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December 2008 Archives

Weis Has Surgery

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Here is the release from ND: 

December 29, 2008
            NOTRE DAME, Ind.
 -University of Notre Dame football coach Charlie Weis underwent successful surgery for replacement of his right knee this morning at Memorial Hospital in South Bend.
            "The severe deterioration of the bone explains the severe pain he suffered the last three weeks," said Dr. Willard G. Yergler, M.D.,  of South Bend Orthopaedics Associates and director of sports medicine for the Notre Dame football program, who performed the hour-long surgery.
            "With the knee replacement, he'll start walking this afternoon."
            Weis is expected to be released in a day or two and then begin several months of rehabilitation.
            A final decision has yet to be made on what to do with Weis' left knee that was injured during Notre Dame's win over Michigan in September.


Now that the season is finished we can expect Charlie Weis to make some staff changes. Not only are changes necessary but inevitable in the wake of Mike Haywood being named head coach at Miami University.

As several readers correctly pointed out, the only blemish from an otherwise stellar performance in the Hawaii Bowl was a running game that only averaged 1.9 yards per carry. Problems with the running game/offensive line have been discussed again and again here and in other forums. In fact, several readers said a vastly improved performance by the offensive line and running game in the Hawaii Bowl would be the one thing that would make them feel better about the team heading into the offseason. 

I resisted making a similar statement because I didn't think such a performance was in the offing. At some point, you are what you are. ND's o-line is what it is. There's no sense wishing for something that is not going to happen.

But there's also no doubt that fixing the running game should be Charlie Weis' biggest priority heading into next season. He's a pass-happy coach. The opinion here is that deep down --- whether he admits it or not --- he would rather pass then run. That's OK. You can win regardless of whether you pass to set up the run or run to set up the pass. The key is balance, which you must have to be a BCS contender. It doesn't matter how you achieve it. 

That's why, if I were Weis, I would look for a "running game coordinator" to replace Haywood. He needs an old salt --- an offensive version of Jon Tenuta, if you will --- whose sole responsibility is getting the running game up and running. Perhaps it's an offensive line coach who is ready for more responsibility. Maybe it's an run-oriented offensive coordinator who would work in concert with an offensive line coach of his (and Weis') choosing. Either way, Weis needs someone he can count on to improve this critical area because it hasn't improved enough under his watch during the past two seasons.

This might seem like an awkward set-up but it has worked elsewhere in the past. Bill Callahan successfully served in such a role when Jon Gruden coached the Raiders. If I'm not mistaken, Gruden called pass plays and Callahan running plays for a team that was dominating the AFC West at the time. Such a relationship might even benefit Weis, who seems more effective calling passing plays than running plays. (Is it just me, or do ND's running plays seem predictable to the point of being telegraphed?) In fact, it might be the perfect solution. If the proper chemistry can be found between Weis and his new "running game coordinator," the result could keep Weis involved with game-planning and play-calling while also allowing him to spend some time in the more traditional head-coaching role.

Now for the conspiracy theory ... 

If you were Weis, and you knew you were on a short leash heading into next season, you might decide to be your own offensive coordinator for a couple of reasons. First of all, if the ship is going to go down, you may as well be at the helm. Weis' speciality is offense. Why wouldn't he want direct control of his and his team's fate? It's like he said after the Boston College game (I'm paraphrasing here): "If what's broken falls under your area of expertise you better go fix it." The Irish offense was potent during his first two years when he was the primary game-planner and play-caller. He relinquished those duties last season and probably regretted it. Nobody could blame him for serving as the primary offensive coordinator once again.

The second reason is where the "conspiracy theory" comes into play. What happens if Notre Dame loses to Nevada in the 2009 season opener? Would Weis get fired? What if the offense performs poorly in the first three games? Would AD Jack Swarbrick be tempted to make a move during the season? Put yourself in Swarbrick's shoes. Let's say Weis replaces Haywood with himself and adds another assistant to the staff. If Swarbrick did want to fire Weis during the season, who would run the offense? That would have to factor into his decision. Is Ron Powlus ready to be an offensive coordinator? It wouldn't be fair to players for Swarbrick to get rid of Weis is there is nobody else on the staff capable of running the offense.

The point is this: By not hiring an offensive coordinator Weis might be able to buy himself some time in case the worst-case scenario unfolds. Let's say the Irish have a rocky first three games, then straighten things out and win the rest. In such a scenario, not having anybody on the staff experienced enough to run the offense might save his job. 


Anyone See This Coming?

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The last blog entry dealt with what ND had to do to make you feel better about the team heading into the offseason and the 2009 season. Well, the team's performance in the Hawaii Bowl was an best-case scenario across the board. The Irish almost looked like a different team. Virtually every concern I (we) had seemed to evaporate into the warm, tropical air. Body language, enthusiasm and intensity seemed to turn 180 degrees. 

It seems as if a light went on. Maybe this was the game where players finally got it, finally realized the kind of effort and attitude required to succeed at this level.

The bar has definitely been raised. If I were Charlie Weis, I'd have a tape of that game playing on a loop in the locker room until next year's season opener because that performance is now the standard that everyone in the program should strive for each and ever week. That kind of dominance shouldn't just raise the expectations of fans and the media. The key is that the players themselves now know what they are capable of and expect to make that kind of statement every week.

I've said it before and I'll say it again because I believe this wholeheartedly: It can't be just about winning and losing. I'm not stupid. Winning is the bottom line. This is big business. I understand that. But I believe that it's more important to establish a style of play, a level of intensity. This is who we are and this is what we do. Once the players themselves start holding each other accountable for maintaining that level of play, winning just happens. It becomes a byproduct of all the other things you're doing. That's when you know a program is has arrived. And the Irish appear to have taken a major step in that direction.

A couple notes/observations in the wake of ND's first bowl victory since 1994.

I like the idea of using Robert Hughes as the lead back and Armando Allen as the change-of-pace. Problems with the running game can't all be blamed on the running backs, obviously. Allen hasn't broken a lot of long runs. I think his career-long was 21 yards before he had a couple longer runs against Navy. ND needs more big plays from their running game. Maybe the best way to accomplish that (while also getting the more physical Hughes more involved) is to have Allen be the lightning to Hughes' thunder.

It's easy to call plays when everything seems to work. That said, I would love to talk to Charlie Weis about the difference between calling plays upstairs --- as he did against the Warriors --- as opposed to the sideline. He seemed to be in a rhythm from the first drive. If he's that much more effective up there he should think about staying in the box. I know it's highly unusual for a head coach not to be on the sideline, but, hey, whatever works. What's more important, after all, than play-calling? 

Not much you can say about Clausen's performance. Wow. It isn't like we didn't think he was capable of it. When I wrote at midseason that he could be a Heisman Trophy candidate next season I got a lot of e-mails accusing me of drinking on the job. I just thought about it like this: He's got all the tools, a pass-happy coach and some terrific playmakers at receiver and tight end. (How refreshing was it to see Kyle Rudolph catch so many deep passes over the middle?) It also doesn't hurt that he's on network TV every week. I'm not making any predictions here. But he has the tools and the weapons to put up some big numbers next season. When the quarterback at Notre Dame is putting up big numbers he's usually going to be a Heisman Trophy candidate.

Here are a couple postgame notes from Brian Hardin, ND's football sports information director: 

Clausen's 15.42 yards per pass attempt was an overall ND record (min. 20 pass attempts).  Carlyle Holiday had 12.95 vs. Navy in 2002.

*Clausen's 84.62 completion percentage was second best in college football history in a bowl game given minimum of 20 attempts.  Only better is Mike Bobo of Georgia vs. Wisconsin in 1998 Outback Bowl when he was 26-28.

*ND team completion percentage of .857 was best in NCAA history in a bowl game given min of 25 attempts.

*Clausen's pass efficiency was a career-high 277.63. That is a Notre Dame bowl game record and I'm checking to see how it ranks in overall school history as well as in college football's bowl history.

Miami Head Football Coach Michael Haywood
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ichael Haywood Named Miami University's Head Football Coach
iami Football's Jake Richardson Earns Berth in East-West Shrine Game
ootball Announces 2008 Awards
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. 23, 2008
FORD, Ohio - MICHAEL HAYWOOD, offensive coordinator at Notre Dame the past four years and a former staff member under some of college football's greatest mentors, has been named Head Football Coach at Miami University, Director of Athletics BRAD BATES announced today.
Haywood, 44, will remain on Notre Dame's staff for the team's game against Hawai'i in the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl on December 24 (8 p.m. EST). He will be introduced to the local media next Tuesday (December 30, time TBA) at Miami University's new Voice of America Learning Center in West Chester.
"First of all, I'd like to thank President Hodge and Brad Bates for the tremendous opportunity to become head coach at Miami University," said Haywood. "It's an institution with outstanding academics and a storied football tradition. The Cradle of Coaches, Ara Parseghian, Bo Schembechler, Bill Mallory, Jim Tressel ... what an unbelievable coaching tradition. I'm so excited about joining the Miami family, with a fan and alumni base that is nationwide. Ohio is a great state for high school football, with tremendous coaches and unbelievable student-athletes. We are looking forward to developing a relationship with the high school coaches and to recruit their student-athletes to Miami University. I can't wait to get started!"
Bates said that Haywood's experience and success at five different Bowl Championship Series (BCS) schools made him the leading candidate at Miami.
"Mike's experience with scholar-athletes at the United States Military Academy, the University of Texas and the University of Notre Dame has instilled in him high intellectual expectations for our students," Bates said. "His mentors have included some of the most successful coaches in college football and have given him the organizational, recruiting and leadership skills to inspire our team, program, campus and fans. And Mike's competitive success in the MAC, Big Ten, Southeastern Conference and Big 12 provides him with the knowledge and pragmatism to surround himself with a great staff to develop champions at Miami University. We are thrilled to have Mike Haywood as `our' head football coach." (cont'd below)
Dr. David Hodge, President of Miami University, echoed Bates's praise about the new RedHawk coach.
"We are very excited to have Mike join the Miami family," said Hodge. "His extraordinary experience with some of the most successful football programs in the country makes him an outstanding choice. He is passionate about the future of our program and has a well-thought out plan to assure success both on and off the field. Mike's values align exceptionally well with Miami, and he is a great fit for our institution."
Since 1995, Haywood has been associated with three Top Ten teams and six other Top 25 clubs. His mentors have included former Coaches of the Year Nick Saban, Mack Brown, Charlie Weis and Lou Holtz.
Through Haywood's four seasons as the offensive coordinator and running backs coach at Notre Dame (2005-08), the Fighting Irish have averaged nearly 27 points per game. He took over the majority of Notre Dame's offensive play calling in 2008 and the result was an additional 103 yards per game over the previous season.
Haywood has coached running backs since 1994 at four different schools and tutored rushers that received All-America and all-conference accolades. He helped develop the talent in players that etched their name in their respective school's records book and produced future National Football League players in Darius Walker, Cedric Benson, LaBrandon Toefield, Domanick Davis, Kevin Faulk, Rondell Mealey and Cecil Collins.
A key figure in Notre Dame's offensive explosion in 2005, Haywood was named NCAA Division 1-A Assistant Coach of the Year that season by the American Football Coaches Association. The honor recognized not only Haywood's outstanding coaching credentials, but also his stellar work in the community throughout his coaching career.
Haywood's return to familiar turf in South Bend was the latest stop in a successful career as one of college football's top assistant coaches for the past 22 years.
A four-year football letterman at Notre Dame (1982, 1984-86), Haywood has been a collegiate coach for the past 22 years. He joined Weis's staff following two years at Texas under Brown. Prior to that, he was running backs coach at LSU for coaches Gerry DiNardo and Saban.
Haywood is no stranger to the Mid-American Conference, having served as an assistant coach at Ohio (1991-92) for Tom Lichtenberg and at Ball State (1993-94) for head coach and former Miami player Paul Schudel. He was Coach Jim Young's assistant for two seasons (1989-90) at Army, and began his coaching career at Minnesota (1988) as a graduate assistant for Coach John Gutekunst.
Haywood has coached every position and has coordinated offense, special teams and recruiting. He has recruited the Midwest as well as Florida, Texas, Louisiana, California, Canada, Oklahoma and Arkansas.
Born Michael Anthony Haywood on Feb. 26, 1964, in Houston, Texas, he played flanker during his freshman season at Notre Dame (started five games and caught 13 passes for 128 yards in 1982), then moved to cornerback where he was a significant contributor and starter from 1984-86 (13 career starts, 78 tackles, five interceptions, two blocked kicks). Recruited by Gerry Faust, Notre Dame's coach during Haywood's senior year was Lou Holtz.
Haywood is a 1986 graduate of Notre Dame with a bachelor's degree from the College of Arts and Letters.
THE HAYWOOD FILE Year     School     Assignment     Team's Ranking
1988     Minnesota    Graduate Assistant -- 1989     Army     Defensive Backs/Special Teams Assistant     --
1990     Army     Defensive Ends/Special Teams Coordinator     --
1991     Ohio     Outside Linebackers/Special Teams Assistant     --
1992     Ohio     Outside Linebackers/Special Teams Assistant     --
1993     Ball State    Receivers/Co-Special Teams Coordinator     --
1994     Ball State    Running Backs/Co-Special Teams Coordinator     --
1995     LSU     Running Backs     25th
1996     LSU     Running Backs/Special Teams Coordinator     12th
1997     LSU     Running Backs/Special Teams Coordinator     13th
1998     LSU     Running Backs/Special Teams Coordinator     --
1999     LSU     Running Backs     --
2000     LSU     Running Backs     22nd
2001     LSU     Running Backs/Special Teams Coordinator     7th
2002     LSU     Running Backs/Special Teams Coordinator     --
2003     Texas     Running Backs/Co-Special Teams Coordinator     12th
2004     Texas     Recruiting Coordinator/Running Backs/Co-ST Coord.    5th
2005     Notre Dame    Offensive Coordinator/Running Backs     9th
2006     Notre Dame    Offensive Coordinator/Running Backs     17th
2007     Notre Dame    Offensive Coordinator/Running Backs     --
2008     Notre Dame    Offensive Coordinator/Running Backs     --
2009     MIAMI     HEAD COACH
CHARLIE WEIS, Head Football Coach, University of Notre Dame ""The Notre Dame program is very happy today for Michael Haywood and wishes him only the best at Miami University. They made a great selection of a coach who is very well prepared for an assignment like this -- and although we will dearly miss him we realize it's time for him to run his own program. Michael has both the coaching pedigree and the personal character which will carry him to a successful career as a head coach."
MACK BROWN, Head Football Coach, University of Texas "Mike is a perfect hire. He has earned the right to be a head coach with his great work at places like Texas, Notre Dame and LSU. He's a great recruiter, respects the game, and is the kind of young person we need in college athletics."
FLOYD KEITH, Executive Director, Black Coaches Association "I can't tell you how ecstatic I am, both personally and as a representative for the BCA. Mike has been a well-known candidate for several years, and his experience and resume speak for themselves. He understands how to win. Brad Bates couldn't have hired a better candidate. Miami has done itself well." 
What has to happen in the Hawaii Bowl to make you feel better about Notre Dame's 2008 season and more optimistic heading into '09? That's the question I've been pondering lately. Barring some unforeseen space crunch, which have become all-to frequent in the newspaper business of late, my analysis on that topic will appear in Tuesday's editions.

I could've rattled off a dozen or so points but limited myself to three for brevity's sake.

1) Clausen needs to play better. I've discussed what I think of him at length in past blog entries. Suffice to say, after 21 starts, it's time for him to start answering some questions.

2) The Irish need to play with more emotion and passion. Most of all, they need to be more physical. I found myself writing that this may be the softest Notre Dame team in recent memory. I ended up editing the line out of the piece but suspect it's true. With the exception of overmatched Navy, name the last team they clearly out-hit? I know there are a lot of young players on this team, but even puppies bite ... 

3) Coach Charlie Weis needs to start restoring confidence in his regime. The best way to do that is with a crisp, clean, efficient performance. Or maybe he'll come up with a "schematic advantage." I'm not using that term to be a wise guy (this time). One of his best coaching jobs came against North Carolina. Weis noticed that Butch Davis' team had never been in a dime (six defensive backs) package. So, he started the game with five receivers, basically forcing the defense to adjust. North Carolina was back on its (Tar) heels as Davis scrambled to come up with a defensive package to counter Weis' five-receiver set. We all know what happened. North Carolina rallied to win the game. Still, it was a nice bit of strategy by Weis. It would be nice to see something similar against Hawaii.

Obviously, I could go on and on with things I'd like to see that would make me feel better about where Notre Dame has been and where it is headed. Those are the major points, though. If the Irish come out and play physically and with passion, if Clausen plays well and if everybody comes out feeling better about the competency of the coaching staff the trip to Hawaii will be a success.

What would make you feel better about the Irish heading into the offseason. Post your comments and I'll publish them on this blog throughout the day and week. 


Hayes' Take: Jimmy Clausen

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I've been thinking a lot about Jimmy Clausen and how his season seemed to take a u-turn. It got me thinking: Would Notre Dame and Clausen have been better served had Evan Sharpley been the quarterback the past two seasons?

The way the quarterback situation played out last season was bizarre. We don't know what happens behind those tarped fences during practice. (In fact, I've never even bothered to attend the 20-minute session that coach Charlie Weis allows the media to watch for one simple reason. In 20 years of covering football I've yet to learn anything meaningful from watching players stretch and do individual drills. Plus, I wouldn't put it past Weis to stage something just for the media. I've heard he's done it in the past.) Weis claims Clausen, despite coming off a surgical procedure on his elbow and despite being a true freshman, was the superior practice player last season and therefore he was made the starter. That may well be. But there's also no doubt that Sharpley out-played Clausen in several games in 2007 and as a junior seemed the most logical candidate to start. There's also no doubt that many Notre Dame players --- especially upperclassmen --- thought Sharpley should have been the starter. There's also no denying that there were potential political benefits to starting Clausen as a true freshman. How could you blame Weis for the offense floundering when he was starting a true freshman at quarterback? How could you not be patient?

Getting Clausen experience under center will only hasten his development. That was one argument for throwing caution into the wind and throwing Clausen into the mix heading into Penn State last season ---  but has it? Two years into Clausen's Notre Dame career, it seems reasonable to ponder whether or not that experience has paid off.

Of course, we wouldn't be having this discussion if Clausen hadn't regressed during the second half of the season. There are reasons for that that have nothing to do with the strong-armed quarterback from Southern California. The single biggest factor in an offense being consistent is a running game and the absence of same at Notre Dame is one of the most puzzling aspects ---- and biggest indictments --- of Weis' regime. 

Let's say it like it is: The offensive line has been a crushing disappointment the past two years. Clausen didn't have a chance last season. Opposing defenses abused him like a crash-test dummy. This year, the inability to open holes or get any kind of consistent push even against several out-manned opponents was simply inexcusable.

That said, Clausen has now made 21 starts as a college quarterback. That's a big enough sample size to begin drawing some conclusions and expressing some concerns. 

WHAT I KNOW ABOUT JIMMY CLAUSEN: The kid's arm is everything it was billed to be coming out of high school. People say the ball sounds different off Tiger Wood's club. I'm not comparing Clausen to Woods --- not by a long shot --- but the ball looks different coming out of his hand. Three or four times a game --- at least --- he makes a throw that makes me say, "Wow." Not only that, but he can make virtually every throw, including the tough deep outs that even the Bears' Kyle Orton struggles to complete with consistency. He's more accurate than the vast majority of college quarterbacks --- another plus. Remember the end of the Syracuse game? He threw three straight virtual Hail Marys deep downfield and all three were absolutely on the money. How many college quarterbacks throw the deep ball that well? He manages the team well. That he can run the no-huddle so effectively is a huge plus at this stage of his career. If it weren't for the no-huddle, what would the Irish offense have done well this season? In a lot of ways, Clausen is everything he was billed to be coming out of Oaks Christian. In other ways, huge questions remain ... 

WHAT I DON'T KNOW ABOUT JIMMY CLAUSEN: There's a certain something, a sometimes undefinable intangible that separates great quarterbacks from ordinary ones. I'm starting to wonder whether Clausen has that quality. Is he a leader? Do his teammates respect him? I don't want to be too tough on the kid, especially when there's plenty of time left in his career to prove that he has the qualities that I'm questioning. But sometimes you see things that make you wonder. I covered Jeff George when he was with the Raiders. The guy was a Hall of Famer in a seven-on-seven drill. I've never seen anybody throw the ball like him. In games, however, he was often ineffective because he lacked many of the intangibles I'm talking about. He seemed disconnect from his team and his teammates. Emotionally, it seemed as if there was nothing there. The one place where Notre Dame players are over-coached is in the media room. This is a topic for another day. But trust me when I say these kids just repeat what Weis tells them to say. As a result, they don't say anything, their personalities don't shine through. Clausen is among the worst. If I had a nickel for every time he said "you just have to go to practice and try to improve each and every day ...." I would retire. I might retire anyway if I have to sit through another one of his press conferences. Maybe he's just saying what Weis wants him to say. Maybe it's just his personality. At some point, however, it would be nice to see some fire. It would be nice to see the quarterback --- and team captain --- say that they didn't play well enough even after a win. Weis talks much about the great leadership on the team but fans and media have a hard time seeing it. Many of the strongest leaders --- Dave Bruton, Maurice Crum, etc. --- will be gone next season, which could create a leadership void. That will make Clausen's role even more critical. Is he up to it? The question lingers ... 

This is a press release from Notre Dame: 

December 16, 2008

Kyle Rudolph Named To Sporting News All-Freshman Team
Tight end one of 26 players selected

NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Notre Dame tight end Kyle Rudolph has been selected to
Sporting News' 2008 All-Freshman Team, the magazine announced Tuesday.

Rudolph became the first freshman to start the season opener at tight end in
Notre Dame history and was one of 10 Irish players who started all 12 games
this year. The 6-6, 252-pounder from Cincinnati, Ohio was one of 13 true
freshmen selected to the 26-member team.

Rudolph recorded 25 receptions for 262 yards with two touchdowns, shattering
the previous school records for catches and yards by a freshman tight end.
Ken MacAfee's record of 14 receptions as a freshman had stood since 1974
while Dean Masztak's 236 receiving yards as a freshman tight end had been
the record since 1978.

Rudolph became the first Notre Dame player to be named to Sporting News'
All-Freshman Team since Sam Young in 2006. Last week, Rudolph was selected
to the All-Freshman First Team.

QB Robert Griffin, Baylor*
RB Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State*
RB Victor Anderson, Louisville
WR A.J. Green, Georgia*
WR Julio Jones, Alabama*
TE Kyle Rudolph, Notre Dame*
T Elvis Fisher, Missouri
G Moe Petrus, Connecticut
C Michael Brewster, Ohio State*
G Joel Foreman, Michigan State
T Andrew Datko, Florida State*
K Philip Welch, Wisconsin
KR Damaris Johnson, Tulsa*

DE Brandon Harold, Kansas State*
DT Billy Winn, Boise State
DT Lawrence Guy, Arizona State*
DE Tom Keiser, Stanford
LB Travis Lewis, Oklahoma
LB Mychal Sisson, Colorado State
LB Jerry Franklin, Arkansas*
CB Janoris Jenkins, Florida*
CB Jordan Mabin, Northwestern
S Sean Baker, Ball State
S Earl Thomas, Texas
P Bryan Anger, California
PR T.Y. Hilton, Florida International*

* = true freshman

A few entries back, I wondered if the way Notre Dame ended the season would dampen enthusiasm --- and ticket sales --- for the Hawaii Bowl.  Here is at least a partial answer to that question from the Honolulu Advertiser: 

Ticket sales wide-ranging and brisk for Hawai'i Bowl

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Staff Writer


The University of Notre Dame's reach as a "national" school with a far-flung fan base has been driven home in early ticket sales, according to the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl.

David A.K. Matlin, the game's executive director, said ticket purchases have been made from nearly 40 of the 50 states and several Canadian provinces in the first three days since the Dec. 24 matchup with the University of Hawai'i was announced Sunday.

"That is just phenomenal," Matlin said, following a data-based check of zip codes from where tickets had been ordered by phone or internet.

As of mid-day yesterday, Matlin said approximately 32,000 tickets had been issued for the game, this despite a brief weather-related outage yesterday.

Approximately 12,000 tickets, including 5,000 in the first 24 hours, have been sold since Sunday.

"It is a very good pace," Matlin said. "For anybody who is thinking of attending the game, I'd buy now."

Ticket prices range from $10 to $45.

The largest crowd among the first six Hawai'i Bowls was 40,623 for the 2006 game that pitted UH against Arizona State

Regardless of what you think of Charlie Weis the person or the job he has done as Notre Dame's coach for the past four seasons, the latest news regarding his health merits sympathy. 

It was announced Friday night that Weis must have surgery on his right knee before he can repair his more seriously damaged left knee. Evidently, the Notre Dame coach has a torn lateral meniscus as well as an additional injury that will require doctors to shave the bone.

It's not known whether Weis also injured his right knee in the sideline collision with John Ryan during a win over Michigan on Sept. 13 or whether the damage was the result of wear and tear associated with favoring his left knee in the weeks and months since.

What it means, however, is that Weis must undergo surgery on his right knee soon enough to allow for four-to-six weeks of recovery before he undergoes a second surgery to repair his shredded left knee on Feb. 24. Then comes more weeks of recovery. In all, expect it to take six months until Weis is able to move around like he did before the Michigan game.

It has been an incredibly challenging couple of years for Weis. First came last year's 3-9 disaster followed by a busy offseason spent making decisions that he hoped would shore up the program. Then he blows out his knee, his team tanks and now it appears that it may not be until training camp rolls around again before he can walk normally.

Throw in all the criticism from media and elsewhere coupled with speculation about him being fired, and this as undoubtedly been the most difficult year of his professional life.

There are undoubtedly some deeply personal issues bubbling under the surface as well.

Weis has always battled a weight problem. The gastric bypass surgery that almost killed him in 2002 was his desperate attempt to get his weight under control. The guys on the radio making fat jokes about Charlie may not realize that this is a potential life and death issue for him and his family.

His father died after a second heart attack at 56. As a result of the disastrous gastric bypass surgery, Charlie suffered nerve damage in his feet, resulting in the feeling in his left foot being 80 percent of normal and his right foot being 50 percent. As a result, the 52-year-old has had trouble walking, jogging and playing sports even before the knee injuries.

Now, given the surgeries and long recovery time, it will be even more difficult for him to keep his weight down. He looked older and more haggard with each passing day late in the season. I wasn't at the football banquet but someone who was told me he looked as bad as they had ever seen him. This is a trying time for Weis. He faces his biggest professional challenge at a time when he can't can barely stand and/or walk. It's only going to get worse in the wake of two upcoming surgeries. 

It doesn't matter what you think of him as a coach to feel for him as a person.

December 12, 2008

Four Irish Named To CFN All-Freshman and All-Sophomore Teams
Rudolph named first team; Floyd and Robinson placed on second team; Tate
earns honorable mention

SOUTH BEND, Ind.  Four Notre Dame football players were named to the All-Freshman and All-Sophomore teams, announced

Tight end Kyle Rudolph was named to the All-Freshman first team while wide
receiver Michael Floyd and offensive guard Trevor Robinson were named to the
All-Freshman second team. Wide receiver Golden Tate was a sophomore
honorable mention selection.

Rudolph started all 12 games and recorded 25 catches for 262 yards with two
touchdowns. He set the school record for most receptions and receiving yards
in a season by a tight end and became the first Irish freshman tight end to
start the season opener.

Floyd started nine of the 10 games he appeared in and established Irish
freshman receiving records with 46 receptions for 702 yards and seven
touchdowns.  He has recorded four games with at least 100 receiving yards
and was able to accomplish such statistics despite missing all but three
plays in the final three games of the season.

Robinson has appeared in nine games and started three contests at right
guard for Chris Stewart. He became the fifth freshman to ever start on the
Notre Dame offensive line and has helped decrease the sacks allowed total
from 58 in 2007 to 20 in 2008, fewest in eight years.

Tate exploded onto the scene this season and leads the team with 52
receptions for 903 yards and seven receiving touchdowns as well as five
rushes for 37 yards and one touchdown. He ranks eighth on Notre Dame¹s
single-season list for most receiving yards and his 75.3 receiving yards per
game average is tied for 45th in the nation. Tate has started eight of the
12 games he¹s appeared.


ND Release: Grad Rate No. 2

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                            December 11, 2008                                                                                                                          

Notre Dame's graduation rate No. 2 among bowl teams


 Notre Dame and Navy have the highest graduation rates for student-athletes among the 68 programs participating this year in college football bowl games, according to a study released this week by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida.

"If there were a national championship for Graduation Success Rates (GSR) among bowl teams, Navy and Notre Dame would have played for the national championship," said Richard Lapchick, director of TIDES and author of the study.  

The U.S. Naval Academy and Notre Dame rank first and second among Football Bowl Subdivision schools (formerly known as Division I-A) with GSRs of 95 percent and 94 percent. 

The GSR data show the percentage of student-athletes earning a degree within six years. The NCAA developed the GSR four years ago to account for transfer student-athletes and others not tracked by the graduation rate methodology developed by the U.S. Department of Education. The GSR captures about 37 percent more students than the federal rate, resulting in a more accurate assessment of the academic success of student-athletes. 

The 2008 national GSR for FBS schools is 78 percent. The data is based on entering classes from 1998 to 2001.

The GSR should not be confused with another recent NCAA initiative, the Academic Progress Rate, which uses a series of formulas related to student-athlete retention and eligibility to measure the academic performance of all participants who receive a grant-in-aid on every team at every NCAA Division I college and university.

The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport is part of the DeVos Sport Business Management Graduate Program in the University of Central Florida's College of Business Administration.  

The Warriors (unlike other UH athletic teams, I'm told Hawaii's football team doesn't like being referred to as the Rainbows or the Rainbow Warriors) rank 59th in the nation in total defense but excel in the red zone and limiting opposing offenses on third down.

It's a defensive unit that is spearheaded by its linebacking corps. Solomon Elimimian, was was named the WAC's co-defensive player of the year, and Adam Leonard are both considered NFL prospects. Elimimian broke Hawaii's 36-year-old career tackles record this season.

Hawaii is ranked 21st in sacks and averages 2.6 per game. Left end David Veikune started slow but has nine sacks in his last five games, which means Sam Young will have his hands full. Right end John Fonoti may be the toughest player on defense but lacks discipline, or so I'm told.

When the Warriors blitz it's usually Ryan Mouton who is sent. Mouton is the best athlete on the team. He plays cornerback, free safety, nickelback and even slot back on offense on occasion. He runs a 4.3 40-yard dash. He returns kicks and may even return punts in this game. Hawaii is ranked last in the nation in punt returns with a paltry 2-yard average. Mouton might be used in an attempt to boost that flagging unit.

Mouton played in the regular season finale with a high ankle sprain but should be fully healed in time for the Christmas Eve matchup against Notre Dame. 

It was longtime college-and-NFL defensive coordinator Greg McMackin who replaced June Jones after last season, so it stands to reason that Hawaii's defense will be prepared and well-coached. McMackin spent a lot of time under Dennis Erickson, first at the University of Miami and later while serving as Erickson's defensive coordinator/associate head coach or the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers.

Momentum could also be a factor --- and I'm not talking momentum in the game but season-long momentum. The Warriors lost three of their first four and four of their first seven. Settling on quarterback Greg Alexander helped solidify the offense and the team. An easier second half schedule also helped. The result was Hawaii winning six of their final eight heading into the season-ending game against Cincinnati. McMackin's team should've won that one, as well. It allowed Cincinnati --- the Big East champs --- to score 19 unanswered and lost 29-24. 

The point is this: Hawaii got better as the season went along while Notre Dame, losers of five of its last seven, got worse. 

I just got off the phone with Stephen Tsai, who covers Hawaii for the Honolulu Advertiser. He told me about the Rainbows. I told him about Notre Dame. In the end, we concluded that these two flawed teams may very well play an entertaining game.

Here's what I was able to learn about the offense. 

Hawaii struggled to replace Colt Brennan early in the season. His longtime backup Tyler Graunke was supposed to be his replacement but ran into off-the-field problems. As a result, coach Greg McMackin resorted to using five different quarterbacks (starting four) this season before settling on junior Greg Alexander during the final six games. Alexander, who is 6-3, 230 pounds, is a classic run-and-shoot quarterback. He is a good scrambler but is not a natural runner, if that makes sense. 

This a classic run-and-shoot offense, remember. Brennan's four best receivers from last year are all gone. Malcomb Lane is the speedster and deep threat but lacks consistency. Greg Salas is the more polished receiver. Slot receiver Michael Washington is the Rainbows' leading receiver with 56 catches. He's quick but not fast, according to Tsai, and struggles to make yards after the catch, but is a reliable target that Alexander looks for frequently. The other slot receiver is Aaron Bain. He's got 44 catches.

Tsai says running back Kealoha Pilares is Hawaii's best offensive player. He missed the past three games after spraining his foot but is expected to start against Notre Dame. Pilares will carry the ball eight-to-10 times per game. He will also line up in the slot and make plays in the passing game.

Hawaii has the nation's 33rd best passing offense. It will be pitted against a Notre Dame defense ranked 18th in passing efficiency defense. I wonder if that second stat is a little misleading, however. 

San Diego State's quarterback was a freshman, Michigan was struggling to find someone at that position who could run first-year coach Rich Rodriguez's offense. Michigan State's Brian Hoyer is solid but unspectacular. Purdue's Curtis Painter was a good college quarterback having a bad year, in part because he lost many of the weapons who made him so effective as a junior. Still, Painter, the most accomplished passer Notre Dame played until the season finale against USC, completed 29 of 55 passes for 359 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Stanford's Tavi Pritchard ended the season as the 85th most efficient passer in Division I. North Carolina, Washington and Pittsburgh all played backup quarterbacks against Notre Dame. Boston College's Chris Crane, who was trying to replace first-round draft pick Matt Ryan, was averaging an interception every 12 attempts when the Irish played the Eagles. Anyone who saw that game knows Crane was not an accomplished passer. Navy played a backup quarterback against Notre Dame and Syracuse's Cameron Dantley, the son of ex-Notre Dame basketball standout Adrian, was such a sought-after recruit that he had to walk on --- at Syracuse. My long-winded point is this: Notre Dame didn't play a top-tier quarterback until the final game of the season, when Mark Sanchez threw for four touchdowns.

It makes me wonder if Notre Dame's strength --- pass defense --- could turn into a weakness against a high-caliber passing team.

They will need to get some pressure. That shouldn't be difficult. Hawaii has allowed 49 sacks, which is the second highest total in Division I. Teams haven't accumulated those sacks by blitzing, as Notre Dame often does. Tsai said that the line struggles with speed-rushing defensive ends. Most teams have chosen to play Hawaii straight up and have found their front four is able to get pressure while allowing everyone else to drop back into coverage. If Notre Dame could get consistent pressure from their defensive line it would be a big help, but that hasn't happened much this season.

That's all -- for now. Tomorrow we'll address the defense.

Operation Aloha is Underway

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Notre Dame's "official on-line store" is selling Hawaii Bowl gear. I wonder if it will sell.

I've been covering Notre Dame for two years. I have been impressed with the patience and loyalty of fans despite the team's 9-15 record during that time. Fans at Notre Dame Stadium rarely leave early and haven't booed as much as the team has deserved. With the exception of the snowball throwing against Syracuse ---- which probably had more to do with students horsing around than with any impromptu protest --- fans have been extremely loyal and well behaved during what will likely go down as the worst back-to-back seasons in the program's history.

I'm wondering if that loyalty will extend to Aloha Stadium on Christmas Eve in a weak economy.

Notre Dame is always an attractive alternative to bowl officials because fans and alums travel so well. The school's reputation is so sterling in this regard that a Sun Bowl official I spoke to said even the disheartening loss to Syracuse followed by the spanking at the hands of USC wouldn't impact his decision to invite the Irish if the opportunity arose.

My question to him was this: After losing five of their last seven games --- and especially after the way the team performed in the past two games --- will Irish fans be less likely to plop down the ducats necessary to accompany the team to a bowl game? 

The Sun Bowl official admitted that dejected fans that might normally make the trip may not this year because of the combination of the poor product on the field and the economy. However, he was confident that Irish fans and alums in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona would come to El Paso for a rare glimpse of the team in that part of the country.

But flying to Hawaii on Christmas Eve to watch the Irish in their current form may turn out to be a harder sell than normal. That's not to say the Aloha Bowl won't sell out. That's not to say that scores of Notre Dame fans won't flock to the sun and sand. It will be interesting, however, to see how the week unfolds.

After covering every Notre Dame game the past two seasons, I have been told that the Sun-Times will not be making the trip to Honolulu. Sports editor Stu Courtney, citing the late kickoff, early Christmas Eve deadlines and the fact that the Christmas Day edition of the paper is one of the least read of the year, has decided to save the expense. 

I'm torn. Christmas is a big deal at my house. Part of me is thrilled to remain home with my wife and two young children. On the other hand, I feel like I should be there.

Here's what I propose: We'll have to rely on correspondents to either e-mail me at or send comments to this blog for updates from Honolulu. The first assignment should include how fans feel about traveling to the game given everything that is in play. I'd also be curious to know what the mood is like. Hopeful? Will people watch the game through splayed fingers, hoping it's not a repeat of the USC or Syracuse games?  

We'll call it Operation Aloha: It entails enjoying at least one adult beverage served in a coconut and sending at least semi-regular reports back to those of us stuck in the frigid Midwest or some other less desirable locale.


December 8, 2008

David Bruton

Maurice Crum

David Grimes

BRIAN HARDIN: Good afternoon. This is Brian Hardin at Notre Dame. We've got David Bruton, David Grimes and Maurice Crum at the table. We'll start with questions. 

Q. Mo, I just wondered, you were around for the 2004 Bowl season, so forth. As far as players' enthusiasm and so forth, what's the difference maybe between '04 and going to that Bowl and going to this Bowl? 
MAURICE CRUM, JR.: I think the biggest difference is just it was a completely different situation at that time, with the coaches and all that stuff. So there are a lot of guys kind of, I guess, torn, missing the coach, and guys being their last game. And just the situation was completely different. 
Going into this one, I think the guys are really excited to go to a Bowl game and have an opportunity to play a quality opponent.

Q. David, in terms of, sounded like Notre Dame had some choices about where it could have ended up, what was appealing to the players about Hawaii. I know that sounds obvious, but beyond the obvious, because it did butt up against your exam schedule a little bit, it's on Christmas Eve, there's some other things, but just talk about why, other than the obvious, what the attraction to Hawaii was. 
DAVID BRUTON: Hawaii fits perfectly in our schedule. You go in right from exams and hit the road and you're right there. And in football, it's good for our break. I mean, there's no interruption in our break as football players. So we get a chance to finish the game early, be able to get home, some of us will get home on Christmas Day. Others may be a little late. And you have this long break, a lot of us who haven't experienced that yet. 

Q. Dave, a lot of people are looking at this as maybe a springboard to 2009. You guys don't have a 2009. What kind of statement do you as seniors want to make with this game? 
DAVID GRIMES: I think it's just going out on top. Kind of take that bitter taste out of our mouth that we had this last month, and get the seniors something to be happy about.

Q. Mo, Charlie talked about the players and their input about the Bowl game. Talk about that process. I don't know who came to you guys, said, hey, where do you want to go. But can you talk about that process leading up to yesterday? 
MAURICE CRUM, JR.: I think what it was, it was kind of just the administration kind of wanted some input from the players. So Coach Weis went to the captains and the leadership guys and just kind of asked us from our standpoint just what do we think is best for the team, because, again, with options, they all have their pros and cons. So we just kind of wanted to weigh those as a team.

Q. Did you go and talk to other players, though, talk to me about the process?
MAURICE CRUM, JR.: It's pretty much like the leadership committee and the captains, because we're all so close with the team and guys kind of knew, was kind of aware of the situation, knew there was some options, didn't really know where we were going to end up. 
So just kind of around the locker room, just listening to the guys and taking their input. And we took it upstairs and tried to incorporate everything and make the best decision for the team.

Q. When did you let Coach Weis know that Hawaii was --
MAURICE CRUM, JR.: Just thinking about it, weighing the options kind of the schedule and how it fits, I mean, obviously Hawaii was very attractive to a lot of the players. But it maximizes our break time and it makes it easier to roll into the football game and not put us at a disadvantage versus going home during Christmas and maybe some guys having, oh, man, I gotta go back. Still giving guys an opportunity to get home on Christmas.

Q. I guess it was on Saturday that you let Coach Weis know you wanted to go to Hawaii, middle of last week? When did you let him know? 
MAURICE CRUM, JR.: Friday we met about it and just kind of, in order of the options, which one we thought was best for the team. And that's the one we thought was the best.

Q. You said everything has pros and cons. What's the con of going to Hawaii?
MAURICE CRUM, JR.: It's leaving so fast. And then for the guys who, for like myself, who have to fly from Hawaii to Florida, it's an extremely long flight. And I'm probably going to have a layover somewhere. So those are some of the cons. But, again, I think for the team it makes the most sense.

Q. Either for David or David, I guess the destination, does it kind of re-energize you guys a little bit? I don't think it would be kind of wrong to say the way the season ends, frustrating, upsetting for you guys; the fact you're going to Hawaii, does that kind of give you guys some extra juice that maybe a Shreveport or a Houston just wouldn't? 
DAVID BRUTON: I believe the fact that we're going to a Bowl game in general should energize the team. A lot of us are upbeat and peppy about the fact that we're going to a Bowl game. 
And I guess Hawaii probably adds a little more excitement and a little more wind under the sail for a lot of guys because some guys would never imagine going to Hawaii in the first place, let alone to play under the sun and make that long, long trip. It's more attractive than Houston or something like that. 

Q. What do you think, David, about that, gives you guys a little extra energy than just going to another Bowl game would not? 
DAVID GRIMES: I definitely agree with what David 2 said. (Laughter) Like coming off last year, we didn't make it to a Bowl, and I think there was just a lot of guys happy that we're actually going to a Bowl. 
And I think there's even more energy, because Hawaii, nice weather, beautiful women. 

Q. David, you talked about this a little bit, I'd like to get Mo and David 2 on this, how a win here would kind of finish off your careers the right way. You guys didn't get the win in Los Angeles. You didn't get the win on Senior Day. Would winning a Bowl change how you feel leaving here? 
MAURICE CRUM, JR.: Definitely. This truly is my last chance to leave a mark in the program, and also give those guys who are coming back something to build off of, and I really do think that will be a good way just to leave a good taste in my mouth.
DAVID BRUTON: Yeah, just agreeing with Mo, it's the final shot that I have to leave my mark. And I care a lot about the guys, and I want to prepare them and springboard them into a positive start for the next season. So it's a bit selfish on my end, but also selfless as well.

Q. What do you guys think of when you think of Hawaii? 
MAURICE CRUM, JR.: I'm really looking forward to it. I'm just looking forward to a good time, and I guess having a really, really close team and going out there, I think it adds to it. We'll be able to do a lot of things together and have a lot of fun, so I'm just looking forward to a lot of fun. 
DAVID BRUTON: What little David said, just the women, the sun, the atmosphere in general of Hawaii and just basically living a dream or a fantasy just to go out there. 

Q. Lastly, it's been a while since Notre Dame won a Bowl game. How will that feel to put is that streak to an end?
DAVID BRUTON: That would be a major accomplishment, especially since mine and David's class, quote, unquote, the forgotten class or the worst class in Notre Dame history. But it would be great to say we broke that streak along with the fifth-year seniors break that streak and start a new streak in itself. 

Q. Is it fair to say that this is a fairly unanimous decision, or were there people who wanted to go to Houston or Shreveport? 
MAURICE CRUM, JR.: Being that I'm from Detroit, I voted for the Motor City Bowl. Detroit, we have better weather than Hawaii. (Laughter) That was my vote. It definitely wasn't unanimous. Coach Weis asked the group of guys to give their judgment personally and how they felt about the team.

Q. Obviously all three of you are not exactly from the West Coast. Your families, did you talk to them about it? Are they even going to try to make the trip because it's not exactly cost-effective?
MAURICE CRUM, JR.: It's just too far. I know my parents aren't going to go because they've got family outings and stuff planned for Christmas already. So it would be tough to try to string that up.
DAVID BRUTON: From my family, I was surprised I got a call yesterday, well, last night. And my dad was like look for flights for us, a cheaper one, because it looks like it's going to cost 4100 for the flight alone for my mom, dad and my younger brother and my son if he's going to be able to make that long, long trip. I was shocked they're even thinking about flying all the way to Hawaii.
DAVID GRIMES: My mother said she was going to watch the game in a beach chair. (Laughter) and bring some sand in the house. So I said that's fine. 

Q. Was that maybe the biggest con, for you guys, it's a fairly large contingent of parents, families, brothers, sisters, girlfriends, that weren't going to go, was that the biggest con to this thing? 
MAURICE CRUM, JR.: I think so. I mean, not having your loved ones to share in the moments with you. But, again, we're a pretty close team. So I think we'll make do. 
DAVID GRIMES: I agree with Mo. It's one thing not having them there, but it's another thing when it's Christmas Eve as well. It's kind of two-headed, I guess.

Q. As leaders, how do you guys guard against, okay, we're going to Hawaii and then trying to keep focus, there is a game, what do you do about that? 
DAVID BRUTON: I believe the team is well-prepared and got the mindset right that it's not just a vacation. It's a business trip in itself as well. We gotta take care of business first and the free time that we do get, enjoy it. Soak in the sun. Soak in the memory. 
But when it comes game time or when it's practice, you gotta take it seriously because we're not coming there just to end up 6 and 7. We want to be 7 and 6 and springboard off into the right direction. 
MAURICE CRUM, JR.: I think us going out there right at the finals kind of sends that message to guys and just it will help everyone just distinguish between football to let them know this is what we're here for first and foremost and it's our jobs as leaders to make sure that message gets preached.
DAVID GRIMES: And the parting line, since we found out, has been just to win the Bowl game. And I think secondly is to enjoy a place like Hawaii. But definitely our goal is to win a Bowl game.

Q. What do you guys know about Hawaii, the team? 
MAURICE CRUM, JR.: I know there's a lot of receivers on the field. I've seen that much. But, I mean, they did pretty good, was it last night? Saturday night, when they played against Cincinnati, from what I saw, I think they were a pretty good team. And they're definitely a really good opponent.
DAVID GRIMES: We also know they're a quality opponent and they're tough to beat at home. I think their record at home is 22-4 in the last 26 games. So they're definitely a quality opponent.

Q. Does it feel weird to be playing a Bowl game at somebody else's, basically their home? 
MAURICE CRUM, JR.: Yeah, in a way. When we played in the Sugar Bowl it was close to that, too. But the Hawaii, that is their home, and then they're really good at home. But I mean for us it's just like another business trip. We're going to get on a plane and get ready to go and prepare like we always do and just count on that.

Q. The team had a say, but there are some Notre Dame fans questioning whether Notre Dame should play (indiscernible), do you have an opinion on that at all?
DAVID GRIMES: No opinion.

Q. How much does that Bowl-losing streak weigh on you guys at this point? Is it something that's at the top of the list to end, something you guys think about at all? How does that play into this whole preparation time? 
DAVID BRUTON: For me, personally, I'm 0-2 playing here in a Bowl. So I want to end my streak. And the overall Notre Dame record in a Bowl, it does weigh a little bit, but in the grand scheme of things I just want to handle what's going on now and the fact that I'm 0-2 in a Bowl. 

Q. Mo, it seems to me, and maybe you wouldn't agree, but it seems to me this is a chance to really get a gauge on where the younger guys are as far as support of Charlie Weis and support of the program and whatnot, a lot of different distractions going on and out in Hawaii. What do you want to see from the young guys? What attitude do you want to see them take? What do you hope to see from those guys? 
MAURICE CRUM, JR.: What I'm looking forward to seeing is just seeing those guys essentially just show what they're going to do next year. Because those guys are no longer young guys at this point. Most of those guys have become juniors and sophomores with years under their belt and a ton of playing time. So the Bowl games are the kind of games where you start to see the bright spots going into next year. 

Q. How important is it? I know there's obviously the off season and a big gap in between, but can you take some momentum away from this Bowl game? How important is this game in terms of that?
MAURICE CRUM, JR.: I think it's very important going into next year and next season for those guys just because it lets you know -- you can only be judged from your last time out. And for those guys, that's their last time out. And I really do think that the better they do, the better they'll do next year.

Q. Since all you guys are seniors, and obviously there are All-Star games to be played as well, the fact that it's on the 24th, does that weigh into it, too, that you guys might get some time off before any All-Star games that you may or may not have been invited to/accepted?
MAURICE CRUM, JR.: Yeah, definitely I think so. Just because, I mean, an opportunity to have any kind of time to take a break or to let your body rest, essentially, before you go against really, really good competition I think is very vital and it helps out a lot. 

Q. Have you guys been invited to any games yet? 
MAURICE CRUM, JR.: I think the East/West game for me.
DAVID BRUTON: The Senior Bowl.
BRIAN HARDIN: All right. Thanks everyone. 

Honolulu Advertisers' Take

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By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Columnist

Nine years ago when the Bowl Championship Series was born, storied Notre Dame swiftly opted out of its scheduled Nov. 24, 2001, game with the University of Hawai'i football team.


"With the new (BCS), the implications of playing that game (against UH) are different than they used to be," a Notre Dame spokesman explained at the time.

The meaning was clear: The Irish didn't need the Warriors nor, after two close previous encounters, did they particularly want UH potentially sabotaging a late-season BCS national title run.

But, boy, have things changed a lot since then. At a down-and-out 6-6 and after a beyond-humbling setback to woeful Syracuse, the Irish have tumbled a long way from worrying about national championship "implications." They'd just like to climb back to respectable.

That's why they want Hawai'i and the Dec. 24 date in the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl now. Frankly, they need Hawai'i and its bowl in 2008 and the reasoning isn't hard to comprehend.

The Irish have given their embattled head coach, Charlie Weis, a stay of dismissal with clear marching orders: Demonstrate progress, pronto. Aloha Stadium is clearly where they mean for that turnaround to begin.

Time was when pride would have compelled the Irish to stay home after a .500 season, especially one that ended so pitifully. But these are hard times in the land of Touchdown Jesus, a hallowed place where the echoes haven't been awakened as much as the Four Horsemen are left to roll in their graves.

So a trip here is definitely the best of the available options from the Irish's perspective. The 7-6 Warriors, especially after the fourth-quarter debacle against Cincinnati Saturday, are seen as a beatable team, somebody the Irish can kick start the '09 campaign against on a feel-good ESPN holiday stage. Weis probably couldn't scream "book 'em" fast enough watching that one.

In the meantime, the Hawai'i Bowl provides the kind of location that can re-energize a largely young team in ways that a visit to, say, Birmingham, Ala., for the Bowl wouldn't. Hawai'i was, we are told, the preferred destination of players who were surveyed. As you can see, not a lot of dummies get in there.

The Hawai'i Bowl also makes for a visible reminder to recruits who are wavering or undecided that the Irish are intent upon moving forward. Especially if one of them just happens to be all-world linebacker Manti Te'o of Punahou School.

His recruiting trip to South Bend was for the Syracuse game, when students pelted Irish players with snowballs and sang dirges of disappointment with Weis.

Notre Dame can be assured there will be no snowballs here.

Reach Ferd Lewis at

The first in a series of daily blog entries leading up to the Hawaii Bowl ...

I understand why Notre Dame accepted a bid to the Hawaiian Bowl, even if there's a part of me that thinks they should not be going to a bowl, that players and coaches need to know that there's no "reward" for the type of season 2008 turned out to be. In the final analysis, however, the benefits of accepting the bid are many. The extra practice time (no one can deny this group needs more practice --- lots and lots more) alone is probably reason enough to accept the invitation but I have this nagging feeling that it could turn into a negative just as easily as it could turn into a positive. 

Given the way the Irish played at the end of the season nobody knows what team is going to show up in Honolulu. They could play their best game since midseason, move up and down the field offensively and regain some of the momentum they lost while losing five of their last seven. That's the best-case scenario, and the reason why Notre Dame couldn't turn this opportunity down, even if a less-ideal outcome --- or even a loss --- is also a realistic possibility.

That would be the worst-case scenario, obviously. It would be disheartening for fans if Weis' team failed to respond to this latest challenge. It would make people feel even worse (if that's possible after Syracuse and USC) about the current season and less hopeful about next. It would also be an indictment of Jack Swarbrick's decision to retain Weis.

I agree with the call, by the way. If there was an absolute can't-miss candidate who was not only available but interested it would be a different story. Or at least that's how I look at it when I put myself in the shoes of Notre Dame's first-year athletics director. Notre Dame doesn't need change for the sake of change. Even in the wake of a season that seriously called into question Weis' ability to head the program, stability is preferable to making a rash decision. The last time Notre Dame tried to make a quick decision they signed Weis to a 10-year extension before his rookie season was even done. Good grief. (Does that decision look a little more idiotic every day, or what? When a "SportsCenter" anchor said it --- "Weis has seven years left on a 10-year deal signed midway through his first season ..." --- it sounded ludicrous, absurd.)

As I've written here before, it's a tough ... tough ... call. 

But the primary point is this: This is officially the first game of the rest of Weis' career. It's really, really important that the Irish play hard and efficiently. If he can't stop the negative momentum on Christmas Eve there's a good chance he will never. If Notre Dame can't beat Hawaii it will be harder to believe they will be capable of winning nine games next year.

I'll get the inside dope on Hawaii  for tomorrow's entry ... 

 Anyway, look at the mess that Notre Dame, which signed Weis to a recently it sounded ab  

The way the Irish played at the end of the year.that the way the Irish played at the end of the season there 

ND To Hawaii Bowl Release

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December 7, 2008

Fighting Irish To Say Aloha To Sheraton Hawai¹i Bowl
Notre Dame to play in Honolulu for the first time in 11 years

NOTRE DAME, Ind.  For just the second time in school history, Notre Dame
will be playing a bowl game in Hawai¹i.

The Fighting Irish (6-6) will face Hawai¹i (7-6) in the seventh annual
Sheraton Hawai¹i Bowl on Dec. 24, the NCAA announced Sunday evening.

"We¹re very excited about heading out west to play in the Sheraton Hawai¹i
Bowl," head coach Charlie Weis said. "This is a great opportunity for our
team to face a quality opponent in their backyard and we¹ll need to be

"I know the extra practices this month will really benefit our team and we
look forward to ending this season on a good note."

This will be the fourth trip to Hawai¹i in the football program¹s history.
The Irish lost to SMU in the 1984 Aloha Bowl, 27-20, and played at Hawai¹i
in the regular season finales in 1991 and 1997. Notre Dame won both previous
meetings with the Warriors, 48-42 in 1991 and 23-22 in 1997.

Site of the game is 50,000-seat Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawai¹i. ESPN
will nationally televise the game at 8:00 p.m. EST (3:00 p.m. HST in

Notre Dame will be making its 29th bowl appearance overall and its fourth in
the past five seasons. The Irish played in the 2007 Allstate Sugar Bowl, the
2006 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl and the 2004 Insight Bowl. Notre Dame is 13-15 in
postseason play.

Hawai¹i will be making its ninth bowl appearance since becoming a Football
Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I) member in 1974. The Warriors are 5-3
all-time in bowl games and have received seven bowl berths in the last 10
years. Hawai¹i played in last year¹s Sugar Bowl and has also played in the
Aloha Bowl (1989), Holiday Bowl (1992), O¹ahu Bowl (1999) and the Hawai¹i
Bowl (2002, 2003, 2004, 2006). The Warriors are 3-1 in previous Hawai¹i
Bowls, losing in 2002 (36-28 to Tulane) but winning the last three (54-48 in
three overtimes vs. Houston in 2003, 59-40 vs. UAB in 2004, and 41-24 vs.
Arizona State in 2006).

Tickets will go on sale Monday morning at 8:30 a.m. EST at the Notre Dame
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When someone asks Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis an in-depth question he often opts to think about it before answering. Days before the USC game, the South Bend Tribune's Eric Hansen asked Weis to name the most valuable lesson he learned this season. The following quote, published in the Dec. 4 edition of the South Bend Tribune, serves as Charlie's answer.

"Reflecting on this past season, I believe the most valuable lesson I've learned is the importance of putting yourself in a position to help where you are needed the most, rather than managing with an equally balanced approach and spreading yourself too thin.

"As we entered this year, I strived to be more balanced as a head coach, managing all three facets of the game -- offense, defense and special teams. During the 2007 season, we were a young, inexperienced team. I felt we were non-competitive in several games and all three facets of the team contributed to this. After our struggles, as the head coach, I envisioned being more involved in all three facets rather than primarily with the offense.

"This season, the defense has proven to have made considerable progress and has put us in a position to be able to win every single game. I have been pleased with Corwin (Brown) running the defense with guidance from Jon (Tenuta). The successful relationship between these two has allowed me to not have to spend time equally on defense as the other two facets, instead shifting my time, first to special teams and most recently to offense. 

"Though I have seen considerable improvement on offense and special teams over (2007), I feel my time is best spent in these two areas, where I have built considerable expertise during my coaching career. Until we are performing at the highest level, I owe it to the team and the coaching staff to concentrate on these two areas, while also overseeing the program as a whole."

It has been a tough couple years for Notre Dame fans, perhaps the toughest in the program's storied history, and Wednesday's announcement that Charlie Weis will be back for a fifth season didn't appear to greatly improve anybody's mood.
If nothing else, change brings hope. With the way Notre Dame finished the season, losing five of their last seven, ending with an embarrassing loss to 2-8 Syracuse at home followed by a 38-3 mauling at USC, hope has been in short supply.
The bottom line is this: After losing 15 games in two seasons for the first time in school history, nobody knows what kind of team Weis will field next season. Three years after Weis was given a 10-year contract extension while still in his first season, no one has a clue what to expect when players spill out of the tunnel at Notre Dame Stadium on Sept. 5 before the season opener against Nevada.
Another soft schedule will be wind at their backs. People will start assigning Notre Dame victories like they did last season, which is tricky business, especially the way Notre Dame floundered at the end of 2008. Weis will say and do all the right things during the offseason and perhaps even make a few needed staffing changes, just like he did last year, but when captains go to midfield for the first 2009 coin flip athletics director Jack Swarbrick still won't know whether he's got the right guy.
That isn't a question anybody should still be asking in year five.  Four years is enough to examine a coach's body of work. It's a bit trickier with Weis because he inherited a talent void in a couple of classes. As a general rule, however, if you've hired The Guy it's obvious by now, which doesn't bode well for Weis.
The reason for keeping him --- continuity, his recruiting success, the belief that his team will turn a corner --- are equally balanced by the reasons not to. This is a tough call. It's clear that his approach in each of the past two seasons has not worked. This season's collapse raises serious questions about his ability to lead. 
The schedule would seem to set up the next coach for success. A first-year coach taking over the program and going 8-4 could be billed as progress. What if Weis goes 8-4 next season? What does Swarbrick do then? Is nine wins enough? What happens if Notre Dame wins nine and gets ear-holed in a BCS bowl game? 
It's easy enough to assume that Weis is on a short leash. Will that impact recruiting?
Offensive coordinator Mike Haywood won't be back next season. That seems obvious enough. Weis could run the offense himself like he did while winning 19 games during his first two seasons. Let's say his team comes out as flat against Nevada as it did against San Diego State in the 2008 opener and loses to the Wolf Pack? If you fired him then, who would be qualified to run the offense on an interim basis for the rest of the season?
Weis has said that his team will accept an invitation to a bowl game even though it can be argued that they didn't play well enough to deserve one. Again, based on the way Notre Dame performed late in the season, it seems as if there's more to be lost than gained. If Louisville upsets Rutgers on Thursday night, the Irish could wind up playing Oregon State in the Sun Bowl. What chance would Notre Dame have against an 8-4 Beavers team that beat USC and Cal?
Accepting a bid to a lesser bowl, where they could be matched up against teams like Hawaii, Rice or Houston might allow the Irish to break their nine-game losing streak in bowl games. But who's to say the Irish would defeat those teams? What if his team loses to Oregon State 41-10 or to Hawaii 24-17. What then?
Expect Weis to replace some of his assistants. Give the ineptness of the offensive line the past two seasons there's no reason to believe John Latina is safe. The defense is in the seemingly capable hands of Corwin Brown and Jon Tenuta. It's the offense --- Charlie's baby --- that has melted down. That's another reason why news that Weis will return has not set off champagne corks throughout Notre Dame Nation. If Weis' offense hasn't improved by now there's a chance it won't improve enough for him to keep his job at this time next year, which is why it seems as if all Swarbrick has done is prolong the inevitable.
December 3, 2008                                                            //FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE//
            NOTRE DAME, Ind. 
-- Charlie Weis will continue as head football coach at the University of Notre Dame, University athletics director Jack Swarbrick announced today (Dec. 3).
            Swarbrick, who made the decision in consultation with University president Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., met with Weis in California on Tuesday to review this past season, discuss plans for 2009 and communicate his decision.
            "Though this past season fell short of the expectations that all of us have for our football program, I am confident that Charlie has a strong foundation in place for future success and that the best course of action is to move forward under his leadership," said Swarbrick.
            "He, I and the others involved in leading our football program are committed to doing everything necessary to ensure a successful 2009 season. We are examining every aspect of the program and will make changes wherever we think they are needed."
            Weis' four-season record at Notre Dame is 28-21 - after his first two Irish teams in '05 and '06 finished 9-3 and 10-3, respectively, and made Bowl Championship Series appearances. The Football Writers Association of America named Weis its 2005 Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award winner as the national college coach of the year.
            A 1978 Notre Dame graduate, Weis previously spent five seasons (2000-04) as the New England Patriots offensive coordinator and helped that franchise to three Super Bowl championships during his tenure. He also was a member of the New York Giants staff during the 1990 Super Bowl championship season.


Updated: December 2, 2008, 3:28 PM EST 5 comments

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CINCINNATI (AP) - Coach Brian Kelly tried to end speculation Tuesday that he's leaving No. 13 Cincinnati, saying that he's happy with the football program's development and he plans to stay.

He was upbeat Tuesday following a meeting with the school's president, AD and the head of its board of trustees to get an update on plans to expand the Bearcats' small football stadium and to improve their practice fields.

Kelly acknowledged that other schools had expressed an interest in him, but said he's not interested in leaving.

"All I can say is that with all the speculation and all the jobs that have been out there, sooner or later 'no' means 'no,"' Kelly said. "Again, no one can ever speak in terms of forever and ever, but what I can tell you is there's been a lot of interest in my services, and I want to be here at the University of Cincinnati because of the right reasons."

The Bearcats (10-2) won the Big East title this season, sending them to the first BCS bowl in school history. A win Saturday at Hawaii would set a school record for victories in a season.

Kelly has been mentioned for other coaching jobs since late last season, when he revived Cincinnati's moribund program. He led the Bearcats to 10 wins, matching the school record, and a No. 17 final ranking that was their highest for the end of a season.

Despite losing his two experienced quarterbacks to injuries, Kelly led the Bearcats to another breakthrough season this year. Their current No. 13 ranking matches their best ever -- they also made it that high in 1954.

Recently, Kelly's name has been mentioned for numerous openings, including those at Tennessee and Washington. Tennessee filled its job by hiring Lane Kiffin on Monday.

With its basketball program still trying to recover from the fallout of coach Bob Huggins' ouster, the university has made it a priority to keep Kelly, who set a Big East title as his goal when he arrived on Dec. 4, 2006, and was able to deliver one within two years.

Using the core of a team recruited by Mark Dantonio, who is now at Michigan State, Kelly has taken the program to new heights in each of his two seasons.

He got a new contract after his first year, paying him a guaranteed $1.2 million this season. Bonuses for winning the Big East, boosting attendance and other accomplishments will push his total pay this season to around $1.5 million. His deal runs through 2012.

The Bearcats play and practice at on-campus Nippert Stadium, which holds 35,000 -- by far the conference's smallest -- and lacks modern amenities such as luxury boxes. When his contract was renegotiated a year ago, Kelly made upgrading the facilities one of the deal's terms.

The school is obligated to build a covered practice field -- the Cincinnati Bengals don't have one of those -- by next December. If it fails to do so, Kelly's contract buyout is reduced by half.

"As you know, I have some contractual stipulations relative to those facilities," Kelly said. "Right now, we feel pretty good that we're on schedule for it."

Mike Thomas, the school's athletic director, also told Kelly on Tuesday that the school also will raise money to upgrade Nippert Stadium. Architects are looking into options for renovation and expansion. There is no estimate yet about how many fans it will seat, how much the project will cost or when it will be completed.

"Coach Kelly and the success he's had here has really put things on the fast track for us," Thomas said. "The things that are important to Brian are absolutely important to me, things that were really on the agenda before Brian Kelly arrived here. But success breeds these kinds of opportunities."

REPORT: Weis Will Be Back

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Several media outlets reported Tuesday evening that coach Charlie Weis will return to Notre Dame for a fifth year.
Notre Dame director of football media relations director Brian Hardin was unable to confirm the reports. Athletics director Jack Swarbrick attended a fund-raising function and was not in the office Tuesday, according to Hardin. Weis remains on a recruiting trip in Hawaii and California., South Bend NBC affiliate WNDU and, all citing sources close to the program, reported that Weis will return despite Notre Dame's 9-15 record the past two seasons. 
Meanwhile, coach Brian Kelly said Tuesday that he planned to remain at No. 13 Cincinnati after meeting with the team's president, athletics director and head of its board of trustees. Kelly has been frequently mentioned as a potential candidate to replace Weis. 
There has been much speculation about Weis' future since 2-8 Syracuse upset the Irish 24-23 at Notre Dame Stadium on Nov. 22. It was Notre Dame's fourth loss in six games and the program's first to an eight-loss team. Host USC dominated Notre Dame 38-3 in Saturday's season finale, outgaining the Irish 265-9 in the first half. Notre Dame did not pick up an offensive first down until the final play of the third quarter.
Swarbrick said after the season-ending loss that he would sit down with Weis and begin evaluating the program when both returned to South Bend on Dec. 8. 
Notre Dame (6-6) remains bowl eligible and is expected to accept a bowl invitation. --- Neil Hayes
Irish special teams ace Mike Anello cracked his fibula on the opening kickoff of Saturday night's 38-3 loss at USC and is not expected to recover in time to participate in Notre Dame's bowl game.
The Irish are bowl eligible despite losing five of their last seven games. If Louisville defeats Rutgers on Thursday night, Notre Dame would likely accept an invitation to the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, on Dec. 31, where they would likely play Oregon State (8-4). If Rutgers wins, Notre Dame could wind up in the Texas Bowl on Dec. 30th in Houston or in the Independence Bowl on Dec. 28 in Shreveport, La. The Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego on Dec. 23 and the Hawaii Bowl on Dec. 24 are also possibilities.
According to a Notre Dame spokesperson, running back Robert Hughes would be eligible to play in the first half of a bowl game. The former Hubbard star was ejected late in the second half of the USC game and, in accordance with NCAA rules, is ineligible to participate in the first half of the next game. Since Hughes was ejected in the final game of the regular season, however, he must sit out the first half of next year's season opener against Nevada.
That's good news for the Irish, who may be without starting running back Armando Allen, who left the USC game after injuring his leg and was wearing a protective boot while on crutches after the game. The extent of the injury was not known. --- Neil Hayes
This from Irish illustrated

Evans: Weis not going anywhere

The last few weeks have been tough on Shaquelle Evans. First, his Inglewood High School team finished off the season with a disappointing 5-5 record. Then the four-star receiver heard rumors that Charlie Weis was on the hot seat.

As the first of Notre Dame's verbal commitments to receive an in-home visit from Weis, Evans wasted little time asking about Weis' future in South Bend.

"I asked him about his job status," Evans said. "He told me he's good to go; he'll be there. He said he made sure he's good before he left and it's just the media spreading that he's going to get fired. He said if he didn't know if he was going to be there or not he would tell me. It makes me feel good that he'll be there."

Evans wasn't the only one asking Weis questions during the two-hour visit.

"My mom has talked to him on the phone, but she liked him in person too. She said he was nice and knowledgeable," Evans said. "My grandma, she thought it went well. She was very protective and asked a lot of questions. She thought it went well."

Weis spent most of his time discussing Notre Dame and the benefits of attending the school.

"He was just letting everybody know what Notre Dame's all about and how much of a good fit it is for me," Evans said. "He was trying to get in good with the family."

There was also some discussion of playing time.

"He said I'd play whatever position will get me on the field the fastest," Evans said. "He said I can play inside and they can move me outside. He said I could be playing early, but not fast enough because I want to play when I get there."

Now that Evans knows Weis will remain in South Bend, the Rivals100 pick can focus on the next chapter of his life. That begins with next month's U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

"This week I'll start training for the game and get a good three to four weeks in before I go," he said.

Evans said he leaves for San Antonio on Dec. 28 and that it seems like just yesterday that he was a junior participating in the All-American Combine trying to earn a spot in the Bowl Game.

"It feels good," he said. "That was my goal and I accomplished it. I wanted to get back there. It came around fast."

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