dame’s best finish came in 2013-14 when the Irish finished No. 3 on the strength of the men’s soccer national championship, and a pair of runners-up finishes in women’s basketball and men’s lacrosse.
ENDS AND ODDS
• Speaking of records that will never be broken, Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak frequently is mentioned as the prime example, at least among records that are within a realistic grasp of today’s athletes.
For example, Cy Young’s 511 victories are so totally out of the realm of possibility that it’s not even worth considering.
Here’s another one that boggles the mind. Cy Young had 749 complete games in his career. The current active leader is C.C. Sabathia with 38. There have been 996 pitchers in the history of baseball with more complete games than Sabathia.
• Kevin Durant’s decision to leave Oklahoma City to form a “super team” at Golden State isn’t out of line. The parameters have been negotiated. He’s entitled to make that decision, regardless of the seismic shift in the balance of power.
At the expense of the NBA, of course.
This was made possible by the sharp increase in the salary cap as a result of the most recent TV deal. The cap sat at $67.1 million in 2015-16 and was projected to rise to $89 million in 2016-17 and $108 million in 2017-18. It turns out those last two figures will be closer to $94 million in 2016-17 and $113 million in 2017-18.
That’s a $27 million increase this upcoming season and another $19 million the following season.
Durant is entitled to join any team he’d like. He’s been trying to live down the rap that he hasn’t won an NBA title. Now, when he does everything in his power to make that happen, he’s criticized for taking “the easy way out.”
Good for Durant, Golden State and all the other free agents cashing in. Bad, very bad, for the NBA. The 82-game regular season now means even less than it did before.
Might as well skip the regular season and go straight to the playoffs because there are 25 teams with absolutely no chance of winning the NBA title…and maybe only one that could/will…although some dude named LeBron may have something to say about that.
• An addendum to last week’s “Ends and Odds” comment about Jerian Grant, whose value was summarized as “a bag of peanuts” by an ESPN talking head as it pertained to his involvement in the Derrick Rose trade.
Since then, the Chicago Bulls have signed point guard Rajon Rondo, thus reducing Grant to a backup role. So much for comments from the “peanut gallery.”
• An admitted addict to NFL Network’s “A Football Life” series.
(Editor’s Note: There will be no Thursday Thoughts on July 14. Look for the next one on July 21.)