Irish eyes rolling, not smiling, at Weis, Notre Dame's start

The Baltimore Sun

After three losses to open the season, Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis declared the Irish were starting over by going back to training camp.

But why stop there? If I'm Weis the time traveler, I go back to 1988, when the school went 12-0 under Lou Holtz, or to 1973 (11-0 under Ara Parseghian) or to 1924 (10-0 under Knute Rockne). While I'm at it, I win one for the Gipper and saddle up with the Four Horsemen.

But much as he might want to, Weis can't go back. He has an investment in the real world, a world of hurt.

That Weis and Notre Dame are 0-3 means critical mass has been reached for those of you who find the coach and the institution insufferable. You could die happy right now, though you're a little concerned you would be denied Last Rites.

But in a twisted way, you're falling into the school's trap of sentimentality. For a school that hasn't won a bowl game since 1993 or a national championship since 1988, why is it so shocking that the football team is having such a bad year?

To be shocked is to allow for the possibility of the converse, which would be a Notre Dame national championship someday soon. Given the past 19 years of Irish football, that's about as likely to happen as a leprechaun giving away his gold.

College football is better when Notre Dame is good. That's one of life's truths. When the Irish are having a nice season, it spruces up the Top 25 and makes Bowl Championship Series arguments that much more compelling.

Notre Dame isn't as consistently good as it used to be, but the fervor among its fans - and the depth of antagonism from critics toward Weis and the school - shows the Irish are still a huge part of the conversation.

Why? Because nobody does history better than Notre Dame.

So, even though there are two decades of evidence that show times have changed, there are seven that say it's 1947 and Frank Leahy still is roaming the sideline.

Irish fans always keep a light on for the possibility that happy days will return home. In the meantime, those fans are being treated for post-concussion syndrome after three games in which the offense has not scored a touchdown.

There are more than a few people who are tickled that Weis is struggling. The description of him you hear most is "arrogant."

What is it about Weis that makes people roll their eyes? That he thinks so highly of himself? That Coach Guru didn't even start on his high school football team? That he believes he's Bill Parcells or Bill Belichick II?

Perhaps it's bits of all those things. But a coach can get away with almost anything, if he wins.

If he doesn't, he gets a tidal wave of criticism, which is what Weis is getting in landlocked South Bend.

People are rolling their eyes now because he's not winning games with the kind of frequency Notre Dame fans expect, even if the frequency is unrealistic. Tyrone Willingham - remember him? - is 2-1 with Washington, which doesn't mean much other than he doesn't look so bad now, does he, Irish fans?

Even Weis, who always seems to be above it all, apparently realizes this is not the time for airs. After the recent embarrassment at Michigan, he made it clear he would not leave a news conference until he had answered every question from reporters. One imagined Caesar playing checkers with his subjects.

The Demetrius Jones mess hasn't helped. Jones was the starting quarterback for the opener against Georgia Tech, then lost his job to freshman Jimmy Clausen. Now, Jones is enrolled at Northern Illinois. There is, of course, the standard who-said-what-to-whom-and-when debate.

The best thing to do in these situations is to move on. Everybody's right and everybody's wrong. There never will be agreement on what happened with Jones. Weis probably had it in his mind that he was going to go with Clausen quickly if the Irish faltered at the start. There's a decent possibility he saw an awful season coming. Well, here it is.

The Irish will be good again, just not as good as the faithful want them to be. The days of a consistently dominant Notre Dame are over. Recruiting has changed. TV has changed. Great high school players know they will be seen wherever they play college ball.

The Irish are 10 1/2 -point underdogs to Michigan State in South Bend today. There's a chance they could lose their first eight games.

The gap between reality and fantasy at Notre Dame has been huge for a long time. For self-preservation purposes, this might be a good time for fans to fire up their imagination a little bit more.

Rick Morrissey writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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