Monday, November 23, 2009

"For Whom the Bell Tolls"

I walk through Notre Dame’s campus with a companion on Saturday evening, and I hear church bells ringing. It gives you the chills, really.

Notre Dame on a cold November night, your breath is visible. There is a certain calming peacefulness to the whole situation. Images of the movie Rudy play in your mind. There is a spirit at Notre Dame, and a loyal Domer can feel it everywhere on campus.

Hearing the church bells as fans poured out of Notre Dame Stadium exemplified that spirit to me. It seemed to signal the end of Charlie Weis’ tenure as head coach. It was as if the whole campus, living or not, knew that the final home game of the season meant the end for Charlie and his “schematic advantage.”

A two-overtime loss to the Connecticut Huskies and a loss on senior day for the second consecutive year left me struggling to figure out just how I felt about my trip to South Bend as I walked in the cold night air.

First, out of frustration with a loss, I wanted to say that the trip was a waste of time and gas money. I could have been at home, watching football on TV and saving my money for the holidays.

But that’s not right. No matter the outcome, I always appreciate an opportunity to attend a game in the House that Rockne Built. And as I said, it is special when you walk through campus and can feel the Spirit that everyone talks about.

But the bells continued to toll, and again I’m back thinking about Charlie Weis.

It was touching to see the support the team has for its coach. Rather than running out of the tunnel at the beginning of the game like normal, the team marched arm-in-arm. It looked like a golden battle formation of tightly packed soldiers, with their Head Coach at the middle of the front line, arms linked with the team captains that stand by him through all of the rumors and negativity. He is their coach, and they are with him to the end. But the end is here. If a movie were to be made of Charlie Weis’ time at Notre Dame, the scene on senior day would have been known as “The Last March of Charlie Weis.”

When he was announced as the new head coach at the University of Notre Dame five years ago, he boldly proclaimed that the team was 6-5, and that it was not good enough. “That’s not good enough for you, and it’s certainly not going to be good enough for me,” he said.

And now his team stands at 6-5 after three straight losses. The argument can be made that the Irish are right on the cusp, walking a fine line between mediocrity and greatness. Five games decided by 7 points or less. Five scores away from a potential perfect season. It is a sign of improvement that the team is so close to so many wins. But it is not enough improvement. In the win/loss column, it could be zero improvement after the upcoming trip to Stanford.

You can see the difference in the team. The talent finally has experience. The players finally feel like they should win every game they play. There are no blowout losses, and every week’s effort is respectable.

But this team could have been great. The level of talent on the team is such that every game could have been won, and probably should have. But it did not happen. The talented players did not execute when the time was at hand for execution, and the coaches did not make the right calls when it was time to make them.

The team supports Charlie Weis. I’m sure they would be glad to have him back for one more year. But that was the mantra after last season when Weis was under fire: One More Year.

I believed it and proclaimed it loudly. “Give Charlie one more year with Jimmy Clausen, Golden Tate, Michael Floyd, and Armando Allen, and the offense will be unstoppable. Give him one more year for his defense to improve, and we will be contenders again. Give him one more year so his players get that experience under him, and the National Championship is ours.”

It was wishful thinking, but it was a very real possibility. However, it did not pan out. If he were to get “one more year” again, his team would again have one of the most talented and dangerous offenses in college football. I believe Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate would return to play under him for their senior seasons. Even if one or both of them did not return, Weis would have his recruits to run his offense, and it would still have firepower. The team would be in a position to have a chance at winning every game.

But time is up. He was given a chance to get the job done, and it did not happen. Waiting another year for change under Weis is no longer an option. Action must be taken. A new leader must be brought in.

Irish nation is impatient, and its patience with Weis has run out. Stability is important, but winning is more so.

Just as the bells on campus tolled Saturday night, the bell has tolled on Charlie Weis. It signals the end of his time in South Bend.

And probably Jimmy Clausen’s. And probably Golden Tate’s.

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