Dark Days At The Golden Dome

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - September 26, 2007
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Notre Dame is in some serious trouble. Not that this is any real news after its fifth straight loss over two seasons by a combined score of 187-51. Thirty eight of which came last year.

While the Georgia Tech game was horrific and Penn State just simply bad, those four quarters against Michigan may have been the worst in school history. Against the Wolverines, the Fighting Irish could only muster 79 yards of total offense against a team that itself had been a sieve on defense. After three games, Notre Dame was last in the nation in scoring, yards per game and rushing while giving up an inexcusable 23 sacks. They have rushed for a pathetic minus-14 yards while giving up an astonishing 712. Notre Dame is not just bad, it may be the worse team in the country. Not an acceptable position for a school whose history is nearly as big as the sport itself.

Big losses are not the only problem for Notre Dame. The players seem to have no idea what they are doing. They can’t block, don’t tackle, can’t hold onto the ball nor run or throw. It’s a situation so dire that if it were anyone other than a three-time Super Bowl winning coach with an impossible-to-swallow $36 million remaining on his 10-year deal, he would be facing a midseason firing. Minus a criminal indictment, Charlie Weis’ job is secure. Not even God’s favorite college football team can afford that buy out.

Those who supposedly know about such things say that Weis had the best recruiting class in the country this past off-season and that the players already on the roster just need some seasoning. Fair enough. The Irish did lose 15 starters and 24 letter-winners from a year ago and were looking at an uphill climb even though as Weis says in the media guide, “tradition never graduates.” He’s right. History remains. So does the stench of failure.

So what’s the problem?

When Weis took the job at Notre Dame three seasons ago, he promised his team that no one would be better prepared than the Irish. This was Charlie’s way of telling the guys that they’ve got the best coaching staff - or at least the best head coach - in the business, and if they played to their abilities, championships would follow. The problem is that the Irish have executed so poorly that it’s hard to determine exactly how much talent they have. The one thing we do know is that this team is slow and that blame falls squarely on Weis. True, he does not yet have all his own players and has to make do with some of his predecessor’s recruits. But it was with that same coach’s players that Weis opened his Notre Dame career with a .760 winner percentage. Even if Weis’ two recruiting classes were not enough to restock the shelves, it does not excuse their inability to perform the basics. At this point, he has failed in his job to prepare his team - a direct reversal of the promise, or boast, he made at the beginning of his tenure.

Weis’ idea to basically restart training camp seems like a desperate move and one that, if taken literally, would leave little time to prepare for upcoming opponents. And that has not been his only bizarre move. Weis could have put his players’ health at risk by holding a full contact practice the Sunday after the Michigan loss. The Irish got beat and beat up, and his players needed recovery time and not another practice that can only be seen as a punishment. If there was anyone deserving forced extra labor, it’s the coaching staff.

The situation with Demetrius Jones was another strange moment in a frustrating season. Named the starting quarterback at the beginning of the season, Jones was benched for poor performance during the 33-3 loss to Georgia Tech. Jones was 1-3 for four yards passing and ran the ball 12 times for 39 yards before giving way to Evan Sharpley, and games two and three starter to freshman Jimmy Clausen.

Reportedly unannounced to his coaches, Jones had packed up his belongings and hightailed it to Northern Illinois while the team waited for him on the team bus. Two days later in an interview with the South Bend Tribune, Jones said he felt he was lied to by the coaches about his chances to start for the Irish.

“When I heard Jimmy was the No. 1 all the way through the spring and that the only thing that was keeping him out of the lineup was his surgery, well that’s not what I was led to believe going into the summer,” said Jones in the article. “I thought I was getting a chance because Coach Weis believed in me. Then I didn’t know what to believe anymore.’‘

Jones definitely handled the situation poorly. He ran out on his team at its low point and even had the gall to tell reporters of his plans before his coaches. Notre Dame was well within its rights to not release Jones from his scholarship. As of this writing, the school has said that it may help Jones find another program and release him from his commitment, so long as his new team is not on the Irish’s schedule and not Northern Illinois. If Jones decides to play for the Huskies, he will have to either pay his own way or sit out a season.

No matter what may have been said, Jones shouldn’t have bolted on his team. But while Jones is to blame for his own actions, Weis must also explain - to his bosses - how the situation with Jones had spun completely out of control. Players quit programs over playing time every season, but they don’t pull a Bob Irsay midnight move for no reason.

For all his headlines and huge paychecks, Weis has not live up to the hype. It’s not all his fault. With the Notre Dame job comes unreal expectations. An Irish coach is expected to win, win big and win championships while the players maintain a high GPA. Though his record (at the time of this writing) remains an impressive 19-9, Weis is only 4-6 against ranked opponents and is facing the real possibility of an 0-8 start before beginning its annual chase of the Commander in Chief’s Trophy.

The Notre Dame faithful have so far remained loyal to their costly coach. As they should. A man doesn’t create a Super Bowl winning offense around a sixth-round draft choice at quarterback and mediocre wide receivers without knowing something about the game. Though to be honest, Tom Brady’s draft status was due more to teams misreading his ability than the offensive magic of Charlie Weis.

Weis’ popularity will give him some breathing room, but that won’t continue if the losses keep piling up. The last thing the folks in South Bend want is to relive the Gerry Faust era.

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