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STANFORD, Calif. -- Charlie Weis and his boss, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, boarded the same Delta team charter from San Francisco to South Bend on Saturday night. Weis left the Bay Area with his 27th and, undoubtedly, final loss as the Irish's head coach. Swarbrick left with a decision (pause for laughter) to make.
|Charlie Weis avoided the media after Notre Dame's loss to Stanford.|
After the Irish's 45-38 loss to Stanford -- their fourth consecutive defeat to end a disastrous 6-6 season -- there can be no doubt of Weis' fate. The official announcement of his dismissal could come as early as Sunday, probably no later than Monday.
If so, Weis' 62-game Irish coaching career ended with his sneaking out a side door of the Stanford Stadium visitors locker room and into one of the four team buses waiting at the top of a steep stairway. Five years earlier, in his introductory news conference, he had been so full of bluster and football proclamations. Now, silence.
"He just declined," a Notre Dame spokesperson said of Weis' decision to stiff the media. "No reason given."
Weis did conduct an interview with WNDU sports director Jeff Jeffers inside the double doors of Notre Dame's locker room. Those comments were later distributed in the press box.
"There's a bunch of 22-, 23-year-old young men right there finishing out their career losing the last four games," Weis told Jeffers. "They feel miserable, and I feel miserable for them."
Weis wouldn't talk to reporters, but his players did. Quarterback Jimmy Clausen, who will explore leaving Notre Dame early for the NFL, took a seat in a makeshift interview tent and spoke glowingly of his coach.
"Like I've told you all many times, the reason why I stepped on campus was because of Coach Weis," said Clausen, whose left eye was still black-and-blue from a punch he took in a bar last weekend. "To be honest, I wouldn't be here right now if it wasn't for him."
And wide receiver Golden Tate, his eyes reddened by tears, said of Weis: "It hurts because the thought that that might be the last time he coaches me. That might be the last time he's coaching for Notre Dame."
This loss was like so many others of 2009: Clausen threw for huge numbers (23-of-30 for 340 yards and five touchdowns), Tate was uncoverable (10 catches, 201 yards, three touchdowns) yet the defense was, well, defenseless.
Rather than watch Stanford bleed the remaining 63 seconds on the clock, Weis actually ordered his defense to let the Cardinal score. So the Irish defenders let running back Toby Gerhart rush untouched for a 4-yard touchdown with 59 seconds left in the game. The sad part: There wasn't much difference between then and other parts of the game.
Gerhart, who proved himself Heisman-worthy, finished with 205 yards, three rushing touchdowns and one passing touchdown. In all, Stanford had 496 total offensive yards.In the game's final minute, Clausen drove Notre Dame from its own 20 to the Stanford 31. His final pass -- a throw to a trio of Notre Dame receivers in the end zone -- was knocked down.
Weis removed his headset and, flanked by five security personnel, walked toward the middle of the field and waited for Stanford coach (and possible Notre Dame coaching candidate) Jim Harbaugh to arrive.
|Jimmy Clausen is among the players to publicly back Weis.|
"All right, thanks, Coach," Harbaugh said as he leaned in for a quick handshake and embrace with Weis. "Appreciate it."
Weis then made his way through the players and Stanford students on the field, limped slowly up a concrete ramp and disappeared into the visitors locker room. He wasn't seen again.
It is nearly impossible to make a case for Weis' return when even Weis himself couldn't do so a week ago. Perhaps he already knew the final countdown had begun on his Notre Dame coaching career after the Nov. 7 loss to Navy or, if not then, the Nov. 21 loss to Connecticut, so why bother? Sometimes the writing on the wall is too large to ignore.
Weis will soon be the ex-Irish coach for a dozen different reasons, beginning with the Bill Parcells Creed that Weis recited during his introductory news conference way back when: You are what your record says you are.
Weis is 35-27, a record that says mediocrity and, even worse, football irrelevancy. Notre Dame has gone from consecutive BCS bowl appearances in Weis' first two years to no bowl at all to a minor bowl and now to whatever postseason scraps (Humanitarian Bowl, Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, EagleBank Bowl?) are left this year. His program has atrophied, even regressed in some areas -- all with six seasons left on his contract.
Under Weis' watch, Notre Dame has lost to Navy twice, Syracuse once, USC five times, Boston College twice, Michigan State thrice, Michigan thrice and Air Force once. Weis lost when he should have won but could never win when he and his program needed a signature victory. He likely leaves with zero wins against teams that finished the season ranked in the top 20.
Unlike Tyrone Willingham before him, Weis got a full five years to build his program with his own recruits, his own system and his own assistant coaches. He also got a lavish contract extension. In return, he went 19-6 with Willingham's players but only 16-21 with essentially his own players.
Weis knows how to call a play (he did a brilliant job of setting up Stanford's defense with a reverse, followed shortly by a reverse/flea-flicker that went for a third-quarter, 46-yard touchdown pass from Clausen to Floyd), but he didn't know how to structure a staff. Example: Mike Haywood as offensive coordinator in 2008? Huh? Jon Tenuta as defensive coordinator? Didn't work.
And despite the successes of Clausen and Tate, I'm more convinced than ever that Notre Dame needs to return to its past: an offense centered more on the running game (the Irish are 20-0 under Weis when they outrush their opponent) and a physical defense (ND entered Saturday night's game ranked 80th in total defense) that actually teaches technique.
No one questions Weis' commitment to academics. His teams' GPAs and graduation rates always have been top-shelf. Significant off-the-field incidents have been rare. Recruiting rankings, for what those are worth, generally have been high.
But in retrospect, Weis had difficulty making the transition from the cocoon of an NFL offensive coordinator (under the ultraprotective Bill Belichick, no less) to college head coach and all things Notre Dame. His first news conference was refreshing in its honesty, but you could see the red flags flapping in the breeze of his ego.
As an NFL coordinator, your constituency is your owner, your head coach and your players. At Notre Dame, that constituency stretches like a pair of Sansabelts from school president to athletic director to administrators to players, alumni, NBC, media and subway alums. I'm not sure Weis totally embraced that role. One of his final acts at Notre Dame -- to cancel all media access to his players this past week -- was more fitting of Belichick than of a college coach. And then to slink out a back door
Weis arrived at Notre Dame with three Super Bowl rings, Jersey sensibilities, sarcasm out the wazoo and a love for his alma mater. He'll leave there slightly humbled, with a multimillion-dollar settlement, but not broken. Weis always will be the smartest guy in the room even if he isn't. That was part of the reason he was hired there and part of the reason he'll be fired there.
Nearly four months ago, as the Irish prepared for fall training camp, I asked Weis how he would judge his performance in his previous four seasons at Notre Dame. Weis responded, "I could sit there and tell you how lofty goals I have, my expectations. But guess what? It's time for us to back them up. That's what we have to do."
In the end, Weis couldn't produce. He had those goals, but he didn't have a plan that translated into enough wins. There was talk. There was no walk. Six-and-6 isn't what Swarbrick -- or Weis -- had in mind.
"I wouldn't have believed it," Tate said of ND's regular-season record.
The announcement regarding Weis' dismissal is expected within the next several days. Swarbrick told me months ago he'll use a two-page checklist to assess the state of a Notre Dame program, but Weis knows better. His dismissal comes down to two letters, not two pages: W and L.
Weis had too few of the first, too many of the second.Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at email@example.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.