Fire Charlie or one more year...the Domer Dilemna
I really thought that last year was going to be the lowest things could get when it comes to the Irish. In every meaningful statistical category ND was at their lowest mark in history culminating in an utterly pathetic 3-9 record. However, at no point after that debacle was Charlie's job in jeopardy. Even the most obsessive and rabid ND fans like myself looked at the situation and decided he should get one more year. We all knew when CW took the job that his 3rd year was going to be a problem because of the amount of talent leaving and the empty cupboard he inherited. As pathetic as last year was, and it FAR exceeded even my worst fears of how bad the year could be, fans recognized that CW had led the Irish to BCS bowls (or curbstompings as they were) and the recruiting had been off the chart with several top 10 classes.
That is a very important fact. My hatred for Ty Willingham as a coach is well known to anyone who knows me. My problems were not just that the product on the field was abysmal, but that nothing was being done off the field to improve. The recruiting efforts under the Radio Regime got worse and worse by the year. That and that alone is what really separates the 2 coaches in my mind. The problem is, the on the field product has become the same. There comes a point when you have to stop pointing to recruiting rankings and actually do something with those blue chippers you reigned in.
So where does that leave us? With his 4th straight loss to USC, Charlie committed the unforgivable sin of slipping below the Willingham parallel of a .583 winning %. What's worse than that, and that it was our 6th straight loss to USC, and that it was our 4th loss in 5 games, is the way we lost. One line that the media has harped on every time ND fails is Charlie's claim when he came in that Notre Dame would have a "decided schematic advantage" over their opponents. While too much has probably been made of it...think about that for a second. I'm all for coming in as a cocky SOB. If you don't think you are better than the guy across the field and expect to win, then you probably shouldn't be a head coach at this level. That being said...91 TOTAL YARDS!!!!! ARE YOU F-ING KIDDING ME?!?!?!!??! Yes, this USC team is fantastic and is well regarded for having their best D since Pete Carrol has taken over, quite a feet when you think of the talent that has come through there. However....91 yards. Acheivement unlocked for USC. There is NO excuse for that, absolutely none. Washington...you know, that winless team, considered the worst in 1A following their loss to Washington St, headed up by good ole Tyrone? Even Radio got over the century mark. Hell, he doubled you with 184 yards, and this without his starting QB. Yet the master of Xs and Os with his all world sure thing Heisman QB (who we will get to in a second) can't cover 100 yards? The 1st time ND got a 1st down was in the third quarter. Sorry, let me be more specific, the very last play of the 3rd quarter. Probably my favorite is the fact that ND didn't cross onto USC's side of the field until the 4th, on the same drive as the one where they finally got a 1st down. Why is this so funny to me? Probably because the first time ND's defense took the field, they intercepted Sanchez on the 42 or 43 yardline...
This brings me to another important point. The efforts of the Defense need to be pointed out. Corwin Brown and Jon Tenuta have actually put together a very solid squad. The D fought hard and tried to keep the punt happy offense in the game. However, you can only fight to stop one of the best O's in the land so many times, and watch your team then only last 3 plays before having to get back out there for so long before the other team will finally break it open. It was fitting that the game seemed to really open up in a two play swing. Midway through the 2nd quarter Clausen threw his 2nd interception. This was followed up by a nasty 55 yard touchdown run. ND's O gave the D one play to rest as the pick came on a 1st and 10. While the D was probably still somewhat tired, Carrol picked a name out of his 5 star RB hat, this time Joe McKnight, who came in with fresh legs and blinding speed. 55 yards later, SC is up 14-0 with momentum clearly on their side.
Similar situations have plagued the Irish in the last half of this season. Boston College beat the Irish 17-0. BC was held to only 246 total yards in that game, in fact, the Irish outgained them with 292 of their own. One of BC's TD's came from a pick 6, meaning the Irish D held the Eagles to only 10 points. However, ND had 5 turnovers to BC's 0, with Clausen throwing 4 picks. Then you have the UNC game, another loss 29-24, a game that the Irish damn near came back and won on the last play of the game. The telling stat again: turnover ratio, this time 5-0 in favor of the Tar Heels. This is not to say the D is not without fault this year. There was no excuse for allowing Cuse to put up 2 TD's in the 4th quarter. But at the same time, ND had 3 drives in that 4th quarter: 3 and out, missed FG, and the missed 53 yarder at the end that never had a chance, Walker just doesn't have the leg.
I bring this up only because I want to give some credit to the D. This group is obviously not going to win any awards anytime soon, but they have constantly but forth strong efforts and I look forward to see where the D will continue to go in the coming years, especially a very young secondary that has played fairly strong.
As for Clausen...what happened? While he had a rocky start with SDSU, from then on up until the 3rd quarter of the Pitt game he had been playing fantastic. Here are his game by game stats, just take a quick look. http://sports.espn.go.com/ncf/player/profile?playerId=231813
Even in the Syracuse game he put up a strong effort, but couldn't get the job done in the 4th quarter. Same with the Pitt game where the Irish offense had 4...4 chances to put the ball in the end zone and failed. What I can't figure out is what happened. Yes, he lost his top (or 1B) target in Michael Floyd early in the Navy game to a knee injury. But wasn't the selling point of Charlie Weis supposed to be his ability to develop QB's? We know that Jimmy was injured last year, fighting with bone spurs in his elbow that greatly limited the types of throws he could make. Early on this year we have seen him be able to make some of the amazing throws we all dreamed of when he committed. But the 2nd half of the season has seen a regression for the golden boy. Some of it has to be on his shoulders for sure, but what about the rest?
There have been two major problems this year, both of which fall in Weis' large lap. First, the continued struggles of the Offensive Line. Last year ND gave up a record number of sacks and it's hard to believe that Clausen can even stand anymore after the punishment he took. How John Latina, ND's O-line coach, wasn't used as a sacrificial lamb last year I have no idea. The fact that he still has a job today absolutely blows my mind. The O line simply isn't getting the job done this year. The worst, even worse than the USC game was, in my mind, the Pitt game. Pitt was only bringing 3 or 4 guys, dropping 7 or 8 in coverage every play. Yet still the Panthers were able to get incredible pressure on the QB.
The second problem has been the playcalling. The USC game just showcased some of the problems that have been there all year. Absurd draws on 3rd and longs, refusal to throw to the sticks, essentially conceding drives to defenses. Watching ND football has been risky for the health of my TV as I've wanted to throw remotes through it on many many occasions. This of course all coming from the "offensive guru." Saturday's game was absolutely atrocious. No division 1 school should ever be held under 100 yards of total offense. There is simply no excuse.
So after all of that, is there any reason to keep him? Sure, there are arguments to be made. The 1st argument centers on recruiting. Currently ND has a top 10 class with several high profile committs. Anytime you fire a coach you risk losing those recruits. This has been the main reason that I have rationalized keeping Charlie around for one more year. At the same time, is the current situation any better? Every time I go to espn.com or hear a story on Sportscenter the only talk about ND is whether or not Weis will be fired. If I'm recruiting a player that ND is going after or already has, this would be as good to me if he is actually fired, maybe even better. You go to the recruit and ask them if they really want to stick around a program with such a clouded future. You go to the parents and ask if they really want to send their young impressionable son 100s of miles away to play for a man that they have never met and know nothing about if ND has to go on a new search. Or if he does stay, if they want their son to go somewhere where the coach could be out in a year and then they are stuck not knowing the man coaching their son. I'm loving this situation if I'm on a recruit's big board with Notre Dame and the longer this situation goes on the better. Wouldn't some finality to the situation be better from a recruiting standpoint?
The other risk is putting the program into a spiral of sorts where if a coach doesn't get the job done in four years they are out. At the same time, is that a horrible thing? Four years is a decent amount of time. Hell, look at what Nick Saban has done at Bama. Saban had his unforgivable year last year, 7-6 including an unthinkable loss to Louisiana Monroe. How did Saban use the grace year though? Currently they sit #1 in the polls, undefeated, with only the SEC championship game between them and a shot at the national title. Charlie's unthinkable year was far worse at 3-9, sinking to levels that Notre Dame never even realized were possible. Like any good Catholic his sins were forgiven and he was given another shot from an unusually sympathetic and understanding showing by ND faithful. How did he repay us? 6-6 against one of ND's weakest schedules historically including a loss to a then 2 win Syracuse team. A year that in some ways has even been worse than last. We knew last year was going to be bad, sure we didn't think 3-9 bad, but we knew something was coming. This year though...this year was supposed to be better. Yet we see turnovers, shoddy line play, poor playcalls, a regression of talent, and an inability to close out inferior teams and step on the throat of opponents. What happened to all those promises made when CW took control? Where is that "nasty" football team? Where is the decided schematic advantage? Like CW said when he got here, this is Notre Dame, the only thing accepted is wins. 6-6, much like Charlie's opinion of his predecessor's work, is simply not good enough.
In my opinion, this year has been inexcusable. Charlie has shown that he is in some combination, not ready to be a head coach and not attuned to the college game. An interesting post on NDNation brought up the fact that in the NFL, Weis was able to go straight into his grandiose schemes because he could safely assume that the basics were a given. He also had all the time in the world with his players because these were professionals. Now, he is working with 18-22 year old kids who need to get the basics down first. I'm not saying they don't know how to cradle a ball when running, but the basics of schemes need to be implemented before the cute stuff can be thrown in. Weis has shown himself to be a hell of a recruiter, but his game day abilities and talent development are questionable. Some men are cut out to be head coaches, maybe Charlie doesn't have what it takes. There is no shame in being a top coordinator. Look at Tom Moore from the Colts. He's well compensated, has a Super Bowl ring, and has been at his post for over 10 years now. Maybe CW should stick with what he is best at.
So where does that leave us? Charlie has a very expensive buyout, the figure has been anywhere from 4.5-21 million dollars depending on the source you read. Was the extension a bad idea? To a degree. At the time something had to be done. After the SC game in his first year, there were several NFL vacancies with Weis' name seemingly at the top of every list. To lose a head coach during his first year would have been catastrophic to the school, so they had to act fast. In hindsight it should've been shorter or for less, but something had to be done, and I dont fault the administration for their actions. If anyone honestly thinks that the buyout will have even the slightest bit of influence on this decision, you are wrong. If the decision is made to cut ties that money will be rounded up within an hour, that's just the reality of the situation.
The main issue that needs to be looked at is who can be hired. The name I have seen coming up the most around ND-centric sites is Brian Kelly from Cincinatti. Kelly has done a solid job, 2 straight 10 win years in the Big East. However, that is in the Big East. His team this year also is in the bottom of arguably the worst of the major conferences in rushing offense. We need someone that can come in and help our problems with the running game, not make them worse. I also don't know if he has a big enough name for recruiting. Another great post on NDNation brought up the fact that in our other sports recent hires, not only was prior head coaching a requirement, Success was necessary. The best hire to personify this is Jeff Jackson. ND Hockey has grown by leaps and bounds. The hockey team has been fantastic as of late, making their first NCAA Tourney appearance my freshman year, last year making it all the way to the finals. When Jackson was hired, he came with an impressive resume that included 2 previous national championships. Of all sports at Notre Dame, shouldn't football have the most stringent standards?
Don't think I'm crazy. I realize that former championship coaches are not just sitting out there waiting to be hired. So what am I saying? In my mind ND needs to look for: previous, successful head coaching tenure in college football. I think some of CW's biggest problems revolve around the fact that he has an NFL mindset and could not adjust to the many differences of the college game. 1st you have to ingratiate yourself to a lot of people. Alumni, Professors, fans, board memebers, athletes, parents, media, and Athletic department people all want your time. In the NFL you only need to worry your players, the owner, and dealing with the media. One of the major problems CW has right now is that people don't like him. I'm not saying you have to be nice to be a head coach. I'm also not saying you need to make friends. What I am saying though is that you have to have the ability to be civil and do what needs to be done with many different groups. Charlie isn't much of a people person and from all the info available seems to have very few allies within ND's realm. This happens. ND needs someone that understands what comes with the college game because they are all magnified at ND. This does not mean any head coach will do though. When Tyrone was hired he was just over .500 for his career. ND got exactly what they hired, a mediocre coach. ND needs to hire a winner.
Kelly scares me a bit. I will fully admit, I dont know a ton about him so take all of this with a grain of salt. Some will blast me for putting the ND job on the pedastal that I have. I'm fully aware this is not the 60's anymore and ND is not a title contender every year. However, there is no reason for this to be the case. ND has resources and facilities at the upper eschelon of the NCAA. Arguably they also have the biggest spotlight available thanks to several things: 1) a widespread alumni base 2) its own network deal 3) a built in fanbase with Catholics 4) its history. More needs to be done with these resources to bring ND back to the forefront. If Charlie goes, he is not leaving the house empty. There is some incredible young talent on this football team.
Kelly has done well at Cincinatti in his short tenure there, and who knows, maybe he would do well at ND. However, if I had to pick a top candidate I'd go back to where we were 4 years ago with Urban Meyer. Pipe dream? Yah, maybe...but maybe not. This article from a Florida paper makes for an excellent read and brings up some fantastic points. http://www.floridatoday.com/article/20081120/COLUMNISTS0306/811200343/1065/SPORTS
Urban spent 5 years at Notre Dame under Lou and always described the school as his dream job. There has been animosity toward him as of late from the ND crowd, part for spurning us for Florida, part for the reported negative recruiting he has done against the school. I'd be willing to bet though that any ill will would be dropped quite soon should he decide to come back. Back when Ty was fired, I was worried about Urban because yah, sure he did great with Utah, but who did he beat? Clearly I was wrong, Meyer has shown himself to be a top tier coach, bring a national title to Florida shortly after his arrival and currently with a shot at another one. Would he leave? I dont know. ND has the coin to pay him what it would cost. Meyer has already won one title at UF and could do it again this year. If he does win again this year, and likely losing both Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin, is it too hard to imagine him saying that he has done all he can at that school, and that he wants to take a shot at his dream job to return Notre Dame to the top? I don't think so.
Outside of Meyer, I think another guy to look at is Chris Petersen from Boise St. In 3 years he has racked up a 35-3 record. Already with one undefeated year which culminated in the unforgettable upset over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, he has Boise St again undefeated with another shot at a BCS bowl. Unlike Meyer's Utah team that went undefeated, Boise St pulled off the unthinkable, beating a fantastic OU team. Utah played a mediocre Pitt team and trounced them. I've learned from my previous mistakes, and Petersen's resume is far more indicative of success in my mind than Meyer's pre-UF. I think given the resources of ND he would do wonders.
Yet that is just my thoughts and wishes. In reality, I dont know if new AD Jack Swarbrick has the ability to pull the trigger weeks after settling into his office. I think things could depend on the bowl game. ND is looking at a lower tier bowl right now that they should likely win. If they do, my guess is CW will be given one more year. In fact, I think without a bowl loss there is now way he gets fired. I will say this though. If Weis is given one more year, he needs to be given an ultimatum. ND's schedule is, somehow, even weaker next year. My fear is seeing CW get 9 wins and a Gator Bowl berth and this being considered good enough to keep him around. Unacceptable. If given another year, Weis needs to be told that anything less than a BCS bowl berth will be the end of the line. Getting there will also not be good enough. I'm not saying he must win, but a beatdown the likes of the last 2 trips to the BCS will also get the axe. I'm sure this message would never be given, but it should. Charlie was brought here to win and has been paid quite well for that. So far, he has not gotten the job done. I think he should be gone this year, many would agree with me. If he isn't though, last year is it. We sat through last year and kept our mouths shut. To let this year go with no action show an implicit acceptance to mediocrity which simply can not happen.
A few other things must also happen if Charlie stays:
1) FIRE LATINA!!!! The O line is horrible and has been. Latina must go.
2) Get Charlie Jr off the sideline. Why is your kid right beside you with a headset on? I'm sorry your job keeps you away from your family. If you want him on the field, that's fine, but him with special guests, but get him out of the area where players and coaches should be and unless you are gonna let him start calling plays, which honestly may have more success than your current calls, get rid of the headset.
3) Start making Jimmy better. Your best attribute is allegedly your skills with QBs. I recognize Jimmy is a true Sophmore. But he is now at the end of his 2nd year of starting ballgames and he keeps regressing, making stupid freshman mistakes. Get on the ball or let Crist start to compete.
4) Keep recruiting well, but start doing something with the players once you get them. The only rankings that really matter are those at the end of the year, not in February.
I apologize for the absurdly long rant, but I hope this can explain what ND fans are fighting with themselves about a little bit. Thoughts or comments on my ideas would be greatly appreciated. Whatever happens, it needs to happen soon, and I can only hope that the right choice, whatever it may be, is made. Right now, honestly I'm terrified that we made a horrible decision and that another one at this juncture could put us in a tailspin for years to come...
And our hearts forever, Love the Notre Dame.