Image via KUsports.com
Searching for employment in these trying economic times? Try listing fired Notre Dame football coach on your resume, because lately that seems a surefire way to land a gig.
Kansas tabbed Charlie Weis to take over for Turner Gill’s blinked-and-you-missed-it tenure. Lovers of football comedy rejoiced. Everyone else asked…How?
Six years have past since Notre Dame made a knee-jerk reaction as abrupt as KU’s firing of Gill, signing Weis to a contract that would only be 60 percent complete had his run with the Irish not ended. And what a spectacularly disastrous end it was.
The final month of Weis’s Notre Dame run included a three-game losing streak, his defense serving as little more than a launching pad for Toby Gerhart’s Heisman candidacy and drawing the short end of Connecticut’s emotional bowl-clinching win. But a home loss to Navy left a taste in college football fans’ mouths too bitter for anyone to eat (fill in your own jokes here).
The Irish dropped a 23-21 decision to the Midshipmen that perhaps more than any other game at ND exposed Weis’s failings. Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo made adjustments. Weis was a step behind. When a roster comprised of four-and-five-star talent falls to the Naval Academy, it’s the result of either failed schematics, lack of preparation or motivation — elements that fall on the coach. And most college coaches will take on that burden.
“Kyle McCarthy’s answer was quite different [from that of Ian Williams]. [McCarthy] said it had nothing to do with the scheme. So there’s a reason one guy’s a captain and one guy’s not.”
Coaches and players have give-and-take relationships. Neither can win without or the other, and indeed, a coach isn’t solely to blame for defeat. At the professional level, calling out individuals is a more acceptable practice when players are paid seven figures. And Weis cut his teeth in the NFL.
Maybe the pressure of coaching in one of the most high profile gigs in all sports took its toll on Weis. There’s certainly a professional atmosphere in South Bend. Stakes are high at the collegiate level, but that doesn’t change the athletes are amateurs, and publicly chastising them just isn’t what an accountable head coach does.
Weis dictated the week following the Navy loss would have a theme of “accountability and dependability.” And he set the tone by…piling more blame on the players.
“Don’t sit there and point the finger at anyone other than yourself because here’s what happened on the play,” he said, missing the irony of his pointing the finger in doing so.
Adding to the irony two years later is Weis assumes the reins at a program where a head coach was recently dismissed for his tenuous relationships with athletes.
Certainly things can change in two years though, but making quick alternations has never been a strong suit of Weis’s. Second half misfires defined the 2009 Irish as opposing coaches like Randy Edsall, Jim Harbaugh and Ken Niumatalolo made adjustments Weis could not match.
The 2011 Florida Gators‘ offense did little to dispel the notion Weis’s past success was akin to a mid-season pitcher called up to the Majors. Such call-ups see success when batters are unfamiliar with their pitches — like Weis’s 2010 spell as Kansas City’s offensive coordinator. But after batters see these call-ups a few times, their days in MLB are numbered.
Weis saw moderate success with KC using Dexter McCluster as a secret weapon in the slot — McCluster averaged 10 yards per reception his rookie campaign. NFL defenses began to adjust and as the season progressed, the Chiefs went down the tubes. By then though, Will Muschamp had picked Weis as his first offensive coordinator and the buck was passed.
The slot attack came to Gainesville. Oh, did it ever. Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps caught a combined 43 passes, making them two of the top targets (Rainey’s 28 catches were the most overall). The two were also the Gators’ leading ball carriers. That’s a heavy load on two players who don’t break 5-foot-9 or 190 pounds.
Use of small, speedy slotback-type players is nothing unique to Weis, but Florida had little contingency plan.
KU struggled offensively in its two seasons under Gill, this season ranking 108 in yards gained. Weis’s offense? No. 102, or an improvement of 8 yards per game. UF broke 30 points five times all season, three of them against: UAB (No. 111 in scoring defense), FAU (No. 108), Furman (FCS). The other two were Kentucky and Tennessee, which ranked respectably at Nos. 55 and 35, but both finished the season below .500 — and both games were in September, before Weis’s scheme had become old hat for teams prepping for the Gators.
Now, a revolving door at quarterback because of injuries contributed to the Gators’ offensive woes. But the complete lack of evolution as the season progressed was part of Weis’s overall coaching pattern.
KU wanted to make headlines with its hire, and it certainly did — just for the wrong reasons.