The last time Notre Dame cast its Irish eyes toward Cincinnati in search of a coach it focused on Gerry Faust, who had won five state titles in six seasons at Moeller High School. Yes, high school.
You want to know how college football has changed in the past three decades, Gerry Faust is it. If the move was controversial then (1980), imagine if someone tried it now? The Internet might collapse if a program the caliber of the Irish hired a high school coach. Soon after, protesting mobs might bring Notre Dame Stadium down with it.
Faust lasted five middling seasons, was fired and then spent nine more years not doing much better at the University of Akron.
He was the start of the curse of the modern Notre Dame program – they're good at a lot of things in South Bend but hiring coaches isn't one of them. Only Lou Holtz has been a strong choice since the days of Ara Parseghian and Dan Devine.
Running in place
Charlie Weis is still searching for his signature win in South Bend, amid a string of signature losses. His record since 2005.
Hawaii Bowl (Win vs. Hawaii)
Sugar Bowl (Loss vs. LSU)
Fiesta Bowl (Loss vs. Ohio St.)
The recent run of Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham and now Charlie Weis, who after five seasons looks finished after losing again to Navy, has left the program operating below potential.
Weis proved great players still want to play under the Golden Dome – it's ironic that arriving from a career in the NFL what was expected to be his weakness (recruiting) was his strength and his strength (coaching) proved to be his weakness.
Just like anywhere though, Notre Dame needs a total package to contend for BCS titles. It's no different at Florida, Alabama, Texas and so on.
And so back down in Cincinnati, this time at the University of, resides its best choice – Bearcats coach Brian Kelly.
You only wonder if Notre Dame is able to pull it off.
Notre Dame shouldn't fire Charlie Weis unless it knows it has a coach-in-waiting. There are plenty of third-party avenues to test Kelly's interest – and it says here he'd jump at the chance.
If he doesn't want it and Jon Gruden doesn't either and they give up on the pipe dream that maybe Urban Meyer will get tired of winning so much at Florida (my personal favorite bit of twisted, delusional logic) then the school should probably just keep Weis.
The bottom may fall out here – 7-5 is now as distinct a possibility as 9-3 – but with so much returning talent (assuming Jimmy Clausen stays) it's not like the program is on life-support. They aren't about to go 0-12 or something.
The coach hiring axiom du jour comes courtesy of Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley, who asserts that something that must be done eventually should be done immediately. It's how he justified brooming Ron Zook in the middle of the 2004 season.
There's a second part to that, though. Foley is cutthroat enough that he lined up a proper replacement, using the time to reach an unofficial deal with Urban Meyer, who was then leading Utah to a perfect season.
Without both parts the decision becomes risky. You get stuck in a quagmire of coaches using ND's interest to procure raises, then you're forced into the wrong choice and you're right back where you started.
That's how Notre Dame got into this two-decade long funk. That's how they fired Willingham, then whiffed on Meyer (a day late and a dollar short to Foley), among others, and was stuck gambling on Weis, who had no head coaching experience.
The Irish administration has proven inept at this stuff. This is the same crew who bought Weis' first-season, media-planted, smoke screen that he had NFL head coaching offers coming and locked him into a paralyzing 10-year deal.
Notre Dame doesn't just need a smarter coach, it needs smarter campus leadership.
Kelly is, as you might guess, an Irishman from the north shore of Boston, the son of a cop. He's a self-made sensation. He played at little Assumption College. At age 29 he became the head coach at Division II Grand Valley State in Michigan in 1991 and spent 13 seasons honing his craft. He went 118-35-2 and won two national titles.
In 2004, he took over Central Michigan, then a basement-dwelling team in the Mid-American Conference. His third year they won the league.
Cincinnati snapped him up in 2005 and he's delivered the greatest four-year run in school history, including what should be three consecutive 10-win or more seasons. UC is ranked No. 5 in the BCS standings and still has a shot at playing for the title.
This is the complete package. This is as close to Urban Meyer at Utah as you're going to get. There's nothing to wonder about with Kelly. Can he coach? Can he recruit? Can he run a program? Is he a fit in college?
It's all been proven.
He isn't a flash in the pan, a one or two-season wonder. He isn't riding anyone else's coattails. He's proven himself at every rung of the ladder. He's just 48. This is his prime.
And while he no doubt feels great pride and allegiance to UC, the reality is he's set to make one last big move. Someone is going to grab him and if the timing was different (Rich Rodriguez will get another season), don't think rival Michigan wouldn't jump at the chance.
No matter the critics who focus on the Willingham firing (every top program in the country would've done the same thing), the Notre Dame administration does things with an eye toward old school protocol.
Not inquiring about the next coach until the current one is fired is likely one of them.
If there was ever a time to get modern, this is it. They can't wait for Vatican III to come along and grant such permission. Notre Dame needs to test the waters now, get that wink and nod from the guy in Cincinnati and then proceed on sure-footing.
The Irish have a roster stocked with NFL talent and they should forever thank Charlie Weis for revitalizing that part of their program. He did away with all the crybaby stuff about how Notre Dame can't recruit like it once did.
It just needs a Cincinnati coach (college, not high school) to make something of it.