Commentary

Reality check due for Weis, Notre Dame

Coach never had legitimate claim to Irish job

Updated: December 1, 2009, 11:11 AM ET
By Melissa Isaacson | ESPNChicago.com

Sorry, but I'm having a hard time feeling sorry for those Notre Dame alums and boosters who are saying now that Charlie Weis was just too damn arrogant for his own good.

I believe the school's crest reads: "Veritas Footballus Maximus," which loosely translated means: "It's true, our football team is still the best."

Let's face it, not unlike many football institutions, both amateur and professional, Notre Dame doesn't know exactly what it wants. It just wants it now.

Dream job? Yeah, right.

We all know the job is a no-win. Unless you win it all, of course. You can't mollify the masses with a conference title. Or even with victories against your biggest rivals, because that only puts more pressure on you come BCS time. And you damn sure better swim in that pool.

The NBC contract is Notre Dame's biggest advantage and its worst recruiting tool.

Great, big high school football players no longer have Notre Dame posters in their bedrooms. Most of them probably have no idea of the program's tradition and if they happen to pause long enough on their NBC affiliate on most Saturday afternoons, they can't be impressed by what they see.

Notre Dame officials and fans don't want to hear this, of course. It's the same shortsightedness that led to Weis' hiring in the first place, though this isn't about the guy who's walking away today with his head up and his wallet weighed down with an obscene parting gift.

Charlie Weis, who was fired Monday, never had a legitimate claim to this job. He had never recruited or hired his own staff. His health was suspect. And his former boss, Bill Belichick, didn't allow Weis or his other assistants to so much as speak to the media, much less learn how to deal with that very important aspect of the job on a daily basis.

What Weis had was a personality that matched his employers -- supreme arrogance.

When Weis crowed as he did after closing out his admittedly weak first recruiting class, "Now it's X's and O's time, let's see who has the advantage now," it was just one of the initial signs that he didn't get it.

It has been awhile since we've heard about him bullying media members and treating alumni and boosters like so much dandruff on his hoodie. But that was never nearly as much of an issue as the fact that some people are meant to be assistants and some are meant to run the show and even Weis, on some level, has to know that.

So now the Irish get to reboot. And ideally, they need a superstar, not someone who thinks he knows it all, but someone whose football acumen is surpassed only by his ability to recruit by the very force of his sparkling personality. Trouble is, there are only a handful of those guys around and they're not interested.

Whomever they settle on will come in knowing that even with a sparkling personality and great dental hygiene, Notre Dame has had trouble competing with the big boys -- and by that, we mean really, really fast ones -- ever since Lou Holtz decided to stop battling the school's admissions office and move on.

Notre Dame must be realistic, not one of its specialties. And the Irish must be patient.

The new coach has to be special in the way that the past three -- as well as the one who, um, almost was hired (former Georgia Tech coach George O'Leary) -- were not.

The Irish could do a lot worse than Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, who's young, in touch, humble and talented, although the first instincts of anyone with any semblance of respect and affection for the Northwestern coach should be to hide him.

And with all of Fitzgerald's attributes, you wonder if he's good enough for the same people who thought Charlie Weis would be.

You wonder if they'll ever get it.

Melissa Isaacson

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for espnW.com, ESPN Chicago and ESPN.com. The award-winning writer has covered Chicago sports for most of her 31-year career, including at the Chicago Tribune before joining ESPN in 2009. Isaacson has also covered tennis since 1986.

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