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Notre Dame Coaching Dilemma Overshadowing Fighting Irish

Jeff KalafaAnalyst IIISeptember 23, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 25:  Head coach Charlie Weiss of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish watches his team warm up for the game with the USC Trojans on November 25, 2006 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

The Charlie Weis coaching saga hangs over the head of the Notre Dame program like a large dark cloud that could burst at any moment.

It seems the 2009 Fighting Irish football team is running second in a two-horse race for attention to a coaching controversy. And the players are wearing it like an albatross around their collective necks.

They are reminded every day that the next game they lose could be the last game for Weis.

Will the team use this as a motivator and rise up to play nine games of inspired football? Or will it be a detractor that takes their minds off winning football games?

Though the first three games are in the books, it's still too early to make any predictions about how many games Notre Dame will win in 2009.

Is it out of the question that they'll win 10 games and go to a BCS bowl? Not at this time. In fact, there is good reason to believe they will.

Quarterback Jimmy Clausen has improved and has deleted the word "interception" from his dictionary. Running back Armando Allen is running harder and smarter than last year.

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The Irish are averaging 35 points per game so far. That's up from 25 points last season.

There is also encouraging news when one looks at the 2009 schedule. 

USC and Boston College are teams that hold seven and six-game winning streaks, respectively, against the Irish.

They are weaker than they've been in years. And both teams must go to South Bend.

But there are also indications that 2009 will be a year that the Irish fail to meet the lofty expectations of their fans and, in their eyes, underachieve.

The defense is giving up too many yards and too many points. 

Michigan put up 38 points on the Irish, and Michigan State put up 30. That's not an improvement over last season, when they gave up an average of 22 points per game.

There are other red flags.

Receivers are still dropping crucial passes, the offensive line is still allowing too much pressure, and the kicking game is scary.

Missing extra points and chip-shot field goals will spell disaster down the line.

There is also reason for concern when looking at the schedule. Though USC and Boston College have worsened, others have improved.

Washington is the most improved team on the schedule and in the country. Last week, they upset USC and are the No. 1 rags-to-riches story of the college football season thus far.

UConn has proved better than previously thought. Pittsburgh is solid, and Navy will not go down easily. 

So as the Irish prepare for Saturday's game at Purdue, we can be relatively sure of one thing: We're not sure how Notre Dame will finish.

Maybe we can be sure of something else—something that affects the players, assistant coaches, and Charlie Weis himself...uncertainty.

Will they fire him or will they keep him? Will they fire him after the next loss or at the end of the season? Will he take this team to a BCS bowl game?

It seems because Notre Dame decided to give Weis a huge contract, a move seen to be prudent after a very successful first year.

Notre Dame wasn't this patient with their last few head coaches, but they didn't invest $40 million over 10 years in any of them.

Instead of firing Weis after last year's Syracuse loss, they kept him. The fans were put on sort of a coaching death watch that gets upgraded to intensive care with every win, then back to death watch with a loss.

Doing this publicly wasn't a good move. It just added fuel to this coaching dilemma that won't go away.

As the Irish head into their last nine games, I figure they're about as good as Michigan, to whom they lost a close one on the road, and are about as bad as Michigan State, whom they beat at home.

Where they go from here is anybody's guess. But it would be refreshing if the coaching situation would take a back seat to the game played on the field.

At least for the next couple of games.

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