I’ve never been much of a Monday morning quarterback.
For a quarter of a century, I did my second-guessing on Sundays. I covered Notre Dame football for the South Bend Tribune from 1973 to 1997 and shared my opinions about the wins, the losses and ties in more than 100,000 newspapers.
And then, on Mondays, I would get second-guessed.
“You’re too hard on the Irish, you non-believer.”
“The Irish suck and so do you with your willy-nilly reporting, homer.”
“More Fighting Irish news, please. I mean who cares about the Big Ten around here?”
“Excuse me, is Notre Dame the only thing that you care to write about?”
You get the point. It was always a tough job to keep the Irish Nation satisfied when footballs were in the air and national championships supposedly were in the stars.
But the criticism that eventually burned me out on sports and turned me into a features columnist was nothing compared to what the Notre Dame head coach had to suffer.
I watched Ara Parseghian turn into an old man his last year at the helm … Dan Devine break down and cry … Gerry Faust develop a nervous tic … and Lou Holtz look like he had to take on the whole world, including his bosses, at the end of his run.
It is an impossible job.
If you don’t go undefeated, your season isn’t quite a success. If you lose three games, you’re a miserable loser. And if you happen to win a national championship, you’re reminded that Frank Leahy won five — and Knute Rockne would have won even more had he not died in a plane crash after just turning 43.
Which brings us to this season.
Marcus Freeman, a handsome and impressive man, was given the job at the tender age of 35 after the abrupt departure of Brian Kelly last fall. A player’s favorite, he had been at Notre Dame for just one year as the defensive coordinator. He had never been a head college coach.
Let me say that again: He had never been a head college coach.
What was athletic director Jack Swarbrick thinking? I tried to be diplomatic last fall in a column on this website when Freeman was first anointed. But I did mention what Parseghian, the owner of two national championships, had once told me. “I was a head coach for 13 years before I took the job at Notre Dame, and I needed every one of those years.”
Yet here we have a rookie coach — no head coaching at any level — who is clearly struggling after losing his first three games.
There is a precedent here. Faust never was a college head coach before he took the job in 1981 and flopped even though he won more than 90 percent of the high school games he coached. Three of the next six hires — Bob Davie, Charlie Weis and now Freeman — weren’t, either. Davie and Weis had a few moments but ultimately failed in bringing the Irish back to the top — or at least near the top. And Freeman has gotten off to a worse start than any of them.
Seriously, what makes Notre Dame continue to hire men who haven’t had all eyes on them before? I would venture that no other perennial Top 20 team has shown that kind of strange hiring practice
This is Notre Dame, the most fabled football team in sports history. And yet the Irish continue to hand over the keys to the unproven in a coliseum-like setting.
I wish him the best. I just hope he gets the chance to grow into the job.
Some say that the athletic director got a little lazy and hired a convenient guy who the players seemed to adore. Maybe, maybe not.
One thing is for sure: A lot of fans believed all the pomp and circumstance around campus. They salivated over Freeman and his picture-perfect family. They were happy to see any coach who didn’t remind them of Kelly. With their blind enthusiasm, these fans turned the second-guessers into whisperers last fall.
They aren’t whispering anymore.