I feel weird writing this right now but after a few hours of deliberation, I have made a very important decision regarding the Notre Dame football program: Charlie Weis should be fired.
After the Boston College loss two weeks ago, a report surfaced that Weis may be on the hot seat. I immediately dismissed the report as being next to blasphemy and said so on The Edge. But now I'm not so sure. It began last week in Maryland. The Irish had a 24-7 lead on Navy entering the fourth quarter. All seemed secure. A bowl birth guaranteed and a bit of redemption against a team that dealt you one of your worst losses ever seemed imminent. Fourteen points and two botched onside kicks later and the Irish were staring a miracle comeback and a legendary defeat squarely in the face. It was 27-21 and Navy had the ball in Notre Dame territory. It was at this moment when the thought first popped in my head, "maybe he should be fired". Ironically at half-time of that game, the Notre Dame Athletic Director was interviewed and gave a very unconvincing decry that Weis' job was safe. The Navy game ended with joy and jubilation in South Bend. After one long year, the Irish were headed to a bowl once again. All the heartburn of the final quarter in Maryland was forgotten.
That all ended yesterday. A senior day against Syracuse was supposed to be a joyful occasion. Syracuse was coming into a cold, snowy South Bend (remember, the Orange are a dome team) having a typically awful season. Greg Robinson was coaching as a lame duck and the Orange were obviously looking towards the future. After a lack luster first half (one in which they trailed for most), the Irish jumped to a 23-10 lead to enter the fourth. It seemed pretty secure. Not so fast. The Irish collapsed on defense and missed two fourth quarter field goals. Being pelted with snow balls, the stunned Irish walked off the field a 24-23 loser and a 6-5 football team.
On the surface, 6-5 is fine. As I wrote repeatedly during the summer, the goal this year was to get to a bowl. Next season was the year that should have been the make it or break it year for Weis. But for a few reasons, that make or break year has turned into a make or break next two games. The reasons for this are quite simple. Here are five-
1) Second half collapses: Call me crazy, but you could make a case that this team should be a one loss squad playing for a possible national championship birth. Four out of their five losses have come in gut wrenching fashion. ND has had second half leads at North Carolina and at home against Pittsburgh and Syracuse. They led 17-9 in NC and 17-3 against Pitt. The Irish choked both these games away. The Michigan State loss was also incredably winnable. This was a 4-1 team that is now 6-5. That falls squarely on the coaching staff.
2) The team gave up after the Pittsburgh game: I know that's a harsh thing to say, but if you watch this team like I do, its absolutely true. The effort just hasn't been there in the last three weeks. There is no reason why Navy and Syracuse should come back and give you a game after seemingly putting them away. Message to ND: these are not good teams! Multiple score second half leads should be the safest thing in the book. But that's precisely the problem. The team plays safe in the second half. There is no killer instinct. The team plays like they don't care. The effort in the last three weeks has looked more like the 2007 team that won three games then the 2008 team that looked like it might win 9 in late September. There is no reason why a week nine loss to a ranked team, albeit gut-wrenching, should end your season. It appears like it did. Even in their two wins since then, the Irish just haven't been the same. That falls on Weis.
3) Weis is panicking: Gone is the unflappable, cool as a cucumber reputation for Mr. Weis. I don't want to hear it because its just not true. He is clearly panicking and its painfully obvious. After the Pittsburgh loss, Weis though it a wise idea to completely change the teams mid-week routine. Clearly a good idea because if there is one thing we know it's that athletes are not creatchers of habit. And Weis's genius plan worked wonders. ND lost the followed week at Boston College 17-0. It was only one the worst performance of the season. Oh, and it was Weis' return to play-calling. He decided that because his Boston College game plan worked so well, he would take over play calling duties for the rest of the season. Since he took over, the offense has looked dead and unimaginative. Great job Charlie!
4) Jimmy Clausen had regressed in the second half of the season: This is not the pros. Their is no second half rookie wall. Jimmy Clausen is not a freshman. There is no freshman wall. Jimmy Clausen played the majority of last season. There is no first year starter wall. Explaining his magical transformation into an interception prone game manager (not the good kind) after a great start is hard to do. Before the Navy game, Weis went on record as saying that Clausen would not throw an interception that day. He threw two. Against Boston College, he threw four. Against 'cuse he was better, but still a bit unspectacular. I could deal with the interceptions if he was making plays and showing off his immense skill set, but he hasn't really done that since the three touchdown day against Pitt. In the next two games he threw no interceptions against six picks. In both these games, Weis was calling plays. Its a weird coincidence, but one that can not be overlooked.
5) What exactly has Weis done besides coach Tom Brady and write an awful book?: Not much. Bring up the two BCS games if you want, but may I remind you that these teams were not Weis'. They were Ty Willingham's and they had a ton of offensive talent. I'm not taking anything away from Weis, but when your quarterback is Brady Quinn, you will win some games. Now, Willingham may have mismanaged the talent and was a pretty awful coach at times, but he did pick the players. Also, ND was smacked in those two games. In the 2006 Fiesta bowl, I think A.J Hawk ate Brady Quinn. It was utterly laughable. The 2007 Suger Bowl was even worse. JaMarcus Russell had his final practice as a LSU Tiger on national TV...and got a trophy because of it. How many people can say that! Weis then orchestrated the worst season in Notre Dame football season. He never had a chance either. His starting quarterback left before Halloween and he threw a wide eyed freshman kid onto a team with one of the worst offensive lines in history. In two season, Weis has lost to both Navy and Syracuse. Weis' shining moment is also arguably a loss. The "Bush Push" USC loss in 2006 was the closest this team has been to the relevance it once enjoyed. He was brought in here to change the culture and reputation of a team that hasn't won a bowl since the 1994 Cotton Bowl. He has done the exact opposite. With Willingham, Notre Dame was a non-factor. With Weis, its a laughing stock.
There are two things Weis MUST do to save his job-
1: The game next week at USC has to be within reach in the fourth quarter. What is within reach? 2 scores to tie. A blowout in Southern Cal was the final nail for Willingham, it could be the same for Weis.
2: Win the Bowl game: I think this is infinitely more important than the USC game. The program has been stuck on the fact that team hasn't won a bowl since '94. It won't be a big bowl. Don't be surprised if the bowl is something like a 10pm start on ESPN2 on Decmber 27th. This will probably be the case, but it almost doesn't matter when it is or who they play. A bowl win would be a bowl win. All would be forgiven.
If Weis does one of the next two, he probably won't be canned. I'd keep him around if he gave me one. However, if he looses both, there is no reason why he should be back.
No doubt about it, Charlie Weis is coaching for his job in the next two games. And unlike two weeks ago, I believe he deserves that fate.