South Bend, Ind.—Maria and I had a wonderful weekend here as we took part in the College Football Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremonies. A very impressive group of players, including UCLA’s Troy Aikman, Oklahoma State’s Thurman Thomas, and Florida State’s Ron Simmons (of Warner Robins, Ga.) were enshrined into the Hall of Fame. The coaches included Lou Holtz, who won a national championship at Notre Dame and finished his career at South Carolina, John Cooper, the first coach to take a Pac-10 team (Arizona State) AND a Big Ten team (Ohio State) to the Rose Bowl, and former Georgia head coach Jim Donnan, who went in as a member of the divisional class for his success at Marshall.
Here are just a few nuggets from the weekend that might interest you:
Georgia Tech and Notre Dame at the Georgia Dome? Gary Stokan, the much traveled president of the Atlanta Sports Council, was here over the weekend talking to Notre Dame athletics director Jack Swarbrick. The subject? Trying to get the globetrotting Fighting Irish to consider Atlanta for one of their neutral site games.
Notre Dame likes to play neutral site games in order to help recruiting. The Irish are playing Navy at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. in 2010, Baylor in New Orleans in 2012, and Arizona State in Arlington, Tex., in 2013. Today the school will announce that it will play Army at the new Yankee Stadium in 2010.
Stokan made the pitch for Notre Dame to consider Atlanta for one of these trips. The word I got here is that the Irish might consider it for a chance to play a Georgia Tech or an Alabama.
“For what Notre Dame wants to do with its schedule, this just makes sense,” said Stokan.
Tenuta takes over the ND defense: You’ll recall that former Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta landed at Notre Dame when Chan Gailey’s staff got let go after the 2007 season. He went to Notre Dame not as coordinator, but as an assistant head coach who worked with the linebackers. Corwin Brown was the defensive coordinator. This season, which is a crucial one for head coach Charlie Weis, Tenuta will be in charge of the Notre Dame defense. Brown remains on the staff as Associate Head coach and co-defensive coordinator but Tenuta will call the defenses. “Corwin is a great guy but Charlie had to make a tough call,” someone close to the program told me. “Tenuta is a great coach.”
Holtz headed to Japan: Anytime Lou Holtz is in South Bend he is the star attraction, and so it was Saturday night when he was enshrined into the College Football Hall of Fame. Holtz couldn’t talk a lot because his voice was raspy from yelling. Yes, yelling. Sunday morning Holtz took a group of former Notre Dame stars to Tokyo to play against the Japanese National team. The game will be on July 25. While Holtz was taking part in all of the Hall of Fame festivities, he was also sneaking away to the Notre Dame practice fields looking his potential team, some of whom are in their 40s, like former QB Tony Rice (who will turn 42 on Sept. 5). “Let’s put it this way,” Holtz said. “If Rudy comes back he is going to be our star.” Among the other people on Holtz’s coaching staff for this game will be former Georgia defensive coordinator and former Notre Dame assistant coach Bill Lewis.
Before the evening was over Holtz had everybody convinced that the Japan National Team was just a little bit better than Nebraska in 1995. Donnan would have none of it.
“Yeah, Lou really knows how to schedule,” Donnan said. “He should be able to beat Japan.”
Donnan humbled by enshrinement: Donnan won 64 games in six seasons as Marshall’s head coach. He won a Division I-AA national championship at Marshall in 1992 and played in a total of four national championship games. He had a 15-4 record in the playoffs and if you count his 4-0 bowl record at Georgia, Donnan has a career post-season record of 19-4. With his wife, Mary, and his children (Todd, Tammy, Paige) and grandchildren there to see it, no one enjoyed Saturday night’s enshrinement dinner than Jim Donnan.
“This puts a nice cap on my career,” said Donnan, who did not get back into coaching after he was released by Georgia after the 2000 season. “I hope the folks at Marshall and Georgia will look back and think that we did some nice things while we were there.”
Donnan still lives in Athens where he is involved in various business ventures. He has cut back on his television work because this fall he will be flying to Oklahoma to see one of his grandsons play football.
Will the Hall of Fame remain in South Bend? I have to give a lot of credit to the people of South Bend who put on quite a weekend for the Hall of Fame enshrinement. There is no question that the people of that community take a great deal of pride in having the Hall of Fame in their town. They made us all feel welcome.
But there are persistent rumblings that eventually the College Football Hall of Fame will relocate to a larger city where there is a guarantee of more traffic and exposure. The two leading cities, I’m told, are Atlanta and Dallas.
If it’s Atlanta, the goal would be to place the HOF near the Aquarium and the New World of Coca-Cola so that it would become a destination for out of town visitors, especially during the SEC championship game, the Chick-fil-A Bowl, and the Chick-fil-A kickoff. Dallas is also a player because of a powerful group that includes former Cowboys Roger Staubach, Deion Sanders, and Emmitt Smith plus billionaire T. Boone Pickens.
None of those talks, I’m told, has reached the serious stage. But based on what I saw this weekend, it is going to be hard to get the HOF out of South Bend.
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