Commentary

Just not good enough

Weis knew mediocrity wouldn't be accepted at Notre Dame, and he was right

Updated: December 1, 2009, 12:18 PM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

"You are what you are, folks, and right now you're a 6-5 football team. And guess what? That's just not good enough. That's not good enough for you, and it's certainly not going to be good enough for me." -- Charlie Weis, December 2004

[+] EnlargeCharlie Weis
Bob Stanton/Icon SMICharlie Weis simply didn't win enough games at Notre Dame, where mediocrity is not tolerated.

Six and six, or 7-6, wasn't good enough for Charlie Weis to keep his job.

As it turned out, Weis was not good enough to help the Irish avoid more mediocrity at a program that demands greatness. He was dismissed from Notre Dame after five years.

Weis was not good enough for Notre Dame with about five years and many millions of dollars left on his contract.

Not good enough to beat Top 25 teams, basically ever. Not good enough to run the table against Navy, let alone win a game against powerful USC.

Weis wasn't good enough for Notre Dame's ravenous fan base, or even his own outsized expectations.

Weis' tenure at Notre Dame will be forever marked by its brevity and the relative but all-encompassing discontent of Irish Nation. Thirty-five wins and 27 losses is OK if you're coaching at Northwestern, but Notre Dame isn't Northwestern. It isn't Stanford. Notre Dame is unique, and as we've found, it's pretty tough to win there in the 21st century.

Weis' tenure will also be known for the unyielding, gleeful hatred for Weis and Notre Dame by every sports fan not attached to the historic program, and the unforgiving, absolute disappointment by the Domer faithful. From his appearance to his personality, everything was fair game to his critics. His tough talk then seems comically oblivious now.

His players were and continue to be faithful to him. Tom Zbikowski told me how difficult it is for players to deal with the scrutiny in South Bend, but he noted that's why they signed up to play at Notre Dame.

Current Cleveland Browns quarterback Brady Quinn, who became a college star under Weis' coaching, recently said it would be a huge mistake for the Irish to fire Weis, but what else is he supposed to say?

Weis was a polarizing figure at Notre Dame, a crackerjack recruiter, an offensive mind and a middling coach. A Notre Dame grad who often rubbed his fellow alums the wrong way, Weis, sadly, will never look at his alma mater the same way.

A Fanhouse writer spent some time with Weis recently, and the coach was quoted as saying this about his teenage son: "I know where he won't be going to college."

[+] EnlargeBrian Kelly
Frank Victores/US PresswireCincinnati's Brian Kelly has been a winner wherever he has coached.

If you're a fan of Notre Dame, and not of Weis, you probably have no sympathy for the coach and his son because you have no desire to live through any more 6-6 seasons. Notre Dame's students are young achievers who come to South Bend for three reasons outside of academics: family, faith and football, and not necessarily in that order.

Notre Dame football is big business, from the NBC contract to the licensed tchotchkes under Christmas trees from New Jersey to Arizona.

Weis, a disciple of Bill Belichick and Bill Parcells, was as openly disliked as any coach or player this side of Terrell Owens, so there has been no shortage of schadenfreude as the Irish have struggled the past three years. The boasting, the big recruiting classes, the controlling of the message via the program's treatment of the media, and the connection to Belichick -- all of this worked against Weis' reputation in the public eye.

The kids liked him, and handfuls of big-name recruits flocked to South Bend, but Weis' teams were known for their inability to get over the necessary hurdles that great teams leap with regularity. Weis is 1-12 against teams that finish the season in the Top 25, a number that assured his departure and made it truly deserved. When you play a national schedule, you have to beat good teams.

There will be a lot of clucking about how Notre Dame fans, and the folks in charge of hiring and firing, have unrealistic expectations about the program. That's probably true, but it's not really the issue here. Nor is Notre Dame's outstanding graduation rate.

The issue is winning, and Notre Dame, under Weis, did not win enough, and this season made it obvious that the program needs a change, regardless of the cost, if the people behind Notre Dame think the school should be competing for those BCS dollars. Since the school doesn't share in any conference bowl money, playing in the big-money bowls isn't just a status thing; it's vital to keeping the program modern and profitable. Playing at the Gator Bowl (or whatever), probably costs the school more than it makes.

Weis practically admitted that he would be fired after that overtime loss to Connecticut, which followed losses to a top-10 Pittsburgh team and a tough but ultimately beatable Navy team at home.

"If they decide to make a change, I'd have to say I'd have a tough time arguing with that. If they decide to make a change, I'd have a tough time arguing that, because 6-5 is not good enough," he said the day after UConn upset the Irish on Senior Day. "Especially when you've lost five games by a touchdown or less and several three-point games that went right down to the wire."

Weis will get another job running the offense of an NFL team either next season or the one after that. He will make millions upon millions of dollars, but for the rest of his life, he will be haunted by his experience at Notre Dame, as will his family, and I can't help but feel a little sorry for him.

I know I'm practically alone here -- after all, who feels sorry for the unsuccessful braggarts in society? But it's true. It's fun to root against someone, but it's not rewarding to see people fail, even if they're as grating as Weis can be.

Now, if you're a Notre Dame fan, you have to wonder how the folks in charge, the athletic director, Jack Swarbrick, and the university president, the Rev. John Jenkins, can screw up another coaching search, or get rejected by more big-name coaches.

University of Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly is a strong contender after building three programs, from Division II to the Mid-American Conference to the Big East, where he has the Bearcats undefeated and on the precipice of playing for the national championship. Kelly, not a young hotshot at 48, has experience coaching winning college football teams, and there is no more important dynamic in his favor -- or there shouldn't be.

Other bigger-name coaches are linked to the gig: the golden boy, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops; the big prize, Florida's Urban Meyer; and the wild card, Texas Christian's Gary Patterson. But I'm fully in the Kelly camp. He's paid his dues in the college game. He can recruit, and he wins. When his Heisman candidate, Tony Pike, went down this year, he inserted backup Zach Collaros, and the team didn't miss a beat. Sure, he's not known for coaching defense, but when it comes down to it, coaching a successful college defense relies on finding a coordinator who knows how mix and match athletes while coaching effort.

Forget about chasing the big names like Stoops and Meyer. Kelly is the man, and if he wants to come, the Irish should do everything possible to land him.

There is no question that being Notre Dame's coach is a difficult job. Notre Dame is a private school with actual educational standards. It relies exclusively on national recruits, has no conference affiliation, and has to please peacocking fans who expect nothing but top-10 finishes and BCS bowls. Sounds ideal, right? Maybe it doesn't to civilians, but to a coach, taking Notre Dame back to the mountaintop is an intriguing situation that one coach will take with both eyes open.

Because Notre Dame is a place that will lionize you if you win and pillory you if you lose. Six and six, or 7-6, will never be good enough. Weis knew it then and definitely knows it now.

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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