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The calm before the storm

Nov 24, 2009, 11:00 AM EST

Last night turned quite eventful with the reporting of the Jimmy Clausen sucker punch/bar fight mess, and usually the lag between Monday morning and Tuesday press conference leaves us with not much to talk about. That certainly isn’t the case this week, with speculation rampant and an entire season to look back on and dissect.

Yet reality has to have brought an eerie calm to the football offices. The coaches know very clearly that their fate is no longer in their hands and that they’ve probably entered the calm right before the impending storm. It’ll be interesting to see how the Irish respond this Saturday. There is nothing left to lose. The defeat to UConn solidified any decision on a decent-tier bowl game, and also probably made Jack Swarbrick’s decision making process easier. The emotions of a final game at home, a final gut-wrenching loss, all of those things are already purged, and all that’s left is a final game of football, something that was supposed to be the reward for all the hard work and long hours put in over the course of a year.

I traded emails with ESPN’s Bruce Feldman yesterday night and we discussed the negativity that is hanging over the program. Feldman compared it to the end of the Ed Orgeron era at Ole Miss, where he was embedded with the coaching staff for his book Meat Market. Feldman mentioned that by the end, the environment was toxic. The pressure on the coaches compounds, and in turn the heat turns up on their families, the players, the players’ families, and it makes the air heavy around the entire football program, suffocating everybody. That was at Ole Miss. I can only imagine what it must feel like at Notre Dame.

I read a thread yesterday on a message board asked what the players thought about the coaching staff. Many Irish fans were surprised that down to a man, the players blamed themselves for the failures of this team. (Even many parents of players blamed their sons not the coaching staff, which is pretty incredible when you think about it.) That correlates with just about every conversation I’ve had with players who played for Weis, whether it was a member of the BCS teams or the 3-9 disaster. Even looking back at my conversation with Ryan Harris before the USC game, when Harris volunteered the opinion that he wasn’t sure there was a better coach in college or the NFL that gave his players a better shot to win that Charlie Weis.

But looking past the fact that Charlie Weis is the man we all see squarely on the hot seat, many people are forgetting about the group of assistant coaches that are caught up in the jet wash. Coaches without multi-million dollar buyouts and guaranteed contracts. Whether it’s a guy like Brian Polian, who spoke candidly last week about how much he and his wife enjoy living in the community, or guys like Randy Hart and Frank Verducci, two long-time professionals that uprooted and came to South Bend to help build a winner, these coaches are the ones that are going to go through the most personal upheaval if a change is made.

I can only hope that the feeling of inevitability lifts the weight off everybody’s shoulders, and the team can go out and play to their potential, something that hasn’t been happening lately. In the end, it’ll give Charlie Weis and the Irish a chance to beat a rock solid team with a fashionable coach many Notre Dame fans are clamoring for.

It may not save their jobs, but it’d be a well deserved win for a coaching staff among the hardest working in all of college football. 

  1. John E. Orr - Nov 24, 2009 at 12:13 PM

    THIS IS AN OPEN LETTER TO THE PRESIDENT & AD OF NOTRE DAME. GENTLEMEN SEARCH DEEP INTO YOUR HEARTS/MINDS BEFORE MAKING THE DECISION ON COACH WEISS. NOTRE DAME IN THE PAST HAS TWICE MADE A QUESTIONABLE DECISION TO FIRE TWO COACHES. LET US START BY ADMITTING MISTAKES AND DOING THE RIGHT THING. STOP BEING INTIMIDATED BY THE ALUMNI & SPORTS WRITERS. WE ARE ND – WE ARE ND – WE ARE ND, SO ACT LIKE IT AND ANNOUNCE TODAY THAT WEISS WILL BE BACK. THESE YOUNG MEN HAVE HAD ENOUGH OF THIS PRESSURE OF FIRING THE COACH WHO BROUGHT THEM TO ND. ASK THEM. BE MAN ENOUGH TO ADMIT MISTAKES WERE MADE BUT YOU WILL NOT REPEAT HISTORY. LEARN FROM HISTORY. KEEP THE FAITH IN WEISS HIS STAFF AND THE PLAYERS. GIVE THEM THERE SENIOR YEAR. ND IS AN EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTION NOT A MENTAL INSTITUTION. GOD HELP US ALL WHEN ONE OF THE GREATEST UNIVERSITY LOOSES ITS VALUES. LET FLORIDA-MIAMI AND OTHER FOOTBALL SCHOOLS CONTINUE TO BE NFL TRAINING GROUNDS FOR CRIMINALS WHILE YOU BUILD MEN.

  2. NDFAN401 - Nov 24, 2009 at 12:52 PM

    There it is Mr. Arnold right there in your latest article, The parents have blamed their sons for their own lack of success and the players have admitted that they let coach Weis and the other coaches down. Please forward that article to all that believe that Charlie Weis is the scapegoat.
    The article makes me proud on several levels, first the parents can look at their sons and still look them in the eye and tell them that their effort on a given day or during this season was plain and simply not good enough. Secondly, the players are living up to the standards put forth by our fine university by taking responsibility for their poor play and effort. Truth be told that should be all Jack Swarbrick and the other administrators need to hear to make the proper decisions and leave Charlie Weis in place and let him continue. My personal thanks and respect go out to all the parents that told their sons the truth, in todays world that is all to rare. Mr. Arnold my respect goes out to you as well for writing this article that clearly shows that the players have taken large steps recently in understanding what it means to attend this excellent school and grow up and become a man among boys. It is easy to point fingers at other people for your failures but what must be remembered is that when you point a finger there are three pointing back at you, and it is apparent in your article that quite a few people have discovered this. KUDOS TO YOU AND ALL THAT HAVE REALIZED THIS!!!

  3. brandon - Nov 24, 2009 at 1:07 PM

    anybody watching SC in the past hour or so? Seriously? how disrespectful can those people be at espn, they are just clowning on CW, and i am not ok with it….not like i can really do anything about it. but man, it really chaps my hide……its kinda like CW is my little brother, I can pick on him and poke fun at him, and get down on him when he’s screwing up, but when other people do it, it freakin pisses me off.

  4. BigMike4562 - Nov 24, 2009 at 4:40 PM

    I think thats a damn funny comment seeing how The U at Miami hired a coach who suspends players for fights and curfew violations….Does this mean that Dough Boy will suspend the great loser Clausen for the Stanford game? Well, where is the building of men in this case? 2 a.m. after a loss and getting in a fight, that he got whipped in,such a good catholic boy he is, must be his Irish Catholic side…

  5. TLNDMA - Nov 24, 2009 at 5:00 PM

    Nice of 20 somethings to man up and accept responsibility. The same could probably be said for 2007 & 2008′s teams. If they don’t make a change, count on 2010 too. This is not a situation unique to ND. Five years is about all the time a coach gets at this level.

  6. Keith Arnold - Nov 24, 2009 at 5:47 PM

    BigMike — Thanks for trying to make a principled stand all while lobbing a verbal grenade at the size of Charlie Weis, and an Irish-Catholic slam. A true hat trick…
    -Keith

  7. mrrandolph - Nov 24, 2009 at 6:21 PM

    I agree Mike a little harsh. But, I think a half game suspension would probably be in order. And, if you ever get a chance to read the Randy Shannon story (Miami’s coach) do it, a great underdog story.

  8. willmose - Nov 25, 2009 at 12:16 AM

    The players blame themselves. Actually, they should be blaming the coaching staff, but the players are a poorly coached class act. It is what is wrong with the Notre Dame football program. The players are playing for the coach not the school. The players and Coach Weis come on to the field arm in arm and lose to a UConn team that isn’t very good. At home, on senior day, no less. The fish rots from the head. It has been very clear for some time that Charlie Weis has lost control of the program. It is about wins and loses and Norte Dame under Coach Weis has come up short. If Norte Dame football is not about wins and loses, then join Division III, no scholarships, just eleven players playing for the love of the game. Perhaps, Coach Weis will return next year. And things will get really ugly …

  9. StephenOfTroy - Nov 25, 2009 at 12:36 AM

    BigMike: You raise an interesting point, albeit using a tone that isn’t likely to garner admiration from Irish fans.
    Clausen didn’t just get sucker-punched. No, he hit the other guy first. The reports say Clausen “pushed” the other guy, and his hand landed on the other guy’s “throat area.” Query what sort of “push” hits someone in the throat. Regardless, Clausen hit the other man first, and the other guy is entitled to retaliate; that’s basic self-defense. Given that Clausen initiated the physical contact, how can anyone say he got sucker-punched? If you shove me, you’d better be prepared for me to hit you back, since I certainly will.
    And after Clausen got socked in the eye, the reports say, he and the other guy “wrestled on the ground” for a few seconds before “the fight” was broken up. So, Clausen was at a bar and got into a fight after throwing the first punch. (Shove, punch, whatever you want to call it, he hit a man in the throat with his hand — that, by definition, is assault.) How is that not worthy of a suspension? No wonder Weis won’t talk about it. No wonder Weis canceled every player’s and coach’s media availability. Gee, could the fact that Weis has NO chance of beating Stanford if Clausen sits out even for a quarter of the game, and the fact that Weis is hanging on by a thread and desperately needs a win against Stanford to have something to tell the AD when they have that fateful meeting after the season ends have anything to do with why there’s no suspension in the works for Clausen? So much for the notion that ND holds itself to a higher standard than the “football factories.” At least Lane Kiffin talks to the media, you know?
    Speaking of which, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what it means that the AD told us in his radio show that Weis will be returning to ND after the game to talk to him, rather than saying on the West Coast to recruit. Weis, mercifully, is finally on his way out. Playing Clausen in this situation tells me that it really IS about wins and losses, period, end of story.

  10. BigMike4562 - Nov 25, 2009 at 8:09 AM

    All,
    You are correct, I did over step the boundaries using the Irish Catholic analogy, accept my apologies for the religous slander, it was uncalled for rather done in haste or heat of battle.
    Now, I will be reading the story on Randy, I was never a ‘Cane fan, but you have to admire his stance after the well publisized media fight game they had. This is truly someone who wants football to be a good thing in Miami, the days of Schnellenberger.
    Charlie seems to be a good person, I think he is in the heat of the fire and it’s sinking fast, he , as well as I, we eat too much…lol…so my comments on him is from the lack of quality opponents and they still cannot string a win streak. The days of Holtz brings in the big teams is over, hell even playing my team the Lions of PSU the previous 2 years was dropped. What great games….

  11. mrrandolph - Nov 25, 2009 at 9:29 AM

    I always thought that when Penn State joined the Big 10 and the schools quit playing one another started alot of the recruiting problems ND has had in the midwest.
    How can you recruit the Pennsylvania kids if you don’t play Penn State?

  12. irishfanintx - Nov 25, 2009 at 10:02 AM

    Interesting comments about Penn State. I too would like to see ND and Penn State resume playing one another. I do find it interesting also that Joe Pa wants to expand the Big 10 with a Big East team and not consider ND for expansiion because they had their chance. Could this be because of the Pennsylvania recruiting??

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