|Third year not the charm for Notre Dame's Weis|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 11 September 2007 12:28|
Knute Rockne, Lou Holtz, Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian and Dan Devine each won a national title of some sort in his third season under the Golden Dome.
Their combined records in those years: 50-2-1.
Weis' record in his third year: 0-2 with a trip to winless Michigan this weekend.
Is it fair to compare Weis to the five coaches who won Notre Dame's 11 consensus national titles?
Well, this year's media guide seemed to do just that. It features a color portrait of a smiling Weis superimposed below grainy photos of Rockne, Leahy, Devine, Parseghian and Holtz.
It's gild by association.
Weis may someday belong in that company. Not yet. And each crushing loss pushes him further out of the picture.
As an alumnus of the fabled football factory, Weis understands better than most that every Fighting Irish coach is ultimately judged against his predecessors.
It's true that Weis won more games, 19, in his first two seasons than any previous Irish coach. But he also coached more games, 25, than anyone but Bob Davie and Tyrone Willingham.
At the moment, Weis is on the verge of making a different kind of history.
If Weis loses at Michigan on Saturday, he would become only the second Irish coach to open a season 0-3. Davie did it in 2001 and never recovered. He was fired at season's end with time remaining on a long-term contract extension.
All of which raises the stakes considerably for Weis as he prepares to lead the Irish across the border for their annual showdown with Michigan.
``When things aren't going too well, I think the first thing you have to do is you have to be accountable,'' Weis said Tuesday at his weekly campus news conference.
There's plenty of accountability on the line Saturday in Ann Arbor, but it's a good-news, bad-news proposition for Weis.
On the good side, the 0-2 Wolverines stink like a week-old bar rag. On the bad side, a loss to Michigan would put another dent in Weis' armor. Like Notre Dame, the Wolverines are starting a freshman quarterback, so that alibi won't hold up for the losing coach.
Weis' many supporters long have argued that he inherited a mess from Willingham, although most of Weis' early success was built on Willingham's recruits. On Tuesday, Weis voluntarily assumed the responsibility for his team's stumbles.
``If people are going to be firing away, I'd rather them firing at me,'' he said.
Every loss provides more ammunition. Weis' last six defeats - to No. 4 Ohio State, No. 11 Michigan, No. 3 USC, No. 4 LSU, Georgia Tech and No. 14 Penn State - have come by an average of 23 points.
This year's drubbings by Georgia Tech (33-3) and Penn State (31-10) have chipped away at Weis' reputation as an offensive mastermind.
The Fighting Irish defense has outscored the offense 7-6 through two games. Sounds more like a halftime score in the spring game.
Weis had to know his team would struggle this year, especially against a front-loaded schedule. But he set a high standard when a reporter suggested last month that 2007 might be a rebuilding year, given the loss of quarterback Brady Quinn and wide receiver Jeff Samardzija.
``May God strike me dead if I use that word (rebuilding),'' Weis said. ``I'll never use that word. You use it. I'm not using it.''
Hotshot recruit Jimmy Clausen wasn't thinking about rebuilding when he announced on signing day that he hoped to win four national championship rings. The young quarterback might still be able to do that, although he might want to transfer to USC or LSU and ask the NCAA for an extra year of eligibility.
Clausen's bravado seems a nice fit with Weis' arrogance. But Weis didn't sound as if he had all the answers as he went over strategic minutia with reporters Tuesday. Questions about the future - beyond Michigan, that is - seemed far from his mind.
``I'm not worrying about long term,'' Weis said. ``I'm just worrying about trying to win this one.''
Weis doesn't need to worry about the long term because he has a contract that runs through 2015 and is reported to be worth between $30 million and $40 million.
Notre Dame has swallowed contracts before, but that's a pretty big gulp.
The contract gives Weis lots of time to correct his team's many flaws, including its stunning lack of speed on defense and its inability to sustain a credible running game. Weis only has been able to do so much in his two full recruiting seasons.
This much is certain: Weis will have more time than Willingham was given.
It remains to be seen whether it's enough time for Weis to earn a place in the picture with Rockne and friends.