Following another heartbreaking loss on Saturday, ending another season mired in the purgatory of mediocrity, the Charlie Weis reign under (over?) the Golden Dome came to a fitting conclusion. In an era filled with vast potential, inadequate results, and crushing disappointments, the 45-38 loss to Standford in the final minutes of the game followed the script that has become his signature.
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick's announcement of Weis' dismissal on Monday was neither surprising nor greatly celebrated. It was clear Charlie had to go, but the final acceptance that the coach who descended upon the campus in South Bend from the absolute summit of the NFL mountain, took the team to two BCS games in his first two seasons as head coach, and stockpiled a cache of talent not seen since the Holtz era, would leave the school finding such little success, was hard to swallow.
When it was the Jarious Jackson teams under Bob Davie or the Carlyle Holiday teams under Tyrone Willingham, the losing was at the very least understandable. But with Jimmy Clausen and his two nuclear wide receivers operating under the offensive guru behind the creations of Tom Brady and the offense of the multiple-Super Bowl winning New England Patriots, the fates were supposed to change. The team was destined to again operate on another level relative to the cretins of the NCAA. But after five years, the constant failure could simply be tolerated no longer.
The path that led to Weis' downfall has been well documented. Since Holtz, the Irish have been through three coaches that failed miserably. But Charlie Weis departs South Bend leaving the team in a much different condition than his predecessors. While Bob Davie did leave Tyrone Willingam some talent — specifically at the running back position (Julius Jones, Ryan Grant) — the defense was thin and the lack of a viable quarterback would plague Willingham until the freshman Brady Quinn replaced Holiday in 2003, Ty's second to last season.
Willingham got by with Davie's players for one season (10-3 in 2002) but the success was short-lived. By the time Willingham was fired after a 6-5 record in 2004, the proverbial cupboards were nearly rendered barren by ineptitude in recruiting. After a top five class in his first full year on the trail, Willingam's 2004 class was ranked 30th in the nation.
Weis, on the other hand, recruited successfully every season, consistently posting top 10 classes, luring blue-chip athletes like Clausen and Manti Te'o to the frosty midwest despite the lack of sorority girls in bikinis blanketing sun-drenched beaches and an ample amount of credited classes that require minimal amounts of intellect and attendance. Therefore, unlike Tyrone Willingham and Bob Davie, the Irish will have a solid foundation of depth and talent to sell to a perspective replacement.
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish find themselves at the crux of the single most important moment in the history of their program. The college football landscape, the mindset and the values of the college student, and the culture of the game itself has changed drastically since the days when the Irish racked up most of those 11 national championships.
Many have already written them off to irrelevance while some diehards cling to the hope that the 12th is just a single defining move away. Whomever is correct, the future status of the program will unquestioningly be defined by the man that Swarbrick hires. The right move could very realistically and rapidly return the Irish to national prominence. But one more error and those who feel that Notre Dame's reign as a perennial powerhouse ended a long time ago will once and for all be vindicated.