What once should have been stunning news now is the college football standard
SOUITH BEND — In another time, back before any semblance of sanity was stripped from college athletics, news that arrived early Friday afternoon regarding quarterback Drew Pyne and his immediate divorce from Notre Dame might have been a surprise.
Pyne did what???
Not today. Not in this world that looks so little like college athletics once looked. Reaction to Pyne’s decision to take his football and his eye black and his three seasons of remaining eligibility and find a new place to play? More like a shrug. Like, eh, just a Friday afternoon in the go-get-yours world of college football. Of college athletics.
The starting quarterback of the nation's No. 19 team transfers? Standard stuff today. Guys just go. Nothing to see here folks, keep it moving.
Wasn't always that way. But that was before college football expanded to the soon-to-be-held 12-team playoff tournament — college football’s version of March Madness. Back before Oklahoma and Texas decided it best to relocate to the Southeastern Conference. Before UCLA and USC fell hard for the Big Ten.
And long before college football players could earn cars and cash and free meals (hello, Misson BBQ!) legally for scoring touchdowns and sacking quarterbacks and packing stadiums.
Back before college football became Thunderdome, where almost anything goes. And, now, it does.
Before all that, news that the Notre Dame starting quarterback, long once the most scrutinized/coveted position in all the country, had announced on a cold and gray and windy Friday afternoon that his first season as the Irish starter would be his only season as the Irish starter would’ve been classified as a whoa! moment. A where-were-you-when moment.
Instead, it was just another day in the life of college football 2022 and the ever-popular transfer portal. Pyne, who started 10 games and went 8-2 to help pull Notre Dame from an 0-2 hole, announced in an 88-word post via social media that he was seeking a new home as a graduate transfer.
So long, Notre Dame. Hello, opportunity.
Pyne is immediately eligible to compete in 2023.
A little after 1 p.m. Friday, Pyne’s social media post effectively ended his career at Notre Dame. By 2, he may have been cleaning out his locker at the facility and fielding an endless stream of texts from college coaches/coordinators.
Hey, you around? Call me...
No more film sessions with offensive coordinator Tommy Rees. No more work with the Irish wide receivers. No preparation for the bowl game, wherever that might take the Irish. No more offering the same down-the-middle responses — yawn — to questions in media settings. No chance at sticking around to challenge for the starting job with now-healthy Tyler Buchner, the same guy Pyne replaced after two games because of injury, and the eventual transfer addition to be named.
No more of any of that. And if another reminder is needed, no more loyalty in college football. That’s as dead as the Four Horsemen and Rockne. And natural grass inside Notre Dame Stadium. Sorry, still too soon?
Loyalty in the game left a long time ago. Now, if you want to go, you just go. Doesn’t matter when or how or why. It’s a flawed system of immediate free agency for sure, but it’s today’s system. Don’t wait. Don’t work. Find someplace that might want you and go.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going … right into the portal.
Decision catches the Gug off guard
While news of Pyne’s transfer wasn’t that surprising on the outside — a general consensus amongst us media types who cover this Irish football program is that the starting quarterback for 2023 might not even be on campus — there seemingly was a certain shock level to it inside the Guglielmino Athletics Complex.
Not many inside the Irish football program saw this playing out the way it unfolded Friday afternoon.
A source close to the Notre Dame football program told the Tribune that nobody on the inside saw this coming.
At least, not now.
Blindsided might be too heavy a term for what Pyne’s decision did to the Irish coaching staff, but safe to say that Pyne wasn’t tackled by a defensive end coming around from his back side anywhere near as hard as this decision hit the coaches around the Gug on Friday afternoon.
Out of left field? This decision likely wasn’t even in the same ballpark. The same county. The same state. That’s how out there this was. It might take the rest of the weekend for the staff to wrap its collective heads around this one. The starting bowl quarterback is now the former quarterback? Huh?
Freeman was noticeably agitated last month when discussing the decision of fifth-year wide receiver Joe Wilkins, Jr., to transfer so close to the end of the regular season. Pyne’s decision probably won't sit well anytime soon with Freeman.
In some ways, it's a gut punch to the head coach, to the program, to everybody.
On Thursday, Pyne and his people supposedly met with the people they needed to meet with inside the Gug — be it Rees or Freeman or both — for a big-picture view of the quarterback plan heading into 2023.
If Pyne wanted an assurance that he would be named the starter heading into spring practice, he didn’t get it. Nor should he. Would Pyne get a fair opportunity to compete for the starting job in the spring? Absolutely.
For anyone not named say, All-World tight end Michael Mayer, that’s fair. Starting jobs aren’t guaranteed. They’re earned. Should Pyne have to earn it? Uh, he’s not that good.
When Pyne didn’t get the guarantee he wanted/needed to hear, the transfer was the next/last step. That might be a little knee-jerk and a little early. That’s fine. That’s college football 2022. The transfer train’s already moving. Gotta get on it while/when you can.
Can’t be left at the station, even if that station is Notre Dame.
Welcome to college football free agency. Nobody knows that more than Notre Dame. A year ago at this time, Notre Dame learned just how loyalty goes — or doesn’t go — when former head coach Brian Kelly walked away from a program ticketed for a New Year’s Six bowl for a 10-year contract and millions more dollars than he knows what to do with to coach LSU.
Notre Dame football seemingly has cornered the market on early-offseason chaos. Last year, it was the Kelly circus before Freeman burst through a door inside the Notre Dame Stadium locker room to meet/greet his team as the new head coach. This year, it's Pyne packing up and leaving.
Can’t wait to see what early December 2023 brings.
On Friday, Notre Dame football learned that a lack of loyalty now includes the players. Coaches can leave, and they do. Now players can leave. And they do. Better to get out while the getting’s good and do what’s best for you. You can’t blame Pyne for doing something that this game has created. He’s simply playing it the way it has to be played.
He’ll go and play it somewhere else.
Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI. Contact: (574) 235-6153.