ON THE GRIDDLE
The man most despised by Notre Dame football fans used to be an
opposing coach: John McKay of USC a generation ago, Jimmy
Johnson of Miami a decade ago. Today that man wears the Fighting
Irish's blue and gold. Asked if he has taken a lot of abuse,
second-year Notre Dame offensive coordinator Jim Colletto laughs
and says, "That's putting it mildly."
Colletto, who resigned as Purdue's coach in November 1996 after
five losing seasons out of six but was soon hired by new Irish
coach Bob Davie, got blamed for every disaster last fall short
of Kevin Costner's The Postman. What set off Notre Dame fans was
Purdue's 28-17 upset of the Irish in the second game of the
season. Judging from Web sites manned by Notre Dame faithful and
by letters to a fan publication, they haven't let up.
Yet Colletto was back on the Notre Dame Stadium sideline last
Saturday, calling plays for new quarterback Jarious Jackson and
his backups in the Blue-Gold game. "If Jim was the problem, I'd
fix the problem," Davie says. "Don't get caught up in the hype
and perception. Look at the reality."
The reality is, the Irish's 7-6 record last season was the
result of numerous shortcomings on the roster. The offense had
three fifth-year seniors, but none of them was good enough to be
selected in the recent NFL draft. After quarterback Ron
Powlus--one of those seniors--decided, in the spring of 1997, to
return to school rather than turn pro, Notre Dame announced with
fanfare that it would become a passing team. That turned out to
be a stunning miscalculation by Davie. With a lack of speed the
Irish couldn't throw effectively. After a 1-4 start they
reverted to a ground-oriented attack and eventually finished the
regular season with five consecutive wins before losing to LSU
in the Independence Bowl.
The winning streak did little to assuage Colletto's critics.
Neither did Colletto, who has no speed bumps between his brain
and his mouth. After a 20-17 loss to USC dropped Notre Dame to
2-5 last fall, Colletto told a couple of reporters that he
hardly watches the game while in the press box. In the ensuing
uproar he explained that there's no time for a coordinator to
analyze; he's too busy thinking about what the next play should
be. But that's not how it came out.
"I was head coach of a team that beat Michigan two years ago,"
Colletto says now. "It's not like, 'Gee, I can't coach anymore.'
You know the whole situation of your team, and it's not always
visible to the public. When you're not physically superior,
you're not going to roll out there and score 45, 50 points.
Sometimes that's a shock to people."
Davie stripped some responsibility from Colletto, at the
latter's request. Rather than call plays and coach the offensive
line, Colletto will share the line duties with new assistant
Dave Borbely. Another change: Colletto thinned out the playbook.
Jackson says that if the Irish practiced 20 plays leading up to
a game, they only used 11. Now, they won't waste the practice
Most important, the thinner playbook includes a lot of option
plays. Somewhere a lisping former Irish coach is smiling. Davie
refused to show the option in last Saturday's spring game for
fear of tipping off Michigan, against which Notre Dame opens its
schedule on Sept. 5. But Jackson, a fourth-year junior from
Tupelo, Miss., says he has been playing it since seventh grade.
Colletto, whose Purdue offense was pass-oriented, once coached
the veer, so he knows the option. In fact, in 31 seasons he has
coached just about everything. "I've been on the top of the heap
and the bottom of the heap and everywhere in between," he says.
"I have been called names by little kids, moms, grandmothers.
I'm secure in where I am and what I've done."
Stanford's Two-Sport Star
DECISION TIME: PITCH OR PASS?
Chad Hutchinson, Stanford's top quarterback, has been remarkable
this spring, good enough to make him a consensus top 10 draft
pick--in baseball. While his football teammates wrapped up
spring practice last week, Hutchinson continued toiling as the
No. 2 starting pitcher for the second-ranked Cardinal. There's
no quarterback controversy though, because coach Tyrone
Willingham named Hutchinson the starter after last season, and
Hutchinson's absence at spring practice isn't unusual. But
Hutchinson, who coming out of high school was picked 26th by the
Atlanta Braves in the 1995 draft and turned down more than $1
million to attend Stanford, is again eligible for the baseball
draft. Will he sign a lucrative contract or return for another
If he could have his way, Hutchinson, a 6'5", 230-pound junior,
would sign a baseball contract and work out a provision under
which he could play football for the Cardinal next fall.
Hutchinson realizes he may not have that option, which could
thrust a tough decision on an athlete who believes he has the
credentials to play in the NFL or the big leagues. Through
Sunday, Hutchinson had a 23-9 collegiate pitching record,
including an 8-3 mark in 1998, and his fastball had been clocked
at 97 mph. A two-year starter in football, Hutchinson has thrown
for 4,235 yards and 20 touchdowns.
"I really don't have a preference," says Hutchinson, 21. "I love
baseball, and I could see myself playing professional baseball.
But I love football and could see myself playing professional
football too. I've thought about it a lot, but I'm not even
close to making a decision. I probably won't decide until after
the draft." --B.J. Schecter
Gator Quarterback Woes
CANADIAN ON THE SPOT
Now that Florida junior quarterback Doug Johnson is out
indefinitely, the Gators are down to sophomore Jesse Palmer and
a prayer. Johnson, who had been preparing to report to the Devil
Rays next week for minor league assignment as a third baseman,
learned last week that he had a small cyst on his right
shoulder. Surgery to remove the cyst in addition to
rehabilitation apparently would keep him off baseball and
football fields this year.
Palmer, who is from Nepean, Ont., showed potential last fall,
but more often than not he looked like a freshman playing
American football for the first time. In his one start, at
Auburn--which he got only because Johnson had been suspended for
breaking curfew--Palmer completed 8 of 14 passes for 92 yards
and two interceptions. Spurrier relied on Johnson and senior
walk-on Noah Brindise the rest of the season.
Now Palmer is virtually Spurrier's only option. Redshirt
freshman Tim Olmstead completed just 4 of 19 passes in the
spring game, and Florida didn't sign any other quarterbacks this
off-season. Palmer went 14 of 30 for 174 yards, three touchdowns
and no interceptions in that game, but it appears that the
Gators' veteran defense will test that old bromide that defense
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER IRISH SPRING Jackson, Notre Dame's new quarterback, will operate a less onerous offense. [Jarious Jackson throwing football in game]