- One year after going 4–8, Notre Dame needs somebody to turn things around. Quarterback Brandon Wimbush has the type of versatility to give Irish fans hope.
SAN DIEGO — Brandon Wimbush already looked the part with his Wayfarers, white polo and red shorts. Now he needed the short game to go with the style. With each successive swing, the Notre Dame quarterback lifted the ball a little higher off the ground. His pitching wedge didn’t quite scoop each shot into the sky, so he grimaced as the ball landed hard and skidded off the green. But after calculating the trajectory of his improvement in such a short window in his head, Wimbush made a declaration.
“I’m going to master it this summer,” he said.
Wimbush chuckled after he said that, and while his timeline may be a tad ambitious, he’s absolutely serious about reducing his handicap. CEOs occasionally make deals on the course, and Wimbush intends to run his own company someday. So he’ll hit the practice range when he has spare time in South Bend this summer. Most of his time, however, will be spent on becoming the best chief operating officer of Notre Dame’s offense he can be.
After a 4–8 season in 2016, Notre Dame’s organizational chart got a much-needed shakeup. Head coach Brian Kelly transitioned from CEO of the offense to the sole member of the board of directors of Fighting Irish Offense, Inc. Kelly swears he will let Chip Long, whose offense averaged 6.3 yards a play during the first season under Memphis head coach Mike Norvell, run day-to-day operations on that side of the ball. Wimbush likely will be responsible for making Long’s edicts a reality on the field. With Deshone Kizer headed to the NFL and Malik Zaire headed to another school as a graduate transfer, the fate of the offense—and probably the fate of the jobs of everyone in the executive suite—will be in the hands of the 6’ 1”, 226-pounder from Teaneck, N.J.
Wimbush didn’t spend his spring break at the driving range, by the way. His mother, Heather, paid for him to go to San Diego earlier this month to work with quarterback coach George Whitfield and four other FBS signal-callers. Whitfield called it “Shark Week,” because he figured having Wimbush, Wyoming’s Josh Allen, Tennessee’s Jarrett Guarantano, TCU’s Kenny Hill and Indiana’s Richard Lagow working in close proximity would get their competitive juices flowing. The golf came during a break after a grueling morning that included several hours of on-field drills and time in the classroom with former NFL offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye.
On the field, Wimbush threw over people holding tennis rackets to simulate long, charging defensive ends. In another drill, he dropped back blindfolded and listened for receivers clapping before turning and throwing. If you’re prepared to be amazed with tales of a quarterback throwing dimes blindfolded, adjust your expectations. Hitting the receiver wasn’t the point. (In fact, the QBs threw tennis balls in this drill.) Identifying the target and then properly aligning the lower body ahead of the throw mattered most. In the classroom, Raye taught NFL protection schemes. The offense Notre Dame ran Wimbush’s first two seasons prepared him for much of this. He sailed through explanations of seven- and six-man protections and asked pointed questions as Raye moved from base defenses to more exotic alignments.
Wimbush learned that offense expecting to get a shot to run it last season. After Zaire went down against Virginia in September 2015, Wimbush became Kizer’s backup. Wimbush thought he’d get to compete for the starting job last spring against Kizer and Zaire, but when those two received the bulk of the first-team reps, Wimbush realized he wouldn’t be involved in the competition. That’s the point where a lot of quarterbacks would leave, and plenty of other schools sent smoke signals Wimbush’s way. “I had options,” he said. “I definitely had options to head out.”
The idea of transferring appealed more to Wimbush’s family than to Wimbush himself. He had picked Notre Dame not just because of football but because of those CEO dreams. As a high-schooler at St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City, N.J., Wimbush had marveled at classmates’ parents who had worked their way up to executive positions or had built their own businesses from scratch. Heather, who has worked more than 20 years as a labor and delivery nurse, encouraged her son to follow those examples. He had always been one of the most organized people she knew, and that, combined with a magnetic personality and a sought-after degree, could take him far. Because Wimbush isn’t exactly sure what direction his career might take him, he chose to major in accounting. “Accounting,” he said, “is the language of all business.”
By the time the transfer question arose, Wimbush had already seen what Notre Dame connections could do. He had arranged to spend his three free weeks last summer working with an engagement team at KPMG’s New York office. This summer, former teammates Joe Schmidt and Matt Mulvey have helped Wimbush arrange a three-week internship at Accel, the Palo Alto, Calif., venture capital firm that helped fund Facebook, Etsy, Spotify and dozens of other tech companies. Wimbush wasn’t ready to leave that kind of coast-to-coast network to pursue playing time that might eventually come at Notre Dame anyway.
Asked why he stayed, Wimbush pointed out something interesting. “All the guys you’ve seen leave graduated,” he said. “Malik. Everett [Golson]. They left with their degrees.” So Wimbush stayed and shuttled last season between third-team reps with the offense and scout team duty. He didn’t play in a game, making him eligible for a redshirt. (Notre Dame doesn’t automatically redshirt players who don’t play for a season.) When Zaire elected in November to seek a transfer and Kizer declared for the draft, Wimbush became the frontrunner for the starting job.
Wimbush has a live arm and the thighs of a tailback, so he should fit well into an offense that uses plenty of run-pass option plays. Wimbush has RPO experience from high school, and he’ll have a bevy of large targets when he chooses the P option. Leading receiver Equanimeous St. Brown (6' 5", 204) is back. He’s joined by Miles Boykin (6' 4", 225) and Chase Claypool (6' 4.5", 224). Tight end Alize Jones (6' 4.5", 245) is expected to be eligible again after missing the ’16 season due to an academic suspension.
Wimbush will have the raw materials at his disposal to run a productive offense. Now he must learn Long’s scheme and translate it into yards and points. Meanwhile, he’ll stay busy in the classroom building a foundation for whatever lies ahead. “If the NFL does happen, God willing, I want to invest. Day one,” Wimbush said. “I want to have the best financial manager. I want my money to work for me.” That way, Wimbush can chase his business goals with a financial safety net beneath him.
Wimbush thinks he might ultimately stay in sports. He’s intrigued by the path of former Fighting Irish football offensive lineman Byron Spruell, who was named the NBA’s president of league operations last year. Spruell had previously been the chief of staff at Deloitte’s New York office. Wimbush knows his degree will get him in the door at a Big Four firm, so he could see himself following a similar model. Wimbush probably doesn’t need any career advice, but if the market remains underserved by the time he’s done playing football, he could combine his twin loves of fashion and sports and produce stylish clothes for men with athletic bodies. No one makes skinny jeans for people with thighs like Wimbush’s, but why should he have to live off-trend because he spends time in the squat rack?
Given his propensity for long-range planning, Wimbush should find success in any business he chooses. Who knows? Maybe he’ll become a turnaround artist, buying failing companies and nursing them back to health. That’s precisely what Wimbush hopes to do for a Notre Dame program trying to climb out of a 4-8 hole. “I waited my time,” Wimbush said. “I did my due diligence. Now I have my opportunity to take this thing over.”
A Random Ranking
With the Final Four coming up this weekend, it’s time to rank the top five basketball movies. Though one of these is set in an earlier era, there clearly was a golden age of basketball movie production from 1986-98. (And I didn’t even include Space Jam because I refuse to accept Muggsy Bogues as a bad guy.)
2. Hoop Dreams
3. White Men Can’t Jump
4. He Got Game
5. Above The Rim
First and 10
1. Former LSU quarterback Brandon Harris is headed to North Carolina as a graduate transfer. He'll be eligible to play immediately.
2. Want to see how Nick Saban turns a question he doesn’t like into a chance to mount his soapbox on a completely unrelated issue? Watch and learn.
During Alabama’s first spring practice press conference, Saban blew up a question about whether Alabama’s hiring of former New England Patriots assistant Brian Daboll as offensive coordinator means the Crimson Tide will move to more of a “ball control” offense. That question ignored the way Alabama has recruited, the way the Tide have run the offense the past three years and the offense the Patriots currently run, so Saban was well within his rights to zap it.
"I don't know where you came up with where we go to ball control," Saban told reporters. "That's not what we do. The New England Patriots threw the ball over 60-something percent of the time, which is more than we threw it. So, where does that assumption come from or do you do what everybody else in the media does—create some [expletive] and throw it on the wall and see what sticks, which is what I see happening everywhere?”
See that last sentence? He’s about to pivot like Hakeem Olajuwon on the low block.
“And the people who scream the loudest kind of get the attention and then we pass some rule that everybody has to live with or some law and the consequences mess up a lot of other things,” Saban said. “Do it all the time. We're doing it right now.”
Aaaaaaand now we’re ready for a monologue Saban clearly had chambered for just such an occasion. It has nothing to do with being conservative or aggressive on offense. This probably just seemed like the best place to drop it.
3. So here’s the part Saban really wanted to get off his chest.
“And we pass some rule that everybody has to live with, or some law, where the consequences mess up a lot of other things. We do it all the time. We're doing it right now,” he said. “The NCAA is doing it. We’re going to change the way we have summer camps. We can't have high school coaches working summer camps. I mean, it’s the most ridiculous thing that I've ever seen. It is what it is and whatever they do, they do. So we say we don't want third parties dealing with players. So we’re not going to let the high school coach bring a guy to camp, but some third-party guy can bring him to camp now. Makes no sense at all. But all the people who have common sense, they don't say anything about it. But the people who scream the loudest will get the thing changed and it'll mess everything up. That's the way it goes. The way it goes in the world, politics, just the way it goes.”
4. Saban is referring to the large package of recruiting changes the NCAA is set to pass in April. This package also has a limitation on satellite camps—which Saban hates, because they slightly blunt a competitive advantage for coaches in his region—that should make Saban happy. But Saban disagrees with the part about banning high school coaches from working college camps. And he isn’t wrong.
Yes, high school coaches also can—and often do—act as a third party in a player’s recruitment. Yes, there are some high school coaches who benefit financially from having players colleges want. But at least high school coaches are somewhat regulated within their states. So there is some negative incentive—getting fired, for example—that keeps most of them from outright selling players to schools. Paying these coaches to work camps does allow college programs to curry favor with those coaches, who may in turn recommend the schools that paid them to work camps to their players. It also offers a financial incentive for those coaches to bring players to the camps of those schools. That may seem ripe for abuse, but as Saban correctly points out, the non-coach who brings players to college camps might be more problematic for everyone.
There is no regulation for the guys who aren’t affiliated with a high school who pile multiple players into vans every summer and bring them to multiple camps. Money tends to mysteriously show up for these people when they bring the right kind of players to camps. These typically are the people who will wind up demanding payment for an official visit or for the player to wind up attending the school. By banning high school coaches, the schools would increase the opportunities for these people.
Saban offered that rant so someone might question the logic of the ban on high school coaches. We’ll see if it works. The recruiting package is up for a vote next month, and enough pressure could get pieces added or removed.
5. Everything you’ve just read is a prime example of the unintended consequences of the schools’ decision to collude to cap compensation for the players. In any economy, an arbitrary cap will create a black market because the actual market can’t naturally find its level. Since the actual market has decided some players are worth more than the compensation they are allowed to receive, the overflow creates an underground economy. Some of this money will go under the table to players—who should be the ones getting it—but some of it will go to parasitic third-party brokers. Opening up the system would help choke off the parasites by eliminating their opportunities. Instead, the schools insist on empowering the parasites even more by creating rules to further restrict the market.
7. One interesting aspect McCann didn’t cover in his breakdown is that Antonio Carter claims to have accepted a position as an assistant strength coach and an assistant receivers coach for $40,000 a year. Unless a position coach has agreed to help out in the weight room—which is highly unlikely—no such job description exists at an FBS football program because of NCAA rules. Strength coaches aren’t allowed to offer on-field football instruction, nor are they allowed to recruit off campus or contact recruits. By the time Carter received a welcome e-mail from FAU on Jan. 30, Kiffin had already hired former Howard head coach Gary Harrell to coach receivers.
Carter, a former Alabama receiver who has worked at UTEP, Alabama, Appalachian State, Eastern Michigan and Samford, should have known something was amiss when he heard that job description. He claims in the lawsuit that he was hired because of his recruiting connections to several players, but his previous experience working in college should have tipped him off that he wouldn’t be one of the coaches doing the heavy lifting in recruiting. Carter claims in the lawsuit that he did help recruit players on National Signing Day.
Or perhaps Carter did know all this and intentionally had his attorney word his complaint this way to get NCAA investigators sniffing around Kiffin and FAU. Even if Carter gets nothing from his lawsuit, he can still cause Kiffin pain by getting him in trouble with the NCAA.
8. Two former Baylor players have been arrested in connection with a rape complaint filed in 2013. Meanwhile, former Baylor player Sam Ukwuachu’s sexual assault conviction in connection with a 2013 incident has been overturned by a Texas appeals court because text messages between his accuser and her friend were excluded from evidence. Unless a higher court reinstates the conviction, Ukwuachu will face a new trial on the same charges.
9. Texas coach Tom Herman invited the Undertaker to practice, and the WWE legend broke kayfabe to fire up the Longhorns.
10. He apparently does everything in khakis.
What’s Eating Andy
No need to complain in this section. I’m about to go on a Sabanesque rant in the next one.
What’s Andy Eating
Holler & Dash looked the part. Rustic wood beams. Pendant lights. Pickled okra to garnish the plates. The Cracker Barrel executives (Holler & Dash is a subsidiary) who studied the people who would pay $9 for a biscuit sandwich had created the perfect facsimile of the 54-minute mark of every HGTV renovation show — which is exactly the kind of space an $9 biscuit-sandwich eater craves.
But when you’ve crafted an environment to separate people from their money, you probably should actually attempt to take their money. When I walked into the Celebration, Fla., location of Holler & Dash earlier this month, no one appeared at the register to take my order. I figured everyone was busy and studied the menu a little more. A few minutes went by. One employee buzzed around the tables. Another manned the oven. The one working by the oven showed me a sheet full of cooked biscuits. “Biscuits look great, don’t they?” he asked. But he apparently didn’t consider the idea that I might trade some cash for said biscuits, because he put his head back down and didn’t wonder why the same person had been standing at the counter and not moving. Only after I suggested aloud that I might like to buy some biscuits did someone finally appear to take my order.
By itself, this is no big deal. These things happen. Maybe someone had to use the bathroom or was otherwise indisposed. A “someone will be right with you” would have solved everything fairly simply. But after I ordered, I took my full coffee cup to add some half and half and sweetener. The half and half was empty. Again, no big deal. An employee stood within three feet, and she wasn’t busy. I informed her that the container needed a refill. “Okay,” she said. And then she stood there. She was still standing there minutes later when someone walked in and handed her a Starbucks coffee. This seems bad for business for a place that touts its selection of coffees from local roasters. (The 431 Degrees from Lineage Roasting in nearby Orlando that I was trying to cream was, in fact, better than any of the burnt-by-the-thursters-that-launch-the-Space Shuttle coffee Starbucks has ever offered.) Another employee—the guy with the biscuits—finally refilled the half and half after I asked him.
These probably seem like nitpicky complaints. And they are. But when a place charges $8 for a chicken biscuit, it has no margin for error. Its service must be perfect. I can get a less churched-up version of the same thing at Bojangles (the cajun chicken filet biscuit) for $3.39. I can get an equally filling version at Chick-fil-a (the chicken, egg and cheese biscuit) for $3.79. I would expect indifferent service at those places, yet Bojangles and Chick-fil-a employees are almost universally courteous and efficient*. Heck, I can eat all the biscuits I want for free—as long as I order something else—at Holler & Dash’s parent company, which markets to a decidedly different demographic.
*Every person who runs a restaurant should have to spend a day shadowing the crew at the Chick-fil-a just off Interstate 75 in Tifton, Ga. That group remains unflappable despite a daily (except Sunday, of course) onslaught of tourist groups heading toward or away from Florida. The employees I encountered at Holler & Dash would have quit five minutes into the lunch rush. Meanwhile, those Chick-fil-a waffle fry slingers just keep saying “My pleasure” no matter how many fanny-packed tourists stack up in line.
The biscuit sandwiches at Holler & Dash taste better than the ones I described above. They should, because they cost more than twice as much. The Chicken. Set. Go. (fried chicken, pimento cheese, jalapeño and sorghum for $9) alleviates sticker shock with a savory-spicy-sweet combo that satisfies every breakfast craving. The Pork Rambler (fried pork tenderloin, blackberry butter and fried onion straws for $8.50) turns a biscuit into a towering edifice. It’s aesthetically wonderful, though with no spicy counterpoint to the blackberry it leans a little too sweet. That’s fine. Plenty of people—just not me—prefer their breakfast heavy on the sweet.
Holler & Dash’s offerings, taken by themselves, almost justify the price. What will decide whether this chain—currently in suburban Orlando, Birmingham and Nashville—succeeds or fails is whether the experience makes up the difference. Hopefully I just caught the crew at this particular location on an off day. But if the problem persists, consider this: When you’re charging that much for a biscuit, take each customer’s money as quickly as possible.