Copyright by Global Electronic Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes.Com
December 23, 2001
Immortality the Perk
For New Irish Coach
By "Rock Kanutski"
For The IrishEyes.Com NewsService
Question: Why would an NFL coach want to work at Notre Dame?
The answer: immortality.
Consider the pro coaching greats. Rarely do their names survive their coaching generation. Hank Stram, one of the majors, is a Who's That? to most fans, and his name lasted longer than most, thanks to his broadcasting. Even so, of those who remember his broadcasting I'll bet half don't remember his exploits, or even that he had some.
Tom Landry? A legend certainly after coaching Don Meredith, Roger Staubach, Danny White and enjoying several Super Bowl runs. Unless "legend" means people have to know who you are.
George Allen? A genius who won everywhere he landed. Started under George Halas, made the Rams the Rams, then made the ancient Redskins young again in a pre-Joe Gibbs trip to glory.
And wasn't there some guy who coached the Vikings to something or other? A gray-haired guy, quiet. Bud? Billy? Dunno -- maybe Alan Page remembers.
You see the problem? And this just scratches the surface. People sorta know Don Shula, but give it a few years. When Bob Griese retires, Shula may be just another Paul Brown (sorry; a contemporary of Frank Leahy).
Only two NFL coaches have entered Valhalla, the land where everyone knows your name -- Vince Lombardi and George Halas.
Even Al Davis, the Halas of the old AFL (the what?), is doomed to anonymity at some point. Not nearly as colorful as Halas, he didn't coach long enough, and besides, no one likes him. It's interesting, by the way, to think of Al Davis and Pete Rozelle (Pete who?) in side-by-side forgotten graves. A pleasant thought.
Now consider Notre Dame. Joe Gibbs took over the Washington team in 1981. Quick, name three head coaches who worked at Notre Dame before or during that year? (Extra points if you name the coach who came to ND from the pre-George Allen Redskins.)
Gosh, Rock, you say, no fair; three is too easy. That's right, friends. Even the Hate the Dome crowd can score on this test. Who couldn't name at least three of these four -- Knute Rockne, Leahy, Ara Parseghian and Dan Devine.
And the inverse Irish legends live on as well. Joe Kuharich is the ex-Redskin who coached at Notre Dame. You remember Joe -- the bad coach Davie was compared to, the mark for terrible coaches at Notre Dame. Whenever Notre Dame hires badly, Kuharich's name will come up. Immortality.
Of the more contemporary Notre Dame coaches -- Gerry Faust, Lou Holtz, Bob Davie, George O'Leary -- one is clearly statue material. As soon they finish the likeness of Ara, they'll start sculpting Lou. But I think all four will be remembered into the night. Faust is a perfect archetype of devotion, and his instant elevation from high school to Notre Dame would be movie material, if it weren't so true.
O'Leary? 'Nuff said. He's marked for life and beyond.
And Davie? Clearly the jury's out, but the O'Leary scandal might just put Davie on the map. You can see it in the press already, how they paint O'Leary as Inverse Davie. That may be all Bob needs. Who'd remember Yang, if he weren't married to Yin?
EXPLAIN ABOUT "STEP DOWN" AGAIN?: Jon Gruden, Steve Mariucci and Mike Shanahan are the NFL coaches most often named as Notre Dame candidates. These men are at the top of their game, rapidly rising, or both. Surely they wouldn't take a "step down" to coach in college. Or would they?
No matter how successful they become, in twenty years' time can you imagine them mentioned in the same breath as Lombardi? Maybe in the same breath as Shula, assuming Shula is mentioned at all. But Lombardi? There are just so many Lombardi's in pro ball, roughly one. Vince kinda took up all the space.
Now look at the alternative. If you coach at Notre Dame and win big, you join the List. The minimum List is Rockne, Leahy, Parseghian, Holtz; and now you. As long as they remember Rockne, they remember the List, and you're on it forever.
In that sense, Notre Dame is like perfect refrigeration; its legends always stay fresh. A step down? Not if you care about reputation.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Yes, pro ball is a man's game, and recruiting is a harvest of teens. Yes, at some schools student-athletes are really students. And yes, dealing with alumni is like facing Rambo in your shorts -- even when he likes you, be careful.
But Gruden, Mariucci, Shanahan -- these men are driven, chasing the biggest brass ring they can find. Each is the real Inverse Davie.
At podiums all over the country stand coaches with Super Bowl rings who remain anonymous even after being introduced. (Now I remember -- Bud Grant, the Vikings, Super Bowl. How could I forget? What a great coach he was.)
Maybe one of these men -- Jon, Mooch, Mike -- is thinking about the brass ring that puts your name on the Golden Dome instead of on ESPN Classic at 2 AM. "To an Athlete Dying Young," that poem about the short reputation of athletes, was written for coaches too. You remember; it's the one that starts:
I know you won your town the race
But darned if I recall your face.
You made the Super Bowl I hear.
Was Lou or Ara coach that year?
Guys, meet Notre Dame, Valhalla for the easily forgotten. (Pssst -- there's room for just one of you.)
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