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.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.
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?
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."