It's Timeposted by Mike Coffey
The last two didn't hurt, but this one does.
Okay, the last two hurt, but not in the same way. The last two times we fired guys, they were guys who didn't really care about ND as a place and decided to treat it as a career way-station on their planned route to College Station, TX, or the NFL. The losses and ineptitude that brought us to their dismissals were painful, but the solution was not.
This solution, however necessary, is different. Charlie Weis was a lot of things, but carpetbagger certainly wasn't one of them. When he told a recruit about the special aspects of the Grotto, he spoke from the heart. He spoke from the soul. He connected to Notre Dame and connected with us, and in doing so, brought hope things would turn around.
That connection kept Weis' head above water last year during a horrific 3-9 campaign that was as much his own doing as caused by his predecessor's recruiting shortfalls. But at 6-5, in the wake of one of the worst losses in Notre Dame football history and staring down the barrel of a top-10 team in Los Angeles that needs style points if they wants to play in the BCS championship game, that connection is dragging us down with him.
It's time to cut the connection before we all drown.
There really is no alternative. For the second consecutive season, ND will finish with a worse won-loss record than its talent would indicate. For the fourth consecutive season, ND will look worse in its last game than it did in its first. John Walters ran the numbers, and Charlie Weis sits today after four years with the exact same win percentage his two predecessors had on the day they were fired. It wasn't good enough then, and it's certainly not good enough now.
Weis said it himself: We didn't bring him here to go .500.
Dylan over at BGS described Jack Swarbrick as, "having barely opened his office door, has found the whole place to be on fire". Fair or not, football coaching hires are how AD's are judged, and it's Swarbrick at the bat, or with the fire extinguisher at least.
In a perfect world, he would have been sounding out potential replacements early to make this as seamless as possible. I'm willing to bet a lot of money that hasn't happened. But fear not, such things are still possible, and time remains.
Weis, in retrospect, was a poor hire. But I gain hope from the hiring track record of the current administration since that day. On the academic side, Tom Burish seems to have been a good get at Provost, there are a number of excellent candidates on the short list for the Law School, and even the most curmudgeonly curmudgeon on Rock's House applauded Marianne Corr's hiring as General Counsel. On the athletic side, Jeff Jackson prowls the blue line in the Joyce Center after taking Notre Dame to its first Frozen Four.
Good hires of people more than capable in their field seem to have been made in recent years, all without the word "residentiality" being uttered. This tells me the people involved know how to hire. If they all of a sudden can't get it done in football, that will tell me a whole list of other things, none of them good.
But in the spirit of hope springing eternal, I think it's important to remind all my gentle readers of the things all previous successful ND coaches since Rockne have had in common:
All were very experienced as a college coach. Elmer Layden had coached for nine years prior to arriving in South Bend. Ara Parseghian had 13 years' experience. Dan Devine and Lou Holtz both coached their 17th season in their first year at ND. The only exception to this rule was Frank Leahy, but he got quite a bit done in his two years at BC.
All had coached at the top levels of college before coming to ND. Duquesne was a strong program when Leyden was there. Ara coached in the Big 10, Devine in the Big 8 (now Big XII), Lou in the SWC and Big 10. Again, Leahy stands out with BC being an independent, but also again, what he did there makes up for it.
All had coached at least one major college team to an undefeated season, a top-10 ranking, or a major NYD bowl. Layden's 1929 Duquesne team went 9-0-1 and his 1933 team went 10-1 and won what is now called the Orange Bowl. In two years at BC, Leahy's teams went to the Cotton and Sugar bowls. Ara had Northwestern ranked #1 during his career, an unheard-of achievement in those days. Devine had an undefeated season at ASU, and had four top-ten finishes and went to three Orange Bowls and a Sugar Bowl at Mizzou. Lou was an Orange, Fiesta, and Sugar Bowl veteran by the time he arrived in South Bend, and had four top-10 finishes to his credit to boot, including one at NC State.
So it can be conclusively proven that Notre Dame has had success when led by an experienced, known-commodity coach. The myth once perpetrated by a former administration official that "Notre Dame makes coaches, not the other way around" is just that, a myth.
Unfortunately for us, however, these men also had two other things in common:
They were not in good coaching situations when they were hired. Notre Dame represented a step up or a dream come true for all of these men. Layden and Leahy were alumni. ND was a bigger stage and could give more than the Integer outlets at which Ara and Lou toiled. Devine was coming off a failed attempt to coach the Packers.
It definitely takes more moxie than the norm to woo a top coach away from what might be considered a cushy job. But we are, as the commercials during the game tell us, the Fighting Irish, and I expect a fight no matter who we end up hiring. What was the title of Charlie's book? No excuses.
They weren't saints. This has been a strong refrain of NDOldTown in recent days/weeks, and in this, he is absolutely right. All these men were ethical and good people. But they also were winners, and were willing to do what it took while following the spirit of the rules to get there. They worked hard and so did their players. If they saw an advantage, they took it. And they certainly didn't have people in their job interview talking to them about the importance of Catholicism and other tertiary concerns. There's a reason the Boy Scouts don't have a football team, and as long as we aren't treating players like pieces of meat and we ensure they graduate with meaningful educations while keeping our noses clean, it's all good.
These are the times that try men's souls, times when people who aspire to be Notre Dame legends have an opportunity to prove their worth. Fr. Jenkins and Jack Swarbrick have such an opportunity now, and it may be their last. Make it count, gentlemen.