Nation's Object of Desire Led to Right Choice

"Rock Kanutski," a regular contributor to and the "Fan's Perspective" here at IrishEyes, writes about the longing for Jon Gruden and how it led to the right person for the job.

Copyright by Global Electronic Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes.Com

January 5, 2002

White Delivered
Object of Desire

By "Rock Kanutski"
For The IrishEyes.Com NewsService

For the driven coaches of the football world, the Jon Grudens, the Mike Shanahans, the Lou Holtzes, the highest level of success is barely good enough. If the world ever invents something bigger than success, these men will leave success in the dust, chasing the new best thing.

And throughout the Notre Dame coaching search, the Nation has been focused on one man: Gruden, a poster boy for dream-chasing, the golden child of pigskin. What a face. What attitude. Even in the stills, he seems in motion. Agitated, motivated, aggravated. Driven. If only this coach would descend on us, the masses think, then we would be blessed, then our enemies would fear us.

So the Nation lingered for weeks, lost in love. Web sites rose and fell, seasons played to the end, whole governments passed from the earth, and still no Jon. He's interested; he's not. He's tied to his master; no wait. He loves them best; not so. Maybe there's hope. Maybe ...

Talk about Central Casting. We were straight from the soaps, real John and Marsha material. Please, we cried, just let him love us; please. (Music up. Sobbing fades. Commercial.)


IT'S BEST TO DATE PEOPLE WHO WANT YOU: Does all that longing sound familiar, folks? If not, think back to the last of your dating life (for some of us, that would be yesterday). Recall what it was like to want someone that much. It takes on a life of its own, doesn't it? The rejection starts to make you not see straight.

And so with Jon. Our perfect hero, our savior, he looked so good on camera, and for a while at least, his Raiders proved his genius week by week.

But what if he wasn't right for us, us or any college team? As good as he sounded (and looked; can't forget the impact of those pictures), Gruden made some folks nervous from the beginning.

Pro ball is a man's game, a grown man's game, and younger athletes, whatever else they are, aren't all that grown. Imagine Gruden, the coach of the Oakland Raiders, enforcing those pesky parietal rules. I'd love to be there. (C'mon, son; it's wrong to have women in your room. You know it, and I know it. You might get ... well ...) No wonder Monk scowls when Gruden's name is mentioned. Most monks would scowl.

And that's just the start. What about recruiting, speaking engagements and the alumni? How about the time-eating schmooze that greases donations from the Exec VP's in the crowd?

Now many of us Exec VP's are wonderful folk (I'll fantasize myself among them), but in some organizations, you need a little Al Davis in your soul to get to the Management Bigs. Picture Gruden the Driven playing golf with a dozen little Al's, each of whom has no organizational standing, all of whom count to the school, all of whom want his minutes. Who knows, maybe he'd be great at it. Maybe.

But maybe not. Besides, he wasn't even sure he wanted us. Perhaps he knew something.


POINT AND SHOOT: Nevertheless, we want a driven man, a man who, like our Lou, needs what he needs because he needs it, not because his boss says "here's your goals for the year."

We need that man badly. The benefit of hiring the driven is that you couldn't stop them from winning if you tried. A perfect low maintenance coach; just point and shoot.

The problem with hiring the driven is that you can't turn them sideways even slightly. So forget the "point" part; they do that for you. Just shoot.

And hope they're aimed the right way. Because the driven are headed where they're headed, and you're just on the bus. Jon Gruden's wife watches videos on fast forward because that's what Jon does. He's driven. She's on the bus.

If the bus is going to your stop, that's great, it's all you need. But if it isn't, there's a long walk home waiting for you.

Enter Ty Willingham.


AN ANGEL ON OUR SHOULDER: No question Ty is driven. By all accounts he's the most organized coach in college football. He's been described as a guy who kept his diapers neater than most people's closets. For punishment his team picks up trash. For entertainment, Ty does it by himself.

Is Ty driven to win big? Unquestionably.

Is he capable of winning big? Only time will tell. But nothing will stop him from trying. And he did more with less at Stanford than any coach in years.

Is he going to take the bus where we want it to go? Yes, more than any other coach in America. He'll recruit, he'll graduate, he'll teach, he'll spiritualize, he'll exemplify; he'll even keep the campus neat. His teams will win and his players will love him. He'll do everything but schmooze.

That's not a bad hand of cards: if you're holding four Aces, there's always room for a Deuce.

I'm actually shocked that Willingham wasn't Kevin White's first choice all along. It's a good thing Kevin has an angel on his shoulder. To be taken in by a guy "right out of Central Casting" (White's description of O'Leary) is surprising. Kevin, what were you thinking? All us Pac-10 guys know better.

So thank God for dishonesty: If it weren't for dishonesty, we'd still have O'Leary. Can you imagine George, background-clean, Friedgen-free, 30-percent grad rate (or so) firmly in his pocket, doing better than Willingham at Notre Dame?

Perhaps you can, but the Rock says we owe dishonesty a big night on the town: It brought us a near escape, and with it the best rising coach in the country. (And thanks to that angel Kevin carries; you did good.)


FAST FORWARD: So there you have it. Those of you who wanted Jon, or at least what Jon represented, Rock says you got him.

You want driven? That's Ty. There's a story that Willingham had the team bus pull out on time, even while his wife was pounding on the door, slightly late. Maybe it's not true, but as legend it easily matches the Gruden Fast Forward tale.

You want integrity? Ty again. We're getting a man who cleans up trash, not one who lectures about it.

You want wins? There the jury's out; the future's still the undiscovered country.

But the Raiders have faded lately, and Jon's star with it. So you might be surprised, if we could fast forward a bit, whose record would be better years from now. Gruden's good, but my money's still on Ty.

(Opinions stated in "Fan's Perspective" do not necessarily reflect those of the IrishEyes editorial staff.  If you would like to contribute to "Fan's Perspective," please contact Alan Tieuli at Top Stories