Listen to the Bell Charlie, it Tolls for Thee

When Tyrone Willingham was fired three years ago as Notre Dame Coach, and immediately replaced by offensive mastermind Charlie Weis, the two men seemed destined for comparison evermore.

The cry of racism immediately sounded across the country, considering that Weis (a white man) would be raking in $2 million a year, which was far more lucrative than Willingham (a black man) had been earning for the same job. But those protests were drowned out by an even more vocal contingent — gleeful Notre Dame fans. There would be no more alienating behavior and crappy football from Tyrone Willingham. Finally, their savior had arrived! Weis would soon be ushering Notre Dame to countless 12-win seasons and a bevy of national championships. The glory was back.

At the press conference introducing him as Notre Dame's new coach, Charlie Weis was not at a loss for words. Flanked by his family, Weis was talkative and cracking wise. He informed the horde of media that they sometimes wouldn't like him, because of his proclivity to be gruff. Then after praising Tyrone Willingham, Weis proceeded to address the entire Notre Dame community, and in the process delivered an insult to Willingham.

"You are what you are, folks, and right now you're a 6-5 football team," said Weis. "And guess what, that's just not good enough. That's not good enough for you, and it's certainly not going to be good enough for me. So, if you think they hired me here to go .500, you've got the wrong guy. You are going to have a hard-working, intelligent, nasty football team that goes on the field because the attitude of the head coach will be permeated through the players. And I hate to include the nasty, but that is part of being a winning football team." Notre Dame fans ate that up. They also became bellicose when Weis publicly decried how pathetically out-of-shape the Irish players had been under Willingham.

Willingham and Weis (Getty Images)
The following September, the Irish Nation reveled in kicking the crap out of the Huskies in Husky Stadium, 36-17. That win validated many people's opinions that Notre Dame made the right decision in dumping Willingham. When the Irish subsequently took #1 USC down to the wire in an October epic, Notre Dame couldn't scramble for their checkbook fast enough to lock Weis up for ten years and $30-40 million.

Three years later, the college football community sits in disbelief. There was Notre Dame last Saturday, replete with three years' worth of Charlie Weis recruiting classes. They stumbled and bumbled their way to a 33-3 home defeat against Georgia Tech. Minus 8 yards rushing? Three consecutive losses by an average of 30 points? ABC's Craig James predicting that the Irish would lose their first eight games? Ouff. Things were never that bad under Tyrone Willingham. In fact, things haven't been this bad in South Bend since Jimmy Johnson's Miami Hurricanes pasted the Irish 58-7 in the days of Gerry Faust.

In retrospect, Weis isn't to be compared to Willingham, as much as he should be contrasted to former UW coach Rick Neuheisel. It was Neuheisel who - to this writer's great delight — once proclaimed Washington to be the "Florida State of the West." It was Neuheisel who stated that in the Pac-10 there were "haves" and "have-nots," and that Washington would forever be a "have." Two years after that comment, following his firing, the Huskies suffered through 1-10 and 2-9 campaigns.

The comparison between Weis and Neuheisel boils down to an expression former Seattle Seahawk Coach Chuck Knox used to say: "What you do speaks so well, there's no need to hear what you say." By forsaking humility and setting himself up for glory, Weis is soon to sustain a public relations backlash fueled by the frustration of angry fans. Of course, that comes with the turf as a football coach—to a degree. But it is made all the worse from building oneself up and creating unrealistic expectations. After all, football fans are about as forgiving as Stalin.
Derek Johnson can be reached at

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