It’s not that the helmets are some hallowed thing, not to be tinkered with. It’s not that experiments with what is “classic” wont help things from becoming “stale.” It’s that ideas are worthless. It’s that all that matters, in every facet of life in this day and age, when everyone has ideas, and nearly everyone can broadcast those ideas to the world, and everyone else can criticize the ideas as they see fit, is execution.
It doesn’t matter that someone decided to try to develop a novelty helmet for whatever reason. It wouldn’t matter if the novelty helmets featured gold silhouettes of Mary on a drab black shell, or a Comic Sans scribble of “Irish.” None of that would matter so long as the execution was excellent.
Those involved with the operations of the “Notre Dame Brand” on game day or not, on campus or off, are more than free to tinker – to seek to improve. By no means is how everything “was done” even close to “perfect” except in the minds of those who remember those things fondly, and particularly in the minds of those who remember something better than the last 15 years. But execution matters, no matter the opinion.
Execution isn’t obvious when it’s done well. On the field, great execution almost always gets credited to 1 or 2 players and probably the coach who made the call. Never mind the 9 or 10 other guys who had to do things just so on the field to execute things well. Forget the other coaches who had each of those players prepared. They might be brought up in passing, in an aggregation of kudos in some post-victory glow. In life, execution done well can be so transparent that an entire society can come to expect the same drink, purchased at any of thousands of outlets, to taste the same as it did the day they first came to love it.
Execution is obvious when it’s failed. Execution is clear when a student manager tweets a bad photo of a novelty helmet design before the official ND media pathways have a chance to deploy “the message.” Execution is blatant when nobody is exactly clear if the guy claiming to be the leprechaun on Twitter really is or ever was the leprechaun for Notre Dame, and whether or not he is a voice to be heard while he proclaims a “green out.” Execution is foolish when a giant green shamrock causes a spouse to ask why the helmets look “cartooney.” Execution is a terror when a design of anything involving a brand causes a massive portion of the fanbase to quip, “Hey! My Trapperkeeper from when I was 9!” Execution keeps bugging you with animated paper clips when you just want to format a table, or when you’re trying to complete a purchase for a gift for a friend and can’t navigate the 10 step process. Execution is everything – while it all falls apart – when it fails.
Notre Dame can get this right. Notre Dame should get this right. Notre Dame got it right recently – the new, regular helmets are a marvel. And they should get it right again for the same reasons we may no longer expect ND to win a national championship every year, but should absolutely refuse to accept that ND has any business doing anything but competing for national championships: Resources. No program truly has ND’s resources. But monetary resources are one thing. Resources of people are another. Microsoft had all the money in the world. Apple had Steve Jobs. They both constantly tinkered with successes. Only one of them kept making things everyone wanted. If Notre Dame lacks people resources who possess and can deploy an innate sense about people to tinker and execute the right way, then Notre Dame should use some of that other resource to go get them. If Notre Dame has those people, and they are being muted, then the people doing the muting need to shut up, sit down, and let the professionals take over. The time for treating the brand like some part-time hobby is over.
Notre Dame doesn’t have to get everything right, despite what the fans say. But Notre Dame needs to stop treating the general public like a pre-alpha test-bed, and the brand like a play-thing. Notre Dame needs to start looking like they know what they’re doing, even when they fail in execution.