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Weis out after five seasons

Matt Gamber | Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Hours after a press release confirmed that Charlie Weis would not return for a sixth year as Notre Dame’s head coach, director of athletics Jack Swarbrick said at a press conference Monday “it’s time to move forward.”

“It is critical to this program and to its place in this University and college football that we compete at the highest level, that we compete for National Championships,” Swarbrick said. “And as we go out now and begin our search, that is our focus, in finding the right individual to lead Notre Dame back to a place of prominence in college football. The University is better when we do that, college football is better when we do that, and the student athletes who call this place home are better when we do that.”

Swarbrick said the decision to fire Weis was ultimately handed down after he made an official recommendation to University President Fr. John Jenkins Sunday night, a day after Notre Dame’s fourth consecutive defeat, a 45-38 loss at Stanford, dropped the Irish to 6-6. Swarbrick said Weis had been informed of his recommendation on Saturday night, and that the entire team learned of the decision at a meeting Monday.

Though Monday’s announcement was not unexpected, Swarbrick said his final decision was not an easy one to make.

“For many of you who may have thought that was a foregone conclusion, I would say to you that the decision was harder than you might have thought, principally because of the man it involved,” Swarbrick said. “Those of us who had the opportunity to work closely with Coach Weis or play for him couldn’t help but develop a great affinity for him.

“I hope we can find somebody who loves this University as much as he did, does, and who cared as much about his student athletes as he does.”

Swarbrick announced that until a new coach is hired, assistant head coach Rob Ianello would assume the responsibility for football operations. Ianello served as the wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator and had previously coached at Wisconsin, Arizona and Alabama.

“Rob is a skilled coach and has already played a central role in coordinating our recruiting and I know will provide us with the leadership we need going forward between this period of time and when we have a new coach in place,” Swarbrick said.

Swarbrick did not offer a timetable as to when he expected to name Weis’ successor, and he said he had not yet begun to contact any potential replacements.

“It’ll have its own pace,” Swarbrick said of the coaching search. “We’ll begin immediately and move as expeditiously as we can. There is always the possibility that Bowl commitments or other things play a role for some of the people we’re interested in, but we’ll go full bore and close it as fast as we possibly can.”

Swarbrick said he has developed a list of criteria that will play a large role in determining who will become Notre Dame’s 29th head football coach. He did not offer specifics Monday, but he did say he would favor a proven college coach.

“I will say that it is important to us to look first and foremost at people who have demonstrated an ability to build and sustain a Division I college football program,” Swarbrick said.

Rampant media speculation surrounding Weis’ job status began following Notre Dame’s 23-21 loss to Navy on Nov. 7. The Irish defeat was the second in three years to the Midshipmen, who had previously lost 43 straight games to Notre Dame before breaking the streak in 2007.

The Irish never recovered, losing a hard-fought road game to highly ranked Pittsburgh, 27-22, the next week. Notre Dame then dropped its second straight Senior Day game, 33-30 in double overtime to Connecticut, on Nov. 21, before heading to Stanford for the season finale.

The season’s disappointing ending came after a 6-2 start rekindled preseason predictions of a BCS berth for the Irish. Swarbrick said the sudden drop-off over the past four weeks played a critical role in his decision.

“As you look at the entire course of the season, it led you to the conclusion that you couldn’t have enough confidence that a jump up was imminent, that you could know with sufficient certainty that next year’s results would be significantly different,” Swarbrick said. “And so I think that was probably the tipping point.”

Weis’ dismissal did not come entirely as a surprise to the Notre Dame players, junior receiver Golden Tate said Monday.

“I knew that it was a possibility that he was leaving and I knew it was a possibility he was staying,” Tate said. “I took the approach of expecting the worst, but preparing for the best. The administration made an educated decision and I have to support it. I’m in this program and I’ve got to support the decisions they make and try to make this program a better program.”

Swarbrick had in recent weeks denied a variety of reports suggesting Weis had been terminated. Reports had surfaced that Weis was fired before the Connecticut game, and others claimed he cleaned out his office before the team’s trip to Stanford. None of those were accurate, Swarbrick reaffirmed Monday.

“He made many contributions to the University, important things which serve us in good stead going forward,” Swarbrick said. “He demonstrated that he can bring the very best student athletes to this campus and attract them to come here to play football for Notre Dame, and he demonstrated that once they’re here, they can have the full success we expect from student athletes.”