Still the Worst Football Coach in the Universe
Notre Dame's Charlie Weis somehow manages to keep his job.
So, Weis is obviously not a great coach—no great coach has ever underperformed so grossly—and he may well be a terrible one. So, why was he ever hailed as a genius in the first place?
The giant edifice of fraud that is Weis' reputation is actually a series of smaller frauds piled on top of each other. The foundational myth is that he was a brilliant offensive coordinator. Weis came from the New England Patriots, who had just won a Super Bowl. Every player and coach associated with a Super Bowl winner is usually subjected to a certain level of hype, and Weis is no exception. But Weis was actually quite ordinary. During his eight seasons as a coordinator, six of his teams finished in the bottom half of the league in total offense. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has graciously shared credit for his success with Weis, even though the Patriots offense has been dramatically better—seventh in the league, on average—since Weis left.
The myth grew after Weis was appointed at Notre Dame and started proclaiming his own brilliance. He told his players, "Every game you will have a decided schematic advantage." After struggling to salvage his first recruiting class, he announced to the press, "Now it's time for the X's and O's. Let's see who has the advantage now."
Having primed the national media to receive him as a conquering hero, Weis enjoyed a tidal wave of publicity in 2005, his first year at Notre Dame. His crowning achievement was a narrow loss at home to a USC team then thought, erroneously, to be among the greatest ever. (The 2005 Trojans, who lost to Vince Young and Texas in the national championship game, had great skill position talent but a weak, injury-riddled defense.)
This first season was seen as the start of a new dynasty. In truth, Notre Dame was bound to improve, given the natural maturation of a couple of excellent Willingham recruiting classes. But Weis' first two teams weren't really that good. The 2005 and 2006 Notre Dame teams had a total of one win over an opponent that finished in the top 25, and they were administered several beat-down losses.
Coming into this year, Notre Dame was still picked to finish in the top 40. Blue-Gray Sky, a Notre Dame blog, polled its nine contributors before the year began, and the average predicted record was slightly better than 9-3. It looks like Weis will fall a wee bit short of that. The difference between that predicted record and Notre Dame's actual record is a good measure of the difference between Weis' reputation as a coach and his actual ability.
Being a head coach in college involves very different skills—motivating kids, teaching basic skills—than being a coordinator in the NFL. Even good NFL coordinators, like Cam Cameron and Dave Wannstedt, have struggled as college head coaches. Maybe Weis did sometimes turn castoff linemen into solid starters in the NFL, but at Notre Dame, he can't turn blue-chip prospects into passable players.
But don't worry, Notre Dame fans. In a few years, the Irish will return to glory again, when Weis' recruits get to play for a coach who isn't horrible.
Jonathan Chait is a senior editor at the New Republic and author of The Big Con: The True Story of How Washington Got Hoodwinked and Hijacked by Crackpot Economics.
Photograph of Charlie Weis by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images. Photograph of Charlie Weis on Slate's home page by Jeff Gross/Getty Images.