Monday, November 30, 2009

Weis Out: The Official Announcement

From Notre Dame Website:

Nov. 30, 2009

NOTRE DAME, Ind. - University of Notre Dame head football coach Charlie Weis will not be retained, University director of athletics Jack Swarbrick announced today.

"We have great expectations for our football program, and we have not been able to meet those expectations," Swarbrick said. "As an alumnus, Charlie understands those goals and expectations better than most, and he's as disappointed as anyone that we have not achieved the desired results."

Swarbrick recommended the dismissal Sunday night to Notre Dame's president, Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.

"We have established an evaluation process for all of our athletic programs that, in the end, results in a recommendation from Jack to me," Father Jenkins said. "I accepted Jack's decision and look forward to working with him on selecting a new head football coach who is the very best choice possible for the University and especially for our student-athletes.

"I am most appreciative to Coach Weis for his service to Notre Dame and our community. He and his family have my prayers and best wishes."

Weis spent five seasons as Irish head coach from 2005-09, with his teams achieving consecutive records of 9-3 (Fiesta Bowl appearance) in '05, 10-3 (Sugar Bowl appearance), 3-9, 7-6 (Hawai'i Bowl victory) and 6-6 in '09 - for an overall 35-27 mark (.564).

Swarbrick announced that Rob Ianello, the Irish assistant head coach/offense, wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator, will assume responsibility for football operations until a new coach is hired. Ianello has spent the past five seasons on the Notre Dame staff and previously was part of football staffs at Wisconsin (1990-93, 2003-04), Arizona (1994-2002) and Alabama (1987-89).

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Bob Stoops Rumors: We've Seen Them Before

The "hot" name right now to replace Coach Charlie Weis right now is Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops. But I don't buy the rumors, and I actually suspect that Stoops himself is using the Notre Dame rumors as leverage to get a better contract out of Oklahoma University or other potential employers. We've seen this act before.

Back in December of 2004 the University of Florida had a head coaching vacancy after Ron Zook's demise, and Bob Stoops openly flirted with the Gators but stayed at OU after they ponied up a big fat raise for him.

I am also very skeptical that the University of Notre Dame would consider Coach Stoops to be a good fit at ND, given the record of NCAA violations at Oklahoma during Stoops' tenure or his track record of recruiting players of questionable character and judgment.

Call me crazy, but I'll pass on the opportunity for NCAA probation and the chance to bring violent, gun-toting criminals to Notre Dame.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'll have more of my thoughts on Coach Weis and the Fighting Irish as the weekend rolls around, but today I just want to wish all of you a Happy Thanksgiving. Here at OC Domer HQ we're thankful to have the whole family together for a few days as the OC Domer Daughter is back home from Notre Dame for the first time since we moved her into her dorm in August. Happy to report that she looks great and seems to have adjusted to college life quite well.

I am also thankful for the readers of the OC Domer blog, whose visits to the site give me a quasi-legitimate excuse to vent my thoughts (and my frustrations) about Notre Dame football and other topics. It's cheaper than therapy.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Heard it through the grapevine: Brian Kelly

Charlie Weis may not know who Notre Dame's football coach is going to be next season, but it seems that many others "in the know" at the University understand that it will be Brian Kelly, currently head coach at the University of Cincinnati. If my contacts at Notre Dame are to be believed (and I do believe them), it's all but a done deal at this point, with no announcements coming until the end of the football season for the Irish and the Bearcats.

Take the rumor for what it is worth. I am sorry I can't be more specific with my sourcing. But until I see factual news reports proving otherwise, I'll be sleeping very well at night knowing that Coach Kelly will be leading the Irish next season.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Update On Michigan Cheating Allegations

Back in September the news broke about University of Michigan football players alleging that their own program was routinely violating NCAA rules by practicing and engaging in other football-related activities for hours well in excess of the daily and weekly limits set by NCAA rules.

Many poo-pooed the allegations, basically saying that if the Michigan players wanted to be a big-time football program, they should man up and stop whining.

I wrote that I thought the allegations were serious and indicated a lack of integrity in the Michigan program that was harmful to college athletics.

New information is now out which provides an important update on the allegations. There has been a thorough investigation of Coach Rich Rodriguez's program, and he has been cleared of all wrongdoing.

Just kidding!

Actually, both the University and the NCAA continue their investigations, and the latest news is that Coach Rodriguez and the football program failed to file, for the entire 2008-2009 school year, the monthly forms required by the school compliance office that track the hours put in by its players. Isn't that an odd coincidence?

The football program, it turns out, is the only sport at Michigan that failed to turn in the required forms. This certainly makes Coach Rodriguez look bad, but it doesn't say much about U of M's "institutional control" of the football program that nobody in the compliance office bothered to ask for the forms for a whole year either.

In possibly related news, ESPN's Michael Wilbon is reporting that Rich Rodriguez will not be back as the Wolverines' coach next year.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Long List

Starting with the Notre Dame loss to Navy, and accelerating with the loss to Pittsburgh this Saturday, there has been a flurry of articles, discussions, blog posts, and speculation about who is on Jack Swarbrick's "short list" of potential candidates to replace Charlie Weis as head football coach at Notre Dame. Yes, it's unseemly to engage in such speculation when Coach Weis is still the head coach and could conceivably remain head coach if he beats Connecticut and Stanford and wins the Bowl game. But I'm going to do it anyway.

I think all the talk about the "short list" skips a very important step: The Long List. By jumping straight to the Short List I think one takes some risks. The first risk is that one fails to adequately consider potentially great hires that just don't happen to be the "hot" names at the moment. The second risk is that one can unnecessarily paint oneself into a corner and be so anxious to hire one of the Short List candidates that one loses proper bargaining leverage as well as proper perspective. The third risk is that one gets into a position where there is no viable Plan B (or Plan C, etc...) if one of the Short List candidates backs out and one therefore ends up looking unprepared and desperate. For all these reasons I think that before one jumps to the Short List, it is vital to draft the Long List.

The Long List is that group of coaches that meet your criteria for the job of Notre Dame football coach, and who appear to be in a circumstance where they are likely to be available to at least consider taking the job, whether they have actually expressed any interest or not. The Long List doesn't include coaches who are already in better coaching jobs and who are unlikely to leave them anytime soon. My Long List doesn't include Urban Meyer or Nick Saban. I cannot imagine that either of those coaches is going to leave the #1 or #2 ranked team in the nation for Notre Dame.

What are the criteria for head football coach at Notre Dame? They are surprisingly few.

  1. Track record as a successful head coach at the Division I college level or the NFL. (Assistants need not apply).
  2. Ability to recruit. Ideally a proven recruiter, but may have to make judgment call on the recruiting potential of NFL candidates.
  3. Person of integrity and class. (This rules out Urban Meyer and Nick Saban).
  4. Committed to making sure Notre Dame student athletes go to class, graduate on time, and represent the University with class. (Real students, no thugs).
That's it!

For me, the preferred model is the one that has made Notre Dame most successful in the past. Hire a coach who has been a very successful college head coach elsewhere. Find a guy who has displayed a knack for over-achieving at a "lesser" program, of doing "more" with "less." Frank Leahy was very successful at Boston College before coming to Notre Dame. Ara Parseghian won at Northwestern. Dan Devine won at Arizona State and Missouri. Lou Holtz won at William & Mary, North Carolina State, and Arkansas.

Gerry Faust, Bob Davie, and Charlie Weis has no head coaching experience in college or the NFL before coming to Notre Dame.

Ty Willingham is the exception that proves the rule, although in reality his overall record at Stanford of 44–36–1, while successful, was only moderately so.

The preferred model notwithstanding, I don't want to rule out NFL coaches entirely, as long as they have been a head coach. I don't want to leave the next Pete Carroll off my list. Also, despite lack of prior recruiting experience, an NFL coach has an added recruiting adavntage in that he has extra credibility with high school players who hope to play in the NFL someday.

I think the remaining criteria are self-explanatory.

So here is my Long List. Please leave comments below if you have another name I should add (that meets my criteria), or if you think I should drop a name from the Long List because you don't think the candidate does meet my criteria. I will hyper-link each candidate to their Wikipedia entry (or another source if the Wikipedia entry isn't very thorough) so you can read more about them. The names below are listed in no particular order.
  • Marty Shottenheimer (Former head coach of the Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers. Maybe too old?)
  • Bill Cowher (Former head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers)
  • Mike Holmgren (Former head coach of the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks)
  • Jon Gruden (Former head coach of the Oakland Raiders and the Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Has ties to Notre Dame and the local area).
  • Tony Dungy (Former head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Super Bowl Champion Indianapolis Colts)
  • Jeff Fisher (Long-time, current coach of the Tennessee Titans. Titans having a bad year, rumors that Fisher may be ready for a new challenge).
  • Mike Belotti (Long-time University of Oregon head coach, now the UO Athletic Director)
  • Pat Hill (Long-time and present head coach of Fresno State University)
  • Greg Schiano (Head coach at Rutgers University)
  • Skip Holtz (Head coach at East Carolina, former head coach at Connecticut)
  • Brian Kelly (Head coach University of Cincinnati, former head coach at Grand Valley State and Central Michigan)
  • Jim Harbaugh (Head coach at Stanford, former head coach at University of San Diego. Has beaten USC two of last three years)
  • Mike Riley (Head coach at Oregon State, former head coach of the San Diego Chargers. Perfect 5-0 record in bowl games. Beat USC in 2006 and 2008)
  • Pat Fitzgerald (Head coach at Northwestern)
  • Mark Dantonio (Head coach at Michigan State, former head coach at University of Cincinnati)
  • Randy Edsall (Head coach at University of Connecticut)
  • Chris Petersen (Head coach at Boise State)
  • Gary Patterson (Head coach at TCU)
  • Kyle Whittingham (Head coach at Utah)
  • Kirk Ferentz (Head coach at Iowa, former head coach at Maine)
  • Bob Stoops (Head coach at Oklahoma. Won one National championship and 6 Big XII titles. Not sure if he is really interested as reported, or if he is just angling for a raise from OU).
That's twenty-one proven head coaches who are either available right now, or who would likely be interested in "moving up" to coach Notre Dame if given the opportunity. They might not all be home runs, or the best fit, or even remotely interested. But I think they all bear a closer look before you scribble out your short list just based upon what you hear on ESPN.

What do you think?

UPDATE: Here some additions to the Long List suggested by OC Domer readers:
  • Butch Davis (Head coach at North Carolina, former head coach at Miami and Cleveland Browns. Personally, I'd have difficulty accepting a former Miami coach at ND)
  • Tommy Tuberville (Former head coach at Ole Miss and Auburn)
  • Terry Bowden (Head coach at North Alabama, former head coach at Auburn)
  • Mike Shanahan (Former head coach of the Denver Broncos and the Oakland Raiders)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

It wasn't as close as the score indicated

The Fighting Irish extended to ten their streak of consecutive losses to ranked opponents, falling to the Pittsburgh Panthers 27-22 despite a furious 4th quarter rally that was prematurely terminated by a bogus instant replay reversal which turned an incomplete Clausen pass under pressure into a game-deciding lost fumble. We'll never know if the Irish would have overcome the 4th-and-16 they faced after the incomplete pass, but it certainly would have been nice to have had the final outcome of the game decided by the players on the field rather than in the replay booth by some anonymous officials. Did anybody happen to hear what conference those officials were from?

The loss drops Notre Dame to 6-4 on the season, and means the best regular season finish the Irish can hope for is 8-4, which would require wins over Connecticut (probable) and a Stanford team that beat Oregon last week and humiliated the Southern California Trojans today (not so probable).

Prior to the season I wrote, after a lengthy analysis of the team's prospects:

For me, 9 wins is what the Irish "should" achieve in 2009, all things being equal. If they earn less than nine wins, they have under achieved and only a very, very nice Bowl win would bring Coach Weis back in 2010. If they manage to win ten games, they will have beaten the odds in my view, and the extra win would have to be credited to Coach Weis who will have earned the chance to stay on as coach. If they win eleven or twelve, that would be a superior job of coaching and you'll need dynamite (or another year like 2007) to dislodge Charlie from the Gug.
So, even if the Irish win their final two games, they clearly have under-achieved against what I considered to be very reasonable expectations for 2009.

I admit I have a headache tonight. Once again the team fought hard and mounted a comeback and took a game into the final minutes. That has been their style this year. In ten games played, two have been very comfortable wins (Nevada and Washington State). The remaining eight games have all come down to the final minutes or even the final seconds. Four of those games have gone Notre Dame's way, and four have gone the other way. This team is seriously a handful of plays from being 10-0, and another handful of plays from being 2-8. It is maddening.

If the Irish had managed to score on the final drive tonight and win the game it would have been very exciting and it would have been an important win over a ranked opponent (finally!). But it would have been a win achieved despite the fact that ND was out-played in just about every phase of the game.

Notre Dame had 66 net rushing yards to Pitt's 193. The Irish averaged 2.6 yards per rush to Pitt's 6.0 yards.

While ND had more net passing yards (283 to 236), the Irish only averaged 6.7 yards per attempt and 10.5 yards per completion. The Panthers averaged 8.7 yards per attempt and 15.7 yards per completion.

Pitt averaged 7.3 yards per offensive play versus 5.2 yards per play for ND.

The Irish were penalized 5 times for 53 yards, Pitt was penalized ONCE for just 5 yards.

Notre Dame threw one interception and lost one fumble. Pitt had zero turnovers.

Notre Dame had one PAT attempt blocked, and failed on a later 2-pt conversion attempt. Pitt was 3-for-3 on PATs.

On the bright side, Notre Dame had one touchback on a kick-off, and finally had a punt return for a touchdown. It's about damn time.

The loss will only intensify swirling speculation about Coach Weis' future. I wrote at length after the Navy loss about my feelings on the matter. Yet another disappointing loss certainly doesn't change my mind that Notre Dame should give someone else a chance to lead this team. I would expect Jack Swarbrick is busily (but quietly) putting out feelers and gauging the interest level of potential replacements. Jack may like Charlie on a personal level, but he is running out of options. Weis was not his hire, but if he doesn't act to replace Coach Weis he is going to find that his tenure as Athletic Director will be bound up with a football coach hired by Kevin White. I rather expect Jack would be more comfortable sinking or swimming with a coach of his choosing rather than a coach of Kevin White's choosing.

Friday, November 13, 2009

IBG: Get Your Headlines Here!

The Subway Domer is hosting this week's Irish Blogger Gathering. Head over there to read all the IBG contributors' responses once you're done here.

Subway is being cute this week (I can't stand cute) and, since the Irish have been very much in the headlines since last Saturday's scuttling at the hands of Navy, he's asking us to come up with a headline for each of our IBG answers. I feel like I used to in school when the English teacher asked us to make a movie poster showing the most symbolic part of the lame book we just read. Groan. Here we go. No, it'll be good. Really!

1. After weeks and weeks of living on the edge, Notre Dame finally fell off of that edge into a pile of shit. Please describe your mental state since the Navy game. Are you hopeless or hopeful? Why?

Help Wanted: Head Football Coach

This isn't as hard as I thought. I think my Sunday post, "You Are What Your Record Says You Are, Charlie" fairly clearly conveys my state of mind right now.

I listen to Colin Cowherd on ESPN Radio each morning on my drive to work. Colin has been having fun the past few days making fun of Notre Dame fans for unrealistically thinking that Notre Dame should be considered as on the same level as Florida, 'Bama, Texas, or USC. But Colin is knocking down a straw man. Most of us don't think Notre Dame should be a Top 5 team year in and year out. We do, however, think the Irish should be a Top 20 team year in and year out. We don't expect to beat 'Bama and Texas and USC consistently. We do expect to beat Navy and other unranked teams nearly all the time, and to beat other Top 20 teams our fair share of the time. Under Charlie we are beating unranked teams only about 70% of the time, and we haven't beat a ranked team in the last 9 tries.

Hopeless or Hopeful? Hopeful the next coach can win more games and still do it the Notre Dame way.

2. Given the sorry state of the Fighting Irish defense, are they capable of slowing down Pitt's offense, or will Stull, Baldwin, and Lewis have career days?

Clausen, Irish Out-Duel Stull

I am actually a little optimistic about the ability of the defense to slow Pitt down. Pittsburgh is a good team, but their record has been compiled against the 70th-toughest schedule in the Division I. (Notre Dame's schedule is ranked #26 by Sagarin). They run a pretty conventional offense, nothing exotic. Two of Notre Dame's losses have come against un-conventional offenses. Michigan's dramatic improvement running the spread offense surprised us, and we didn't handle the triple option well. There is no excuse in either case, but the fact is that the unusual offenses have really hurt us. We have done better against more traditional offensive schemes, and have done okay (not great, but okay) against Pittsburgh's scheme in the past. No career days for Stull & Co. But they'll still get theirs, and the Irish will just need to out-gun them.

3. Notre Dame has had serious Red-Zone issues this year. They can't score... why is that? What needs to be corrected and how can they do this?

Ragone, Riddick Lead Irish Rally

The Red Zone issues were glaringly obvious last week, and they cost the Irish the game. On one level, you can say that Notre Dame ran into some bad luck with Clausen's fumble and the ricochet interception off Michael Floyd's back. (As an aside, was I the only one impressed with Clausen's accuracy on that play? He fired the ball out there and hit Floyd square in the middle of his "3"). On the other hand, there is a premium on execution in the Red Zone. You have to convert those chances into points to win games, and Notre Dame has not been consistent converting scoring chances.

I think the problem is that Coach Weis tends to radically change his approach once the offense nears the end zone. The offense will be humming along, moving the ball with alacrity down the field using one version of the game plan, then when they get down to scoring position they throw out the game plan that just chewed up 70 yards in eight plays and try something completely different. Just when the offense is in a rhythm and has the defense back on its heels, Charlie says "Hey, let's try the Wildcat!" Or maybe, "Let's get Robert Hughes some reps on slow-developing dive plays, because Theo's been eating them up on the quick-hitters to the outside."

In the open field the passing game is quick, crisp, and aggressive. Jimmy is throwing the ball with real zip to precise spots and the defense has no answer. Then, at the 5-yard line we shift gears to low-percentage, slow developing, delicate-touch fade patterns to the deep corner of the end zone. Does Charlie not realize that every cornerback in the country is expecting the jump-ball fade to Floyd or Rudolph once we get close?

The answer in the Red Zone is to dance with who brung ya. Stay spread, keep Theo Riddick in the game, and run the same plays that have baffled the defense all day. Run Theo off the edge on the stretch play. Or fake the handoff to Theo and hit the tight end on a slant, hook, or crossing pattern. Hit Michael Floyd or Golden Tate on quick outs or maybe (open your mind here) a fade-stop.

Back to my headline, keep Theo Riddick in the game in the Red Zone, and use him as the primary runner and tight end Mike Ragone (Kyle Rudolph is injured) as the primary receiver in the middle of the end zone, with Jimmy firing the ball to him on a rope, rather than floating balls to the corner.

4. Charlie Weis and Dave Wannstache started coaching their alma maters at the same time. They have both coached on crutches. They both seem to recruit fairly well. They are both considered disappointing in their respective 5 year campaigns. After reviewing their total body of work, who would you rather have coaching ND in 2010? Explain.

Weis Whips Wanny

Look, I like Charlie. I want him to flip the switch and start winning key games and eventually get his own statue outside the stadium. He's a Notre Dame guy. Can someone remind me how many Super Bowl rings Wanny has? Give me Charlie over the 'stache any day.

5. Prediction time. How does this game play out. Please include a score, an offensive MVP, a defensive MVP, and a sleeper.

Weis Not Done Fighting, Irish Out-Punch Panthers

It's the intangibles that make college football great. These two teams are very evenly matched on paper. Notre Dame travels to Pittsburgh after a humbling and dispiriting loss at home, with their head coach under intense fire from all sides. This team could arrive in Pittsburgh resigned to the fact that they aren't going to a BCS Bowl game, that their coach is going to get fired, that Jimmy is going to the NFL, and that they are still a long way from the promised land. That team could get crushed by Pitt. Or the team could show up in Pittsburgh truly pissed off, determined to redeem themselves and their coaches, and play the game of their lives. Say what you like about the team this year, but there has been no quit in them. I expect them to roll into the 'Burgh with a serious chip on their shoulders and looking for someone to hurt.

The Panthers, in the mean time, have been feasting on baby seals and have moved up to #8 in the AP Poll and #12 in the BCS Standings. They beat Navy 27-14 back in September, and are coming off an easy win over Syracuse. On one level I have no doubt that the Panthers see the Notre Dame game as very important and understand they should be really fired up to play the Irish. But I wonder if, unconsciously, the Panthers might make the mistake of taking this game too lightly. They beat us at our place a year ago. They are highly ranked, while ND is unranked after losing to Navy. Ahead of Pittsburgh on the schedule are West Virginia and Cincinnati. Two tough games standing between them and an 11-1 season. The Panthers could come in a little too full of themselves.

It's a shoot-out. Bet the "over". Notre Dame beats a ranked opponent for the first time since 2006, 45-30. Jimmy Clausen is the offensive MVP, with another 400-yard game that puts him right back into the thick of the Heisman race. Kyle McCarthy is defensive MVP, although in reality there probably shouldn't be a defensive MVP. Mike Ragone is the sleeper with a big game in relief of Kyle Rudolph.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Three Envelopes

When Notre Dame Head Football Coach Charlie Weis showed up for his first day on his new job under the Golden Dome, there was a short letter waiting for him in the middle of his desk. It was from Charlie's predecessor, Ty Willingham. The letter read as follows:

Dear Coach Weis,

Congratulations on being named as Notre Dame's football coach. It is truly an honor and a privilege to represent this University and coach these outstanding young men. You have a wealth of experience that has prepared you for the challenges you will face, but I suspect that you may not understand the truly daunting nature of the task before you.

As Notre Dame football coach you will be famous. Most of the time you will be celebrated and praised. But there will also be dark days when your future at Notre Dame is in serious doubt. To help you through those inevitable times of trouble, I have prepared for you three envelopes. They are in the bottom drawer of this desk. When you and your program are under intense criticism and you need a little help righting the ship, you should open one of the envelopes.

Congratulations once again on your new position, and the best of luck to you and the Fighting Irish.

Yours in Notre Dame,

Ty Willingham

Coach Weis though it was awfully nice of Coach Willingham to leave him such a nice note, but he wasn't entirely sure what to make of it. He opened the bottom drawer of the desk and, sure enough, there were three sealed envelopes in the drawer, each of them bearing a number, 1 through 3. Charlie shrugged, dropped the note from Ty into the drawer with the envelopes, closed the drawer, and promptly went about salvaging the Notre Dame football program.

In 2005 and 2006, led by quarterback Brady Quinn, the Fighting Irish went 19-4 in regular season games, and appeared in two BCS Bowl games (losing both). By and large the Notre Dame alumni and fans were very happy with Coach Weis and the direction of the football program. Athletic Director Kevin White was looking pretty smart for having lured Coach Weis back to Notre Dame and locking him into a long term contract.

But in the 2007 season things really went sideways for Coach Weis and the Fighting Irish. Without Brady Quinn at quarterback, and having to play a lot of very young, inexperienced players, Notre Dame won only three games, getting blown out in several contests and losing to Navy for the first time since 1963. The alumni and fans were upset. Kevin White was taking heat for having prematurely granted a long contract extension to Charlie. Shortly after the season ended, Coach Weis was preparing for his annual program review meeting with the Athletic Director when he remembered the note from Coach Willingham and the three envelopes.

Mindful of the fact that a three-win campaign was the worst Notre Dame season since Hugh Devore's 1963 squad, Charlie Reached for Envelope #1, and he opened it. Inside was an index card that said only: "Blame the previous head coach."

Charlie went to his meeting with Kevin White, and he explained in great detail how Coach Willingham's failures in recruiting had left Notre Dame with huge holes in the roster, and that it was going to take some time to overcome such a talent deficiency. The Athletic Director saw Charlie's point, and wished him luck in 2008.

The 2008 Fighting Irish squad was much better than the 2007 team. An early whooping of the Michigan Wolverines seemed to bode well for Irish fortunes. But as the season played out the team suffered several embarrassing come-from-ahead losses culminating in a humiliating defeat at the hands of an awful Syracuse squad in Notre Dame Stadium followed by yet another drubbing at the hands of the hated USC Trojans. Notre Dame was Bowl eligible, but just barely. Committed recruits were rumored to be nervous about the future of Coach Weis and the direction of the program, whispers about Charlie's suitability to be a head coach were now replaced by loud calls for his head. As Coach Weis was preparing his team to play their Bowl Game in Hawaii, he too was worried about the recruiting class and his own future. Notre Dame had a new Athletic Director, Jack Swarbrick, and it wasn't at all clear that Swarbrick wanted to hitch his legacy as A.D. to Charlie's wagon.

Charlie opened the bottom drawer of his desk and took out Envelope #2. The card inside said simply: "Blame your staff."

Coach Weis met with the new A.D. and explained that he was going to fix the team's problems by shuffling his coaching staff. He was going to reclaim play-calling duties from his departing offensive coordinator. He elevated Jon Tenuta to defensive coordinator over Corwin Brown. He brought in new coaches for the offensive line, the defensive line, and the running backs. Jack Swarbrick wasn't completely convinced, but he gave Charlie a public vote of confidence that kept the recruits on board through signing day. The big win in the Hawaii Bowl, breaking the embarrassing bowl losing streak, had everyone feeling better about Notre Dame football.

In 2009 everyone was expecting Notre Dame to have a BIG year. Coach Weis' recruits were now all grown up, and the schedule looked very favorable. The team looked improved, but not dominant. Last second losses to Michigan and USC, combined with last minute wins over Michigan State, Washington, Purdue, and Boston College left Irish fans feeling very uncomfortable. After eight games, at 6-2, the team was within a whisker of being 8-0. But they were also arguably within a whisker of being 2-6. The quarterback and the offense was having a Heisman-caliber year. But the defense appeared all too often to be playing the season on roller skates. Nobody was sure if the team was really getting better, or if the close wins were just a mirage.

Then came the annual game versus Navy, this year played in Notre Dame Stadium. Despite a 450-yard passing day from quarterback Jimmy Clausen in the midst of a furious comeback attempt, Notre Dame lost to Navy 23-21 due to turnovers, poor Red Zone play-calling, and atrocious defense against the triple option. The home crowd in Rock's House was disgusted. Boos rained down from the student section in the northwest corner of the stadium. Parseghian, Devine, Faust, Holtz, Davie, Willingham. None of them had ever lost a single game to Navy. Yet Charlie Weis had managed to lose two home games in a row to the Midshipmen. The Charlie Weis bandwagon had suddenly become a very lonely place. Speculation had begun to swirl about who the next Notre Dame coach would be.

Charlie Weis remained defiant in his post-game press conference. But when he returned to his office, he opened the bottom drawer of his desk, and took out Envelope #3. He hesitated to open it for a moment, but finally tore it open. The card inside fell onto his desk. It said simply: "Prepare three envelopes ..."

Sunday, November 8, 2009

You Are What Your Record Says You Are, Charlie.

After the Fighting Irish suffered their humiliating loss to Syracuse last November, I wrote that I was done defending Charlie Weis. My conclusion to that post was:

If it was my call, I'd give him another year, provided he could present a serious plan for addressing the team's glaring deficiencies (i.e., at the very least getting a new offensive line coach). After all, as ugly as it is, this team really is close to being 9-2 right now.

If Swarbrick decides to keep Weis I'll support him, if Charlie is let go I'd be okay with that too. However it goes, the Irish are my team, Notre Dame is my University, and I'll be sending in my Sorin Society donation at Christmas time.

But I'm done defending Charlie Weis. How can you defend the indefensible?
The Irish are my team. Notre Dame is my University. And I'll always support and cheer for my alma mater. But a year after the Syracuse disaster and one day after the second consecutive home loss to the Midshipmen of the U.S. Naval Aademy, I have to say that if it was my call I'd give another coach a chance to lead Notre Dame's football program.

That was not easy for me to type, because unlike a lot of folks, I really like Charlie Weis. I find him a sympathetic figure on a personal level, and I think he is largely misunderstood. Charlie is a real Notre Dame guy who understands the importance of bringing in athletes of real character who are committed to getting their Notre Dame degrees. He is an excellent recruiter. I hope that the next Head Football Coach at Notre Dame does as well as Coach Weis in these important areas.

Charlie is fond of quoting his coaching mentor, Bill Parcells. One of Coach Parcells' most well known maxims is that "you are what your record says you are." With three regular season games to play in the 2009 season, Charlie Weis is a mediocre head coach. Through 59 games Charlie has 35 wins against 24 losses, for a 0.593 winning percentage. Just under 60% after almost five years.

He is 0-5 against USC.
He is 2-3 against Michigan
He is 1-2 against Boston College
He is 2-3 against Michigan State
He is 3-2 against Navy

But he has owned Stanford (4-0) and Purdue (4-1).

Under Charlie the Irish have played ranked opponents 15 times, and have gone 4-11 in those games. The last win over a ranked opponent was a 41-17 home win over #17 Penn State on September 9, 2006, when ND was ranked #4. Since then the Irish have lost NINE straight games to ranked teams. Even against unranked teams, Charlie is only winning at a 70% clip (31-13).

Navy is not a bad football team. They very nearly beat Ohio State in Columbus earlier this season. Navy is a good football team.

But Notre Dame does not aspire to be competitive against good football teams. Notre Dame aspires, ultimately, to be great. Being a great football team means comfortably and consistently beating good football teams. It means being competitive with and winning your share of games against elite teams. Under Coach Weis the Irish have never beaten an elite football team. Never. In 2009 his team has struggled mightily to win games against teams that would have to be considered "average". Last minute wins over Washington, Purdue, and Michigan State are exciting and show some character, but they are not enough. Games against teams of that caliber should be boring workman-like wins, not nail-biters. They should be mere tune-ups to get the team ready to beat USC or win a BCS bowl game. This season Notre Dame has only beaten two teams convincingly (Nevada and Washington State), and those teams are truly among the weakest in the nation.

Is it fair that a decision to fire a coach should come down to a missed field goal that should have been an automatic 3 points? Or two missed field goals? Or a fumble at midfield on the opening drive? Or a fumble at the 1-yard line as the team is about to score? Or a freak pass that bounces off the back of a receiver and is intercepted?

Is it fair that Coach Weis should lose his job when, arguably, it was really the defense that cost Notre Dame the game?

One could flip the questions around. Suppose the freshman kicker makes a couple of kicks and the Irish beat Navy by a point or by a touchdown. Does Notre Dame really want to be led by a head coach that is barely able to eke out close wins against Navy at home?

Not any more. It is clear to me that Charlie is an excellent quarterback coach and offensive coordinator. But it is equally clear that his teams too frequently show up on game day unprepared to play. Usually it's a question of emotions and intensity. Sometimes (like Saturday) it is a matter of game plan and schematics. Against Navy our defensive coaches got worked by the Navy coaches. They absolutely schooled us. Ultimately, the head coach has to take responsibility for failures on both sides of the ball. Charlie has had five years to put a credible defensive staff together. To his credit he has been willing to replace the weak links on his staff when it was obvious that it needed to be done. But waiting until the need for a new direction is obvious to a fan watching from Orange County is a failure to recognize problems quickly enough. The defensive staff belongs to him, and the five years of mediocrity on defense belongs to him too. Being an offensive genius is not enough for a head coach. A head coach has to be accountable for what happens on both sides of the ball.

As for the offensive genius, what the heck is going on in the Red Zone? Against Navy the Irish scored just twice in six Red Zone chances, after moving up and down the field at will against the middies. Why is the offense stalling out inside the five yard line?

The bottom line is, despite some very impressive offensive production from Jimmy Clausen, Golden Tate, and Michael Floyd, this team continues to perform well below the level expected of the Fighting Irish.

I suppose Charlie might still save his job. There are two ranked opponents left on the schedule (Pitt and Stanford), and the team knows by now that the head coach's job is on the line. They might surprise us all and dominate those two teams and U-Conn, ending the regular season at 9-3. Despite everything, it'd be tough to fire a guy who has stocked the roster with talent and gone 9-3.

Assuming that doesn't happen, I would expect Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick to drop the hammer right after the Stanford game. Announce that a change will be made, ask Coach Weis to remain through the bowl game, and name the replacement coach quickly so that the new guy and his staff can begin working as quickly as possible to keep the committed recruits on board while finishing up a decent recruiting class. If Charlie goes, I fully expect that we'll lose Jimmy Clausen to the NFL. He'll likely be in New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony and still might win the darn thing. He's rated very high by the scouts and would likely go very high in the NFL Draft. As fun as it would be to stick around and throw the ball to Golden Tate and Michael Floyd for another year, the fact is that the offensive line will have to be largely re-tooled for next season and everyone would have to learn a new offensive system - one that might not be as pass-happy as the Weis system.

As for Coach Weis' successor, I am sure Jack Swarbrick has some excellent candidates in mind. The new guy will have to be PROVEN head coach at the pro level or the Div-1A college level. Think Ara Parseghian, Frank Leahy, or Lou Holtz. Not Gerry Faust, Boob Davie, or Charlie Weis.

He must be a person who can be relied upon to uphold the high standards of the University of Notre Dame both on and off the field. He has to be a person of integrity who will be committed to bringing in players of character who are willing and able to perform in the classroom and earn their degrees. I don't think Urban Liar or Nick Satan meet fit description. I would rather that Notre Dame football become a Division II program with integrity than see it sell its soul by bringing in a coach of that ilk. Yes, I am dead serious. One of the things that makes me most proud to be a Domer is that I know that the kids we bring to South Bend are going to class and that they will leave Notre Dame after four years with a world class education and a meaningful degree.

I'll post later about who the next head coach should be. I haven't done my background research yet. But I'll admit that I've always like Jon Gruden.

I'll reiterate that I like Charlie Weis. He "gets" Notre Dame and has always acted with dignity and class in representing the University. I wish it had worked out better. But you are what your record says you are, and his record screams "mediocre."