Chasing the ghosts at Notre Dame

Elliott SmithCorrespondent INovember 11, 2009

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 03: Head coach Charlie Weis of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish watches as his team takes on the Washington Huskies on October 3, 2009 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana.  Notre Dame defeated Washington 37-30 in overtime.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Over the past few days, I’ve had a handful of people ask me whether or not I thought Notre Dame should or would fire Charlie Weis at the end of the season. I guess now that I’m apparently some sort of Fighting Irish expert, my answer is a resounding no.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Notre Dame fan. I take great joy in seeing the Irish get knocked off by Navy or shocked by Syracuse. But in this day and age, Weis has done just about all he can do with a program that will never reach its past glories.

This is not the 1960s anymore, every white kid with a trace of Catholicism is not destined to go to Notre Dame. The lure of playing on TV every week is not enough to sway recruits from powerhouses like Florida and USC. And playing in a wasteland like South Bend, Ind. doesn’t fly when comparing it to say, Austin or Miami.

At this point, Notre Dame is on the smart school circuit, joining the ranks of Stanford, Northwestern, Rice, et al., for the occasional big season mixed in with periods of mediocrity. Of course, Notre Dame has a marked advantage when you think about their NBC deal, historical cache and recruiting edge, and that’s perhaps why people are so quick to get rid of coaches there.

But if you really think about it, Notre Dame isn’t one of the big boys anymore, and shouldn’t be judged that way. I don’t think they deserve a BCS slot either, but it will take a few more years of suckitude for people to really get upset about that.

Also, not to make excuses, but Navy is a pretty good team that runs a tough-to-prepare-for offense. Didn’t the Middies almost take out Ohio State at the Horseshoe as well? I don’t think the Buckeye faithful would have been calling for Jim Tressel’s head if they had lost.

I’m not sure why the Notre Dame faithful would want to run Weis out of town anyway. He’s fanatical about the Irish, has brought in good recruits and held steady in a thankless job. Heck, he even coached with a broken leg.

Now, Pat Forde over at ESPN has made some fine points about Weis’ shortcomings as the boss, including the fact that he’s essentially the equivalent of Tyrone Willingham.

His overall record is 35-24. If the Irish lose Saturday at Pittsburgh, his winning percentage will be .583 — which means he’ll still be succeeding at the identical rate that got Tyrone Willingham (18) canned after three seasons. His ability to create a double standard out of recruiting hype got him two more years of fat paychecks.

But there’s nothing more to Weis than that.

Whom has he beaten? An endless succession of nobodies. Of his 35 victories, exactly two have come against teams that finished the season in Jeff Sagarin’s ELO_Chess Top 30 (the rankings the BCS uses). One of those was against Michigan in Weis’ second game as coach, in 2005 — the Wolverines finished that year No. 24. The other was against Penn State in the second game of Weis’ second year—the Nittany Lions finished that year No. 14.

So, Weis hasn’t been able to do too much with the golden recruiting classes he’s delivered to Touchdown Jesus. But my question is, who would? The Irish may have flash up front, but there’s no way they have the depth of an SEC team, who have guys coming off the bench that would start anywhere else. Meanwhile, the Irish have a bunch of Rudy types.

Personally, I think Weis is an overrated blowhard, which means he fits right in at Notre Dame. Until the powers that be realize that Notre Dame will NEVER be a top five team until they join a conference and don’t have to play USC every year, then you can’t do any worse than having Weis around.