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Hearing John McNulty light up the John Mackey Award selection committee this week, it was easy to hear echoes of some of his former bosses in a well-traveled coaching career.
Tom Coughlin, Bill Parcells and Greg Schiano all had a chance to influence Notre Dame’s current tight ends coach during prior stops with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Dallas Cowboys and Rutgers Scarlet Knights. They, too, would have been appalled at the oversight that failed to acknowledge Michael Mayer’s excellent sophomore season in South Bend.
“To me, one of two things happened,” McNulty told reporters before the fifth-ranked Irish left for the Fiesta Bowl. “Either that committee actually watched all these guys and then came up with the conclusion that (Mayer) wasn’t one of the top three, which I would strongly disagree with based on doing this for 30 years – 15 of it in the NFL – so I feel pretty confident in the way I can evaluate players. …
“Or they just were lazy and didn’t do their job and just took the three guys they thought at the beginning of the year were going to be the guys and just stamped them forward. Either way, it’s not good.”
After watching Mayer pile up a team-leading 64 receptions, five touchdowns and 768 yards for the 11-1 Irish, McNulty said even his four daughters “could look up and go, ‘No, he’s the best player.’ “
Instead, Colorado State’s Trey McBride won the award on Dec. 9, besting fellow finalists Charlie Kolar of Iowa State and Jalen Wydermyer of Texas A&M.
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While McBride’s 1,008 receiving yards on 84 catches were impressive, those came against a lower level of competition than what Mayer faced. The Rams went 3-9, faced one ranked team all year and finished with six straight losses, all to unranked opponents.
Kolar had comparable raw numbers to Mayer (53 catches, 658 yards, five touchdowns), but Wydermyer, a finalist in 2020, posted just 36 grabs for 491 yards and four scores for an Aggies team that will skip the Gator Bowl due to Covid-19, opt-outs and injury issues.
Mayer, despite a nagging groin injury that caused him to miss the Virginia Tech game, set the single-season school record for most receptions by a tight end. With two years of eligibility remaining – although he’s a near-certain NFL first-rounder in 2023 – Mayer already ranks third all-time among Notre Dame tight ends for most receptions.
No doubt, a healthy Mayer will have a great shot at winning the Mackey Award a year from now. He just should have been coming off at least a finalist showing after the standout season he just had for McNulty.
“It’s too bad because it’s a special award,” McNulty said. “John Mackey being a great player, it’s something that’s really important to the players and something that’s important to Mike. He put a lot of time and effort into it, and you expect the same from the committee.
“That was my problem with it. I don’t think I’m in the minority. It seems like the people that actually watch the games are pretty much in agreement with that.”
Parcells or Coughlin, even at their acerbic best, couldn’t have said it any better.