Are Notre Dame's puzzle pieces in place? Print
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Thursday, 13 November 2008 15:09
NCAAF Headline News

 Notre Dame nearly doubled the terms of Charlie Weis' contract just seven games into his rookie year to squelch rumors that he could be lured back to the NFL. Four seasons later, the school would be lucky to find anyone willing to take him off their hands at half the price of the original deal.
Weis might be a good head coach; he just hasn't shown it. His biggest accomplishment remains a close loss to USC that first season. He's 27-19 overall, 0-2 in bowl games and last season's team might have been the worst in the school's long and illustrious history.
So naturally, Weis' boss gave him a vote of confidence earlier this week.
``I love the passion and I love that people care that much, but there's no factual predicate for any sort of discussion today. We're doing great,'' athletic director Jack Swarbrick said Wednesday. ``You have to let the whole season play itself out and compare it to the season before.''
ick's New England Patriots. Arriving when he did, just after Urban Meyer rebuffed the Golden Domers and took the Florida job instead, Weis was greeted with hosannas instead of tough questions.
Yet the program's slide from perennial golden boy toward Mr. Irrelevant is only picking up speed. One more reminder of how fast comes Saturday against Navy on the road. For decades, the game was more a nod to college football's past than its present, a tuneup for Fighting Irish squads with designs on winning national championships.
Last season, the Midshipmen reversed course after 43 straight losses and won. The only reason to watch the rematch might be to see whether Weis can manage to hold onto his job. Following a 17-0 loss to Boston College and a death in the family that limited offensive coordinator Mike Haywood's participation in practice during the week, Weis will be calling the plays from the sideline again.
``I think that as you evolve into the world of college football, there's many learning experiences you go through,'' Weis said. ``As the pieces of the puzzle keep on coming together, there comes a time when all those pieces of the puzzle seem to fit and mesh just right, and when that happens, I'll let you know.''
ruited himself. That's why so many discouraged alumni are ready to jump off the train. For all the talk about how the talent level dipped under Ty Willingham, Weis' first two successful seasons came relying on players picked largely by his predecessor. Regardless, few would dispute that Weis has more talent available than plenty of the teams that have thumped Notre Dame of late.
The man has proven he can recruit with the best. But develop those same kids? Not so much. The offense has a few emerging playmakers, notably wide receivers Golden Tate and Michael Floyd. But prized quarterback Jimmy Clausen has been banged up and turnover-prone.
The boasts that so thrilled the Fighting Irish soon after Weis arrived on the scene - ``Now it's time for the X's and O's. Let's see who has the advantage now,'' he said after announcing his first recruiting class - have awakened all the wrong kind of echoes. He's beat exactly one team that finished the season ranked in the top 25.
It might be that Weis wasn't cut out to be a head coach. Or at least a head coach in college. A few other solid NFL coordinators have similarly failed in the college ranks, where teaching skills and looking after players demands more time, patience and accountability.
Patriots' offense actually improved after his departure - even before the record-breaking 2007 season and the addition of Randy Moss.
Or Weis just might be getting his feet under him at the end of a lengthy and trickier-than-expected transition.
We'll know soon enough.
On tap after Navy is hapless Syracuse, followed by the regular season-ending game at USC. If the Irish don't win the first two and look as if they belong on the same field with USC, a few of the people in charge should try to remember what prompted their 10-year, $40 million commitment and whether any of the parties rumored to be pursuing Weis at the time are now interested in a top-notch coordinator at a bargain price.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at

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