OMAHA, Neb. – Now what?
Once the Notre Dame baseball team saw its season end, and it ended late Tuesday afternoon rather quietly in a College World Series elimination game loss to No. 5 seed Texas A&M, it’s the only question about this team, this program, worth asking.
It’s not about why the Irish bats stayed so quiet Tuesday (five hits) or the defense was shaky (two errors) or how the pitching again didn’t deliver or why the Irish looked for a second straight CWS game like nothing we’ve come to know and expect and demand. Didn’t look like it two days earlier against Oklahoma, didn’t look like it Tuesday against Texas A&M.
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You could roll through a laundry list of reasons – trying too hard to make something happen, never getting in a groove, playing teams that were getting hot and just better at the right time – and no answer would really suffice.
Irish veterans Brooks Coetzee and Jared Miller tried to offer their answers as to why this season stumbled down the stretch. They tried their best to put their words behind it, but explanations after this one, after the last one, never comes easily.
“That’s just a tough question,” Miller said. “I do not know. I think we were ready to play. I think we gave it everything we got. It just wasn’t in the cards today. ”
“We emptied the tank,” said Coetzee, who accounted for Notre Dame’s only run with an eighth-inning home run that gave Irish fans in the stands a quick belief that a comeback might be in the cards.
When shortstop Zach Prajzner popped out to close the curtain on a 41-17 season that saw Notre Dame win regional and super-regional titles, all the Irish could do was stand at the rail of the third-base dugout and stare as the Aggies celebrated the chance to extend their season another day. The Irish thought that should be them out there on Charles Schwab Field. They came here not happy to be here for the first time in 20 seasons. They came here to dance and dogpile and raise a national championship banner sometime next week.
In the end, they weren’t good enough to get to the final weekend.
That brings us back to this – now what? For the head coach.
For the last two weeks, ever since Florida State rocked the college baseball world on June 10 when it was announced that head coach Mike Martin, Jr. – that last name is royalty in the game – would not return for a fourth season, the coaching spotlight has been squarely on Notre Dame’s Link Jarrett, who has worked beyond magic / miracles in three seasons in South Bend.
He’s the guy, right? He’s got to be the guy.
“I’ve been dealing with that for a while,” Jarrett said. “And my mind hasn’t gone to that place, and I’m not going there with it right now.”
Eventually, he will have to. Maybe later Tuesday at the team hotel. Or Wednesday on the charter flight back to Indiana. He’s built something special almost overnight. Will the construction continue?
How has Notre Dame done what it’s done the last two years? Was it the players? Was it just desire? It may have been a little of both, but the big reason – the main reason – was the 50-year-old Jarrett. The 50-year-old Tallahassee native. The former Florida State shortstop. The Florida State graduate who still has family near that campus.
The right guy at the right time
Jarrett took this Notre Dame program to places faster than anyone imagined. Or dreamed. But will he return for a fourth year? It’s easy to connect the dots, which connects Jarrett to Florida State in about three seconds. It’s easy. Maybe too easy.
For 11 days, Jarrett made sure not to make anything about this postseason, this dream run, about him. This was solely about Notre Dame. That program. Those kids. It was about the special group that Jarrett said Tuesday will eventually be “global leaders.” It was first and second and third always about them. If he stays, it will be because of them.
“These guys are the best,” Jarrett said. “They’re unique species of student-athlete.”
As is Jarrett a head coach. When this season went final at 4:37 pm, it ceased being about Coetzee and Miller and Jack Brannigan and graduate student / left-hander extraordinaire John Michael Bertrand.
It became all about Jarrett.
This Irish baseball program will continue to move forward in the days and weeks and months, but what direction will Jarrett go? Will he decide that the pull from home is just way too strong, or will he decide that he can make a team that plays in the Midwest an annual national championship contender?
Jarrett stays at Notre Dame, and it won’t be another two decades before Notre Dame returns to Nebraska. Getting here won’t be a Cinderella story; it will be the norm. Wherever Jarrett’s going to coach, expect that program will become a CWS staple. It will be so routine that Jarrett will know the names of all the good steak houses around town.
Omaha will be Dome-aha. Next time, into the weekend that really matters.
As he did in Knoxville not long after the Florida State news broke, Jarrett refused to Tuesday to make it about him. Eventually, this will have to be about Jarrett. He’ll have to have some tougher conversations with his boss, athletic director Jack Swarbrick, about just how committed Notre Dame should and can and will be to baseball.
It will take a massive commitment to keep Jarrett. Will Notre Dame make it?
Now what? Maybe only Jarrett knows, but there’s a whole lot of people around college baseball who believe Jarrett coached his last game at Notre Dame. The pull of Florida State will be too strong to ignore.
That’s just the way it is. Jarrett has a chance to go home. Who’s going to blame him if he does?
Maybe he stays and builds something that has his fingerprints and identity all over it.
Like this season.
What a ride it was. If this was the end, raise a glass to Jarrett. He made it all happen. He had a lot of help, and a lot of guys who wanted to be coached and pushed and pushed coached harder than they ever were. A support staff that was excellent every single day. Jarrett took a team that knew only losing before he got there, then knew only winning since he’s been there. That’s no coincidence.
Notre Dame went places it had no business going because of one man. His final press conference obligation fulfilled Tuesday, Jarrett walked down a stadium back hallway, made a left turn, and walked out into the evening sunshine toward the team bus.
Like that, he was gone. Maybe just until fall ball at Eck Stadiums starts. Maybe for good.
Now what? We wait.
Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI. Contact: (574) 235-6153.