Copyright by Global Electronic Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes.Com®
December 1, 2001
By Joe Tybor
For The IrishEyes.Com NewsService
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (IE) – They were making the jokes early in the press box at Purdue, but at the end of Notre Dame's 24-18 win —another wrenching effort—Bob Davie and his assistants had to grit to hold their emotions in check.
"ND stands for No Davie," one writer suggested a couple of hours before kickoff. If Bob Davie lasts through Friday, the night of the annual football banquet, the event will truly be known as the Last Supper, said another.
Davie and his Irish arrived at Purdue Friday night and were greeted with questions and TV reports that his firing was imminent.
In the wake of those, he said he felt compelled to address the uncertainty surrounding his future for the first time with his players. He called a team meeting and he said he apologized.
"I felt they deserved better," Davie recounted in his post-game news conference, slowly choosing his words. "Since the Texas A&M game, there's been a lot of things circulating and all I did was I apologize to those kids because of all they had to defend. I think tonight we ought to be talking about those players."
We should. They stuck together, didn't quit and showed some future promise in the tailback play of freshman Ryan Grant and the return speed of Vontez Duff, both youngsters with futures--with or without Davie--who scored touchdowns.
But given Davie's uncertain status, it's difficult to focus on what happened on the field Saturday, even though the game's end was in doubt until a last second Purdue Hail Mary pass was intercepted by Clifford Jefferson.
Davie, who said he endured some of the most "unbelievable" officiating he has ever seen, was jubilant. He hugged his players as he walked off, had a smile a mile wide as if he was headed for the BCS championship; yet had to ignore Notre Dame fans who heckled him and said some not-very-nice things as he headed off the field for the Irish dressing room.
"Obviously, a difficult situation, an accumulation of negatives," Davie said in his post-game news conference. He didn't need to specify whether he was talking about the game or the swirl around his status.
"I am proud of this Notre Dame football team," he continued. "These are grown men and I'm really proud of this team. I'm not being defiant. [Critics] can be as sarcastic and as cynical as they want to be, but I am proud of this football team and what these guys are all about."
Davie said he never felt on the sidelines Saturday that he was coaching his last game for Notre Dame and said he did nothing differently.
"We're the same team, we're the same coaches we were a year ago," he said. "If that's not good enough, it's not good enough. So, let it roll."
In response to a question, he reiterated that he would not resign. Then, he cut short his post-game comments as, for ian nstant, he fought back emotion.
Outside in the darkness, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison also chocked back emotion. He talked about the no-quit in the squad, their willingness to continue to take instruction when the coaches were under question.
"There's a lot of love in that locker room," Mattison said. "It's been one of those seasons where things haven't gone right. But though it was 5-6, there was not one practice or a game where everyone didn't give it everything they had.
"That says it all to me."
When asked how much he would miss seniors Anthony Weaver, Rocky Boiman, Grant Irons and others, he looked like he choked back tears. After a pregnant silence, reporters changed the subject.
Kevin Rogers, the offensive coordinator whose squad struggled all season to find an identity, is usually open, if not loquacious after a game--win or lose. This time, he walked out of the locker room and headed straight for the buses, waving off all questions.
It was a surreal night and a surreal day with a college football game between rivals serving only as a backdrop to the pending human drama concerning whether Davie and his staff stay with the Irish or Notre Dame Nation gets new helmsmen.
It was a crowded press box and post-game news conference at Purdue. The writers and reporters and columnists didn't come for the matchup between a mediocre Purdue team which finished the season 6-5 and a Notre Dame squad, which played without quitting to the end but finished a meagerly 5-6.
No, the media came like they were covering an Irish wake.
Almost one year ago to the day, Davie was a man atop the college football coaching world, one of the three finalists for the Football News Coach of the Year Award. He had completed a 9-2 regular season with seven straight wins and won a bid to a $13 million BCS bowl.
More significantly, he had just agreed to a new five-year contract announced amid accolades usually reserved for the election of a pope.
"My confidence in him is unqualified," said Kevin White, who was then still in his first year as new athletic director at Notre Dame. "There's no doubt the future of Notre Dame football is bright.
"Plus, and this is as important as any of his achievements, Bob embraces the principles and values that Notre Dame represents."
That was then and this is now. There is no more important principle and value than the bottom line and Davie's 35-25 record ranks third worst among Notre Dame coaches who had more than a one-year tenure.
Among many in Notre Dame Nation, there is little doubt that White must let Davie go, notwitstanding the game effort and victory over Purdue.
The Irish parlayed a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Duff in the third quarter and a 29-yard interception return by Jason Beckstrom to pull away 24-9 in a tight match up until the fourth quarter.
Word is that a news conference is already scheduled at Notre Dame for Monday or Tuesday. The question that remains is whether it will be used to announce Davie's dismissal or to announce the hiring of a new coach.
All week long, Davie has been stepping up the rhetoric. He has said he won't resign, that he will have to be fired. He has said he is no different a coach than the one White lauded last Dec. 5 when the new five-year agreement was announced.
He cancelled his usual Sunday news conference, saying there is nothing more he wishes to say.
The contract shouldn't stand in the way of Davie's dismissal or resignation. Sources told IrishEyes it is a series of five, one-year renewable agreements with a performance clause.
The performance clause states that if Davie loses four or more games in one season, Notre Dame has the right to buy out the contract for a specified amount, the sources said. A report in the Chicago Tribune said it will cost the Irish $2.5 million to buy out Davie's pact.
Davie critics believe this season was so dismal, it should give White little pause.
Jon Gruden appears to be the favorite among fans, but there is some question if the timing can be negotiated considering his Oakland Raiders should be in the thick of the NFL playoffs and a championship contender.
You've all heard the usual suspects besides Gruden: Steve Mariucci of the 49rs; Bob Stoops of Oklahoma; Mike Bellotti of Oregon; Tom O'Brien of Boston College and Tom Coughlin, formerly of Boston College, now with the struggling Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Irish didn't play poorly in what just about everyone believes was Davie's last game for Notre Dame. They used last year's formula which led to a 9-2 regular season: good defense, special teams and few turnovers.
They were outgained by Purdue more than two-to-one: 332 yards to 162, but hung on for the win.
They fell behind 3-0 on a 50-yard field goal; but went ahead 7-3 on a 58-yard drive keyed by youngsters Carlyle Holiday and Grant, who finished with 81 yards on 19 carries and could challenge Julius Jones for the starting tailback spot next season..
Holiday broke loose on a scramble on a third down for 21 yards and Grant had four carries for 23 yards and one reception for 25 yards during the drive. Grant also scored the touchdown on a nice 14-yard run around the right side.
The Irish went into halftime leading 7-6.
Nicholas Setta missed a disputed 36-yard field goal attempt. The ball sailed higher than the left goal post and Davie and Setta thought it should have been ruled good.
The officials said it was wide left.
Setta's second field goal attempt was a 47-yarder that put the Irish up 10-6. Purdue closed it to 10-9 on a 27-yarder by Travis Dorsch, who had a total of four field goals in the game and the Big Ten career record for the number of field goals and points.
Duff ran back the kickoff, aided by a beautiful block from David Givens; Beckstrom's interception came when Purdue and freshman quarterback Kyle Orton were backed up on a third and 14 from their own nine. Courtney Watson made the block that put Beckstrom in the end zone.
The Irish were up 24-9 with about eight minutes left, but the finish wasn't easy.
The Boilermakers roared back with an 83-yard drive, but missed the extra point. An Irish fumble and another 42-yard Boilermakers drive which stalled at the 14 resulted in a field goal that made it 24-18 with 1:26 remaining.
Purdue's attempt at an onsides kick failed, but with dubious help from the officiating crew, the Irish had difficulty running out the clock and the game ended when a final Hail Mary pass by Purdue was intercepted by Jefferson.
It was Jefferson's second interception of the game and the first two of his career, coming in his final game. .
Even with the loss, it was the fifth straight winning season for Joe Tiller who took over the Boilermakers the same year Davie took over the Irish. Purdue will be headed to the Sun Bowl in El Paso, its fifth straight bowl appearance while the Irish stay home and see who goes job hunting.