|ESPN.com: ESPNMagazine||[Print without images]|
Still wondering if Bob Davie is out at Notre Dame? The handwriting is more than just on the wall. It's in the e-mail.
On Nov. 12, the Notre Dame athletic department sent out e-mails and faxes to several college sports-information offices asking for media guides. The transmissions made sports information people on the other end of their computers do a triple-take. The SIDs wondered if ND was starting its search to find a replacement for Davie. It's a reasonable assumption.
"I knew he was gone, but it was strange that they would send something like this out," says one SID. "The timing is too weird. Usually you request football guides at the end of the summer, not the end of the football season. Whenever we are doing a coach search, our AD will come into the office and start pulling media guides to go through the coaching bios."
When asked about the timing of the media-guide request and the speculation it has fueled, a Notre Dame spokesman initially had no comment. On Tuesday, SID John Heisler called me to say he simply had asked an intern to compile a database of minority coaches in college and pro football, unrelated to Davie's situation.
The explanation is fine -- it was the timing that raised eyebrows.
Officially, the school isn't saying much about Davie's future. Kevin White, the school's AD, says Davie will be "evaluated" at the end of the season. Notre Dame proudly points out that it has never broken a contract. Davie has four years remaining on his deal, with an annual salary of $1 million, but the extension he signed includes a performance clause that will allow the university to buy out the contract for less than $2 million.
The big problem is the program has no momentum, and despite what is shaping up as a good recruiting class, the 4-5 Irish don't matter much on the college football landscape. Worse still, ratings for Notre Dame's home games on NBC, its private network, are down 38 percent this season.
Names of possible replacements are already flying. The college guy who makes the most sense is Stanford's Tyrone Willingham. He's an extremely successful coach who has won at a school with the strictest academic standards, something ND officials can't ignore. He is an African-American candidate, yet has been careful not to get lumped into coaching searches that are done merely for a school's grandstanding purposes. ND shouldn't waste time. He is too good a candidate.
BTW, the Irish play on the road this weekend. At Stanford.
· An update on the Charlie Strong-to-Vandy scoop. The 41-year-old South Carolina DC, who would become the SEC's first African-American head football coach, is the frontrunner for the job in Nashville. Expect him to interview with AD Todd Turner later this week. An SEC source says Turner is really impressed by Strong's resume and his history of working for not only top coaches (with Steve Spurrier at UF in the early '90s and with Lou Holtz in the mid '90s at Notre Dame and now at South Carolina), but also because he has coached at a school with rigorous academic standards like ND. One other note that shouldn't be overlooked: Vandy is the school most likely to crack the color barrier since it doesn't have "an angry swarm of grits-'n-gravy boosters," says the source.
· Cal also is expected to make a run at hiring an African-American head coach. Look for Redskins assistant Hue Jackson and former XFL head coach Jim Skipper to meet with the Bears brass, although the search figures to widen out quite a bit.
· Another hot name to keep an eye on is Oregon OC Jeff Tedford. He is getting endorsed for the San Diego State job by Ducks coach Mike Bellotti, whose word carries as much weight these days as any college guy with a whistle on the West Coast. But Tedford, who used to be a QB and later the OC at Fresno State, is waiting to see if Bulldog coach Pat Hill takes the Kansas job. If so, look for Tedford to go back to Fresno. As for the Aztecs post, word is former Oregon coach Rich Brooks also wants back at the college game, but that blast from the past would seem to be a longshot. Two others are also in the mix: Former Rick Neuheisel protege and current Broncos assistant Karl Dorrell, and Texas A&M OC Dino Babers. Both are San Diego natives, and both are ready for top jobs. Best guess? Babers. (Having been an assistant for a year at SD State won't hurt his cause.)
Bruce Feldman covers college football for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.