December 16, 2004
(AP) South Bend, IN – The University of Notre Dame gave their players, alumni, and fans exactly what they were looking for this Christmas---an honest to goodness football coach. Charlie Weis, offensive coordinator of the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, replaces Tyrone Willingham, totemic African American saint and martyr, as the next head football coach of the Fighting Irish.
The hiring of Weis, 48, a white man who is neither Jewish, Hispanic, female, gay, trans-gendered, Pacific Islander, nor Inuit, shocked many observers. In an unexpected move it appeared that Notre Dame had hired its new coach based on actual football knowledge and an unapologetic commitment to winning. Nonetheless, the decision was cheered by the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA)*.
“It’s a high-profile position that all wide-profile people can be proud of,” said Barnie Ledbetter, a spokesman for the organization.
Notre Dame introduced Weis Monday, and the new coach addressed the curious crowd of reporters with confidence and enthusiasm. He described the remarkable journey that has brought him to the pinnacle of the coaching profession from his humble beginnings as a regular Notre Dame undergrad shotgunning Schlitz tall boys in Green Field.
With fond remembrance for the tailgaters of his youth, Weis declared an early priority. “First thing we gotta do is dynamite that new quad.”
Weis embraced the challenge of his first and, to his thinking, last head coaching job. “We come to Notre Dame with the intent of retiring here,” he said. The implicit promise of winning multiple national championships was understood by all. At one point Weis said that he wanted to have a “nasty” football team, prompting gasps throughout the audience.
There were other indications that Weis would bring a tough, no nonsense approach to the job. He refused to complain about the schedule. He spoke confidently of his ability to win the battle of X’s and O’s. And when a reporter tried to goad him into commenting on Willingham’s ouster after only three years, Weis stuffed him into a utility closet.
Weis’ performance left an immediate impression among Notre Dame’s assembled administrative ciphers.
“That was Parcellsian,” declared associate athletic director John Heisler.
“It was Belichikesque,” remarked vice president for university relations Lou Nanni.
“Did he really shoot a man in Reno?” asked assistant athletic director Missy Conboy.
The blunt talk of the press conference paled in comparison to the unconfirmed reports of the language Weis used in his talk with the team.
“I counted six f-bombs and three mother f-bombs. And that was just when he was talking about playing USC,” enthused one player.
“He said ‘ass’ and ‘kick’ in a way I’ve never heard a coach say it before,” said another player. “Before it was always, ‘Men, we sure got our asses kicked today.’ But Coach Weis said things like, ‘We’re going to kick BC’s ass,’ and ‘We’re going to run a kick-ass offense.’ I was a little disoriented at first, but then I got really excited.”
Added a third player, “Finally, we have a coach who knows that X’s and O’s doesn’t mean kisses and hugs.”
Notre Dame officials hoped that the unveiling of their new, spirited head coach would stem the tide of negative publicity that accompanied the school’s decision to terminate slain civil rights leader Martin Luth---edit---Tyrone Willingham just three years into his six year contract. The controversy intensified when Notre Dame’s presumptive first choice, Urban Meyer, turned down his so-called “dream job” in order to become the University of Florida’s third choice to replace Ron Zook.
Zook’s firing was significant because it means that there are no coaches left in Division 1A with surnames beginning in “Z”.
Comparisons between the two prominent programs were inevitable. The twelve days it took Notre Dame to hire a new coach from a standing start was an excruciating eternity marked by embarrassment and scandal. By contrast the 43 days it took the University of Florida to replace its coach were both brief and a model of efficiency and honest dealing.
Scientists call this anomaly the ESPN time-space distortion.
As much as the university tried to downplay the racial ramifications of the coaching change, some commentators weren’t willing to let it go. Mike Wilbon, ESPN sports personality and spokesman for the Black Panthers, remarked, “What happened to coach Willingham was completely unjust. I predict Denzel will play him in the movie!”
Even former Irish players joined in publicly bashing their alma mater. Aaron Taylor, Mike Golic, and Raghib “Rocket” Ismail, who have each parlayed their gridiron fame at Notre Dame into highly compensated jobs at ESPN or its parent, ABC, were quick to take the company line.
“Notre Dame has lost its mystique,” decried Taylor.
“No coach can win at Notre Dame today,” lamented Mike Golic.
“Yo, yo, yo. I gotta represent for Ty. The Irish dissed my homey,” said Ismail. “And they lack speed.”
“They’ve gone native on us,” grumbled sports information director Bernadette Cafarelli when asked to comment on the former players’ defection to the ESPN chorus. “Can I say that?”
In an interview, Chris Zorich, former Chicago Bear, member of the Fighting Irish 1988 national championship team, Notre Dame Law School graduate and ingrate, accused his alma mater of selling out. “They’re just like any other football factory now---except for the entrance requirements, the going to class, the bona fide majors, and the graduation rates…Oh, and the losing. Other than that they’re just like Florida State.”
Former Notre Dame quarterback and ESPN analyst Joe Theismann defended his school. “If selling out mean coming up with innovative game plans, making halftime adjustments, and recruiting effectively, then I’m all for it. Charlie Weis gets it. He can win and do it the Notre Dame way.”
Tim Brown, the last Irish player to win the Heisman Trophy, agreed that Notre Dame could win with the right direction and leadership. “It’s one thing to fight with one hand tied behind your back,” said Brown, referring to the school’s academic restrictions, “it’s another thing to fight with your head up your ass,” he said, referring to the incompetence of the school’s administration.
Brown’s comment was a thinly disguised reference to the tenure of outgoing university president, Rev. Edward “Defrocked” Malloy. Fr. Malloy opened the press conference that introduced Weis to the media. There had been some question as to whether Fr. Malloy would attend the media event after he had publicly and emphatically disassociated himself from the firing of Willingham, the numinous symbol of Malloy’s racial sensitivity. The reverend’s presence confirmed earlier reports that he had absolutely no shame.
Fr. Malloy quickly turned the podium over to his successor, Rev. John “The Knife” Jenkins before retiring to a fainting couch that was brought in for the occasion. It was Fr. Jenkins, backed by key members of the board of trustees and their checkbooks that led the move to oust Willingham. Together, they hand picked a professional search committee that included such well-respected figures as former athletic director Gene Corrigan, who was responsible for hiring Lou Holtz.
This search process stood in sharp contrast to the one that followed the firing of Bob Davie three years ago. That time the school suffered embarrassment when it hired George O’Leary only days before discovering that the coach had falsified key elements of his resume. AD Kevin White had described O’Leary as a coach “right out of central casting.” This time, White confirmed, the theatre department had no role in the search. Still, that didn’t keep Chandra Johnson, drama queen and special assistant to Fr. Malloy, from shaving her head in an act of protest qua performance art.
In the end the search committee chose the highly credentialed Weis, who wore one of his three Super Bowl rings to the press conference.
“I had to rummage through my dresser drawers to find one,” remarked Weis. “I usually just wear my Notre Dame class ring….It’s the one I’m most proud of.”
* [Author’s note: No joke. This is a real organization: http://www.naafa.org/documents/brochures/naafa-info.html]