Students react to new head coach
By SCOTT BRODFUEHRER
Assistant News Editor
On Saturday afternoon, George O'Leary's name meant very little on the Notre Dame campus. Within 24 hours, O'Leary became the most talked about man on campus after being named Notre Dame's head football coach.
Student and fan reaction to O'Leary spanned the spectrum. Many believe O'Leary has the potential to turn the football program in the right direction and win a National Championship. Others worry that, following the media hype about the possibility of Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden being named head coach, O'Leary has been put into a situation where he will always be second guessed.
"I think it's a good change of personality. He and Davie have very big differences in personality. He's fiery, it will be a good change for us. I think he will be a good fit. I thought Notre Dame would have gone with someone more high profile, but I think whenever you have a head coaching change, inherently there is a lot of energy. Notre Dame fans will always be Notre Dame fans," said junior Eric Chanowich.
Mike Seeley, an undergraduate admissions counselor and a Class of 2000 alumnus, said he feels O'Leary does not have the ability to lead the team back into contention for a national championship.
"Is he a good coach? Yes. But can he lead Notre Dame back to national prominence? I don't think so. The past five years have been a huge disappointment with Bob Davie as head coach. We need someone with a lot of magic to kind of rally the Notre Dame nation, so to speak. I believe O'Leary is a good guy, a good coach, but he's not going to be able to come in here and bring us where we need to be, which is contending for a national title. That said, I hope I eat all the words I just said in five years," said Seeley.
The choice of O'Leary, a dark horse candidate who received almost no media attention during the last week, caught most students off-guard.
"I was really surprised — I thought we were going towards Stanford's coach [Tyrone Willingham]. I've been looking at Blue and Gold Online and his name stood out more than O'Leary," said junior Katie Camosy.
During the past week, like all Irish fans, students have followed media coverage that had focused on names like Gruden, Willingham and Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Tom Coughlin.
"All you heard was Coughlin, Willingham and all those guys, but I think [O'Leary's] just as good as any other college coach they were going to get, and maybe better for our school," said freshman Nick Green.
After the press conference to introduce O'Leary, University President Father Edward Malloy discussed the media's coverage.
"It's funny when people speculate and hypothesize and develop websites out of the blue ... and people don't have any factual information. I read the paper and watched the media and I laughed," said Malloy.
Seeley said that because fans came to expect Gruden, they compare O'Leary's performance next year to what could have been if Gruden became head coach.
"I think he was put in a no-win situation. Everyone is very, very disappointed that Gruden was not hired as our head coach. The expectations will be unbelievable. If O'Leary goes 8-3, people will say that Gruden could have done better. If he goes 8-3 people may say Bob Davie could have done that. It's just going to be very, very tough for him to overcome the expectations of the crowd. Granted, I'll support him," said Seeley.
Other students agree that O'Leary has been put into a difficult position and must win to establish himself at Notre Dame.
"Just from watching the conference with other people, he's kind of getting a bad rap already. The reaction is negative, I think. People were throwing stuff at the TV [when they learned O'Leary was the new coach]. I think if he starts off the season with a couple wins then people will forget about Gruden right away. For his reputation, it's important for him to start off with a couple of wins," said freshman Chris Koegel.
Following the conference, Malloy also responded to the sign "All I want for Xmas is Jon Gruden" hanging from the side of Alumni Hall.
"Not one of those students met [Gruden] or had any idea on what makes him tick, or what his situation where he is presently," Malloy said. "That's like saying, `Why isn't Einstein on the Notre Dame faculty?' He's dead for one. Speculation isn't worth anything. We knew everything there was to know about every college and professional coach in the country ... We feel we got the best in the country," said Malloy.
Other students feel that O'Leary will be a better Notre Dame football coach than Gruden could have been.
"I think that he'll be a better coach than most people are saying. A lot of people thought we should have waited longer, until the end of the NFL season to see if Gruden wanted to come, but I don't think that he actually wanted Notre Dame. O'Leary actually wanted Notre Dame, which is different than most people," said freshman John Hamburger.
Alumni association executive director Chuck Lennon said that alumni will welcome O'Leary.
"I think a lot of the hype about Gruden was media driven. This guy wants to be coach of Notre Dame and I think when this hits the wire, alumni will support him 110 percent," said Lennon.
Some community members also feel that O'Leary is a good choice for Notre Dame.
"I hope he does well. All things considered, looking at it realistically, it's a good match. I think people got carried away with Jon Gruden and Steve Mariucci. I think the reality is that, as far as timing and all the issues that you have to go into as far as Notre Dame's standpoint, he's probably a good fit," said Granger resident and season ticket holder Walter Rudge who saw his first Notre Dame game in 1950 during the Frank Leahy era.
South Bend resident Art Bishop said O'Leary will be able to energize the team.
"I think he fits right in the program. I think he will bring Notre Dame back into a winning program. We need some of that offensive energy [that Georgia Tech has] here at Notre Dame. I believe that even though everybody wanted Jon Gruden, I think they will welcome him with open arms. Being an Irish Catholic, I think he fits right in. I think it's a major step in the right direction," said South Bend resident Art Bishop.
Instead of comparing O'Leary to Gruden, one student likened the new coach to Lou Holtz.
"He's a good fit, institutionally. Lou Holtz didn't have an .800 winning percentage [coming into Notre Dame], either and look what he did. It's a high-risk situation, but he can't be too much worse than what we've had because we have so much talent. Plus he knows Gary Godsey, so maybe they'll throw to the tight end now," said senior Greg Wright.
All News Stories for Monday, December 10, 2001