In the 2007 college football season, Notre Dame is learning the hard way what happens to programs that make poor decisions in the hiring and firing of coaches.
Whether those decisions be a function of the incompetence of administrators or the meddling of boosters, the results are always the same: a descent into mediocrity—or worse.
Notre Dame is currently serving a penance for the unceremonious firing of Coach Tyrone Willingham, and for the misguided hubris behind it.
On the heels of Notre Dame's 0-4 start, many critics have speculated that current coach Charlie Weis will receive better treatment than Willingham did—because Weis is white and Willingham is black.
This article isn't about the legitimacy of those claims, which will be dissected throughout the season. The point of emphasis here is that, whatever the cause of a coaching change, the failure to handle it carefully can severely damage a program.
Given the deep emotions involved on all sides, the relationship between a coach and an institution is far more than a mere business partnership—it's a marriage, and when marriages go sour the effects are painful and long-lasting.
Notre Dame is hardly alone in this experience.
After the 2000 season, the University of Arizona forced the resignation of coach Dick Tomey, who had won a share of the Pac-10 championship in 1993 (the first and only in the school's history) and taken his teams to seven bowl games (the most ever for an Arizona coach).
A losing season here and there. You can't win 'em all—but someone at Arizona apparently thought Tomey should.
After Tomey came John Mackovic, who was forced out before the end of the 2003 season when the administration joined a player revolt against him. Since then, the Wildcats have endured losing records under coach Mike Stoops, and it's still unclear just how long the school will be paying the price for its hasty, petulant missteps.
Colorado is another tarnished example. Coach Bill McCartney won the school's only national championship in 1990, but was forced out over his religious beliefs (remember the Promise Keepers?).
The Buffaloes ended up with Gary Barnett, who among other things allowed a sex-and-drugs scandal to develop right under his nose, and callously dismissed sexual assault allegations made by his female place kicker.
The state of the Colorado program today?
A firing is not necessarily the fault of the school—some coaches fully deserve to be fired (or not hired in the first place). Still, the repercussions are almost unavoidable.
Who deserves to be fired? It doesn't really matter—not for the "Program," that is. The key is handling it well.
Bad hirings and bad firings are like bad divorces. Their effects linger for years, and they're best avoided by employing more wisdom and prudence first place.