What a difference a few years can make.
I remember working my last preseason practice as a manager in 2005 before ND traveled to Pitt. It was a scrimmage inside Notre Dame stadium, and one I will always remember for two reasons. Firstly, I was on the wrong end of Weis’ infamous “You have one fucking job to do” tirade (thank you chain gang refs for giving me the wrong down to start the drill). Secondly though, I remember Weis’ speech after practice. He gathered the team up, had them take a knee, talked about all the work they had just been through, all the doubt that had been cast upon them in the media, and that no one was giving them a shot. Then he said in a very matter-of-fact tone:
But come Saturday night, after the game is over, the whole nation is going to wake up and say: “Holy shit, Notre Dame is good.”
I believed it, the other managers believed it, and so did the team. For those behind the scenes, we all saw practice and we all knew that this team wasn’t the same team we saw in 2004. It wasn’t overconfidence or false bravado by Weis. He was stating what we all believed as truth. When the Irish took the field against Pitt, they played like it. It wasn’t just a win, it was a beating and everyone was caught by surprise.
Five years later, and on the heels of an embarrassing loss to Navy, the exact opposite occurred. The Irish came out completely flat, and even though the score board showed a five point loss, I felt we were trailing by fifty. People at my game watch were taking “Fire Weis” shots, discussion quickly shifted to who will coach next year for us. We all knew it, and every Notre Dame fan knows it.
Weis is done.
As I was contemplating the game Sunday, my mind went back to 2004, the first game I worked as a manager. Ironically enough, the game was against Pitt. I had been able to work a few football practices here and there, and I felt had a somewhat decent feel for Ty’s “coaching” abilities beyond what I saw from the stands. I wasn’t on the “Fire Ty” bandwagon yet, but once I got back to my dorm room, the first thing I did was update my AIM away message (Facebook did not yet have status updates): “That’s it, I’ve had it — end the agony” and linked to (the now non-existent) FireTyWillingham.com.
What I saw that game was a horrendous lack of effort, awful officiating, and a coaching staff with Ty at the helm that didn’t have any idea how to fix it. The team in general had given up. Sure you had a few players here and there that refused to give in, but overall from just looking at the overall demeanor of the team, I couldn’t help but shake the feeling we wouldn’t win. ND tried to make a game of it, and the effort of a few nearly propelled a 4th quarter comeback, but the Irish fell 41-38 on a last second field goal.
Fast forward to 2009, and we saw a horrendous lack of effort overall, an inexplicable ruling on a “fumble” by Clausen from the replay booth, and Weis seemed to have no answer for how to get us back in the game. Golden Tate did his damnedest to will us to victory, but our 4th quarter comeback feel short. I felt the whole time we wouldn’t win, and I was right.
I realized I was in 2004 all over again — our coach is done.
I still believe that we would be taking a huge risk by firing Weis, but it is just so overwhelmingly obvious now that he is done and Notre Dame simply can’t keep the charade up any longer. The players and recruits alike all likely see the writing on the wall and there is no sense in trying to hide it. Even the biggest of Weis defenders know this is the case.
So the questions now are who, when, and will the buyout keep Weis here?
The last two are easy to answer. ND’s Athletic Director, Jack Swarbrick, has made two things abundantly clear: the buyout is a non-issue and a final decision won’t be made until after Stanford. Much like 2008, Swarbrick will likely sit down with Weis after the final game on the West Coast (this time Stanford instead of USC), and until then, he won’t say a word about it.
The who though is the big question. We can likely rule Gruden out immediately since ESPN has extended his contract and quite literally said he will not look for any coaching jobs in the foreseeable future. Brian Kelly is of course, the hot name at the moment as it was last year; however, I feel quite nervous about hiring a hot-shot Big East coach to replace the guy we feel just isn’t cutting it anymore — I think I’ve seen that scenario play out somewhere before. The Chicago Sun Times reported that Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz and Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops could be possible replacements for Weis. And before you laugh at the possibility of Stoops going Irish (as I initially did), you may want to do a bit of reading because it may not be as far fetched as we all think.
And no, I’m not even going to mention Urban Meyer, cut it out, he isn’t coming here and I refuse to entertain that thought any longer than this sentence.
I’ve had several different people throughout the last couple of days ask me (even via Twitter) who I think Weis replacement will be. Folks, your guess is as good as mine at this point. I don’t even know where to begin because the rumors are coming up left and right and it is enough to make anyone’s head spin. Much like trying to project bowls, the picture isn’t going to get much clearer until the season nears its end.
However, one thing I do know is that Notre Dame should most definitely be making some phone calls or visits right now to potential targets and get interest gauged immediately before what appears to be the eventual canning of Weis. We got major egg on our face after we fired Ty, not just because he didn’t deserve it, but because we didn’t get our first choice, Urban Meyer, and then we kept going down the list having several people say “thanks, but no thanks” until we settled on Weis.
We cannot afford to settle this time around. This program needs a gigantic shakeup and if we are going to do it properly is needs to be with our top choice, not the top choice that is leftover when the dust settles.
Whether or not Notre Dame is indeed getting a head start this time around is going to be impossible to tell. Hell, this year they even blocked public tracking of the private jet Swarbrick uses, so don’t expect that to help out this time around. I am hopeful though that this little maneuver means that ND is actually making plans to reach out to coaches before seasons end. It would make sense, keeping the public eye away from what you are doing, allowing a decision to be made after the Stanford game instead of ND fans assuming it is made, causing more havoc.
But again, your guess is as good as mine on that one. Brace yourself, we are about to be in for one hell of a whirlwind to end the season.