Comparisons are Odious
Both 11-5 after 16 games. Both lost their first bowl game. Charlie got an extension. Tyrone didn't. Implied racism. Ooh, and Washington just upset (an overrated) UCLA (at home in the only semi-difficult game they've played all year), while Charlie's about to lose the second straight (in a harsh four-game opening stretch against undefeated teams).
The scribes had been waiting since December of 2004 to write that column. Waiting to stand up and say, "Ha Ha, we were right." Waiting to say all the things they couldn't say when Charlie Weis' team was winning games and competitive in defeat during the 2005 season.
And you could hear the grinding of teeth as the Fighting Irish pulled out the victory (thanks, in part, to a Michigan State implosion). ABC is lucky John Saunders wasn't mic'ed as the Irish came down the stretch. Then again, he may have been busy rewriting his rant for the next day's Sports Reporters.
God bless poor Greg Couch, he didn't want all that work to go to waste, so he tried writing that column anyway in the Chicago Sun Times today (I'm not going to link it because I don't want to give them hits -- suffice it to say it's probably as bad as you're thinking it is, and spare yourself the eye pain). I guess even Jay Mariotti needs a Renfield sometimes.
Yes, if one looks at the high-level W/L numbers, Charlie's career is starting the same as Tyrone Willingham's did at Notre Dame. But if you dig deeper than those numbers, you'll see the stark differences -- differences that justified a contract extention for Weis and show why an extended tenure at Notre Dame by Willingham could have damaged the Notre Dame program even more than he did in three years.
Tyrone Willingham was lazy, with a capital L-A-Z-Y. I'm sure he has a lot of other fine qualities, but working hard wasn't among them during his ND tenure.
Don't believe me? Ask the operators of Warren Golf Course and other courses around the South Bend area, who were asked not to record the number of rounds Willingham was playing on a daily basis, to shield him both from a handicap adjustment and criticism from ND fans who might have been disturbed about how much time he was spending there. Or ask golfers on the course, who would find Willingham joining their groups around the third hole and leaving them on the 16th or 17th (and not speaking to them during the round, of course), all to avoid the already-mentioned recording of rounds. By all estimates, Willingham was playing four to six rounds of golf per week during seasons where his teams were getting steamrolled on the field and his coaches were getting steamrolled in recruiting off of it.
Or ask the coaches of high school prospects Willingham pursued. Instead of spending an hour or two getting to know them and showing them why their charges would benefit from his tutelage at Notre Dame, Willingham would meet with them for a token 10 or 15 minutes, and then head to his rental car (which, more often than not, had his golf clubs in the back seat). This really turned the coaches off, and had a not-insignificant affect on recruiting efforts.
Or ask the recruits who would show up for visits, only to find no coaches available to greet them or answer their questions. This happened multiple times during Willingham's tenure at Notre Dame, meaning he was either excessively disorganized or just didn't care.
Or ask the members of the Board of Trustees who, after the dismal 2003 campaign, wanted to discuss the problems and potential solutions with Willingham. Trouble is, they couldn't find him. He and the rest of his assistants, days after signing an unranked recruiting class, were enjoying a golf junket in Florida. Needless to say, the BOT called them all back from vacation and told them to get to work. Didn't do much good; the 2004 class wasn't anything to shout about either.
Let's contrast with Charlie Weis, who brought in a top-five recruiting class last season and is working on a possible top-three class this season. I don't think he's ever picked up a golf club in his life, and while some HS coaches may not like his brash demeanor, at least he's giving all of them the chance to get to know him and what he can do for their kids. Outside of the month of July, which is dedicated to his family, Weis is working long days (and nights) trying to improve this football program. When a recruit showed up unexpectedly last year, Weis called an assistant back off the road on a moment's notice to meet with him. The recruit came away impressed.
Weis works. Willingham didn't.
Tyrone Willingham was over-promoted too quickly, and as such, is a caretaker-type head coach who depends on the abilities of his assistants. While that model can and has worked at places, it falls apart when those assistants are sub-par.
Willingham has never installed an offense or defense. He has never expressed a strong philosophy on either side of the ball, preferring vague references to a "West Coast offense" that never seemed to match what happens on the field, and defensive references that never seemed to describe anything ever done in football. He was (and is) ill-equipped to strategize any kind of gameplan, preferring to be the stoic figurehead strolling the sidelines.
Willingham was either unable or unwilling to recognize and deal with under-performing assistants. Bill Diedrich's offenses were painfully easy to dissect, and yet Willingham took no steps to rectify the situation, going so far as to try and take Diedrich with him to Washington. Kent Baer's defenses were average, and yet his employment at Notre Dame continued.
It's no accident that not only did no one try to hire ND's assistants away from Willingham, but most of them also accompanied him to Washington because no one else wanted them. It's no accident that Willingham's offense is better at Washington because UW forced him to ditch Diedrich if he wanted the job.
Again, the Charlie Contrast. Weis was known as an excellent offensive mind in the NFL, so he's well able to strategize and gameplan against opposing defenses. When hired, he went out to get the best assistants he could get, unlike Willingham, who simply brought his Stanford group with him. David Cutcliffe, the QB coaching genius. Rob Ianello, architect of Wisconsin's quality recruiting. Michael Haywood, both an alumnus and late of the Mack Brown recruiting express at Texas. And when Cutcliffe had to leave for health reasons, Weis had Peter Vaas ready and waiting.
In only his second season, it remains to be seen how under-performance will be greeted. But given the micro-management of the program in other areas, logic dictates it will be dealt with more swiftly than under Willingham.
And recruits know acumen (or lack thereof) when they see it, which is why Willingham managed only one decent class during his tenure while Weis is working on his second straight in the top five. High schoolers are voting with their pens as they sign LOI's.
Simply put, Tyrone Willingham didn't want to be at Notre Dame, and it showed. He spoke disrespectfully of the program in the weeks before he was hired, changing his tune in a probably-SID-produced anecdote about running home from church to listen to the ND reruns as a child at his introduction presser. He never understood the things that made ND special. He never connected (or tried to connect, for that matter) with the alumni, blowing off scheduled events and delivering a poor performance at the events he did attend. His representatives had already talked to Washington during his third season, knowing the reduced buyout clause in his contract would make the move easier. Willingham was all set to jump before he was pushed, and it's disingenuous of him in interviews not to acknowledge that.
Charlie Weis wants to be at Notre Dame, and you can see it in everything he does. The reverence with which he talks to recruits about the Grotto and other campus landmarks. Giving the game ball for MSU to Ara Parseghian, which is something that wouldn't have occurred to Tyrone Willingham (or Bob Davie, for that matter) if you had given him a year to think about it. It's all little things to show the ND fanbase he's one of us.
(and lest you think the "one of us" includes skin color, Bob Davie made the same mistakes Willingham did, and should have been fired after his third season, too)
Desire also shows on the field. Willingham's teams were passive. If an opponent came out of the gate and smacked them in the mouth, it was, "oh well, we'll get them next time." Weis-led teams punch back. They may take a shot, but they're never out of games even when they're behind by three scores four times in the first three quarters.
Notre Dame magic was not made by the timid. Weis understands this. Willingham did not.
I've given up depending on some media folks to do their homework, but hope springs eternal.
I hope the next time Craig James or one of his cohorts talks about ND's lack of speed, they take the thought to the logical conclusion and mention how the team is still three quarters full of Willingham recruits. They don't hesitate to talk about it when ND wins, so I hope they're not hypocritical enough to abandon the train of thought when it suits their purposes.
Ditto next season, when the team will be depending on freshmen and sophomores because Willingham's last two classes don't reflect favorably against the teams ND will play. I'm not holding my breath for a "Willingham recruiting shortfalls come home to roost" headline, but I still believe in guardian angels too, so....
I hope the next time Michael Wilbon or one of his cohorts bemoan the damage ND did to minority hiring, they also take the time to note Tyrone Willingham was as much (if not more) to blame for his failure at ND as ND was, and that perhaps a stronger foundation in football fundamentals would have served Willingham better in his career. I also hope at least one of them has the guts to call him out on his role in his failure at Notre Dame, rather than serving up softballs and voluntarily serving as Willingham's lap dogs.
I hope the next time Greg Couch or one of his cohorts start comparing Weis' record to Willingham's and alleging "panic" on ND's part when dealing with Willingham, they recognize in the next breath the foundational damage Willingham's poor gameday and recruiting performance was doing to the Notre Dame program. Two more years of this under-performance, especially coming on the heels of Bob Davie's inept leadership, might have acted as a de-facto death penalty for the Notre Dame football program. While I'm sure the ND haters would have no problem with that, excuse the ND fans for not finding that result palatable.
Weis is doing the little things Willingham never did. If Willingham had done them, he'd still be at ND right now. But then again, that's not what he wanted.
That's the only comparison that stands up to scrutiny.