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Q&A with Blue Gray Sky

Here is the Q&A with Blue Gray Sky

This is really exciting for me for several reasons.  First, growing up, my two favorite teams were the Bruins and the Irish.  I was also fortunate enough to attend UCLA for undergrad and Notre Dame Law School.

We'd all like to thank everyone at Blue Gray Sky for participating.  I know those of us who will be attending the game this year are looking forward to a beautiful autumn day in South Bend, and we're also looking forward to welcoming the Irish to the Rose Bowl.  

The schools have not played much in football, but the basketball rivalry has been one of the best.

And for those Bruins fans who don't like the Irish, we all have something in common.  We're all better than, and love to beat, the $Cum from $C.

On to the questions.

BN: What was the inspiration for starting Blue Gray Sky considering there are so many online forums for knowledgeable and die-hard Notre Dame football fans?

BGS: Hey guys, thanks for questions!  BGS pretty much grew out of a series of emails and message board posts that we would circulate around among friends, and a desire to preserve some of them in a more formal archive (or "scrapbook").  We also wanted to capture links and snippets to some of the better pieces out there so one day we could look back and get a feeling for what it was like "back in the day".  Most importantly, when we started up ND had just fired Willingham and so there was a firestorm of opinion pro- and con- out there that was worth discussing.  Even now it's interesting to look back to the winter of '04-'05 and see all the speculation that was circulating about the coaching search.   Eventually we started penning some original pieces and getting more into the history of ND football with some of the feature posts we put together.

BN: Imagine you are Charlie Weis's recruiting coordinator right now. You have only one more scholie (slotted for a QB) to give our and your choice is Joe Montana and Brady Quinn. Who are you calling (or texting?) to make the offer?

BGS: I think every ND fan worth his salt would say Montana, but it's really hard to argue against Brady Quinn.  He seems to be a perfect Weis QB, in that he's whipsmart, tough, and can make all the throws needed to make this offense go.  Keep in mind that at ND, Montana wasn't all-world, and though he had a penchant for terrific comeback wins, he hadn't assumed the mantle of Best Quarterback in History just yet.  Montana was a third-round draft pick, and it looks like Brady will be a shoe-in lottery pick, if not #1 overall.  But despite that I think I'd still go with Montana.  Maybe it's the benefit of hindsight, but hell -- it's freaking Joe Montana!

BN: We read a recent post on BGS that one of the reasons Notre Dame fans embraced Charlie Weis last season was because "we saw discernible progress, and grew to know and love our new head coach." What do you mean when you say "discernible progress"? How is "discernible progress" in Weis's first season (in which ND went from being a 6-6 team to a 9-3 team) different from (what some folks may argue) "discernible progress" that was made in Tyrone Willingham's first season (in which ND went from being a 5-6 team to a 10-3 team)?

BGS: Terrific question whose answer I never tire explaining to non-ND fans who cut down Weis using that same logic.  Not that you guys are doing that, but as ND fans we hear this canard all the time.  I think there are three areas where you can see definite, discernible improvement in the Irish under Weis.  One, the offense.  If you watched any of the Irish games last year you saw the best passing attack ND has ever put on the field in the history of the school.  In Willingham's first year we put up 313 yards per game and scored 26 offensive touchdowns in 12 games.  Compare it to Charlie: in 12 games, the '05 Irish averaged 477 yards per game and scored 53 offensive touchdowns.  The transformation was nothing short of amazing, and this was with almost all the same personnel from the year before.  The second area of improvement would be the team attitude and resilience, especially in close-fought games or games where we got behind against tough opponents.  Willingham's teams had a habit of rolling over in the face of adversity, and ND suffered more blowout losses under Willingham than any other Irish coach in history (some interesting charts here and here.  Last year ND had four tight games where it was behind and battled back; although we lost three of them (MSU, USC and OSU, winning against Stanford) we battled until the final whistle and never rolled over.  The never-say-die attitude was palpable, and refreshing.  The final area of discernible improvement is in recruiting.  Charlie's a workhorse on the recruiting trail and doesn't let the program rest on its laurels in going after the five-star guys.  ND will always get a decent-to-good batch of recruits simply trading on the cachet of its reputation, but Charlie's realized that in order to land the really top-notch guys he's going to have to get out there on the road and slug it out with the other top schools.  Early returns are impressive: last year's class was the best class in years, and this year is off to a great start, especially with this kid out of Oaks Christian that you may have heard of.

BN:Notre Dame fans took a lot of heat from lot of the so called "pundits" in the traditional media (for firing Willingham and hiring Weis), who predictably injected incendiary race card into the discussion. Your response was eloquent and forceful. Now at a school like UCLA, lot of our fans who criticize Karl Dorrell will undoubtedly face the same kind of criticism (both nationally and locally) if Dorrell himself fails to make a discernible progress after four years in Westwood. Do you have any advice or suggestions for us on how best to rebut these types of incendiary attacks?

BGS: I went back and read your post on whether Dorrell deserved his recent pay raise and I guess I have to agree with you: there's not much on-the-field evidence for giving him a bump, is there?  However, you guys might quibble with this characterization, but from the outside looking in it seems that UCLA isn't exactly in a tailspin, and in fact may benefit from (at least the perception of) stability at the helm.  The truth is that the Willingham situation was a world away from what's happening with Dorrell -- Willingham was in a freefall, and many of the powers-that-be at ND had already written him off (hence the surprise firing).  Dorrell seems to have a little more institutional support at this point in time.  Someday, though, Dorrell's time will come and if he doesn't leave on his own terms there's going to be some backlash simply because of his race.  It probably won't be to the extent that we suffered after the Willingham fiasco, simply because ND is a huge target for lots of political agendas -- a scrutiny ND invites unto itself by proclaiming that we "do things the right way".  In other words, it probably won't be as big a firestorm.  If Dorrell really must go at some point, the best way to soften the blow is to lay out all the hard statistical evidence that would show he wasn't up to the job.  We did that for Willingham, and it still wasn't enough.  That said, Dorell still has plenty of time left to salvage himself, don't you think?

BN: Let's talk a little bit about your team. We are all reading the off-season clips about Quinn, Samardzija and the high octane ND offense, but what about the Defense? Last year it looked like you guys had trouble against big boys - OSU and USC (Michigan w  as not nearly as good as they usually are). Tell us how will ND defense replace the production of Bradon Hoyte and Cory Mays (172 tackles, 11 sacks, 29 tackles for loss), and then improve upon last year's performance?

BGS: I wish I knew.  All this preseason #1 hype is a bit much for a team that returns a shaky secondary, a banged-up DL and a single linebacker.  We don't even know who's going to play the other two linebackers at this point.  While we'll miss Hoyte and Mays in run support, it's possible that by putting faster guys at the linebacker spots we'll actually improve the pass defense.  Who the hell knows?  It's one of the great mysteries going into the season.

BN: One of the coaches there may be some interesting stories during the week leading up to our football game will be UCLA's new offensive line coach Jim Colletto, who was formerly an OC under Bob Davie at ND? Tell us about your [frank]perspective in Jim Colletto?

BGS: Ahh, Jim Colletto.  One of the Irish faithful's favorite whipping boys during Bullet Bob's reign of error.  We made fun of him while he was facing off against us at Purdue and then -- doh! -- he became our offensive coordinator.  To say his offenses were inept and stupefying would be a massive understatement.  But he actually has a fair reputation as a line coach, so as long as Dorrell keeps him out of the offensive war room you should see some benefit there.

BN: Current line is listing Notre Dame as a +22 point favorite against UCLA. Will the Domers cover the spread?

BGS: My inclination is yes, but as I talked about above it really comes down to our defense.  I don't have much doubt that we'll be able to hang 40 on anyone in the country this year, but keeping other teams under four touchdowns might be a challenge.  The classic betting gambit with Notre Dame goes like this: if ND is favored, bet against them, and if ND is an underdog (especially at home against a higher-ranked opponent), bet with them.  The gambit would therefore say take the Bruins and 22 points.

BN: For the Bruin fans who will be traveling out to South Bend, give us 4 must see spots on the ND campus (before grabbing brewskis at the Linebacker Lounge).

BGS: 1. the Dome.  2. the Basilica.  3. the Grotto.  4. room 113 Morrissey Manor.  Yes, they actually squeezed four freshmen into that 10'x10' room to live for an entire year back in 1988.  You can still see my POW markings on the wall, counting down the days until freedom.  (Freedom was of course three sophomores living in a 10'x10' room).

Thanks for the questions, guys, and we'll have some headed back your way once the UCLA game draws closer.  (And again next year, when we get to road trip out to sunny Pasadena for the game!)

BN: Thanks again guys. We are looking forward to the road trip and the Irish coming to the Rose Bowl next year.