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Weis’ departure handled respectfully

Observer Staff | Friday, December 4, 2009

We all knew for a while that Charlie Weis would not be retained as Notre Dame’s head football coach.
What we didn’t know was when and how the process would play out, because the last time the Notre Dame administration fired a coach, they botched it.
The University fired its last coach, Tyrone Willingham, after just three seasons, before he had a chance to develop his recruits and integrate them into his system. After Willingham was fired, then-Director of Athletics Kevin White admitted that school officials had pressured him to let Willingham go against his better judgment. The administration thought they could snag Urban Meyer, formerly the head coach of Utah and an assistant at Notre Dame. But then, like Meyer to Florida, things headed south in a hurry.
This time, so far, they’ve got it right.
As firings go, Weis’ has gone incredibly smoothly. Director of Athletics Jack Swarbrick said the decision was tougher than most would imagine, which is understandable given how much everyone wanted Weis to work out as a coach. He was an alum who loved the school, he won in the NFL and he had success in his first two seasons with the Irish. He made Brady Quinn a Heisman contender and a first-round draft pick and led the Irish to two BCS bowls in two years.
Just what dragged the team into the depths of college football is tough to pinpoint. The recruits poured in but the wins slowed down. The team looked unprepared to beat teams it was supposed to beat (Syracuse and Navy — twice) and had trouble winning big games. Swarbrick said the direction of the program left him unconvinced that next year would bring significant improvement, so Weis had to be let go.
It’s important to remember that Weis did not destroy the program by any means. He brought in great recruits, he graduated his players and, for the most part, he kept them out of trouble. Off the field, his work with the Hannah and Friends charity is admirable and will continue to improve lives.
But, bottom line, Weis did not prepare his talented team to win, and for that reason letting him go was the correct move.
Swarbrick handled the unsavory situation as best he could. He recommended the move to University President Fr. John Jenkins, who approved it — the way decisions should be made at this level. Swarbrick said he had a dialogue with Weis and informed him of his fate after the Stanford game, in a timely, professional manner indicative of the way this situation has played out.
By now, the circus that surrounds a coaching change at Notre Dame is in full swing. The media attention focused on the Irish program intensifies every move Swarbrick makes. ESPN has camped out near Legends to film updates on the coaching search. Each hour brings new rumors from message boards to usually credible media outlets eager to break the news of who will become Notre Dame’s 29th head football coach. Finding a coach who can win at the Division I level is tough in a vacuum. Under this microscope, it’s near impossible.
But Swarbrick can’t let that stop him. His decision — and he reiterated Monday that it will be his decision — has to be the right one.
Swarbrick’s previous involvement with athletics and the contacts he has made over the years should help him evaluate all the possibilities, not just those the media has pigeon-holed as candidates with mostly baseless speculation.
It’s not about a big name, it’s not about an offensive or defensive background and it’s not about getting him — whoever that may be — here in time for a bowl game. It’s about preparing the team to succeed next year and the program to excel over the next 10 years by molding and motivating talented athletes into a cohesive, productive unit.
That’s where Charlie Weis fell short, and that’s what the next head coach must do. Now it’s up to Swarbrick to find him. And if what we’ve seen this week is any indication, he will.