There is a general consensus forming that the Steelers will likely have an opening for a new offensive coordinator following this season. I think that will be the case even if the Steelers make a deep playoff run, which is certainly still a possibility.
And a prominent name is now on the market.
Charlie Weis had a relatively bad run at Notre Dame, at least by historical Notre Dame standards. That is a fact.
But I’m not convinced that should have any bearing on an NFL team in a market for an offensive coordinator. For one, I’m not at all convinced that any coach can be as successful at Notre Dame as the legends of the past.
The school simply does not have the draw for the top recruits that it once possessed. And it competes with one hand tied behind its back by at least marginally enforcing academic standards among its players. That is something that most of the national powers simply do not do.
I found it laughable when initial speculation suggested that Urban Meyer and Bob Stoops were the leading candidates to land the next head coaching job at Notre Dame. Why would either one of them possibly want to leave their current football factories to try to achieve the same level of success in a much tougher environment?
Urban Meyer is a certified coaching genius, probably the best coach in college football today, but I’m not even sure he could pull it off. I fully expect whomever Notre Dame hires to be a complete failure.
And the coach after that will also be a failure, even as Lou Holtz confidently predicts each one of their teams will win the national championship while a bemused Mark May looks on.
I don’t think Notre Dame will comfortably settle on a coach until the expectations for what a head coach should be able to accomplish matches the reality of their situation. Notre Dame is a relatively small private school with high academic expectations that does not play in a major conference.
The only thing Notre Dame offers is the mystique of a long and storied past, which just doesn't carry the appeal that it once did.
Right now, the expectations and the reality could not be any further out of whack. Few blue chip recruits are going to want to go there when an easier path to success is offered by so many other schools from the major conferences.
And to expect Notre Dame to be able to compete against the elite power conference teams on a consistent basis while losing the recruiting battle is foolish.
Notre Dame still carries plenty of prestige, even in their diminished state, enough prestige that the team should be able to recruit talent enough to average about seven wins a year while playing a moderately difficult schedule.
That is the reality as I see it.
The other factor that should be considered is that the NFL and college game are entirely different animals for many reasons, ranging from the maturity level of the players to the types of schemes that will work. For example, the triple option, which can give college teams fits, cannot succeed, even with the best potential personnel in the pros.
Some coaches are much better equipped to excel in one environment or another. Pete Carroll was a flop in the NFL but is easily one of the best head coaches in college football. Steve Spurrier also comes to mind as someone who excelled at the college level while failing miserably in the NFL.
Weis is the flip side of that coin; he's a guy that has proven he can get it done in the pros while coming up short of expectations in the NCAA ranks.
With these considerations in mind, I think anybody that pays even the slightest bit of attention to Weis’s failed tenure at Notre Dame to exclude his consideration for a pro job is making a huge mistake. As an NFL offensive coordinator, he has three Super Bowl rings. That is indisputable.
He also served under Bill Parcells as an assistant with the Giants, where he grabbed another ring. Perhaps what is even more impressive is that, while serving as offensive coordinator for the New York Jets, he led that offense to a fourth place finish in the league in 1998.
How often were the Jets known for their offensive prowess? How often were the Jets known for much of anything? But Weis coordinated a very dangerous Jets offense in his short tenure there.
While he may come across as a bit cocky at times, Weis is a superb NFL offensive coordinator. And plenty of reputable people speak to his character. No less than Tom Brady recently gave Weis a powerful endorsement, saying, “He’s a great guy and a great coach and any team would really be lucky to have him.” I think he is right.
The Patriots won all of their Super Bowls with him in that role and none since he left. Patriots fans desperately want him back. And that says a lot to me. They are in a position to know him best, since they watched his offenses up close and personal for years.
After Bruce Arians leaves town, how many Steelers fans will ever be pining to welcome him back? Unless the offense devolves to look something like the Browns, I'm guess you'll be able to count them on one hand.
I think Weis could really work with the offensive players on the Steelers, who compare favorably with the offensive players on the Patriots during their Super Bowl runs. The Steelers have a better receiving corps than the ones the Patriots boasted during their title runs, all of which happened before Randy Moss and Wes Welker came to town.
With the emergence of an improved offensive line and a running back in Rashard Mendenhall with the potential to be a game breaker, they have all the tools they need.
Like those Patriots, they also have a smart and very competitive quarterback who can execute a good game plan. I have a hunch Roethlisberger would respond well to Weis.
The teams also play in similar weather environments, so a design that fit the Patriots would likely also fit the Steelers. And Weis’s offenses at New England achieved a good run/pass balance for outdoor harsh weather football and were unpredictable, something that nobody has said about the Steelers' offense since Bruce Arians took it over.
There is speculation that Weis could return to the Patriots, but I don’t really expect that to happen. It could detract from Belichick’s reputation as the evil genius since bringing Weis would highlight his failure to win a Super Bowl since Weis left town.
It is sort of a Shaq-Kobe situation, where Kobe Bryant felt the need to win a championship on his own to vindicate his status. Belichick has pride by the truckload, and that pride will get in the way of potentially bringing Weis back if he suspects that the return of Weis could take the focus off of him.
Of course, there are precedents for such a rehire. Bill Cowher was very successful with Dick LeBeau as defensive coordinator. After a failed head coaching stint by LeBeau in Cincinnati, Cowher certainly welcomed him back, and immediately became a better head coach for making the move.
But I just don’t think Belichick will do it. I’m more concerned that the Kansas City Chiefs might make a run at him; although, the Steelers would certainly be a better option for him based on their higher profile and a roster stocked with more talent.
One objection that is likely to be raised is that the Steelers don’t pursue big name free agents. When you are talking about a troubled player like Michael Vick, I would absolutely agree. I would have been stunned if the Steelers looked twice in Vick’s direction, or Larry Johnson’s, for that matter, although plenty of speculation and rumors surrounded both players indicating that the Steelers might be an option before they signed elsewhere.
When you are talking about a coordinator to run the offense, I couldn’t disagree more. Serving time in prison or fracturing a locker room with constant bad behavior are in entirely different categories than failing to lead Notre Dame back to glory.
Perhaps the biggest selling point Weis has is that his name is not Bruce Arians. That seals the deal for me.
A humbled Weis is ready to reestablish his reputation as a great offensive mind. Pittsburgh is the ideal place, and situation, to see that happen.