The calm before the storm

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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.