Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Thoughts and Prayers Aren't Enough

It's Wednesday night. This blog post should be about how disappointed I was by the Irish loss to Navy last Saturday.

Instead, tonight I am a sickened, saddened, and angry Notre Dame parent.

A Notre Dame student died needlessly and senselessly today, in an accident that never should have happened. Declan Sullivan, a junior at the University, was filming Notre Dame's football practice from atop a scissor lift when it "fell" over, causing his death. "Fell" is an interesting word to use in this context. "Fell" obscures the fact that there also just happened to be 50 m.p.h. winds blowing in the South Bend area today. I wonder if those high winds might have had anything to do with why the lift "fell"?

Actually, I don't wonder that at all. It seems pretty clear to me that the high winds blew the tower over. It also seems pretty clear to me that neither Declan Sullivan nor anyone else should have been on top of a scissor lift in those conditions. I live and work in Southern California. I wasn't in South Bend today. But even I knew about the severe weather there the past couple of days.

My daughter sent me a text message early Tuesday morning telling me about the tornado warnings that had her entire dorm hunkering down in their chapel waiting for the "all clear." I saw on the internet this afternoon the reports of very high winds in the South Bend area. I actually sent my daughter a tongue-in-cheek text message about it. My text read: "I hope you are tethered to something sturdy so the wind doesn't carry you away!" That was at 12:27 p.m. Pacific time, which is 3:27 Eastern. About an hour and twenty minutes before the lift "fell over."

I haven't been able to confirm it, but the rumor among the students is that Declan had expressed serious concern about going up onto the lifts before practice began on Wednesday afternoon.

As a parent of a Notre Dame student, I am panic-stricken at the thought of a phone call from the University telling me that something has happened to our daughter. I know that to some degree kids will be kids and that they can get themselves into trouble. The Administration can't always protect the students from themselves. But how many coaches and other University representatives were attending practice today without anyone speaking up about what seems to me to have been an obvious danger? Coach Kelly and Jack Swarbrick and many others will have many questions to answer, and heads should roll. Well compensated heads should roll. I'm not talking about the lead student manager, or the head of the video department.

The University will be holding a Mass of Remembrance for Declan Sullivan on Thursday night. Coach Brian Kelly said in a brief statement that "Our thoughts and prayers go out to Declan's family and friends."

Am I the only one who feels that "Thoughts and Prayers" are not enough?

A family lost their boy. A son. A brother. A Notre Dame man. Lost because nobody had the good sense to speak up and say "Hey, maybe we shouldn't put anybody up on the towers today. I don't think it's safe."

Are we really just going to have a Mass of Remembrance and a moment of silence and then play football on Saturday?

I'm not sure we should. I can't speak for the players, or for the students. But as I type this I just don't feel that it would be right to play a football game at Notre Dame this week. I think it would trivialize this tragic loss and would fairly open the University to criticism about its priorities. Given what he was doing when he died, I have no doubt that Notre Dame football was important to Declan. But it was not worth his life. And if the Fighting Irish play football this Saturday I would wonder myself whether the University of Notre Dame was placing football and a big pay day ahead of its students and the need to truly pay proper respects for the loss suffered by the Sullivan family.

And it won't change my mind if the University and NBC trot out the cliche' that "Declan would have wanted us to play the game."

Of course my thoughts and prayers go out to the Sullivan family. But really it is my heart that goes out to them. I cannot imagine the pain and the grief they are feeling, and I find that beyond the sadness and the grief what I feel most is anger on their behalf. Because it never should have happened.

Note: Before you write it in the comments, let me say that I was not at the football practice. I don't yet know all the facts. But I know what I feel. This post is about what I feel right now. Maybe I will learn that the University did in fact take all reasonable steps to ensure Declan's safety atop the lift in 50 m.p.h. winds. I hope I find that out. But I'm not holding my breath.

Friday, October 8, 2010

OC Domer Trying to Catch Up. Brian Kelly Earns a B-.

This is not how I planned to spend my 2010 football season. I am a lawyer by trade, which means that every now and again I have to strut my lawyerly stuff and earn my paycheck. For most of the past month I have been on the road and putting in long hours in preparation for a trial that will take place next week. I could tell you more, but I'd have to kill you.

Seriously, it's not a big deal of a case by any means, but it is important to my employer and it is sucking up a lot of time and resources as my total failure to blog anything since September 12 proves. I apologize to all of the subscribers to the blog and refund checks will be sent out shortly.

Yes, that was a lame attempt at humor. Clearly I have lost my edge.

I want to take this quick opportunity to give thumbnail reviews of the Michigan State, Stanford, and Boston College games, and then toss up here a quick version of the Irish Blogger Gathering post for Pitt Week.

Michigan State Loss (34-31). In my pre-season predictions post I wrote that "I am not convinced yet that our guys can go toe-to-toe with a very physical Sparty squad" and I predicted an Irish loss by virtue of my 45% win confidence. The team actually held up pretty well physically and played an amazing game only losing in OT on a very gutsy fake field goal that was made possible by the officials failing to notice that the play clock had expired well before the ball was snapped. Should have been a delay of game, and then who knows what happens. The game was so exciting that Sparty's coach literally had a heart attack. Tough loss, but Michigan State is a pretty decent team (16th or 17th in the country depending on whether you like the USA Today Coaches poll or the AP poll), so one can take some encouragement from taking them to OT. One interesting stat: The team that won the Average Starting Field Position battle (ND, averaging starting at the 29 versus MSU's average start at the 23) actually lost the game. Hard to make too much of it, since their game went to OT and could have gone either way, but since I harp on ASFP a lot, I thought I'd mention it.

Stanford Loss (37-14). Pretty much a whipping. Not much else to say. In the pre-season I had a 65% win confidence on this game, which means I was waaayyy wrong. I thought the departure of Toby Gerhart would set the Cardinal back a bit. Yeah, well, not so much. You want stats? Stanford punted once. They converted 11 of 16 third downs. The Irish had 44 net rushing yards (a 1.9 yard-per-rush average). Notre Dame had zero sacks of Andrew Luck. Notre Dame of course lost the ASFP battle, 39-26. Stanford is also a pretty good team (16th in the AP, 18th in the USA Today), but we can't find any solace in that since, unlike the Michigan State game, we didn't play them close. This game looked like a Top 20 team putting a beat-down on a team that is not yet ready for prime time. Thanks for playing, we have some lovely parting gifts for you.

Boston College Win (31-13). Finally, something that looked "normal" to me. I had just about concluded that I had been kidnapped by aliens and dropped into some freaky parallel universe where Stanford owns Notre Dame in football, Texas get humiliated by UCLA, and Boise State and TCU are Top-5 college football powers. But the the Irish went to Chestnut Hill and put a hurting on a pretty bad Boston College team in a very workmanlike performance. A nice homecoming for Coach Kelly. I watched the game by streaming through my HDTV via an S-video cable. One could tell that the game was very, very important to Brian Kelly as he was coaching his mouth off! I don't know if NBC is maybe more committed to the Irish home games being a G-rated show, but ESPN was giving us close ups on Kelly engaging in full and frank sharing of his opinions with his players all game long. I, for one, welcome our fiery, foul-mouthed overlord. Am I in any way offended? Are you kidding me? I mean, are you f&%#ing kidding me? You should hear the OC Wife cuss like a sailor when the Irish aren't playing well. It's about time the head coach at Notre Dame is at least as into the game as my wife. Key stats: BC held to 5 net rushing yards, Irish sacked BC QBs 5 times. Irish did just barely win the ASFP battle, 32-31. The only thing to take away from this game is a win. The Irish should have beaten BC soundly and they did. It is a good sign that the team took care of business by winning a game they were supposed to win. That hasn't always happened in recent years, not by a long shot.

The Irish Blogger Gathering is being hosted by the Irish Round Table this week. Go check them out to read all the bloggers' responses to this weeks questions. Without further ado here very quickly is the OC Domer contribution to the IBG for Pitt week.

1. Grade Brian Kelly’s performance to date. We’re not interested in how you think he will perform going forward. How has he done through the first five games? Grade scale is A+ to F-.

Well, I might argue that the grade scale is 00% - 100%. At 2 wins against 3 losses, that's a winning percentage of 40%. Where does 40% fit on the A+ to F- scale?

It's pretty early to give a grade, but so far I'd give a B-. The Irish have played five games. They got worked by Stanford (which is NOT a good thing), but had every chance in the world to win the other four games. Of the four winnable games, they won two and lost two.

Notre Dame was up on Michigan 28-24 with 3:41 remaining in the game. In order to lose the game the Notre Dame defense gave up a 12-play, 74-yard touchdown drive, allowing UM to score the winning TD with just 27 seconds remaining.

The Irish manage to take Michigan State to Overtime, but when they get the ball first in OT can't make a first down, instead having to settle for a field goal on 4th-and-1. The defense stiffens against MSU forcing Sparty into an untenable 4th-and-14 on the Irish 29, but then give up the game winning 29-yard TD pass on a fake field goal.

What grade do you get for winning 50% of winnable games?

The Irish offense is still a work in progress. We have a new quarterback in a new offensive system, and we have seen some expected inconsistency. It seems that in each game we see short spurts where the offense looks dynamic and explosive. We're seeing big plays that we haven't regularly seen in recent years. One can see that once the players mature in the offensive system this team will be able to score some points. There are signs, however, that the running game is already lagging seriously behind the passing game. The ability to "impose our will" with a power running game and ice a game by taking the air out of the ball is nowhere to be seen.

The defense is bend but don't break, and has only given up a very small number of really big plays. But the defense is bending a little too much, and they are having a hard time getting off the field in key situations. We've seen really good plays on the back end of the defense, but we need to get more pass pressure against teams not named Boston College and we need to be more stout against the run.

Special teams play has been a mixed bag. Kick-offs have been decent, place kicking is good. Kick returns very inconsistent, and punting needs to improve.

Coach Kelly's game management and play calling has been very questionable at times.

Based solely on his on-field results so far, I think B- is generous. If, as I expect, the team looks better in November than they did in September, I think he will earn higher marks by the end of the semester.

2. Much has been made of Brian Kelly’s sideline rants. Some fans like the excitement and energy others are worried that they are excessive and will wear thin on the players. Where do you stand?

Love them



He is colorful, but he's teaching. He's not just calling them names and screaming at them for being incompetent. He usually fires off an expletive-filled "What are you doing?" and then asks the player why they did what they did, and then he tells them what they were supposed to do and why. He's fiery, but it is to a purpose.

I can't help but think back to the many times under Charlie Weis when the team just looked flat and disinterested. Sometimes a coach has to get the team's attention and raise expectations.

It also seems to me that Kelly's passion level was way up for the Boston College game compared to the previous three games. My assumption was that he expected the team to dominate B.C. and was trying to teach them to hold their boot on the Eagle's throats and really put the away. He had higher expectations for that game against a lesser opponent. Against a much better team like Stanford (Wow, did I just type "a much better team like Stanford"?), I think coach realizes that yelling isn't going to be productive and the teaching needs to be more patient.

3. What is the best storyline for Notre Dame football this year? The best storyline in college football?

I love the Chris Stewart story. Do you remember that he came within a whisker of leaving the team and the University because he was frustrated and homesick? Now he has his Notre Dame degree and is starting at left guard while attending law school. Take that all you Kinesiology degree mills out there. I'm looking at you Michigan.

But Denard Robinson it absolutely amazing. If he can stay healthy he is going to rewrite the record books and I can't imagine any Heisman voter not having him at #1 on their ballot.

4. We are going to test your prognostication skills with a little IBG prediction contest. Predict the following for this week’s Pitt game:

Kyle Rudolph receptions: Four.
Points scored by Notre Dame’s defense: Zero.
Carries by Robert Hughes: Two.
Points Notre Dame wins by: 11.
Tackles Manti T’eo registers: 12.
Pass attempts by Tommy Rees: Zero.
Taylor Swift in Attendance: No.

5. What would you like to see in place of the yellow mums on the Notre Dame sidelines?

Well, if you must have yellow, why not yellow bikini girls? If it's good enough for Lambeau Field it's good enough for Notre Dame Stadium.

Go Irish! Beat Panthers!