Weis is no coaching genius

New York TimesNovember 28, 2009 

Charlie Weis is a compelling twist on Abraham Lincoln's observation that "you can fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time."

As the football coach at Notre Dame since 2004, Weis fooled a lot of people for a long time. Few of those he fooled, however, were opposing coaches. Instead, they were Notre Dame boosters and administrators. Perhaps they got caught up in Weis' being a guy's guy, better than his predecessor, Ty Willingham, at glad-handing, telling jokes and firing off snappy one-liners. Perhaps better, too, at recruiting.

A better salesman, not a better coach.

When he first arrived at Notre Dame, Weis boasted to starstruck players that they would have a "schematic advantage" over their opponents because of his advanced knowledge of the pro-style offense. Weis was the offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots as they won three Super Bowl championships.

The jig is apparently up. With a 6-5 record and embarrassing losses at home to Navy and Connecticut, Notre Dame is expected to fire Weis after the Fighting Irish's game today at Stanford. A program that will have gone through five coaches in 10 years will apparently try to find yet another savior.

You don't get the sense that Weis is preoccupied with introspection, with hand-wringing over "what did I do right, what I did I do wrong?" You almost get the sense that Weis knew he was in over his head and out of his league as a head coach before the Notre Dame trustees knew. He told reporters this week he thought there would be justification if he was let go.

If Weis is fired, he will walk away with $15 million to $18 million.

"If they decide to make a change, I'd have to say that I'd have a tough time arguing with that," Weis told reporters.

Willingham was fired in 2004 after his third Notre Dame team finished 6-5. The university scooped up Weis, pointing to his credentials as fruit from the Bill Belichick coaching tree. He was Belichick's offensive coordinator from 2000 through 2004.

Weis signed a six-year contract worth a reported $2 million a year. Midway through his first season, Notre Dame gave Weis an eye-popping extension -- a 10-year deal worth $30 million to $40 million.

Notre Dame trustees, in their private moments, may be asking themselves, "What were we thinking?" If they are not, they should be.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the Weis era is how genius status is conferred upon or withheld from football coaches. Who manufactures this hype in the first place?

The news media shoulder a large part of the responsibility, based on their subterranean network of allegiances, alliances and sources that float names for coaching vacancies and label some coaches geniuses. We embellish the legend, for example, of the Belichick tree and the strange fruit it has produced, like Weis, Eric Mangini and Josh McDaniels.

Mangini, the Cleveland Browns' coach, came to Belichick's attention as a 23-year-old ball boy with the Browns when Belichick was their head coach. At 34, Mangini became the youngest NFL head coach at the time when the New York Jets hired him in 2006.

When the Jets went 10-6 in his first season, some in the news media referred to Mangini as Mangenius.

The Jets finished 4-12 in Mangini's second season, however, and collapsed down the stretch in Year 3. Mangini was fired after the 2008 season but was snapped up a month later by the Browns. Now, at 1-9, Mangini's Browns are in a state of mutiny, and he may be fired before the season ends.

Eyebrows were raised in Denver when McDaniels, then 32, was hired by the Broncos, but after Denver raced to a 6-0 start, he was hailed as the latest genius to come from the Belichick tree. McDaniels worked under Belichick for eight seasons, eventually as the offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach.

Denver lost four games in a row heading into its Thanksgiving night game against the Giants, McDaniels and the Broncos righted the ship for the moment with a 26-6 victory to improve to 7-4. But the genius card comes and goes.

On Nov. 15 in Indianapolis, Belichick had a golden opportunity to hand the Colts their first loss of the season. Leading late in the game, with the ball, he elected to go for it on fourth-and-2 at his own 28-yard line.

The play failed, Indianapolis scored and the Colts extended their record to 9-0.

But no one is calling Jim Caldwell, the rookie coach in Indianapolis, a genius. They talk about the Colts and quarterback Peyton Manning. It's just as well. Charlie Weis was talked about as the second coming, and soon he will be gone.

There is speculation that if he is fired, Weis will waltz back into Foxborough and will sit under the Belichick tree once again.

Weis. Mangini. McDaniels. That tree needs some watering.

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