Manti Bizarro Mania & Chip Kelly’s Departure & How It Connects to Tonight’s ‘Cats-Illini Game

I’m using the Manti Te’o story to start off today, simply so that you know that I’m not living in some dark cave, immune to non-NU related stories. I think Mike Greenberg of ESPN Radio captured my sentiments pretty darn closely. Greenberg, as well as seemingly every other media member on the planet, spent much of last night and today trying to bring reason to this improbable story involving a hoax of a girlfriend.  Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick’s over-the-top PR play last night, pledging full and unwavering support for Manti and the fact that he was an innocent victim in all of this, just struck me.  The fact this is coming out now, a full month after he first learned of it and the obvious gap in time between the timeline of when Te’o told ND administrators (December 26), the national title game (Jan 7) and when the AD came out with the story (yesterday) as his hand was forced by which broke the story, completely outmanning sports media heavyweights, including ESPN, which doused the flames of this story all season long.  I’m in Greenie’s camp as the court of public opinion is already ringing the bell of BS pretty loudly. There are a ton of things that don’t make sense, which lead you to believe this story will very likely take several more turns and thus, I’m holding out on full judgment of the story until that happens. However, my knee-jerk, Malcolm Gladwell “Blink”-like reaction was “I’m not buying it” as it relates to Manti’s statement and Notre Dame’s fist pounding woe is Manti and woe is us spin. However, the fact that Swarbrick came out so strongly, so emphatically after articulating a no stone unturned investigation led me to question it all. Would ND really put their brand so at risk if they knew there were more skeletons in the closet? Or, is it a back “our guy” now when all the facts aren’t on the table to show support and know that you’ll recant should/when things change?

The Notre Dame haters clubs are convening as we speak in hopes that perhaps it does come back to bite them. I’d love for this to truly be Manti being the innocent victim, for otherwise it will continue to fuel my cynicism on all most all feel good stories these days. This story is big enough to swallow the Chicago Bears’ hiring of a new head coach, which I thought was impossible (more on the NU connections to the new coaching staff in a later post)

If this turns out to somehow implicate Te’o AND Notre Dame, the ND Haters will likely be assembling a recent historical timeline that would be rather sickening. It includes a couple of milestones that simply make your skin crawl including the death of the student football video coordinator, Declan Sullivan who fell from the scissor lift on a 60 mph day at practice and an alleged sexual assualt of a football player which played a role in Lizzy Seeberg’s suicide. I hope for college football’s sake, this turns out to be just what Swarbrick said, because anything other than that, even a hint of Notre Dame covering anything up would show us that we still haven’t learned from the tragedy at Penn State. I’ll weigh in when the story unfolds as this thing is just starting to unwind.  In the meantime, kudos to Deadspin for breaking this story. Tommy Craggs, the editor of Deadspin is a diehard Illini fan and graduated from there, but also has a master’s degree from Northwestern (Medill).  And there in lies an opportunity for a segue.

Craggs will be rooting for the#23  Illini (14-4) tonight in their match-up with Northwestern at 7:15 pm ct on BTN.  Amazingly, both teams are tied in the conference (1-3) and you’ve got to believe the Illini will be ready tonight as they’re coming off an embarassing blowout loss at Wisconsin and John Groce has been none too pleased by talking about the fact they need to “man up”.  I’m not going to lie, I’m fearful we may get blownout like we did against Iowa. Now, let’s try and tie this in to Chip Kelly.This one might be a stretch, but Chip Kelly’s departure from Oregon to take the Eagles head coaching job in the NFL shines a light on this fan’s mental approach to Northwestern football vs Northwestern basketball.

Let me start by getting a few caveats out there. First, any mention of Northwestern basketball in a blog post is eliciting strong responses to the “Carmody must go” vs “shut up you knuckleheads and assess after the season” debates that seem to be getting circular and tiresome already. Second, as far as players on the team go, I fully support them and will be cheering heartily for them tonight against a desperate Illini team that went from top ten to alongside NU in the B1G standings at 1-3 in just a matter of days. Please don’t misinterpret the below post to be a slam on any indivi duals. I love the heart of Sobo, the fire of Hearn and am really ready to rip out a post entitled “Let Demps Free!”

However, with the news that Chip Kelly has left Oregon to take the Philadelphia Eagles head coaching post, I’d be remiss to not use the timeliness of that move to tie in to the Northwestern fan mentality. OK, perhaps it is just THIS fan, but nonetheless, I’m doing my best Russell Crowe in Beautiful Mind to try and connect the dots.

I’m ecstatic about Kelly’s departure.  Despite the fact that Alabama looked like an NFL team against Notre Dame in their national championship romp, I’m not afraid to admit there was/is only one team in the nation I fear the Wildcats playing – Oregon.  Yes, that’s right. As a Wildcats football fan I’m confident enough in our program that on any given day we could beat anyone, except maybe Oregon and Alabama. And, I really only fear getting blownout by Oregon.  The eradication of that mental state – the fear that we could get blown out is completely gone from my frame of mind. It will happen at some point, and it has happenned as recently as 2010 when Wisconsin handed Fitz his biggest point differential loss in his coaching tenure.  Sure, it was post-Persa injury and all, but I think somewhere in that 2010 season I lost the fear of getting blownout. That’s a pretty big deal for Wildcat Nation.  I didn’t fear the South Carolina match-up. I thought we would lose if we played Georgia, but I thought it would’ve been a game, much like Nebraska made it a game for three quarters. However, when I saw the “other” purple-clad Wildcats, Kansas State, draw Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl, I empathized with my good buddy and diehard K-State fan (I’ve converted him to get NU to be his #2).  There is just something about that offense and Kelly’s take-no-prisoners attitude that I admire. Two point conversions in the first minute of a game. Zero tendency to go in to play not-to-lose mentality. You have to admit, when Oregon is on, you want to watch to see what type of car crash you might get to rubberneck, meaning, will they put up 100 on Washington State kind of thing.

When it comes to NU basketball, we don’t have that yet.  I still fear blowouts. Well, let me modify that statement. Last year, when Shurna was healthy, was the first time I felt that every single game we had a chance to win.  I didn’t fear blowout losses last year. Not at all. Not at road games in Michigan and Indiana and definitely not at Welsh-Ryan Arena. Now, with Cobb and Crawford out and this team seemingly having a soft factor to it, I am going in to games like tonight hoping to keep it close. The fear is there.

‘Cats football fans are no stranger to Chip Kelly. He took his UNH offense (he was then a coordinator) and handed NU a lopsided loss at Ryan Field in 2006. It’s the only FCS game we’ve played that hasn’t been a lopsided blowout win and it was soul-crushing at the time, especially since my youngest sister is a UNH alum.  As Northwestern fans, we now have BCS game aspirations and inevitably it comes down to match-ups. If you start with the primary goal of winning the B1G and knowing there is a good chance you’ll be in the Rose Bowl, then there is a pretty good chance the team with the funky uniforms will be the opponent. That scared me, until now. Good riddance Chip Kelly. It’s the happiest I’ve been about a coaching departure since Jim Harbaugh went to the NFL. And now, there are exactly zero teams that I fear playing in football.

Again, this isn’t some arrogant take that we won’t get blownout as it will happen. I said it all season long that I’d love to have seen NU play #1-ranked Notre Dame this year. Pitt took them to overtime. Purdue had them in a tight game.  Sure, they beat everyone they played including quality wins over Stanford (albeit controversial), Michigan and Oklahoma, but c’mon, I know you’re with me on this one. Now, on the hardwood, just one year away from that fantastic feeling of knowing that we’d be in every game, I’m nearing rock bottom wondering which game we’ll actually be in. Once we can get the basketball program to that level from a fan’s perspective, then I’ll know we’ve arrived. It’s that competitive level Fitz has achieved and it takes year after year of proving success on the field for it to happen. So, I’ll be watching tonight, rooting hard for the ‘Cats, but I’d be lying if I wasn’t fearing the blowout.

Programming Alert

There are all kinds of tidbits going on related to NU including more bowl game awards, NU ties to NFL coaching and some challenges from Evanston residents trying to muck up NU’s on campus expansion plans. We’ll get to those, but I’m going to be spacing them out a bit.



  • Stephen Zgrabik

    there was a post-gator bowl edition of the Pat Fitzgerald Show, but i missed it; luckily for me (and anyone else who missed it) i think they are replaying it on CSN later this week/weekend. i forget the day, but i’ve got my dvr set to record.

  • Smolmania

    I couldn’t disagree with you more about this morning’s show on espn radio and Mike Greenberg’s fawning admiration of Jack Swarbrick as some sort of person with integrity, going way out on a limb with his “support” of Te’o. This is the same guy, who in the immediate aftermath of Declan Sullivan’s death offered his same “support” of Brian Kelly and the football coaching staff with the assertion that in his opinion “it wasn’t that bad outside at the time. . . .” This is the same guy on whose watch a ND football player sexually assaulted a St. Mary’s student who ended up taking her own life — at bare minimum at least in part due to the abject lack of care and compassion exhibited for her by Swarbrick and the ND Administration. Why the guy’s teammate who sent Lizzy Seeburg a text threatening her for “messing with” ND football didn’t get arrested, or at least kicked out of school, is indicative of the atmosphere surrounding “big time” college football — I for one am hopeful that we never get that good, and proud to have people like Dr. Phillips and Fitz in charge of our football team. Swarbrick’s an embarrassment to tsisb, to college athetics, and to higher education in general. I told Greeny this in a long e-mail I sent after listening to his pap on the way to the office this morning, but he’ll never respond because he has apparently lost the journalistic chops he should have obtained at Medill.

    • das420

      Well said! Couldn’t agree more, it’s a miracle that Swarbrick still has a job. Putting the word “integrity” next to this guy’s name is a complete joke…

    • You missed my point. Greenie was saying the over the top fawning by swarbrick gave him pause because of how strongly he defended manti. As in”what does he know that we don’t”. He actually challenged swarbrick and said how odd it was considering the story is still unfolding. There was no fawning by greenie over things like integrity, but rather a noted data point that added to the bizarre twists in this story. That was the part I felt as well.

    • ‘Catatonic Tim

      I agree with you on Swarbrick’s character, but from what I heard of Greenberg, he showed no fawning toward Swarbrick or Notre Dame. His point seemed to be that the fact Swarbrick came out so convincingly in favor of Te’o indicated to him that ND’s due diligence must have shown Teo not to have been complicit in the fraud. A big difference there.

  • I was initially very skeptical of what was going on in this story with Te’o. There are parts of it that I am still skeptical about. But it is beginning to seem like Te’o was the victim of an elaborate hoax (at least at the beginning). Either way, Te’o lied in a lot of ways to perpetuate and keep the story going. There are a whole lot of inconsistencies with his story. Just an odd story. I am relatively young, but I do not understand how anyone could let themselves get this emotionally involved on a purely online relationship.

    • buckyor

      Dude, I have some penny stocks I want to buy on your behalf! Just send me your credit card number (and the security code on the back). . . . .

      • Sorry, gave all my money to that Nigerian prince. He seemed like he really needed my help.

    • Alaskawildcat

      @ PRR Looks like you are being proven correct. Having trouble posting the link, but latest ESPN reporting is of a “confession” by the hoaxer.

  • cece

    whatever any pundit said for the love or hate of ND on how they have handled controversies with athletics….though my sports radio station is FILLED with loathing for ND today…. is the least of our worries. the true scandal is how ND treats actual victims of crime, the real tragedy being their physical and emotional pain. and I’m not talking about the clearly naive or complicit over rated ND linebacker.

    Swarbrick, where is your heart? two ND football players who played for the National Championship were involved in sexual assaults, one case being that which involved Lizzy Seeberg. what did you do about these cases? besides sweep them under the rug. why did these players get to go on with their lives? ND nation, your AD cried tears over a case with a fake girl when real women were physically assaulted by your players. real women should get more attention and help than a guy involved with a fake woman. I am totally offended that ND let the players play and now boiling over that they take this internet hoax, if it is that, more seriously than they do actual physical harm to real women.

    do something about that ND nation and NCAA, when will you do something about ND and sexual assault?

  • Richard

    Uh, we’d still get blown out by ‘Bama on the football field.

    As for T’eo, sorry, I can’t buy the story that he was a victim of a hoax. Too many details do not jibe for that story to ring true.

    Now why would he make up a fictional gf? An old guy on another football message board noted that back in his day, it was the non-straight guys who’d have phantom girlfriends. It’s the only angle that makes some sense in my mind. Think about it: 99.9% of hetero males around 20 years old want 1 of 2 things (or both): 1. Gettting laid. 2. Establishing a genuine loving relationship with one special girl. Having a phantom gf is a bit detrimental to reaching either goal (and to a guy like T’eo, who’d have his pick of a number of the opposite sex, both would be pretty easily attainable; he doesn’t have to comfort himself with a phantom gf). On the otherhand, while it is much easier for many people to come out now than in the ’60’s, coming out is a virtual impossibility for a Mormon football player. It may even be the reason he ended up at South Bend rather than going to USC, the school he had been rooting for since he was a little kid. In SoCal, he would have Polyneisan/Mormon/Polynesian Mormon/Other girls jumping all over him. In the sticks of the Midwest, he could concentrate on football (and a phantom Polynesian gf on the other side of the country would be easier to pass off when no one you meet is Polynesian, Mormon, or know your friends and family).

    Just saying.

  • Alaskawildcat


    When I was in Hawaii at the beginning of this year as Notre Dame was preparing for its game with Alabama I came across an article in the local paper there bemoaning the sad year in sports that it had been for Hawaii. The Rainbow Warriors had failed to qualify for a bowl and a lot of other things had gone wrong as well. Never mind, however, as the author recanted how the Islands still had Te’o to cling to as the one bright shining star in an otherwise dismal year of sports.

    OK, now even that shining star is beginning to dim and the entire Aloha psyche is threatened. In hindsight though it just dawned on me that this all could have been avoided. I recall that I was jokingly told of a young lady of my son’s acquaintance whom Manti Te’o had asked out on a date back when Manti was a student in Hawaii and how she was of recent second guessing herself for having turned him down.

  • 2001wildcat

    Btw, quick correction: Tommy Craggs went to NU for his undergrad, class of 2001 (no idea about a grad degree). Unless I was imagining him during many a night at The Daily.