Monday Skull Session: Urban's Irish Roots, Notre Dame's Defensive Struggles and Vrabel's Coaching Ascension

By D.J. Byrnes on December 14, 2015 at 4:59 am
Carlos Hyde rumbling and stumbling to the endzone.

Specific #shoutout to the illustrious city of Yellow Springs. I heard the tall tales, and I was forced to investigate on Friday night. Drinks were so cheap I'm surprised a mob of vigilante locals didn't charge me with larceny.

It's Monday and I'm still without an answer as to why I don't live in Yellow Springs, an Ohio gem.

ICYMI: The Buckeyes' 2016 recruiting class suffered a blow last night. Four-star athlete Tristen Wallace flipped from Ohio State to Oregon.

 WE ALL MAKE MISTAKES, URBAN. Critics of Ohio State attempt to deride the university as "lucky" in its hiring of Urban Meyer, an historically elite coach. (It helps quell the cognitive dissonance created by routine 20-game Buckeye win streaks.)

Yes, Ohio State got lucky. It doesn't pain me to admit it because it easier for Gene Smith to pry Meyer from an ESPN announcing booth than Notre Dame.


One receiver, Malcolm Johnson, recalled his first meeting with Meyer. The coach told Johnson to take off his shirt and sized up the skinny, 6-foot-5 sophomore. Meyer said he resembled half of a Division I receiver.

The next wideout in line? "He told him, 'You're too fat to be a Division I receiver,' " Johnson said. "I'm like, 'Who is this guy?' "

Meyer had no patience for tact. As former Irish wideout Bobby Brown said, "He told us, 'I don't need a bunch of 18- and 19-year-old friends.' "

(Good to see Urban, like me, refuses to befriend #teens.)

That article also reveals Meyer left Notre Dame for a $5,000 raise to coach Bowling Green. Bet Notre Dame wishes it had that one back.

Unlike Meyer, I don't own a psychology degree from the University of Cincinnati, so I'm unable to gaze into the depths of another person's psyche. But even if Notre Dame is Meyer's "dream job," Ohio State is in much better position to win in 2015. 

The best coach needs athletes on deck. In 2015, are elite athletes flocking to South Bend in quantities required to win a championship? (Camera pans to a sweaty leprechaun trying to polish Notre Dame's dusty-ass 1988 championship trophy.)

 IRISH NOT NINE UNITS STRONG? Entering the Fiesta Bowl, much of the focus will be on the Irish defense. If it plays like it played for large swaths of 2015 then the corpse of Knute Rockne will exhume itself, renounce the forward pass and Notre Dame, and then hurl itself back into the bowels of Hell.


On paper, Notre Dame’s 2015 defense doesn’t look like the flaming mess some are calling it. The Irish are giving up 22 points a game, a respectable 36th in the nation. They’re a middle of the pack unit stopping the run, perhaps explainable when you consider the two option teams on the schedule. They’re a Top 30 unit against the pass, likely buoyed by the same two opponents. The top line reveals a defense that’s roughly Top 40—not great, not horrible.

But it doesn’t take much of a deep dive to identify some of the critical problems. The Irish gave up big plays by the bushel. They were the ultimate boom-or-bust unit, one of the better teams at forcing three-and-outs, but also susceptible to giving up long touchdown drives. Over the last two seasons, Notre Dame has given up 53 touchdown drives of 70-yards or more, a staggering statistic dug out by Tim Prister at Irish Illustrated. Or approximately 52 more than they did in 2012.

The red zone was a similar horror show. Under Diaco, Notre Dame rarely gave up long touchdown drives and always seemed to stiffen near the goal line. The opposite has been true the past two seasons. This year, Notre Dame forced just three field goals in 34 red zone opportunities. That helps explain why the Irish are No. 21 when it comes to scoring percentage, but a staggering 103rd when it comes to giving up touchdowns.

Outside of a scrimmage against Rutgers, the Buckeye offense didn't bring the pyrotechnics we expected until the last game of the season.

Was the Michigan performance just an exorcism of the Michigan State loss, or did the offensive staff turn a corner? Because the team that scored 20 on Northern Illinois isn't exploiting anything.

The angry team that pushed Michigan into the sea could end this game by halftime.

 VRABEL: A TOBACCO-INFUSED LEGEND. I like to pretend Mike Vrabel's life centers around dip. Why is coach screaming at that young man trotting off the field? It's because the player brought home a log of Skoal when everyone knows Vrabel is a Kodiak man.

Is Vrabel smiling because he's hoisting the Lombardi Trophy? Maybe to the untrained eye, but it's actually because Vrabel just deposited a big ol' pinch in his cheek.

The jokes write themselves, people.

And as somebody with the entertainment threshold of a baby chimp, I'm delighted to read that Vrabel, now with the Houston Texans, could be coaching for as long as he wants.


“If he wanted to, he would be able to be a head coach at this level when the right time is appropriate,” said Vince Wilfork, who played with Vrabel for five seasons and plays under him now. “I think he knows that. I have so much respect for him, not only as a coach, but what he has done as a player, just being able to sit in a captain’s meeting with him or sit on the sideline or sit in some meetings as a player, we watch film together, how he looks at the game, or when him and (Patriots Head Coach) Bill (Belichick) used to talk all of the time about football in general, he is very, very, very brilliant when it comes down to football, so I definitely see him having a coaching career at this level, being the head coach when the right time is appropriate.”
If he did choose that path, Vrabel would be an anomaly. There just aren’t many accomplished players that become head coaches. Used to be. Not now.

And of course Vrabel (again, no doubt powered by smokeless tobacco) used to roleplay as Ed Reed during scout team deployments in New England

“He’s played different systems, he’s played different positions,” said Belichick. “He’s played offense, defense, special teams. He’s played end, he’s played linebacker. He would play free safety in practice for us probably once or twice a year, especially when we were up against a guy like Ed Reed or somebody who you really didn’t know what he would do. You would just say go back there and go with what you see and if you want to gamble, gamble. Mike, he would love that. He would drive [Tom] Brady crazy doing that, like, ‘He’ll never be there on that pattern,’ but it’s Ed Reed – you didn’t know where Ed Reed would be. He was usually wherever the ball was. He somehow got there.

Vrabel's Houston Texans played the New England Patriots on Sunday Night Football. I assume the Texans lost. (As a family man, I'm required by law to be in bed by 10 p.m. As of this writing, New England led Houston, 17-6.

 QB DRAWS EN ROUTE TO PISCATAWAY. Greg Oden was the first athlete that made me realize, "Oh no, that guy is younger than me!" 

It was a startling revelation for a 19-year-old. I felt like I was 56.

Obviously, I don't suffer from that crippling anxiety anymore... when it comes to athletes and artists. My rotting flesh prison, however, caught up with me again this weekend. 

Chris Ash poached Houston's wide receiver coach, Drew Mehringer, to be his offensive coordinator at Rutgers. It seemed like an everyday coaching hire... until I read Mehringer is 28.


“He’s the brightest young coach in America and is more than ready to run his own offense,” Herman said on Sunday.

Mehringer went directly from his role as a graduate assistant coach at Ohio State to the co-offensive coordinator and play caller for James Madison in 2014, where he forged his reputation. In one season, he helped turn Georgia Tech transfer Vad Lee into one of the most dominant quarterbacks in the FCS, setting JMU records in yards (4,288), touchdowns (30) and total offense (4,288). Perhaps the most notable quality of Mehringer’s offense at JMU was the pace, as 37 of JMU’s 70 scoring drives lasted less than two minutes.

Mehringer returned to Houston to work with Herman, his long-time mentor last season. Mehringer played quarterback for Herman at Rice before injuries cut short his career and followed Herman to both Iowa State and Ohio State as a graduate assistant coach. Houston went 12-1 in Herman’s first season as a head coach and will play Florida State in the Peach Bowl. Mehringer brings an expertise in the high-tempo, wide open and quarterback-run heavy system that helped turn Herman into one of the country’s most respected offensive minds. Herman and Ash are close friends, and Herman gave Mehringer a strong recommendation for the job.

High praise there from Tom Herman, who you might not know is a MENSA member and thus an astute judge of others' intelligence.

Wrangling with the ramifications of a Rutgers employee cremating my life's work made me realize I regret all those jokes about the Scarlet Knights.

They stole Ohio State's championship defensive coordinator and swooped one of America's brightest young coaches from America's brightest young coach to lead their offense. I'm not ready for this new era of Rutgers Respectability.

(Meanwhile, in Champaign and West Lafayette...) 

 ANYBODY BUT THE WARRIORS, 2016. LarBon Jam—the Kaaanng!—made a bet on the outcome of the Ohio State–Michigan State game with Golden State forward/Michigan State alumnus Draymond Green.

It did not go well for our good friend, LarBon:


“That man LarBon, that's a good man right there,” Green said (via Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News). “A good man. He knows a young guy like me can't afford it yet, so he took care of me. That's what's up. LarBon is a man of his word.”

Jam sent Green cases of 2010 Silver Oak, a wine that retails at around $130 per bottle. That's not crazy expensive and is something that Green himself can afford after signing a max-deal with the Warriors this past summer, but then again Green is not making money like James, who recently signed a $500 million lifetime deal with Nike.

Hell, at least it wasn't 2010 Loko.

The idea of the Warriors celebrating their second title by throwing vintage FourLoko makes me sick, but not as sick as LarBon Jam Jr. would've been when he realized his dad gambled away his inheritance. 

 THOSE WMDs. Report: Andy Dalton done for year... Luther Vandross' Christmas album... Prominent Moscow cemeteries getting free wifi... Everyone too busy watching Netflix to pirate... Independence Day: Resurgence trailer... The men who built the great American waterpark.

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