The Sweep

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Notre Dame needs an infusion of more top recruits, like Jimmy Clausen.
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LOS ANGELES -- As Charlie Weis was being led off the field at the Coliseum for what may be his final game as the head coach at Notre Dame, he put his arm around his son, Charlie, as he was showered with chants of “Charlie sucks!” and “Fire Charlie!” Not even the five Notre Dame staffers surrounding him or the trio of security guards paving Weis’ way to the tunnel and locker room could protect him or his son from the chants that ring just as loud in Los Angeles as they do in South Bend.

"I’m not concerned with that," said Weis after the game, sitting before reporters in a makeshift tent set up outside Notre Dame’s locker room. "I'm the head football coach at Notre Dame, and when the time comes somewhere in my career -- whether by my choice or their choice -- then I won’t be the coach at Notre Dame."

After Weis’ latest embarrassment at Notre Dame, a 38-3 rout by USC that wasn’t as close as the final score would indicate, his tenure at Notre Dame may be over. In the last two seasons, Notre Dame has experienced several firsts that Weis would rather forget: Last year’s squad opened the season with five losses for the first time in school history and their nine losses were also a school record. This season, Notre Dame lost to an 8-loss team (Syracuse) for the first time and lost 15 games over the past two seasons -- an unprecedented feat.  

Despite all that, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick was still non-committal about Weis’ future as he stood outside the Irish's locker room after the game, wearing a green Notre Dame tie and chatting with Joe Montana and Bryant Young, who simply shook their heads when asked about the current Irish. "We meet every week, so we’ll meet next Monday when we’re both in South Bend," said Swarbrick. "Nothing will happen until we meet and complete the entire review of the process. We don’t give guarantees. There’s no guarantee for my women’s soccer coach, who is on the way to the women’s Final Four next weekend." 

Regarding the buyout, should Weis be terminated, has money ever prevented Swarbrick from doing something he wanted to do? "Oh god, yes," he said with a smile. "When my wife wants something, money always gets in the way." 

The buyout was a major topic of discussion before the game, even as Weis was making his way off the field following pre-game warmups to chants of, "10-year contract! 10-year contract" It was, of course, Weis’ near-win over Pete Carroll and USC in the “Bush Push” game three years ago that surprisingly and inexplicably prompted Notre Dame to give Weis a 10-year contract extension worth a reported $40 million with just a 5-2 record.

It was Notre Dame’s first admission they were content with simply being good, not great. If Weis could lose just three games every year, including getting blown out in a BCS Bowl game that netted the school around $17 million, he was safe. He didn’t have to beat USC; he just had to be competitive against them. After his first two seasons, led largely by Tyrone Willingham’s recruits, Weis has fallen woefully short. Last year’s 3-9 squad was the worst in Notre Dame history, and this year’s 6-6 bunch isn’t a whole lot better.       

Interestingly, what initially endeared Weis to fans and boosters has made him one of the most loathed coaches in Notre Dame history. I recall doing a behind-the-the-scenes piece on Weis and Notre Dame after they had advanced to the Fiesta Bowl in Weis’ first season. He was surprisingly engaging, even befriending an 11-year-old Pop Warner player who had come to watch practice with his father. He asked him if he wanted to try on his Super Bowl ring. He asked him if he liked Tom Brady as he scrolled through his cell phone, showing off the other famous people on his cell phone, such as Bill Belichick and Jerome Bettis. He asked if he was any good as he slung a few passes his way.

The problem is, Weis apparently treats his recruits and high school coaches along the recruiting trail the same way he did that 11-year boy, searching for that awe factor you only get by showing someone how much better you are (or think you are) than them. "Arrogant as hell," was how Ray Reitz, the head coach of Jeannette High School while quarterback Terrelle Pryor was being recruited last year, described Weis to The Chicago Tribune. Reitz later added that Weis, unprompted, asked the Jeannette coaches if they wanted to take a picture of his Super Bowl ring. "I did it, just to be polite, and then gave [the picture] to one of the kids," he said.

Although Pryor chose to go somewhere else, Notre Dame has attracted top-10 recruiting classes under Weis, although you'd be hard-pressed to see that from the squad that took the field at the Coliseum. Notre Dame may compete with USC on the recruiting trail, but it's still miles apart on the football field, having now lost seven straight against the Trojans. In the last two years, USC has crushed Notre Dame by an eye-popping 76-3 margin.

"USC is the team you have to look at playing for championships," said Weis. "You can see the discrepancy between their football team and our football team is very wide."

In fact, the most fight Notre Dame has shown during that time was the Irish’s near pre-game brawl with Trojan players that was reminiscent of a Florida State-Florida midfield jumping-and-yelling match. Unfortunately for Notre Dame, jumping and yelling wasn’t going to help it catch Joe McKnight in the open field, as he turned cornerback Raeshon McNeil around like he was trying to tackle Barry Sanders on a 55-yard touchdown run or help the Irish block Fili Moala, who collected two of the Trojans' four sacks.    

While Weis was brought in for his offensive expertise, after winning those three Super Bowl rings he likes to show off while guiding the Patriots’ offense, it has been Notre Dame’s offense that has been the most embarrassing aspect of this humiliated program. After fielding one of the worst offenses in modern football history last season, they’re hanging around the middle of the pack in 2008 -- although they looked as bad as ever on Saturday. Notre Dame had only 91 yards on 49 plays for an average of 1.85 yards per play and recorded their first first down of the game on the last play of the third quarter, eliciting a sarcastic standing ovation from their fans. They finally broke a 69-0 run by USC -- dating back to last year’s 38-0 shutout -- by kicking a meaningless 41-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, which prevented the first back-to-back shutouts in the rivalry since 1933.

At least that’s one less dubious record Weis won’t have attached to his name on his way out. 

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