The Glow Is Off The Golden Dome
Wednesday - November 09, 2005
With the extension of Charlie Weis’ contract to the year 2015, we can now officially remove the golden aura around Notre Dame football. The national league of college football factories has the cold-weather location they’ve been longing for.
It sure was a nice run.
A century of recognition as the paragon of athletic virtue. High academic standards. Big graduation rates. Tons of victories, national championships, Heisman Trophies and infiltration into nearly every NFL roster. The Fighting Irish are not just better on the field, they are just better, period. At least that’s what we have been led to believe.
To be fair, a big part of that reputation has been well-earned. Dumb jocks are not allowed at Notre Dame at least not yet. You don’t see post-game brawls or players standing forward and then in profile to have their picture taken with a series of numbers at the bottom of the frame. They even have the lord and savior of a billion people playing referee in the end zone. One has always wondered how serious Catholics feel about that.
But let’s not sugarcoat things. South Bend is hardly the Garden of Eden. The university was a major player in consolidating the power of the big schools through out the history of the game. The book, Under the Tarnished Dome: How Notre Dame Betrayed its Ideals for Football Glory, detailed alleged problems under coach Lou Holtz. Booster Kimberly Dunbar got busted for giving money and gifts to players out of the $1.4 million she embezzled from her employers. Bad situations, no doubt. But what separates the shenanigans of the past from Weis’ contract and other recent events is that these latest efforts are being exactly directed by the school.
Before Weis came on board, it was common knowledge around the water cooler that being head coach at Notre Dame was not the job it used to be. Too much pressure and not enough pay. It’s what many feel led Urban Meyer, Notre Dame’s first choice as coach, to Florida. Ty Willingham, Weis’ predecessor, started 8-0 then two seasons later made history as the first head man to ever be fired. Until that time, every coach, even Jerry Faust, got to play out their deal.
Now things have changed yet again.
With less than one year on the job, the school has decided to throw away a history of fiscal responsibility and make Weis the highest paid coach in the land.
He may even deserve it.
No one sings the praises of Notre Dame better than Weis. He bleeds green and gold. He’s the first South Bend graduate to take over as full-time head coach since 1938 and has rallied the team, the fans and most importantly, the alumni.
Notre Dame has to win. It’s that simple. Nothing else is allowed. Alumni stretch to all 50 states and to who knows how many foreign countries. And far too many have athletic and university leadership on speed dial.
Back in the day those same people would wait out the rough times, trusting that good old Notre Dame would get things right.
Now they are no longer waiting. Seeing Oklahoma, Miami and USC dominate every single year has got them upset. Notre Dame can’t be No. 2. And that’s the reason why the school has locked up a 5-2 coach (as of this writing) for the next decade.
All this is not to say that Notre Dame is the new face of evil in college athletics.
Far from it.
Players still have to study to play. Weis, a stickler for every detail, showed his heart to a dying child by allowing him to call a play. He took his son into Southern Cal’s locker room after the game to show the importance of sportsmanship.
There is a lot to feel good about Irish football.
But the age of innocence is over. In years prior, Notre Dame could claim there were more important things than football.
Now that the school has officially joined the arms race for high-profile coaches, the argument can no longer be made.
The bill-payers have spoken.
They want a winner and they want it now.
Like so many other institutions of higher learning, the beast must be fed.
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