Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Moment of Clarity

Before the 2009 season began many people asked me what I expected from the Irish. My feeling was that we were capable of great things thanks to a roster stocked with top-notch talent and a schedule that set up perfectly for a BCS run. I said at the very least I wanted clear confirmation—for better or worse—on whether Coach Charlie Weis was capable of restoring our program to elite status in the world of college football. That answer was delivered on November 7, 2009.

That day the clock hit zero on Notre Dame Stadium’s scoreboard and no matter how many times people rubbed their eyes it read the same: Navy 23, Notre Dame 21. For the second time in three years we had been defeated on our home field by a service academy we had beaten every year from 1964-2006. Deep within the pit of my stomach I felt a dull pain grow. Every time the Irish lose I’m distraught, but this pain was different than the normal nausea. This was something far more than coming to grips with an embarrassing loss. It was an acknowledgment that while the fog had lifted, storm clouds were on the way. It was a realization that five years after enduring the bleakest days in program history the darkness was about to return.

It was a moment of clarity.

Charlie Weis is not the answer for the University of Notre Dame Football Program.

I have long been a staunch supporter of Coach Weis, but we have reached a point where the glass half full outlook is squashed by cold hard facts.

* Overall Record: 35-24, .593 win pct. (16-18 since 2007)
* Record against ranked teams: 4-11 (1-10 since 2006)
* 2007 Record: 3-9 (by far ND’s worst season since 1963)
* Record against USC: 0-5 (three of those losses by a combined 93pts)
* Losses by 14pts or more: 14
* Humiliating November home losses: Navy (2x), Air Force, Syracuse

That is a damning list of evidence against him, but what most upsets me is the fact that his teams have consistently underachieved yet never seem to overachieve. Since 2006 we are 0-8 against teams ranked higher than us. There hasn’t been a game where we grinded out an unexpected victory over a quality opponent since the first half of Charlie’s initial campaign. Even Willingham’s squads sprung upsets, including two victories over top ten opponents during his final season in South Bend. On the flipside, when we take the field as a clear favorite there is no guarantee we’ll take care of business as one would normally expect a superior team to do. This season we have consistently played down to the level of our competition, relying on late game heroics to scratch out victories against lesser opponents.

Every defense of Coach Weis begins with an excuse and ends with a grasp for silver linings. Yes, he has recruited extremely well and positioned us for success going forward…but after five years he has yet to give any sort of indication that he can coax that talent into performing consistently at the level necessary to compete for national championships. Yes, we are 13 points from being undefeated…but we’re also 17 points from being 2-7. Yes, we have been unlucky with injuries this year (Floyd, Clausen, Allen, Rudolph)…but that’s no excuse for why we haven’t been able to break through against this year’s schedule. Yes, he made great personnel changes on the offensive coaching staff that have paid clear dividends …but he chose to turn the defense over to a man with an inflexible gameplan that arguably schemed us into losses against Michigan and Navy. Yes, we’re on the cusp of returning to college football’s upper echelon…but yet after almost five years we’re still miles away from garnering true national respect.

Believe me, as I slowly cooled off from Saturday I tried my hardest to dig up excuses and explain this season’s shortcomings as anything but a condemnation of this regime. At last the well has gone dry. I can’t defend him any longer. Ultimately the buck stops at Charlie and with 4+ years of data the numbers don’t lie—it’s time to turn the page.

Let’s make a couple things clear though. While Charlie Weis has not achieved the success we hoped for on the field, he does not deserve the venomous personal attacks mounted against him over the past few days, weeks, and months. The hatred (alleged) Notre Dame fans have expressed toward this man is absolutely appalling and an embarrassment to the University. This is a Notre Dame graduate who has given his heart and soul to his alma mater over the past five years. He has run a clean program, brought in young men of high character who accept their responsibility in the classroom, and made a profound impact on many lives through both public and private charitable acts. His tireless efforts have put us on much sturdier ground than where we were in December of 2004 when he inherited the job. The fruit of his labor is a team stocked with more talent position to position than any Notre Dame squad in recent memory. For all of those things I am grateful to Coach Weis and I wish him only the best going forward.

If he were to stay another five years I feel confident saying we would land in at least two BCS bowls. However, if he were to stay I would be even more confident in saying we would never legitimately be in the hunt for a national championship. Therein lies the reason it is time to move on to the next chapter.

The measure of success at Notre Dame is not conference titles or berths in major bowls. Success at Notre Dame is achieved by winning national championships and joining the ranks of Rockne, Leahy, Parseghian, and Holtz in Irish lore. The demands of the job are great, but the reward is greater. Unfortunately, this latest on-field catastrophe has made clear the fact that Charlie Weis will not ever join those ranks. The time has come to find a man who will.


  1. What would you propose? Hiring a new coach that would ensure sending Clausen and Tate to the NFL while decimating our recruiting class and ensuring some transfers? And on top of that, who would we hire, Brian Kelly? Hah! If you think he is the answer just look at how well his D is doing or his player's graduation rate. Meyer, Stoops and Saban are not going anywhere fast. Firing Charlie would just set us back 5 years. If you think we are going to make a BCS bowl every year then you are delusional.

  2. To address your points:

    1. Who would I propose? I don't know, which is what makes this situation so difficult. I have finally reached the point where I'm convinced Charlie isn't the guy but there isn't an Urban Meyer sitting out there like in '04. My initial instinct for the legitimately available candidates is Jon Gruden. He's not without flaws but he loves the school, would make a splash, works just as hard as Charlie, and has the perfect personality for a college coach. Not saying he's a surefire success but not many out there are. I think he has tremendous upside.

    2. I'm not even close to touching the Brian Kelly bandwagon. Never have, never will...but your argument of "take a look at how his D is doing" is kind of pot calling the kettle black when defending Charlie, is it not?

    3. I agree, those other three are not realistic (Meyer maybe a 10% chance, the other two at 0%).

    4. I don't think it sets us back five years at all if we got the right guy in place. Jon Gruden would create the excitement that could salvage the recruiting class and would be inheriting an incredibly talented roster. Jimmy and Golden may be gone regardless--you can't base a long-term decision on what two players (no matter how talented), each with one year of eligibility remaining.

    5. A realistic six year stretch at ND is: 1-2 years where we're legitimately in the title hunt, 1-2 years where we're BCS worthy but not in the title hunt, 1-2 years where we're 9-3/8-4 due to circumstances (graduating talent/tough schedule/etc). That's not being delusional, that's having high but attainable standards.