Charlie Weis’ firing as Notre Dame’s football coach this afternoon should be a surprise to no one.
His record (35-27) was worse than the previous two coaches, Bob Davie and Tyrone Willingham, which didn’t bode well. Losses to Navy and Connecticut likely sealed his fate even before the Irish put up a spirited fight offensively against Stanford on Saturday.
There were a number of factors stacked against Weis.
First of all, the history of successful pro coaches going to the college ranks – and vice versa – is often a dicey proposition. Think of Rick Pitino and John Calipari in the NBA, Steve Spurrier in the NFL or Bobby Petrino, who didn’t even last a full season with the Atlanta Falcons after leaving the University of Arkansas.
Secondly, it has to do with unrealistic expectations on the part of fans and alumni. When boosters paid for a billboard outside Notre Dame Stadium prior to the season commenting about it being the fifth year of Weis’ college internship, it wasn’t a good sign. The Irish have not won with any consistency or been a legitimate national threat since Lou Holtz left. It’s a symptom of the fact college football is not the same as it was 10, or certainly 20 or 30, years ago.
Because of scholarship limitations the days of stockpiling good players on depth charts of powerhouse teams is over. That’s why you don’t have Ohio State and Michigan, for example, leading the “Big Two and Little Eight” Big Ten of the Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes days. It’s also why the recent sustained success of coaches such as Jim Tressel (Ohio State), Urban Meyer (Florida) and Pete Carroll (USC) is all the more impressive, and why the emergence of programs like TCU, Boise State and Cincinnati shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Lastly, it boils down to talent. I’ve seen Notre Dame plays twice in person during the Weis era against my alma mater, Purdue. Quarterback Jimmy Clausen and wide receiver Golden Tate are good NFL prospects. Even against good teams – like top-ranked USC in the “Bush Push” game a few years ago – Notre Dame has been able to score points. The defense, frankly, has not been very good. Not being one who enjoys bashing 19- and 20-year old kids, the coaching staff simply needed to do a better job of recruiting and coaching the kids they had.
Weis said today he has already received inquiries from several NFL teams, which isn’t a surprise. He was given the lion’s share of the credit for developing Tom Brady and the powerfully efficient New England Patriots offense. He will almost assuredly be employed in January by a team which missed the playoffs. In addition to however the buyout of the remaining years of his contract is structured, money certainly won’t be an issue.
What is an issue, however, is that canning coaches is a nasty business. I know plenty of Christians who are sports fans who rejoice in the firing of one coach or another depending on their allegiances. While I’m certainly not a Notre Dame fan, getting fired is not something I would wish on anyone, regardless of their station in life. High expectations are great and rooting for your favorite team or alma mater is fun, but it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that there are real people involved with very public failings exposed for all to see.