Notre Dame obviously wants to be more like others

Published 9:36 am Thursday, December 3, 2009

If you are reading this column then there is at least a good chance that you are a sports fan and if you are a sports fan and have been anywhere but under a rock for the last few days then you are surely aware by now that Notre Dame Head football coach Charlie Weis has been fired.

I was on vacation and trying to catch up on my sports news between Tiger Woods car crash updates when ESPN cut to Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick’s press conference. Swarbrick spoke about how hard it had been to come to the decision to dismiss Weis.

He said, “Those of us who had the opportunity to work closely with Coach Weis or play for him couldn’t help but develop a great affinity for him.”

Swarbrick went on to say, “I hope we can find somebody who loves this University as much as he did, does, and who cared as much about his student athletes as he does. He made many contributions to the University, important things which serve us in good stead going forward. He demonstrated that he can bring the very best student athletes to this campus and attract them to come here to play football for Notre Dame, and he demonstrated that once they’re here, they can have the full success we expect from student athletes.

“You know, Charlie did win a National Championship; he won a National Championship when his football program finished first in graduation success rate this year, and that is an important contribution and one which we value very highly,” he added.

For the record, Notre Dame and Duke are tied for the highest graduation rate among schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision, or former Division I-A, according to the NCAA’s latest graduation data. Both are graduating football players at a rate of 96 percent. For perspective, compare that to Texas who graduates 49 percent of its football players. Texas is currently ranked third in the country in the FBS poll and is a favorite to play for a national championship this year.

As I listened to Swarbrick talk about Weis’ success as a mentor and university representative, I couldn’t help but ask myself what kind of qualities Swarbrick might be looking for in the next Notre Dame coach.

Should he have a proven track record as a coach? If you want to recruit future NFL stars then the best way to do that is to bring in a successful NFL coach. You want a coach that can prepare young men with aspirations to play on Sundays to do just that. Nobody recruits future NFL talent like a guy with a few Super Bowl rings.

Should he be a disciplinarian? It is Notre Dame after all so you can’t exactly have a lot of negative media regarding players in academic trouble or trouble with the law. It is obvious that the university holds itself to a higher standard than most of the other FBS schools and these standards must be upheld by the football coach and its student athletes.

Should he be an alumnus? What better way to reflect on your football coach the importance of upholding and maintaining Notre Dame’s high academic and moral standard than to bring in a graduate? An alumnus would understand how to best convince a rare 3.8 GPA and 4-star athlete from Florida why he should ignore the recruitment of Florida State, Miami and the University of Florida and instead choose to come to South Bend, Indiana where the weather is cold, the women wear a lot more clothes and there is nothing to do.

I think the answer to all of these questions is yes. Having said that I think I know the perfect man for the job…Charlie Weis. I was not convinced of this until Jack Swarbrick’s press conference. Combine his resounding support of everything Weis has done off the field at Notre Dame with the realization that while the Fighting Irish have not had the success that they had hoped for on the field, it’s really not as bad as it seems.

Weis has taken the Irish to two FBS bowl games, has a winning record despite taking over a program is disarray (the fault of its athletic department, not its former football coach) and is on the cusp of National prominence. To gauge the success of this year many would look at the overall record and see a mediocre 6-6. If you look more closely at the scores you will notice that they lost those 6 games by a combined 28 points. They were competitive in each of their games and may still be bowl eligible.

All of this happened despite a climate and acceptance standard not conducive to recruiting on a level playing field with the rest of the collegiate football powers. While Notre Dame holding itself to a higher standard is commendable, it may also be unrealistic in today’s college football atmosphere.

Either way, the university and its athletic department proved to everyone what was most important at Notre Dame. It’s not high graduation rates or superior moral standards, its winning. If they want to become more like Florida and USC, I think they just did.

David Friedman is a long-time contributor to the Roanoke-Chowan News Herald. A Bertie High School

graduate, he and his wife currently reside in Wilmington. David can be reached via e-mail at