I’m a 2013 Notre Dame alum and it pains me to write this. I realize I don’t have the perspective that comes from someone who has watched Notre Dame football for the past 50 years and lived through the Gerry Faust days, but I can still sense the complacent, almost defeatist culture that is around the current football program, and includes the fan base. This won’t be a post that criticizes the coaches, players, or scheme, because after the losses to Texas and Michigan State this year, our struggles in those areas have been well-documented.
Rather, I want this to be a wake up call to the fan base–we need to look in the mirror. I was down in Austin for the Texas game, and back in South Bend for the Michigan State game this past weekend, and even though we made a furious comeback to give ourselves a chance to win in those games, we ultimately fell short. Especially after the MSU game, I have never felt angrier walking out of Notre Dame Stadium–I wasn’t disappointed in the loss; I was livid.
I’m so sick of hearing comments from fans like the ones I heard when I was leaving, such as “at least we fought hard,” “I’m glad the kids didn’t quit,” and “at least our players have to go to class.” If that helps our fan base (and administration) sleep at night, so be it. If our fan base feels the need to applaud the team and coaching staff as they leave the field after an abysmal performance for three quarters, so be it. But those in the ND fan base who fit that description, of which there are far too many, are feeding the culture of mediocrity that is currently gripping Notre Dame football.
I trace this back to the decision to give Charlie Weis an extension after playing USC tough and losing on the “Bush Push.” The administration was desperate to win following the down years under Bob Davie, the embarrassment of George O’Leary, and the downright disaster both on the field and in recruiting under Tyrone Willingham. However, that fateful decision by the since-departed athletic director, Kevin White, institutionalized the moral victory as an acceptable outcome at Notre Dame, and began this culture of mediocrity, which has never been worse than this season, when despite his defense allowing 38, 44, 50, and 36 points over the past four games, defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder not only still has a job, but has the full support of head coach Brian Kelly.
From the administration, to the coaching staff, to the fans, the Notre Dame football program tolerates losing as long as we can claim a moral victory. No one will say that, but it has become ingrained in the very fabric of the program, starting with the fan base.
For those that disagree, answer this question. If Alabama or Ohio State had the start to the season that Notre Dame did (1-2 while the offense averages 34.6 ppg), would their team have been applauded after the most recent loss? Would their defensive coordinator still have a job? Would their head coach be feeling no pressure? Look at the reaction of their fan bases after they lost to Ole Miss and Michigan State last year, respectively.
What’s the answer? The Notre Dame fan base needs to look in the mirror. Fans who want to hang their hats on the fact that the team always seems to fight hard and make a late run, only to just fall short in the end (Florida State, Arizona State, Clemson, Stanford, Texas, Michigan State have the program they deserve. Unless the fan base wakes up and realizes this is unacceptable, this is the new normal.
I’m not a pessimist. Maybe it’s the naiveté of youth, but I do believe that Notre Dame can recruit the types of players who can succeed both athletically and academically at Notre Dame and still win. However, that will only happen when this defeatist attitude which now permeates the program, this toleration of losses as long as we can claim a moral victory, is driven from the fan base, and in turn, the coaching staff and administration.
There is no such thing as a good loss. Losing is unacceptable. As Vince Lombardi famously said, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” Go Irish.