THE PROBLEM AT NOTRE DAME
In his first season as head coach at Notre Dame, Charlie Weis was widely quoted as telling his team that they would have a "decided schematic advantage" against their opponents, apparently in the belief that his schemes and strategies developed in the NFL were superior to the schemes being run by other college coaches. So much for the NFL schemes. The only schematic at Notre Dame that actually works is the one that shows students and visitors the way to "Touchdown Jesus."
With the loss to UConn, Notre Dame now faces a problem that it has faced before and failed to solve. The problem - again - is coaching. The history, tradition, pride and even the mystic of the once mighty Fighting Irish is at stake.
Since arriving on the South Bend campus in 2005, Weis has gone 34-24 winning only 58% of the games as head coach. After going 19-4 in his first two years mostly with players that were recruited by Ty Willingham before Weis arrived. His record over the last three years is 15-20 . That's not Notre Dame.
A couple of years ago I walked through the campus at Notre Dame and I was taken by the beauty, the history and tradition of one of America's finest Universities. As I sat and stared at "Touchdown Jesus" I couldn't help but thinking "How could you not recruit the best players in the nation to Notre Dame?" It turns out that they have. Since 2005 only Florida has recruited more of the top rated 150 high school players (according to ESPN and Rivals.com) than Notre Dame. This year they have probably the best receiver and one of the best quarterbacks in college football. Talent doesn't seem to be the issue.
Am I blaming Charlie Weis for Notre Dame's problems? No. Not completely. Bob Davie had a record of 35-25 (1997-2001) winning 58% of his games. Ty Willingham was the head coach for the Fighting Irish from 2002-2004 with a record of 21-15, or a winning percentage of 58%. Davie, Willingham and Weis each have a winning percentage at Notre Dame of 58%. That's not Notre Dame. Weis is the second highest paid coach in college football earning approximately $4.2 million a year behind Pete Carroll at USC at $4.4 million. Money is not the problem either.
The problem with the football program at Notre Dame is very clear. The people who were in charge of hiring the coaches failed. Period. Granted, Father John Jenkins has only been at Notre Dame since 2004 and Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick arrived in South Bend in 2008 so we can't lay the blame at their feet. We all know that at the elite BCS football institutions there are more than one or two involved in the hiring process, especially if you're talking about the job of head coach of the Fighting Irish. Swarbrick has no history with the hiring of college head football coaches. He is a Notre Dame Alum but being an alum doesn't mean a thing as proven by Charlie Weis. He will need help. Father Jenkins probably had some input into the hiring of Weis but that's not exactly a feather in his cap. They will need to go through a very careful process and take advise from the best minds in the college football game.
No doubt Father Jenkins and Jack Swarbrick will be putting on their sales and marketing hats soon when they begin the search for a new head coach. I think it's clear that as far as the 'features and benefits' go, Notre Dame has it all and money is no issue. Period. There is really no excuse for the Fighting Irish to settle for anything but the very best coach they can find. But who should they hire? Brian Kelly at Cincinnati has proven to be an outstanding coach but it's rumored that Cincy is already involved in renegotiation of his contract and Notre Dame may be too late. Chris Petersen at Boise State is regarded as one of the finest young coaches in America and has already won the national coach of the year award in 2007. Both Kelly and Petersen make about 1.2 million a year. Not bad but it's not $4.2 million. If Notre Dame wanted to open up the bank account they could probably attract just about anybody they want. Would Urban Meyer leave Florida for say 5 or 6 million? Saban?
Notre Dame's has a major problem. The Fighting Irish are not the feared opponent they once were. The history and tradition of the years of George Gipp, Johnny Lattner, Leon Hart, Tim Brown, Raghib Ismail and Ross Browner is fading fast. The house that Rockne built has some serioius cracks in it's foundation. If they make another mistake with the next coaching hire the history, tradition, pride and mystic will fade to black.
Who should Notre Dame hire and why? That's the problem for the Fighting Irish.
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