Notre Dame should come out of the wilderness

Notre Dame is not dead. It is just in the wilderness.

When will Notre Dame’s journey in the wilderness end? That is really up to Notre Dame and its football fans.

There are people on message boards that want to believe it is over for the Fighting Irish; however, it just isn’t true.

In a comment at NDNation.com, Dan posted this comment: “Could it be that nd just cannot recruit the great players that will really make a difference between winning and losing on a consistent basis; the ones who in the clutch wont fumble or miss field goals. …the really greats are likely going to the sec, acc, pac ten and to florida. who would have ever thought south florida could play the way they do. it’s their recruiting. great players want to go to florida, the sec, ala, lsu, texas where it is warm and where the schools are large and fun. is nd that? no. the players and the parents know that. nd has lost its mojo due to societal and cultural change in the usa(for the worst) and it is in the middle of nowhere and small and becoming more insignificant each decade. … dg, nd ’67”

Dan’s comments sum up several common criticism of Notre Dame. ESPN’s Colin Cowherd likes to point out the weather when comparing the prospects of teams like Notre Dame and Texas or Florida; Cowherd favors the sun over cold winters. Cowherd is the best on national talk radio. So, we cannot dismiss his point. Fun and sun play a role in recruiting.

Of course, the fun part likely plays a bigger role in recruiting than the sun.

How many recruits have enjoyed strip club visits in these “sunny places”?

It is easier for schools without values to recruit. That isn’t popular to say, but it is the truth. In this sense, Notre Dame is at a disadvantage. Notre Dame could buy players or be All In like some football programs, but that would betray everything the institution and college football is all about.

Ill Wind posted this comment at NDNation.com: “ND is now getting a taste of what storied ivy programs got eight decades ago and what the service academies underwent in th 50′s. ND can still compete with other ‘student athletes’ but not the football factories. We had a great run!”

To this, I respond, if Boise State without the advantages of Notre Dame (like its television exposure, and national fan base) can compete with the football factories, why not Notre Dame?

Here is where the lessons of a school like Alabama could be of some instruction to Notre Dame’s rebuilding effort. The biggest problem for Alabama was Alabama fans.

Before the arrival of Paul W. “Bear” Bryant in 1959 or Nick Saban in 2007, internecine fighting paralyzed Alabama. With the arrival of leaders, individual agendas were subjugated to the overall goals. This is important because of all the criticism leveled against Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly over his forceful sideline rebukes.

Is worrying about Kelly’s sideline demeanor helping the Notre Dame program?

If not, then Notre Dame fans need to jettison that type of commentary. Kelly is your coach. Give him a chance to rebuild the program. That means trusting him with the job you gave him. If he fails, then remove him. Don’t frustrate him by building challenges to his authority. He may or may not be the right choice for Notre Dame; however, worrying about trivial things will only hurt your program. Harkening back to the opening wilderness theme, fighting about whether to follow Kelly won’t get you out of the wilderness any faster. In fact, internal conflict will hinder your ability to reach any goal. Would Alabama’s Nick Saban tolerate anyone questioning his control?

Notre Dame has plenty of fight left. However, the University should examine its commitment to football along with its overall mission to best position the school for future championships. Notre Dame can find ways to improve its football program while maintaining its core values.

The Fighting Irish must find more resources in a world of escalating football budgets. Cicero noted, “Money in abundance forms the sinews of war.” Are there ways to improve revenue? This could be the best argument for Notre Dame’s entry into a conference. A conference with an equal revenue split and the right television package could improve Notre Dame’s fortunes. This should be considered and adopted if and only if it helps the brand and the bottom line.

More resources allow schools to improve facilities and keep up in the college football arms race. You can never cease work in this area. To do so allows complacency to paralyze your program.

Finally, fans should resist the urge of Dan’s comment to give up on society. Sure, things have changed. But, change provides new opportunities for Notre Dame to model its values through the mission field of its football program. I had the good fortune to watch a small Baptist football team play Saturday night here in Birmingham. It was a reminder of the possibilities of blending the institution’s mission with activities like football. (See story on Samford’s game against Georgia Southern here.)

Notre Dame can reclaim its place among the football elite, and fans must do their part in making the journey out of the wilderness happen.