Andy Altenburger/Icon SMI
Despite so many fans and media insisting over the past several weeks that Notre Dame should fire Charlie Weis, at the end of the day, it's in no way "wrong" of the school to stand by its embattled coach. I get angry when schools pull the plug too hastily, not when they show patience.
However, I would feel a whole lot more comfortable with AD Jack Swarbrick's decision to retain a coach who's produced the worst two-year stint in school history if either he or the university's president, Rev. John I. Jenkins, would publicly and own up to one or all of the following:
1) "What can we say? We royally screwed up when we gave our coach a $40 million contract for (almost) beating USC, and even we don't have $12 million to buy him out."
2) "I know we've been trying to deny it for four years now, but yes, we gave Tyrone Willingham the shaft when we fired him after three years. That's why we're now willing to give Weis an opportunity we never gave Ty, which is to coach a team of upperclassmen he himself recruited."
Or, most importantly ...
3) "We've lowered our standards."
It's long been assumed that Notre Dame, due to its rich history, considers nothing less than national-championship contention an acceptable standard, which is why Willingham got the boot when he did.
But perhaps, after 20 years without a title, and with a dramatically changed national landscape in which the Irish are the lone remaining major independent, Notre Dame has finally come to accept that this is no longer a realistic goal for its program. And that's fine. If such is the case, it's much easier to understand why the Irish are suddenly more apt to accept such spats of mediocrity.
If you look at Notre Dame's history over the past 15 years, there's a pretty discernible pattern: Two or three years of mediocrity followed by one, maybe two seasons in which the stars align and a core of solid veterans lead the Irish to a major bowl. Then they graduate, and the cycle continues.
Under Lou Holtz, Notre Dame won at least nine games in six straight seasons (1988-93). They've had six such seasons in the 15 years since.
There are plenty of other programs out there that operate under much the same cycle. Northwestern comes to mind. Stanford is another, though it's been down for a while now. Wake Forest seems to be building that type of program under Jim Grobe.
All of these schools, like Notre Dame, are prestigious academic institutions whose fans understand that their lofty admissions standards make it impossible to compete year-in, year-out with the Ohio States and USCs. On paper, the Irish continue to attract top-notch athletes, but it's increasingly apparent at this point that many of those blue-chippers aren't what they're cracked up to be.
The reality is, there's no reason for the truly elite recruits to go to Notre Dame when they can go to USC or Florida or Texas. The Irish's main lore has always been its rich tradition, but at this point, that tradition is like ancient history to a 17-year-old. The type of players that Notre Dame attracts are those that require a few years to develop -- and there's nothing wrong with that.
With that context in mind, Swarbick may be absolutely correct when he says "Charlie has a strong foundation in place for future success." If past history is any indication, Notre Dame -- whose core the past two years has been largely freshmen and sophomores -- will continue to improve these next two years and, either next year or in 2010, will win nine or 10 games and go to a BCS bowl.
As long as nobody in South Bend remains under the delusion that Weis will eventually turn the Irish into the equivalent of USC or Florida, and is fully aware of the inevitable drop-off that will occur again once Jimmy Clausen/Golden Tate graduate, then maybe this can in fact turn into a happy marriage.
If not -- he'll be gone by this time next year.