My flight home from Kiev arrived late last night so I missed my St. Patrick’s Day deadline, nevertheless, as a lifelong fan of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, who went to high school in South Bend, I have to add my two cents worth to the discussion of the besieged Charlie Weis and his year of decision.
Like others, I was delighted by those first two turnaround years of the Weis era. They were just pure magic. And the off field antics, like the pass right opening play for the dying kid, and Tom Zbikowski’s professional boxing debut, were as wonderful as the on field acrobatic receptions of Jeff Samardzija. I liked the way Charlie brought the whole community back home. Joe Montana on the sidelines and having Lou Holtz and Ara Parsegian coach the two teams at the Spring Game. It exemplified his generosity of spirit and his humility. I was astonished that no one had ever invited Rudy back to campus until Charlie Weis. Rather arrogant and mean spirited of the school, in my opinion. Rudy’s movie had done more for their recruiting program than all their other pompous public relations efforts combined. Charlie just seemed to be righting so many wrongs.
But none of it would have carried any significance, indeed it all would have inspired criticism, as in why not use some of your imagination and good will on the playing field, if it were not for the sensational offense. It was such a relief to see the team actually making first downs and a Catholic school actually pulling off a few Hail Mary’s as opposed to throwing it up and hoping to get an interference call.
Like everyone else, I was stunned by last year’s opening Georgia Tech game. Stunned. I had been anticipating this game all summer and was convinced that this contest would tell me almost everything I needed to know about the coming season. But the ebullient, ill fated, Gerry Faust never had a team look that weak. I knew that night that our season was over and I told my son we would lose to Navy later in the year.
As the losses mounted I read with fascination the Tom Pagna articles in Blue and Gold, trying to read between the lines to understand the politics of what was going on. Sometimes what the Irish sage was not saying about Notre Dame’s offensive line and its lack of mastering basics was just as revealing as what he was saying.
It seems pretty clear now that Charlie Weis did not know how to train college boys and worse, in his two spectacular years of success a bit of hubris had taken root. He was apparently refusing to even recognize that he needed to train college boys.
There were some early signs that the Weiss promotion to legendary status was premature. There was the unrealized greatness of that seasoned offensive line, allowing their star, Brady Quinn to be continuously sacked. There was the Sixty Minutes show, with Weiss’ profanity being his most defining quality. It was a bit curious to see his philosophy at work, the tearing down of a player, instead of the building up. And yet, who could argue with success? Evidently there was some kind of reverse psychology at work here that provoked greatness. But even among eighteen year old boys? They will respond to being ridiculed and screamed at? They need no encouragement? No nurturing? Apparently not, after all, it worked for the men of the New England Patriots.
Years before, I had had misgivings when the Notre Dame Athletic Department began to play their little games with Lou Holtz. I had liked Holtz. I was working at the White House when Notre Dame won their last championship. I was the staffer who recommended him for a State Dinner. That night I stood in the shadows and watched Holtz enjoy the after dinner program. It was the King of Yemen, not the Queen of England, but hey, it was a State Dinner. Holtz was a proven winner, even if he had become a little predictable. The Athletic Department was obviously baiting him, playing to his choleric personality, doing what they had to do to get him to move on. And like the herd among the subway alumni, I was fascinated by Bob Davie and his weekend at the helm. But the Holtz departure made me a little nervous. And it smelled a bit.
So I have been a bit amused to see the same Notre Dame Athletic Department tied in contractual knots by their dear Irish Charlie, to whom they so rashly committed themselves and their millions. Holtz must have had mixed emotions these past few years.
Most of us are still pulling for Charlie. We want it to be true. Any discussion of his work always includes those two awful recruiting years, which are now coming home to roost. It is the excuse we all cling to, although other teams have had worse recruiting years and looked better than we did last year. And all of us talk about his great recruiting skills, although it is scary to think that Gerry Faust also had great recruiting classes.
What gives us hope, what we are clinging to is the fact that unlike other past Notre Dame Coaches, the offensive play calling of Charlie Weis always adjusted quickly to the opposition. He didn’t even wait till halftime. He did it play by play. It is that ability to adjust that we are hoping for. We are hoping that over the summer he has humbly reassessed and that he now knows that he has to teach these high school graduates how to play at the college level. And that he not only knows that but he will figure out how to do it. And he will get it done.
This past year was a bit embarrassing. The emperor had no clothes. Charlie Weis was exposed as a brilliant offensive call player, maybe one of the best ever, but not especially a sound coach of a college football team. Indeed, if you have read his book, it is exactly all he has ever been throughout his life and maybe all he claimed to be. The year he arrived at Notre Dame it was such a perfect fit, the exact need for a maturing team, that it gave the appearance of much more.
Now, Charlie Weis has been given a chance to become what we all thought he was, a great football coach. It’s not easy fighting your way back to where you have already been. If he pulls that off he will be even a bigger man personally. The fact is, I want it and most of the Notre Dame Nation wants it too. Let it be so, Charlie. That question and many others will probably be answered September 6, 2008, when the lowly San Diego Aztecs meet the Irish in South Bend.
Note: See Skip Holtz, we need ye. https://dougwead.wordpress.com/2008/11/30/skip-holz-new-notre-dame-coach/