Saturday, July 12, 2014
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Notre Dame's AD needs to find right coach before replacing Weis

OK, Notre Dame fans. Here's your punch in the face.

Notre Dame's AD needs to find right coach before replacing Weis

OK, Notre Dame fans. Here’s your punch in the face.

This is not about Charlie Weis anymore, it is about athletic director Jack Swarbrick, who says he will make a decison on Weis' job status right after the season ends.

Weis has been given an ultimatum, win the last two games, including a tough one at Stanford next weekend, and you may stay on death row.
 
Lose one and you’re done. Only this is more than high stakes poker. Swarbrick’s on the firing line, now, too.
Weis’ legacy is complete. His arrogance has turned into a self-pitying, comes-with-the-territory excuse mantra.
He thanked old buddy Bill Belichick for taking him out of the news cycle for one day. One thing’s for sure, Bill ain’t giving Charlie the offense back in New England.
 
Weis managed to take the potential No.1 pick in the draft,  Jimmy Clausen, and make him perfect the seven-yard out while his two wideouts are the most dangerous deep threat pair in the country, Golden Tate and Michael Floyd. Weis made super tight end Kyle Rudolph disappear in the middle of the season. And Armando Allen is the sleeper of the NFL Draft, a Ray Rice in waiting who actually was a speedster from Florida when he came out of high school. Remember Charlie on opening day a few years ago: “He’ll be a household name by the end of the day.”
 
Guess what?
 
Clausen is gone. He should win the Heisman. Mel Kiper says he’s in the mix to be the No.1 overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, depending if that team needs a quarterback. Clausen has run for his life half the season with a turf toe injury. His passing efficiency has been off the charts, with even one interception hitting Floyd square in the back of his shoulder pads before it bounced into the hands of a defender.
 
Golden Tate? Has to be gone, too. His stock has skyrocketed. (An aside: Why wasn’t he returning kicks before his scintillating fourth-qaurter punt return touchdown last week against Pitt?)
 
So the next coach will have a new QB, Dayne Crist, coming off a torn ACL, and a brittle Floyd and not much else.
 
He’d better hope that Manti Te’o doesn’t get talked into transferring, too.
 
Back to Swarbrick: You need to know who the next guy is before you pull the trigger. Remember, that’s how Bob Davie became head coach. They dumped Lou Holtz thinking Gary Barnett was locked up. Surprise, Colorado upped the ante.
 
Then it was Ty Willingham’s turn to be run out of town because the Urban Legend Meyer was waiting in the private jet to sign on the dotted line. How’d that work out? Florida whisked him away, he’s going for his third national championship in four years and George O’Leary is wearing Central Florida golf shirts because his resume had a white lie or two. (Funny how that works, an irrelevent resume mistake counts more than recruiting violations).
 
So Charlie Weis got the job and damn near won a national title with Willingham’s players and his brilliant agent and lawyers got him a contract extension so that the buyout will look pretty sweet no matter what the numbers are.
 
So, who’s it gonna be Jack? Got another Ara stashed away somewhere? Or a Lou Holts wannabe instead of a Gerry Faust wannabe?
 
This time, it’s your legacy, Jack Swarbrick. The Irish have been disrespected long enough.
 
HERE IS A GUEST COLUMN from Pat Leonard, Inquirer freelancer. He is a 2006 Notre Dame graduate who grew up in Northeast Philadelphia. He was managing editor of The Observer, The Independent Daily Student Newspaper Serving Notre Dame & St. Mary's, during his final year in South Bend, Ind. From the fall of 2003 through spring 2006, he covered three seasons of Notre Dame football, including Tyrone Willingham's final two years as head coach and Charlie Weis' inaugural campaign.
 
Time for Notre Dame to part ways with Weis
The man can recruit, but he can't coach
 
By Pat Leonard
For the Inquirer
 
It is time for the University of Notre Dame to fire Charlie Weis after his most embarrassing loss as its football coach.

Place that sentence where it belongs.

Was the date November 3rd, 2007, when Notre Dame lost, 46-44, in three overtimes to Navy at home, allowing the Midshipmen to break a 43-year losing streak against them?

Or was it Nov. 24th, 2007, when Notre Dame ended Weis' third season with a dismal 3-9 record?

Was it one of Weis' five losses in five meetings to rival, Southern Cal, particularly back-to-back 38-0 and 38-3 defeats in '07 and '08 and a points margin of 188-85?

Or was it Nov. 8th, 2008, when the Irish were muscled up and down the field and shut out, 17-0, at Boston College?

Was it Nov. 22nd, 2008, when Notre Dame fell, 24-23, at home to Syracuse, which was statistically one of the worst programs that year in NCAA Division-I?

Or was it two Saturdays ago, on Nov. 7th, 2009, when Notre Dame delivered a lifeless effort in a home loss to Navy - again - and fell, 23-21, allowing any hopes of a BCS bowl berth to slip away?

Such questions have led to exchanges such as the following Q&A that took place at Weis' weekly press conference Tuesday afternoon, amid a flurry of rumors regarding the head coach's possible dismissal:
Reporter's question: To your knowledge, has a decision been made with regards to 2010 for your future?

Weis' answer: "Oh, no, I don't think that, that, you know, that, that's, that any decision [has] been made because I probably would know, ya know, and I don't know, ya know? So with that being said, ya know, we are full speed ahead. That's full speed ahead with UConn, then we'll \[be\] full speed ahead to Stanford, then full speed ahead to go on the road recruiting, and that's exactly the way we're approaching it."
To Weis' credit, he searched for the correct way to answer the question and fell back on what he knows to be the truth - Weis cares mightily about this program, this job, this team and its success. It was his only statement on Tuesday that directly addressed his job security, but Weis made it clear he will continue to work to improve until he is told to do otherwise. No one will ever fault the man for not trying hard enough.

But Bob Davie and Tyrone Willingham were not fired because of their lack of effort, either. Those decisions had everything to do with the products the coaches put on the field.

On several occasions during Weis' tenure (now in its fifth season), the Irish have suffered losses that, according to precedent, warranted the head coach's firing. But nationally ranked recruiting classes bought Weis extra time, and last season's 49-21 victory in the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl offered a glimmer of hope.

Ironically, if Weis does get fired, he will become a victim of his own early success. He helped restore hope in South Bend, Ind. with a near-upset of No. 1 USC in 2005, but then promptly erased it in 2007 when Notre Dame's weekly ineptitude on national television rendered the 3-9 Irish embarrassingly irrelevant.

That dismal 2007 campaign happened so early in the tenure of a savior head coach, Notre Dame was shocked into inaction - there was nowhere for the Irish to go after bailing on its previous coach for infractions far less embarrassing.

But now, in Weis' fifth year, an unquestionable pattern has developed. The loss to Navy was only the latest proof that under Weis' direction, Notre Dame is almost guaranteed to lose games it is supposed to win, every year, to teams the Irish annually out-recruit.

Losing to a nationally ranked Pittsburgh team this past Saturday also is certainly a disappointment, but in the grand scheme of things it mostly just adds another "L" to Notre Dame's 2009 record and Weis' resume.

Losses like the one to Navy, however, ultimately should claim Weis' job. And the reason the administration must say 'So long, Charlie" exists in the big picture of Notre Dame's history as a program. Like all of Notre Dame's most recent partings with football coaches, this decision is about timing, circumstance and expectations - not the individual personality.

Since Lou Holtz won a national championship at Notre Dame in 1988 (its last) and left following the 1996 season, the University has tried to replace him and replicate his success.

If the object was to restore Notre Dame to perennial national championship contention, Bob Davie couldn't do it from 1997 through 2001. Tyrone Willingham couldn't do it from '02 through '04, and Weis has not done so since.

To Davie's credit, he did not embarrass the Notre Dame program so much as fail to live up to the lofty expectations set by Holtz, his immediate predecessor, and those of the storied program as a whole. Despite two nine-win seasons and three bowl appearances in five years, Davie went 0-3 in those bowl games. The University had had enough.

Enter Willingham, who spurred the 2002 "Return to Glory" campaign that sent a resurrected 10-3 Irish team back to a bowl (Gator), only to fall hard, 28-6, to Phillip Rivers and North Carolina State.

Then, after that unfortunate reminder of the Davie era, the wheels came off. Notre Dame missed a bowl in back-to-back years in 2003 and '04, going 5-7 then 6-6, suffered embarrassing losses to the country's elite teams, fell to lowly opponents like Syracuse and created the stunning reality that perhaps Notre Dame didn't even belong on the field with the nation's best.

Those factors cost Willingham his job, and it cost him quickly - after three seasons compared to five with Davie and now almost five with Weis.

Despite the fact that, in hindsight, Willingham had a better winning percentage in his three years (.583) than Weis did in his first four (.580), it is important to recognize if the situation were reversed (if Weis and Willingham switched places in the coaching annals of Notre Dame football history, and Weis assumed Willingham's record and embarrassing losses from 2002 to '04), Weis would have been fired after three seasons, too, up against the comparative success of Davie immediately before. And Willingham would have received more leeway after Weis, with Notre Dame floundering for answers.

Timing, circumstance and expectations.

In addition to Willingham's poor record and losses, the recruiting rankings also pointed to his inability to attract top talent to replenish the program annually, making the University fearful it ever could succeed again.

Still, when he left, he did not leave the cupboard completely bare. Weis excelled in his first season by tweaking players Willingham had brought in. Many of them are now playing in the NFL.

But Willingham's classes were top-heavy.

Weis' greatest accomplishment has been to assemble annual top-five recruiting classes that unquestionably leave Notre Dame's program in a better state, talent-wise, now, than where Willingham left it when he lost the job. Jimmy Clausen and Michael Floyd eventually should be first-round NFL picks.

Still, that recruiting success has only highlighted Weis' deficiencies as a head coach. Leading one of the most talented teams, on paper, in recent memory at Notre Dame, Weis has made a habit of what Willingham did only a few times before getting fired:

He has lost too many games his team is supposed to win.

The beginning of the 2007 season said it all.

Preseason, Weis had sophomore quarterback Demetrius Jones and his offensive line running a Vince Young-style rushing attack. But when the offense stalled in the first quarter of its first game, Weis abandoned the offense and the quarterback and then unreasonably demanded that his boys play like men.

He asked his offensive line to block a pro-style set, inserted young Jimmy Clausen and watched as his Golden Boy - and the Golden Dome - got planted on his backside for 12 games because of one man's lack of foresight and preparation.

Reporters, former players and knowledgeable fans will tell you - no good football coach allows something like that to happen.

So argue against Weis being fired. But don't say it's about money … When Notre Dame hired him, the University was still paying Davie and Willingham. Money doesn't stop wealthy private universities from protecting their most prized investments.

Don't say it's about personality. Weis is no charmer, but everyone who met Willingham gave interviews about the man's character, discipline, focus, family mentality, heart and work ethic, and he lost his job for the same reason Weis will lose his - his deficiencies as a football coach.

It's because when Notre Dame fired Willingham, it announced to the college football world, "We will not tolerate mediocrity." Then it tolerated far worse by keeping Weis after 2007, though not because it favored Weis over Willingham but because Weis went 19-6 in his first two seasons and the University was holding out for the possibility of the 3-9 season being an anomaly.

But that's why Notre Dame's loss to Navy warrants Weis' firing. It was not anomaly. It was not surprising.
Under Weis, it is the norm.

On Tuesday, Weis was asked if he could explain his team's 3-9 record in its last 12 November games. The coach answered that he maintains focus only on the upcoming game (in this case against UConn on Saturday), but he also demonstrated awareness of the situation before him and before this program:

"I'm not going back and reflecting about anything right now," he said. "… I think when the season's over, that's when you go back and analyze this season and go backtrack to previous years."

Whether Weis meant to say he deserved to finish off the season or not, he wisely understands - even from that one bleak November statistic - that reflecting on his team's recent history may not yield the best result for his immediate future as Notre Dame's coach.

By simply preventing devastating losses like the one to Navy from happening often (what even mediocre coaches do), Weis would have had carte blanche to coach at Notre Dame for as long as he pleased.

Now, though, Notre Dame must part ways with a man who helped rebuild its program's foundations, and go find an architect who can assemble the parts into an acceptable finished product.
 
John Quinn Inquirer Staff Writer
About this blog
John Quinn, 57, is sports editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer and is a third generation member of the Subway Alumni.

His grandfather used to listen to the radio and yell out to his son playing on the hardscrabble streets of Corona, Queens: “Bill Shakespeare just threw another touchdown pass!”
His father used to listen to the transistor radio and yell out to his son playing for Stony Brook on Long Island: “Joe Montana just threw another touchdown pass!”
He listens to the radio and yells out to his son watching Phineas and Ferb on a 46-inch HDTV: “Dayne Crist just threw another touchdown pass!” Meanwhile, Jack, 9, will not be a fourth generation member of the Subway Alumni. Reach John at jquinn@phillynews.com.

John Quinn Inquirer Staff Writer
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