Ramble On Sports

Where sports, pop culture and everything else collide.

Charlie Weis the latest failure in Notre Dame’s downward spiral

Posted by Bill Koch on December 1, 2009

Charlie Weis is officially out as Notre Dame’s head football coach, fired on Monday by athletic director Jack Swarbrick. It was a merciful end to a deathwatch over Weis that started with a terrible home loss to Navy and another in South Bend to the mighty University of Connecticut, defeats that were inconceivable when the Fighting Irish were rolling to past national championships.

Now the real fun begins. You’re going to hear plenty of names linked with a job that some people think is still one of college football’s glamour positions. Notre Dame used to be synonymous with winning, tradition and star players bound for long careers in the NFL. You’ll hear names like Bob Stoops, John Gruden, Urban Meyer – names that would have been automatic candidates 20 years ago, but that the current edition of the Notre Dame athletic department can’t get.

Times have changed, and Notre Dame has been dragged kicking and screaming into the current landscape of college football. The Irish are just another struggling program now, their image as dull as the polish on their 1988 national championship trophy. That’s the last time Notre Dame’s football program won anything worthwhile, and it’s going to stay that way for a while for several reasons.

— Tradition

Notre Dame used to pride itself on its past, referring to names like Joe Montana, Johnny Lujack, Paul Hornung and Knute Rockne. Those guys are distant memories to today’s recruits. All they see is that the Irish have gone 91-67 in the last 13 years under Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham and Weis. Current college football stars like Tim Tebow and Mark Ingram were in diapers the last time Notre Dame finished a season ranked No. 1. Current recruiting classes are dominated by commitments to USC (94-16 in nine years under Pete Carroll), Texas (127-26 in 12 years under Mack Brown), Oklahoma (109-23 in 10 years under Stoops), Ohio State (93-21 in nine years under Jim Tressel), Florida (56-9 in five years under Meyer) and LSU (97-28 in nine years under Nick Saban and Les Miles). Oklahoma has played in four BCS title games since 2000, Ohio State has played in three since 2002 and LSU has won two since 2003. Notre Dame’s tradition can’t measure up to current facts no matter how many of the old stories are told.

— Television

Notre Dame enjoys a sweetheart national deal with NBC and the enormous amount of exposure that it brings in for the school, but the fact is that college football on television isn’t all that unique anymore. You can watch Toledo play Central Michigan on Tuesday night, Boise State play Nevada on Wednesday night, South Carolina play Mississippi on Thursday night, Georgia Tech play Clemson on Friday night, Florida play Georgia on Saturday and Oregon play UCLA on Saturday night thanks to ESPN’s family of networks. Not quite sure if digital cable has hit the Irish boosters yet, but it’s permanently changed the recruiting game. Notre Dame football isn’t the Saturday event it was in the 1950s when every household had one television with three channels. It’s an enormous advantage that the Irish have lost.

— Recruiting

South Bend and suburban Indiana aren’t exactly churning out blue-chip college football prospects. Notre Dame has always had to recruit nationally and the two above elements, tradition and television, used to be the Irish aces in the hole. Those have eroded and regional powers are picking off players who used to walk into the Irish program. The next Notre Dame coach will need to beat Carroll in Southern California, Brown and Stoops and Texas, Meyer, Saban and Miles in the Southeast and Tressel in the Midwest. It’s a constant battle that the Irish have been losing, particularly on defense. And don’t try to sell me on Jimmy Clausen – Carroll had some guy who plays for the New York Jets named Mark Sanchez already in his program, who Carroll certainly thought would stick around a little longer than 16 starts. Carroll didn’t need Clausen. He practically let Weis have him.

— Academics

All of the power schools above have one more thing in common that hinders Notre Dame – academics. Not to say that Texas and Florida don’t provide a quality education, but with massive enrollments of over 40,000 both schools can sweep a football player with questionable grades into the mix with four valedictorians from just around the corner and balance out the admission averages quite nicely. All Irish freshmen are required to take a full year of calculus, a dreadfully difficult challenge for any recruit who is on the academic fringe. If every top football program is offering a scholarship, and your goal is to play in the NFL some day, do you really want to make yourself ineligible by trying to figure out derivatives and the multivariate limit of x? I didn’t think so.

— Arrogance

This is the part I really enjoy. Notre Dame has had this sort of fall coming for years. The Irish fans carry themselves like some holier than thou group whose birthright is undefeated seasons and national championships. They looked the other way when Lou Holtz brought in a crew of renegades to capture that 1988 title, running a program that was nearly as dirty as rival Miami’s 2 Live Crew disciples and immortalized in the groundbreaking book “Under the Tarnished Dome.” The Irish assumed that Meyer would leave Utah after two years to accept their 6-year, $12-million offer and were shocked when he went to Florida instead. Two national championships and a 7-year contract extension worth more than $25 million later, he look like a genius. It was a stomach punch to Notre Dame’s program and the Irish panicked when they handed Weis a 10-year extension after just seven games in charge. They were afraid that he would leave for the NFL without the additional job security, something that is going to happen now anyway. Notre Dame still owes Weis $18 million on that deal, its program is in shambles and there’s not much relief in sight. Don’t expect anybody in the college football world, or anywhere else, to shed any tears.

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