Weis guys finish out of work

Published 3:40 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Charlie Weis arrived at Notre Dame flashing Super Bowls rings and talking about outscheming opponents. He leaves one of college football’s most prestigious programs without even matching the records of the two men who were fired before him.

Athletic director Jack Swarbrick announced the decision to let Weis go on Monday, and said during a campus news conference that the school has not contacted any potential replacements.

The search for a new coach will begin immediately and will be finished “as fast as we possibly can,” Swarbrick said.

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Notre Dame (6-6) finished the season on a four-game losing streak that made Weis’ firing seem inevitable, though the athletic director insisted it wasn’t.

“For many of you who may have thought that was a foregone conclusion, I would say to you that the decision was harder than you might have thought, principally because of the man it involved,” Swarbrick said, adding there was a huge gulf between the coach’s brash image and personal style. He said Weis called him on Monday to see how the AD was doing.

On Sunday night, Swarbrick recommended to the Rev. John Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president, that Weis be let go with six years left on his contract. Weis finishes with a 35-27 record in five seasons, third-worst among coaches who worked at least three years at the school.

“He’ll add some Super Bowl rings to the ones he already has as a successful coordinator in the NFL and we will miss him,” Swarbrick said. “But for us it’s time to move forward. It’s time to move forward because it is critical to this program and to its place in the university and college football that we compete at the highest level. That we compete for national championships.”

Swarbrick said the decision to fire Weis was more of an “evolution,” saying Weis knew which direction the decision was headed. After Saturday’s season-ending loss at Stanford, Swarbrick told Weis the recommendation he planned to give Jenkins, and they talked more on the plane ride home.

“So there wasn’t a point in time so much as it was a conversation throughout the evening,” Swarbrick said.

Assistant head coach Rob Ianello will step in for Weis until a new coach is hired.

Weis has not met with the team since they returned from Stanford, but has been in touch with some players.

Star receiver Golden Tate said Weis has indicated he might attend the team banquet Friday night. University spokesman John Heisler confirmed Weis might attend, and said he would be welcome.

Center Eric Olsen said he was heartbroken to hear Weis was fired.

“It’s tough for me with my personal relationship with coach Weis,” he said. “But I know he’s going to be fine.”

Tate said he and his family plan to meet with Weis on Friday about whether the junior should enter the NFL draft. Tate said quarterback Jimmy Clausen also plans to talk with Weis on Friday.

Olsen said he texted Weis after the firing was announced Monday and Weis responded.

“He was like, ’Don’t worry about it,”’ Olsen said. “It’s a tough thing to swallow.”

The Fighting Irish are eligible to play in a bowl game, but Swarbrick has said he wants to hear from the players before deciding if Notre Dame will go to a minor postseason game.

Following a 6-2 start this season, Notre Dame began a winless November with the second upset by Navy in three years. Then came losses to Pittsburgh and to Connecticut in double overtime on senior day in South Bend. By the time Stanford beat the Irish, speculation about who would possibly replace Weis was rampant.

Among the top names mentioned, Florida’s Urban Meyer and Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops already have said they plan to stay where they are. Speaking on a conference call Monday, Stoops said: “I’m going to be at Oklahoma next year, so I can’t be at two places at once.”

Cincinnati’s Brian Kelly has also been mentioned, along with Stanford’s Jim Harbaugh and TCU’s Gary Patterson.

A self-confident offensive coordinator with the NFL champion New England Patriots when he was hired, Weis raised Irish expectations with back-to-back appearances in BCS bowl games in his first two seasons.

Since then, though, Notre Dame has gone 16-21 — the most losses by the Irish in a three-year span.

Weis’ record is worse than his two predecessors, Tyrone Willingham and Bob Davie, who also were fired. Notre Dame is now looking to hire its fifth coach this decade, while Weis’ name is popping up as a possible offensive coordinator candidate in the NFL.

Weis received a new 10-year contract midway through his first season, shortly after a thriller against top-ranked USC that ended in a 34-31 Notre Dame loss.

Even though the Irish fell short, playing nearly even with Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush and the mighty Trojans had the Notre Dame faithful hopeful they had found a coach capable of returning the program to its past glories. The Fighting Irish have won eight AP national titles, more than any other school, but none since 1988.

Yet the USC loss turned out to be the highlight of the Weis-era. Because Weis’ tenure began so promisingly, his final three seasons in South Bend were especially painful for the legion of Fighting Irish supporters nationwide.

With Brady Quinn, Jeff Samardzija and other key players gone in 2007, the Irish started 0-5 for the first time in school history. They finished 3-9 and were last in the NCAA in total offense just three years after Weis said at his introductory news conference that when it comes to X’s and O’s “we have the greatest advantage.”

Notre Dame fans who celebrated Weis’ cockiness when he was winning grew tired of his Jersey attitude when the Irish started losing, with many calling him arrogant.

The now-former coach said a day after the loss to Connecticut that he would have a hard time arguing against his dismissal “because 6-5 is not good enough” — an echo of his words when he took the job.

Swarbrick said he believes it’s still possible to turn the Irish into a consistent winner.

“Is it harder for us? Yes, because of the standards we choose to apply to the program ourselves,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we can’t get there.”