Could Weis be cooked?
Saturday his hair stood in a clump, straight up in the air, frozen in place. It looked like he hadn’t slept or shaved. His gray hoodie neither channeled his inner Bill Belichick nor wore him well. At least he looked better than the week before, when his entire being was comically drowned in a Maryland monsoon.
Two weeks, two desperate late-game visions involving Charlie Weis. He survived a furious rally at Navy, he didn’t Saturday against Syracuse. He looked both battered by the elements and out of his element.
Saturday it was another blown lead, another crushing loss, another round of questions about whether this guy is capable of waking the echoes at Notre Dame as he had once assured with over the top braggadocio.
Only now he doesn’t even look like a guy in command of his program but rather a coach with more questions than answers, someone hanging on not pushing forward.
Image may not be everything in college football – wins are – but it is something and no coach is projecting a more disheveled one than Charlie Weis. Here at the end of his fourth season, his Irish floundering at 6-5, promised progress still difficult to see, where it goes from here is anyone’s guess.
“I can’t worry about my job status,” Weis said Sunday. “I’m the head football coach. And that’s what I intend to be.”
At home, on Senior Day, his team had been pelted by snowballs from the student section. Weis had been heckled on his walk out of the stadium according to Jeff Carroll of the South Bend Tribune, angry Irish fans taunting him to return to the NFL.
Looming in the season finale is Pete Carroll and the mighty USC Trojans. It was once reported that Weis, upon first meeting his Irish team four seasons ago, told them they’d never lose to USC again. True or not, Carroll believes it so. He’s 3-0 against the Irish, winning the last two by a combined score of 82-24.
Now Carroll has the chance to do to Weis what Jimmy Johnson once did to Gerry Faust, lay a beat down so severe it sends Notre Dame into a regime change.
Ironically the Irish’s near upset of USC in 2005 remains the high watermark for Weis. He parlayed that into some buzz from friendly New York media that he was a hot NFL commodity. Notre Dame responded with an outrageous and unnecessary $32 million contract extension.
It may be his saving grace.
If Weis returns next season, it’s a testament to one of three extraordinary developments:
1.) His flat-lining team somehow stuns USC at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
2.) The economic downturn has so thinned Irish fat cats that they can’t afford the reported $20 million needed to buy out the aforementioned contract.
3.) Someone in power, likely higher than the school’s first-year athletic director, sees some bit of coaching genius flickering deep inside Weis that few others can right now.
Light a candle at the Grotto, Charlie.
There are no excuses remaining for Weis, no justifications or explanations. His team is regressing (2-4 since a 4-1 start). Worse, it often seems incapable of executing the most elementary aspects of the game.
The fans have been patient. They sat through a 3-9 season understanding a talent gap existed from past recruiting failures. Weis has rectified that. His best players may be young but no one is asking for a national title.
They want a sign of something. Blowing a fourth-quarter lead to Syracuse isn’t it.
Both Tyrone Willingham and Bob Davie were fired by now, which isn’t to say doing the same to Weis doesn’t create its own problems. Past arrogance made Notre Dame assume it could snap its fingers and bring in a top-line coach. Four years ago it thought it’d get Urban Meyer. About 15 choices later it settled on Weis.
There is no reason to think it will be different this time. They can’t just place a phone call to Tom Coughlin or Bob Stoops and schedule the news conference. Weis may be struggling, but not only is the grass on the other side not always greener, it may not even be green.
Sunday he tried to make the case that the program was progressing, noting that players are gaining experience and unlike last year, the losses have been close. It’s a tough argument.
“Going from a crummy team to what I think is a decent team,” he said. “I wouldn’t say we’re anywhere near good but I would say we’re decent.
“And I say as you look forward into next year, as you take the next step, if you take a step from three wins to six or seven wins, not including a bowl game, going to the next year, you should expect the progression to be at least as good if not better.”
This was always the plan, using this season as a transition to the next two, when his best players would be upper classmen and the schedule would be favorable.
Decent teams don’t struggle to run the ball, though. They don’t keep mentally breaking down or taking bad penalties or mentally let up with a lead.
Weis brought three promises to the job. He would be an excellent game coach having won three Super Bowls as the offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots. He would recruit aggressively and procure some of the best high school talent in America.
And he would be unapologetically bold; a larger than life, love him or loathe him personality. After a decade of dull figures Davie and Willingham complaining about too-high academic standards and too-tough schedules, Notre Dame needed someone who’d embrace the challenge and rile everyone up.
The “decided schematic advantage” he once promised and probably forever regrets has yet to materialize. The genius in Foxborough, it turns out, is Belichick, who keeps winning no matter who his coordinator or quarterback is.
While the recruits have arrived and Weis has always projected a confidence that glory was just around the corner, now there are those scenes from the sidelines.
There are those snapshots of bad hair and sagging eyes and muffled explanations for what the heck just happened. Now there are snowballs and taunts. Now Charlie Weis doesn’t look so confident anymore.
“[We] have a chance of being pretty darned good,” he kept reminding Sunday.
He may still believe it. He can only hope someone else does too.