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Fighting Irish's search has reached red zone

The search for the next Notre Dame football coach has reached the crisis stage. The more names that are brought up, the more names disappear from consideration. Pick a coach, any coach. From Jon Gruden to Bobby Petrino. From Jeff Tedford to Dan Hawkins.

The atmosphere inside the athletic offices in South Bend, Ind., is tense as the recruiting season gets under way and the Irish do not have a coach in place.

"We're not sitting around here thinking about the weather," said one Notre Dame official. "We know we have to get something done and find a coach. We're checking out lots of things."

The Irish find themselves in this position because they didn't do enough checking on Urban Meyer, their first choice to replace the fired Tyrone Willingham.

Since Meyer took the University of Florida job last week, the Notre Dame search has been spinning out of control.

Petrino, the University of Louisville coach, was a case in point. The Irish were making "more than casual calls," according to a Notre Dame official, about Petrino. But just as the process was starting to get rolling, Petrino announced he was staying with the Cardinals.

The same thing happened with Tedford, who took himself out of the running for the University of Washington and Notre Dame jobs with an announcement he had signed a contract extension at the University of California.

So, what's next for the Irish? More calls, move on to another group of candidates, perhaps focusing on coaches with strong Notre Dame ties, such as former Irish quarterback Tom Clements, the offensive coordinator of the Buffalo Bills, or Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, who didn't play for the Irish but attended Notre Dame and has made his interest in the job well known.

With a candidate from an NFL team headed to the playoffs, availability is a concern. The Patriots' season could stretch through January, which would mean the recruiting season would be lost if Weis was the choice.

Can Notre Dame afford that?

If the answer is no, what is left?

The answer seems as simple as it may be hard for Notre Dame to accept -- move down to the mid-major level and attempt to find the next Bob Stoops or Meyer, before he blossoms into a star on the national scene.

In that group there were plenty of candidates, including Navy's Paul Johnson, Boise State's Hawkins, Harvard's Tim Murphy, Connecticut's Randy Edsall, and even Boston College's Tom O'Brien.

So, with the clock ticking on the recruiting season, the Irish shifted their focus back to a pair of their own: Clements, who played for Ara Parseghian on Notre Dame's 1973 national championship team, and Weis.

If the Irish can get the deal done with Clements or Weis, they will regroup as a family and hope it works out. But what has become of the Notre Dame family?

Outgoing president Rev. Edward Malloy publicly blasted the decision of the Board of Trustees to fire Willingham. Malloy and athletic director Kevin White were the only two to side with Willingham while five others -- Patrick McCartan, president of the Board of Trustees; Philip Purcell, chairman of the athletic committee; Nathan Hatch, provost; John Affleck-Graves, executive vice president; and incoming president John Jenkins -- voted for change. White, Malloy, and the old guard are clearly on the outside.

Perhaps the focus on Clements is a smoke screen to allow the Irish to go after someone such as Edsall, or someone who has not yet appeared on the radar screen, such as University of Miami defensive coordinator Randy Shannon or Oklahoma offensive coordinator Chuck Long.

At this point, anything is possible, but the way things are going at Notre Dame, expect the unexpected.

It will get better for the Irish. The question is when.

Wrong again

The Bowl Championship Series has shamed itself again. Forget the battle among Southern Cal, Oklahoma, and Auburn for spots 1-3. That problem couldn't be solved without a playoff.

We're talking about flip-flopping Cal and Texas for the final at-large slot. California was No. 4 in both the coaches' and writers' polls going into the last week of the regular season, and finished with a victory over Southern Mississippi for a 10-1 record.

But when the BCS computers churned out the final numbers, the Bears found they had been supplanted by Texas and that several coaches had changed the ranking of the two teams, and that several others had dropped Cal to as low as eighth.

The coaches, who do not have to reveal their ballots, are now coming under scrutiny. With $14 million for a BCS bid and slightly more than a $1 million or less for non-BCS bids, the importance of the votes is obvious.

The simplest way to make things work better? Dismantle the BCS. Let the bowls go back to doing things their way.

The Rose Bowl would again become Big Ten vs. Pac-10, which this year would mean Michigan against USC.

The Fiesta Bowl would be Big 12 vs. at-large, which this year would probably mean Oklahoma against Utah.

The Sugar Bowl would be Southeastern Conference vs. at-large, which this year would mean Auburn and, likely, Texas.

The Orange Bowl would be the higher-ranked champion among the Atlantic Coast and Big East conferences, against the other league or an at-large team. This year, that would mean Virginia Tech against California.

Four interesting bowl games. Of the four winners, the final ballots and the computers would pick two who would play for the national championship a week later.

Controversy? Probably some. But it would be much easier, just as fair, and just as interesting. It would also make each of the four big bowls meaningful.

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