October 25, 2007

Charlie And The Goose Egg Factory

I don't often agree with Jonathan Chait on politics, but his take on Charlie Weis and the historically bad Notre Dame Fighting Irish hits the nail on the head. The celebration of Weis as a football genius has ended in an ignominious season in which the Irish may only win the game in which they faced a walk-on quarterback. The lone highlight against UCLA came courtesy of seven turnovers in a game where the Bruins otherwise dominated, and Weis' squad has yet to show any signs of life:

Weis' Fighting Irish now stand at 1-7. This record is only the faintest indicator of just how awful Notre Dame is. They have lost nine of their last 10 games, by an average of 24 points. None has been close. While Notre Dame has suffered very few injuries, three of its opponents have had to play the Irish without their starting quarterbacks. Two of those teams, USC and Michigan, nonetheless beat Notre Dame by a larger margin than either has beaten any other opponent so far this year. Notre Dame's lone win came against UCLA, which had been forced to use its third-string quarterback, a walk-on. In that game, Notre Dame compiled just 140 yards of offense, but won with the help of seven Bruin turnovers, five of them hand-delivered courtesy of the hapless walk-on signal-caller.

Just how bad is Notre Dame? Of the 119 teams in Division I-A, ND is 119th in total offense, 119th in rushing offense, 112th in passing offense, and 118th in scoring. If Notre Dame had doubled its scoring output, it would still rank 108th. If it doubled its rushing output (currently 34 yards a game), it would barely eke out Duke for 118th place.

You get the point. I should stop now.

OK, one more. Notre Dame is averaging 1.09 yards per rush this year. The NCAA statistical archive goes back only to 1999. The worst yards per carry recorded in that period belongs to a 2001 University of Arizona squad that gained 1.46 yards per attempt. So, the worst rushing team recorded by the NCAA in the last nine years was still about one-third better than Notre Dame.

For decades, the Irish had an identity as a bruising option team, dominating through the rush and adding the pass for spice. During the Brady Quinn era, the team developed a balanced attack that relied on Quinn's arm to keep the ball. After his departure, the team can neither run nor pass, and has shown no signs of developing a talent for either.

Chait wonders how a coach as celebrated as Weis could allow his team to stumble so badly. He allows for the poor recruiting of Weis' predecessor, Ty Willingham, but this is Weis' third year at the helm. Weis did fine with Willingham's juniors and seniors his first two years, but the team has utterly collapsed in a season where Weis' signature should be stamped on the Irish.

Unfortunately, Weis' success in the past may have been more illusory than first thought, Chait argues. The Patriots under his direction as offensive coordinator looked better than they performed. They finished in the bottom half of the league in offense for six of his eight seasons, helped by Tom Brady and the potent Patriot defense. In the three years since his departure, their average ranking has been seventh.

It's not that we didn't see hints of this. Weis rarely won against teams that finished in the top 25 -- in fact, they only did it once in Weis' first two seasons. When they lost, they lost big, as they did twice last season, against USC and in their bowl appearance. They looked mismatched and overrated when playing against tough competitors -- and in retrospect, they looked outcoached, too.

Notre Dame fired Ty Willingham for a mediocre third season. Can the Irish justify keeping Weis at the school after this embarrassing debacle? I don't see how they can. Chait indulges in characteristic hyperbole in calling Weis the "worst football coach in the universe," but clearly the Irish expect more from their storied football program than praying the Rosary for assistance against Army.

UPDATE: One ND fan board questions my "motives" in this post. Folks, I've been wearing Irish gear longer than most of you have been alive. I grew up an Irish fan in Southern California; I can recall the grief of watching Anthony Davis running all over us in the second half of a game where we went from 24-6 lead to a 55-24 shellacking. My "motive" is that we haven't seen an Irish team this inept in, oh, my whole life -- and it's time to stop blaming Ty for it. The "hole" in the upper class is hardly the only problem here.


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Comments (24)

Posted by Bryan | October 25, 2007 5:56 PM

Normally, I don't enjoy taking advantage of others' misfortune, but this year I really hope that Navy wins the Commander's Cup for the fifth year in a row when they beat Army on December 1st AND beat Notre Dame as well. Notre Dame has been very gracious toward Navy in the past, a tradition that dates back to 1927 and was cemented during World War II, even when they've greatly outclassed us. I hate to kick them when they're down, but I'm really looking forward to this game.

By the way, Navy last won against the Irish in 1963 with Roger Staubach at QB.

Posted by BD | October 25, 2007 6:19 PM

If you wanted to see REALLY bad, you'd combine the Notre Dame offense with the University of Minnesota's defense ....


A sad Gophers fan

Posted by John Wilson | October 25, 2007 6:20 PM

When ND misses, they miss big. Remember Gerry Faust? And who was that square jaw statue that preceeded Willingham? I like Ty and I wondered if there was a tinge of racism in his launch from South Bend.

Posted by Charlie | October 25, 2007 6:30 PM

In bygone years, nobody could ever beat the Irish badly eoough to suit this Texas grad.

This year however, it's sad to... Wha? Huh? What am I saying? Apart from the Bruins' stumble, it's almost a perfect season.

Posted by Josh Miller | October 25, 2007 7:16 PM

You may be on to something, with the change of play style.

Look at Nebraska: when my beloved Huskers decided they needed to get with the late-20th century and abandoned their option attack, they started losing. Many, many times.

What I'm wondering, then, is whether this is just one big long hangover for both ND and NU as they come to speed on these offensive systems, or if they need to look at a return to the glory days of smash-mouth option football.

Posted by Jack Okie | October 25, 2007 8:42 PM

Josh, OU - Nebraska has been a great rivalry. I have been rooting for the Huskers to regain their form. Maybe bringing back Dr. Tom can start things moving in the right direction. BTW, 1971 OU - Nebraska still ranks as one of the most exciting games I've ever seen.

Posted by Mike | October 25, 2007 8:45 PM

John W,
"I like Ty and I wondered if there was a tinge of racism in his launch from South Bend."

Did WIllingham deserve the position in the first place, or was race a factor in his hiring? He seems to be a real gentleman/class act, but I don't know that his performance merited a position like Notre Dame.

Posted by John Adams | October 25, 2007 8:54 PM

If Notre Dame had any smarts, they would call Boone, North Caroina and hire the genius at Appalachian State University.

Posted by Monkei | October 25, 2007 9:09 PM

ND who?

Big game this weekend is in Happy Valley.

Posted by ck | October 25, 2007 10:28 PM

If Weis wasn't so hyped up (and he seemed to buy into himself) then I could feel bad for ND... I still kind of do, but not that bad... Reality check for Weis I suppose...

Posted by Dave | October 25, 2007 11:00 PM

If you're going to credit Willingham's juniors and seniors for Weis' success in years 1 and 2, how come he takes the blame for Willingham's freshmen and sophomores?

Posted by Robert A. George | October 26, 2007 12:25 AM

If Willingham's juniors and seniors are to be credited for Weis' success in years 1 and 2, how come Willingham's freshmen and sophomores take the blame for Weis' failure in year 3?

Posted by Neville72 | October 26, 2007 5:53 AM

The worst thing to happen to Notre Dame was when George O'Leary's resume was found to be "embellished". Too bad. George O'Leary is a great football coach and would have done wonders at ND. Look at what he's done with a young program at South Florida

Charlie Weis on the other hand has been exposed as a poseur. His "genius" as an offensive coach/quarterback guru we now know can be attributed to his having videos of the defensive signals of his NFL opponents. Without that this "offensive genius" produces an offensive attack like this year's Irish squad. And to top it off, it appears he doesn't recruit very well either.

They better start looking again in South Bend. I suggest they start with LSU offensive coordinator, Gary Crowton.

Posted by Sage McLaughlin | October 26, 2007 7:35 AM

Coach Weis' first three recruiting classes have been among the nation's very best, if the unanimous opinion of every major recruiting service is to be believed. So the departure of some of Willingham's better players ought to be irrelevant. Steve Spurrier took the South Carolina job in the same year as Charlie, and when he did, one ESPN analyst remarked that Notre Dame had gotten the better offensive mind and head coach. Everybody on the planet other than Notre Dame fans knew this was screeching insanity.

Spurrier, in taking on probably the most hapless major D-1 program in the country, with no recruiting infrastructure, no tradition, not even an academic center for his athletes--hell, even SC's mascot is an embarrassment--has consistently set records and achieved new heights at Carolina. Every year he brings the program more respectability, more wins, better rankings, better players, more revenue. He's turned a team with no wins over Florida since the FDR administration into one of the most competitive teams in the SEC.

Weis in that same period, with every single advantage a coach could possibly have, has set record lows for the Irish, has taken a thoroughly mediocre squad and turned it into a downright terrible one, and has done so on a barking-at-the-moon-crazy contract valued at 30 million dollars. I recommend, Captain Ed, the following video for your edification:


Posted by Pro Cynic | October 26, 2007 9:16 AM

A Cleveland-area media outlet opined tha t for his first years on the job, Charlie Weis ran the football program like a pro team -- the starters stayed in until they got hurt or neeed a breather, in which case the backups would come in for however long was needed. In the case of a college team, the starters are usually the upper classmen, the backups the underclassmen.

Most of the successful college programs (Jim Tressel's program at Ohio State, for example) rotate in the underclassmen to get them game experience, often with the first teamers against other first teamers. So when the upperclassment graduate or leave early to go pro, their replacements have game experience. This is how, in spite of the massive losses on offense, Ohio State has had a decent season so far (I don't believe it will continue, and I say this as an Ohio State fan and alum).

Weis, according to this outlet, did not do that at Notre Dame, so his starters this year are unusually inexperienced, both individually and as a group. As a result they are not prepared for game situations and don't know how to handle it.

Posted by Mike M. | October 26, 2007 10:10 AM

Yep, there's no doubt about it, Notre Dame is in a total shambles. Things are so bad it's even quite possible that Navy is going to finally snap the incredible losing streak.

One place I think they could start would be to consider easing up on their schedule. Playing one of the toughest schedules in the country year and year out is good when you're recruiting top-flight talent, but Notre Dame hasn't been doing that consistently in years. They should take a lesson from some of the big conference powers and schedule a few softies, until they can rebuild their confidence back up once again

Posted by Frank Black | October 26, 2007 10:11 AM

I tend not to think race played a role in Willingham's hiring or firing. He was hired because he'd had good success at a school with high academic standards and no football tradition. He was fired because he was the second coach that couldn't compete the way ND thought they should. And probably because they thought they had a chance for an NFL guru to come in and save the team.

It's difficult to see how "getting back to basics" can work in the era of the spread offense. And after scholarships were capped and college football spread to Wednesday-Friday nights, there's more competition for good players. ND just can't rely on its "tradition" anymore.

I feel sorry for Weis. And the players. I don't feel at all sorry for ND.

Posted by Frank | October 26, 2007 11:21 AM

One minor correction - George O'Leary isn't the coach at South Florida. Jim Leavitt is. O'Leary coaches at Central Florida, in Conference USA. He has a 16-27 record there, but his first season there skews that record a bit when he went 0-11.

Posted by Ol' Roy | October 26, 2007 3:23 PM

A school who's history has been built on commitment to values and principles and tradition and discipline has of late been in the "fire the SOB if he doesn't win the trophy" mode. Look at some of the excellent men of excellent character that have coached recently at ND and explain why they were fired other than the trophies.

Yes, the ND faithful need some wins, but at what cost do those wins come? Has Notre Dame and most of college football become NFL-light? The reason I've become disgusted with pro sports in general is the money, the lack of loyalty, the egos....etc. Of late you can certainly see the same thing in college sports.

Shouldn't college sports be about producing young men and women of excellent character first, and wins second?

Posted by Irish Marauder | October 26, 2007 3:25 PM

I planned on writing a long post in response to Ed's conclusion and Jonathan Chait's idiotic column. Then I read this http://bluegraysky.blogspot.com/2007_10_01_archive.html#489101353837134044
which says it much better than I could.

Weis has made huge, huge, huge errors this year. He is learning on the fly after all.

It would be nice if Chait and others (including Ed) would actually put Weis' failures this year in context. I am not going to make excuses for our failures, nor incidentally does Weis, but shouldn't Chait and Ed try to understand why Weis' mistakes have made things so bad? In other words, what about this team has magnified Weis' errors?

We might start with Robert George's question about Willingham's freshmen and sophomores. There are very few of them to start out with and they were unheralded. Ty Willingham was effectively a self-imposed recruiting sanction on ND. With an 85 scholarship limit, NCAA teams should typically take about 21 players per year. In the 2004 class, ND's current seniors, Ty Willingham took only 17 players. Of those 17 only 5 remain on scholarship (ND has given out two additional scholarships to current seniors). In the 2005 class, the class that Ty was recruiting when he was fired, only 15 players were signed.

In those last two years Willingham secured only 4 offensive linemen (only two remain with the team). In his last three years, he secured only 6 total (only 3 remain with the team). That is paltry, especially when one considers that offensive linemen typically need time to develop. Consider if one looks at USC's offensive depth chart, four of the five starting linemen are in their 5th years. The fifth is in his fourth year in the program.

So one consideration is that you have a Notre Dame team which has basically no senior class, an unheralded and small junior class, and, therefore, no real leadership or upperclass depth.

Then you have the second toughest schedule in the nation to start the year and an offensive line that has several players who shouldn't be playing yet .

Then there are the errors Weis made. He didn't have full contact practices until after the Michigan, too late to make up the lost ground. He mishandled the quarterback situation, in my mind, and instead of maximizing the possibility of winning more games over the year, but lowering his chance of winning the first game, he tried the spread offense for his first game. I think he should have started the year with his back-up junior and tried to develop him, realizing he might take some early lumps, but that he'd have a qb who might lead him to victories in games four and five of the season. Add to that

But according to Ed and Chait, 2005 and 2006 were just a mirage, I guess. Those are years when ND's QB, who was mired in mediocrity during Ty Willingham's last two seasons, threw for nearly 70 touchdowns against only 14 total interceptions. We had a 1000 yard rusher both seasons. We beat the teams we should have beaten, and did lose to teams

The other thing is Tom Brady presumably knows more about his development as a QB than Jonathan Chait. If Brady credits much of his development to Weis, perhaps we should accept that. It makes sense that the Patriots would be doing better on offense now that they actually have top-flight receivers and Tom Brady is more experienced.

Posted by cutter | October 26, 2007 6:19 PM

I'm hard pressed to believe that Charlie Weis is learning on the fly in terms of being a head coach in college football. He's been in the profession since he graduated from Notre Dame in 1978, starting with a high school job, then serving on a college staff at the University of South Carolina, and finally, with the pros.

How could he make so many "huge, huge errors" with this year's Notre Dame team? Its not like he hasn't been around collegiate football (four seasons at USC) or worked around younger players (7 or 8 years at the high school level). Its not even his first year as a college head coach--he already has a couple of years under his belt at Notre Dame already and he must know what it takes to get ready for a challenging schedule. Or does he?

Astute college football fans well remember Weis' claims upon his hiring at Notre Dame about his providing a "schematic advantage" over the opposition because of his prowess as an offensive coordinator. Yet as history has indicated these past seasons, that really hasn't been the case. As the writers have pointed out, even when his better teams during the first two seasons of his tenure were badly outplayed by the higher-level competition. Fortunately, the one exception to that case, the close 2005 loss to USC, lead to a sizeable contract extension (10 years for $30 to $40 million) for Coach Weis. For the record, Notre Dame has had a record of 16-11 since that extension was granted.

Notre Dame supporters talk about the lack of experience on the team as being the core problem for this year's squad. Yet how does Appalachian State score 34 points on Michigan in the first week of the season and Notre Dame gets shut out 38-0 by that same Wolverine team (playing a true freshman quarterback) just two weeks later? Stanford (playing a backup quarterback) scores 24 points in a major upset against USC, but two weeks later, Notre Dame loses by a score of 38-0 to Southern Cal while playing in their own stadium (not to mention the fact that the Trojans were also playing their backup quarterback). How is it that Appalachian State and Stanford can score against Michigan and Southern Cal, but Notre Dame can't get a single point? What is wrong with this picture?

If Charlie Weis is so great at player development, then why didn't he work his magic with Drew Bledsoe when he was with the Patriots? Evan Sharpley has been with Notre Dame for three years--what does the nature of his play say about his development? We're talking about quarterbacks here--Charlie Weis' specialty. Sam Young is a true sophomore right tackle who started his freshman year and has over 20 games under his belt to date. Look at how he's played this year and you wonder about the ability for Weis to develop collegiate players who aren't quarterbacks. How about guys like RB Travis Thomas or safety Tom Zbikowski? Have they gotten better under Weis' tutelage? Darius Walker left ND a year early for the NFL after being with Weis for three years. Perhaps Walker should have stayed in college seeing that he didn't get onto an NFL roster--thanks, Charlie.

I could make additional statements here, especially about Weis' attitude concerning players who transfer from his program. But the larger point is that as of today, there is no proof that Charlie Weis is going to become a great college football head coach. I'm beginning to think that the young men he's persuading to come to South Bend aren't about to embark on a 40-year mistake.

Posted by Jeff | October 26, 2007 8:33 PM

To John Wilson,

If there was a hint of racism in the dismissal of Ty Willingham, tell me why they would have hired him in the first place?

Posted by JT | October 26, 2007 8:53 PM

"Notre Dame fired Ty Willingham for a mediocre third season."

Why is it so hard to grasp the concept that Willingham wasn't fired because of one season? He was fired for back to back shitty seasons, refusal to make moves in the coaching staff, and two of the worst recruiting classes (and 3/4 way nito a third) in Notre Dame history.

Posted by Josh | October 27, 2007 5:47 PM

Charlie certainly isn't the "Worst Coach in the Universe," but Peter Carroll is definitely the most classless. A year after screaming "Fuck you" at Mike Belotti (the video of which is posted on Youtube), a week after challenging a meaningless fourth quarter pass completion against Notre Dame, and just a few days after lambasting the officials of said game for determining the play "insignificant," Pete cemented his status as a Class-A Asshole by taking a timeout in the final seconds of the Condoms loss to Oregon. While the media and fans love to label Charlie as "arrogant" it is interesting that Carroll seems to get a free pass on everything, from acting like an immature baby (as detailed above) to obvious recruiting violations (see Bush, R and McKnight, J).

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