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.
For the Inquirer
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."
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.