While Notre Dame’s head football coach Charlie Weis enjoyed some preliminary success, enough to gain him a hefty contract extension midway through his first season with the Irish, his recent failure has sent a once proud program plummeting passed mediocrity into the bowels of college football. The concept of rebuilding and waiting for the fulfillment of his own recruiting class no longer can excuse the lack of success that Notre Dame fans and alumni endure nearly every Saturday afternoon, and, regardless of the obstacles presented, the university must send Weis on his way and search for a man capable of infusing life into a cooling corpse of a program.
Analyzing Weis’s tenure and comparing it to those of his less-than-stellar predecessors Bob Davies and Tyrone Willingham, although statistically relevant, offers no real insight into the true reason for his dismissal; nor does sifting through his coaching decisions and player choices. Instead, we must inspect the problem on a deeper, far more meaningful level.
Notre Dame’s football stadium, nestled quite fittingly into a campus 164 years old, is a sprawling brick oval that houses the greatest traditions in all of sports. Whether it is the fanatical pep rally held each night prior to a home game or the drum circle at midnight on the stone apron in front of the golden dome, whether it is the seemingly endless string of students and alumni lining the walkways from the basilica to the stadium or the marching band’s pre-game gathering on the steps, the customs that have injected the Notre Dame mystique with a sense of timelessness have begun to suffer.
In a school that prides itself on academic rigor and accomplishment, its primary influence across the country has been, and probably always will be, the football program; however, while the scholastic achievement continues to flourish, its public gem has become lackluster and almost irrevocably flawed. Yes, game day on campus still generates an excitement, but not the way it can. Yes, students and alumni remain steadfastly loyal to their Irish, but their commentary now is laced with stern criticism and reproach. A crack in the once impenetrably armor has surfaced, and Charlie Weis does not possess the wherewithal or support to not only solder the fissure, but also to shine the battlements and lead them back into the fight.
Put aside the statistical failures and the pitiful numbers. Shut your eyes to the financial portion of a potential buyout. Forget about the questionable on-field decisions. All of these are the critics’ empirical arguments that substantiate firing a man who seems entrenched. But, the reasons for his leaving run far deeper than any average or record.
Charlie Weis has lost the confidence of a fan base that spans the country. Unlike many large state schools that pull the majority of its student body from local areas, or smaller private colleges whose student population is primarily regional, Notre Dame’s students hail from all corners of the United States and abroad. They do not seek unity in the comforts of a state or region, but rather in the tradition and honor that is Notre Dame. Current students and alumni should no longer struggle through long off-seasons filled with the inaccurate hopes of a successful upcoming fall, nor should they endure no rewards for all the energy and emotion they invest.
The football program’s failures have distinctly bruised the national pride Notre Dame once maintained, leaving a perpetual black eye on a once bare-fisted, prideful leprechaun. The chapters in its voluminous history have grown shorter and decidedly more fruitless, resulting in an internal hurt that has infected all Irish fans. Instead of chants and overtures, fight songs and cheers, the stadium now resonates with salty tears and slowly shaking heads. Disappointment has slowly replaced enchantment, and Notre Dame must make the decision to restore what it has always been.
Larger than life bronze statues of Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Knute Rockne, Dan Devine, and Lou Holtz, all men who sacrificed much of their lives for the progress of tradition and the establishment of history, line the walls outside Notre Dame Stadium, and Charlie Weis has lost the privilege to walk among them. Thus, he must, either by force or resignation, leave South Bend, and allow the university to resurrect itself once and for all.