This is a long article written solely be Keith Arnold. I’m assuming that Phil doesn’t share the same opinions and wouldn’t want him to be held responsible for supporting Charlie Weis, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, or any of the knuckleheaded idiots that religiously follow said team.
I held off on finally posting this until someone had some type of actual confirmation of what was happening with the future of the Notre Dame football program and the fate of Charlie Weis. Up until this statement, speculation was spiraling out of control, running the gamut from the patented ridiculous notion of bringing Lou Holtz out of retirement, to hiring Cincinnatti coach Brian Kelly, to Urban Meyer leaving Florida to come be a savior in South Bend. All of this fueled and originated as message board fodder, chatroom gossip, and unnamed sources, and ended up on the pages of reputable media outlets like the Chicago Tribune, ESPN, and FoxSports.
My what an embarrassing week for Notre Dame football, the media in charge of following all of this, and for the coach in general. Less than two weeks ago, Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick gave Weis a vote of confidence. Yet with the shocking loss to Syracuse, and the inevitable pummeling by USC, the groundswell of chaos, created mostly by Notre Dame fans, led to national media reports that created a hysteria that spread like wildfire, creating one of the weirdest situations I’ve ever followed in college football. I’ve been fairly consistent with my stance towards Weis, and historically my stance on any coaching change has been similar. A quick trigger finger is much worse than a coach underachieving. Ask Ole Miss fans if they’d like to have David Cutcliffe back, who was fired just a season after winning ten games. Was that worth the four years of chaos that finally were stabilized this season, with a record that hasn’t approached what Cutcliffe did in his tenure in Mississippi? Constant change is no way to run a program that’s life blood is recruiting, and when a program has unrest, its recruiting efforts are pillaged.
What bothers me the most about the Notre Dame situation is the fact that nearly everybody has an agenda, and that agenda is fairly easy to see when it deals with Notre Dame. Charlie Weis, by himself, isn’t a controversial person. He was brought in to Notre Dame at a time when the national media circled over South Bend for the firing of Ty Willingham after a historically short coaching stint. None of this is Charlie Weis’ fault. Just three seasons after Sporting News declared Willingham its Man of the Year, and after Sports Illustrated touted the Irish’s “Return to Glory,” the football program was losing out on key recruits and had a mediocre season that culminated in an embarrassing blowout defeat to USC. With Weis in control, playing with both Ty Willingham and Bob Davie’s recruits, he immediately turned a mediocre offense into one with an explosive downfield passing game, and came within a 3rd and 17, and a Reggie Bush aided, Matt Leinart QB sneak, of defeating a USC team for the ages.
The messageboard trolls and the laptop recruiting gurus all quickly anointed Weis their savior, and Weis was quick to embrace any and all praise, as he learned very quickly that in college football, and with 18-year-old recruits, perception is indeed reality. Notre Dame responded with an unprecedented 10-year-contract, citing the need to lock in Weis from the very real temptations of the NFL. Yet the very thing that got Ty Willingham fired at Notre Dame has been the undoing of Charlie Weis. The lag in recruiting that Notre Dame had under Willingham, who failed to graduate a single offensive line recruit in his much maligned 2004 class, and only two in his heralded 2003 class. That lack of depth, along with the 2005 class — recruited by Willingham and clung to by Weis while working as Offensive Coordinator for the Patriots — produced two linemen, Paul Duncan and Michael Turkovich, who have struggled to make an impact as 4th year seniors with no eligibility left. Sure enough, the lack of senior linemen, and the inability for younger linemen to develop has made the past two offensive units incredibly inept running the football. Suddenly, Charlie Weis wasn’t a genius, his confidence was arrogance, his candor was brashness, and his early bravado was being used to write his obituary.
As I’ve mentioned before, journalism has “evolved” over the past few years. This can be attributed to many things, but mostly to the internet. Recruiting websites like Rivals and Scout created an incredibly profitable business model giving fans unprecedented access to outsiders. Recruiting, a topic only covered around national signing day was now a 12-month-a-year, pay-to-read, college football addiction. 17-year-old prospects became internet celebrities. Websites created star-rankings, taking advantage of high school athlete’s desire to be noticed and feeding their subscribers information about the chances of their school landing the top prep stars. As the internet started getting widespread daily penetration, the ability to state an opinion to the masses quickly proliferated. Websites like NDNation.com, a popular yet controversial fansite that has a large following among Notre Dame fans, submitted this letter to the Notre Dame Board of Trustees in January of 2004, and continued with an all-out assault on Ty Willingham through his third season, fueled by information supplied websites like Scout and Rivals. Their grumblings reached a crescendo as the Irish were beaten by Pitt at home and then demolished by USC in the Coliseum 41-10, Willingham’s third straight loss to USC by 31 points. Willingham was fired just days later, and NDNation, among other websites took pride in their part to help “save” the football program.
Fast forward four years, and we’re right back in the same place. Yet now, a group of fans who think they had a hand in making a coaching change are even more entitled to their position and opinion on what to do with “our” football program. As if they affiliation as alumni or loyal fans or donors assumes a position of input within the evaluation process. Most schools can quickly eliminate any sort of fan bluster, dismiss it merely as static from the rantings and ravings of a delusional fanbase. Yet with Notre Dame fans, many of these men hiding behind monikers and codenames are professionals – lawyers, doctors, successful businessmen, as well as big money benefactors. Their arguments are based in logic, but a logic with no source material behind it. The same men that were calling for Willingham to be replaced by Bob Stoops, Jon Gruden, and Urban Meyer are doing the very same thing with Coach Weis. As if the decision were taking place in a vacuum and these coaches would leave what they’re doing for the privilege to work under the Golden Dome.
Someone once said that every man thinks he knows two things: How to work a grill… and football. While changes need to be made, and most likely will be coming soon, the people who know what best to do are the very people fans want to see let go. Hitting restart on the program and trying again isn’t the right answer for Notre Dame. We’ve seen how that has gone in the last ten years, and frankly it hasn’t been a success. Entitlement is the biggest problem with Notre Dame fans, and it’s the biggest reason that the program hasn’t made it back to where it was under Lou Holtz, and in many of the regimes before him. It is a different world out there in college football. Notre Dame is still able to recruit nationally, still able to walk into the living rooms of the very best teenagers in America and have a shot with them. We’ve seen Charlie Weis do that. Yet that alone doesn’t guarantee success. Over 85 programs can legitimately say that they have an opportunity to make it to a BCS bowlgame. TCU, Utah, Boise State, and Ball State are all ranked in the top 15 this year. This isn’t the 1960s anymore. This isn’t even 1988. It’s smart to keep a coach who has built a foundation with good recruiting and has a track record of success with veteran players. It’s a gamble worth taking even if he’s failed in 2007 and underachieved in 2008. Especially when the alternative is to expose everything you’ve done the past for years, and leave it exposed for college football’s vultures to pick away at.
And I’m not just talking about other teams.
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