Hayes' Take: Is Weis The Right Guy?
BY NEIL HAYES
It has been a tough couple years for Notre Dame fans, perhaps the toughest in the program's storied history, and Wednesday's announcement that Charlie Weis will be back for a fifth season didn't appear to greatly improve anybody's mood.
If nothing else, change brings hope. With the way Notre Dame finished the season, losing five of their last seven, ending with an embarrassing loss to 2-8 Syracuse at home followed by a 38-3 mauling at USC, hope has been in short supply.
The bottom line is this: After losing 15 games in two seasons for the first time in school history, nobody knows what kind of team Weis will field next season. Three years after Weis was given a 10-year contract extension while still in his first season, no one has a clue what to expect when players spill out of the tunnel at Notre Dame Stadium on Sept. 5 before the season opener against Nevada.
Another soft schedule will be wind at their backs. People will start assigning Notre Dame victories like they did last season, which is tricky business, especially the way Notre Dame floundered at the end of 2008. Weis will say and do all the right things during the offseason and perhaps even make a few needed staffing changes, just like he did last year, but when captains go to midfield for the first 2009 coin flip athletics director Jack Swarbrick still won't know whether he's got the right guy.
That isn't a question anybody should still be asking in year five. Four years is enough to examine a coach's body of work. It's a bit trickier with Weis because he inherited a talent void in a couple of classes. As a general rule, however, if you've hired The Guy it's obvious by now, which doesn't bode well for Weis.
The reason for keeping him --- continuity, his recruiting success, the belief that his team will turn a corner --- are equally balanced by the reasons not to. This is a tough call. It's clear that his approach in each of the past two seasons has not worked. This season's collapse raises serious questions about his ability to lead.
The schedule would seem to set up the next coach for success. A first-year coach taking over the program and going 8-4 could be billed as progress. What if Weis goes 8-4 next season? What does Swarbrick do then? Is nine wins enough? What happens if Notre Dame wins nine and gets ear-holed in a BCS bowl game?
It's easy enough to assume that Weis is on a short leash. Will that impact recruiting?
Offensive coordinator Mike Haywood won't be back next season. That seems obvious enough. Weis could run the offense himself like he did while winning 19 games during his first two seasons. Let's say his team comes out as flat against Nevada as it did against San Diego State in the 2008 opener and loses to the Wolf Pack? If you fired him then, who would be qualified to run the offense on an interim basis for the rest of the season?
Weis has said that his team will accept an invitation to a bowl game even though it can be argued that they didn't play well enough to deserve one. Again, based on the way Notre Dame performed late in the season, it seems as if there's more to be lost than gained. If Louisville upsets Rutgers on Thursday night, the Irish could wind up playing Oregon State in the Sun Bowl. What chance would Notre Dame have against an 8-4 Beavers team that beat USC and Cal?
Accepting a bid to a lesser bowl, where they could be matched up against teams like Hawaii, Rice or Houston might allow the Irish to break their nine-game losing streak in bowl games. But who's to say the Irish would defeat those teams? What if his team loses to Oregon State 41-10 or to Hawaii 24-17. What then?
Expect Weis to replace some of his assistants. Give the ineptness of the offensive line the past two seasons there's no reason to believe John Latina is safe. The defense is in the seemingly capable hands of Corwin Brown and Jon Tenuta. It's the offense --- Charlie's baby --- that has melted down. That's another reason why news that Weis will return has not set off champagne corks throughout Notre Dame Nation. If Weis' offense hasn't improved by now there's a chance it won't improve enough for him to keep his job at this time next year, which is why it seems as if all Swarbrick has done is prolong the inevitable.
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