Bob Davie won his first and last game as Notre Dame coach, but not enough in between to keep his job at a school that has always gauged success in football with a different measuring stick.
Less than 24 hours after Notre Dame defeated Purdue to finish the season 5-6, Athletic Director Kevin White fired Davie and his staff Sunday and announced a search for a successor.
“We are a place that’s won 11 national championships,” White said Sunday. “Can we win a 12th? I believe we can.”
The Irish have not won a national title since 1988.
Davie’s firing had been long anticipated. In five seasons, he looked, acted and sounded like an Irish coach but finished with a 35-25 record that more closely reflected Gerry Faust’s five-year record of 30-26 than the legendary runs of Knute Rockne, Frank Leahy and Ara Parseghian.
When Davie replaced Lou Holtz as Irish coach in 1997, Parseghian offered the new coach some advice.
“There are a lot of things to worry about,” Parseghian told Davie, “but worry about one thing, and that’s winning.”
Davie didn’t win enough. He went 7-6 his first year, 9-3 his second, 5-7 his third, 9-3 his fourth and 5-6 in his last.
Under Davie, Notre Dame did not produce a first-round NFL draft choice or win a bowl game, losing in the Independence, Gator and Fiesta bowls. “I am in no way bitter,” Davie said. “No way will I have a chip on my shoulder as I leave Notre Dame. I am not the least bit embarrassed. In fact, I’ll walk out of here with my head held high and am really proud of what we have done.”
After Notre Dame went 9-2 during last year’s regular season, White extended Davie’s contract through the 2005 season.
Only days later, however, Oregon State embarrassed Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl, 41-9.
Davie then boasted that his 2001 squad would be his most talented, but the Irish opened this season with a listless loss at Nebraska that led to the first 0-3 start in school history.
White said he thought he made the right decision at the time in extending Davie’s contract.
“A year ago at this time, I believed that we had turned the corner under Bob, and that we were prepared to reclaim our traditional standing among the nation’s elite college programs,” White said.
“Today, I can no longer say that.”
White said the contract extension was a “misread on my part.”
White also fired Davie’s staff, but indicated they could stay on through the upcoming recruiting season.
Davie’s fate probably was sealed Sept. 29 after Notre Dame dropped to 1-4 with a 24-3 loss at Texas A&M.;
Davie said he and White met after the loss and discussed his future.
“From the Texas A&M; game on, obviously I knew what the hurdle would be for this football team and its coaching staff,” Davie said.
White said he has a short list of candidates but no timetable for hiring a successor--although that hasn’t stopped the media from rampant speculation.
The most prominent name mentioned has been Oakland Raider Coach Jon Gruden, who grew up mesmerized with Notre Dame during a period when his father was an assistant coach under Dan Devine.
Asked about the opening Sunday after the Raiders’ overtime loss to Arizona, Gruden said: “I haven’t had any conversations with anyone. I like where I am a lot. We’re going to finish the job.”
Recently, however, over the objections of the Raiders, Gruden gushed openly of his love for Notre Dame in an interview with South Bend Tribune columnist David Hough.
There are potential hang-ups to any Gruden hiring, though, foremost being that the Raiders’ season could run into early February if they reach the Super Bowl.
With national high school signing day looming in early February, can Notre Dame wait for Gruden?
There also is the ever-present specter of Raider owner Al Davis, not likely to accommodate a coach under contract who wants to bolt his team in the middle of a potential Super Bowl run.
And what about money?
For all its football success, Notre Dame traditionally has not paid market price for coaches, although sources indicated over the weekend the school might be willing to pay the next coach $2 million a season.
That would put the next Irish coach in line with salaries paid to Florida Coach Steve Spurrier and Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden.
Other potential coaching candidates include Tom Coughlin, the Jacksonville Jaguars’ no-nonsense coach, Oregon Coach Mike Bellotti and perhaps San Francisco 49er Coach Steve Mariucci, if his relationship with that organization’s front office continues to sour.
“I appreciated the appetite for news about a search of this kind,” White said of his coaching search, “but you don’t hire good people by negotiating through the media. We all know the rumor mill has been in operation for many weeks now, and we know today’s announcement will kick it into overdrive.”
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Bob Davie at Notre Dame
Year W L Pct. 1997 7 6* .538 1998 9 3** .750 1999 5 7 .417 2000 9 3*** .750 2001 5 6 .455 Totals 35 25 .583 Et
*lost in Independence Bowl to LSU, 27-9
**lost in Gator Bowl to Georgia Tech, 35-28
***lost in Fiesta Bowl to Oregon St., 41-9