Friday, December 05, 2008

Being Jack Swarbrick | by Pete

A mental exercise, if you will. Let's say you're Jack Swarbrick. (you're Jack Swarbrick ...)

After all the rumors, scuttlebutt, and alleyway whispers have come and gone, you find yourself sitting in a room with Charlie Weis on Tuesday for two hours in San Jose, talking about the future of the program and what needs to be done to fix it. You're about to tell him of your decision to either keep him for another year, or chuck him out the door. And here's what you might say.

Charlie, before we get to changes, let's look at the reality of the situation.

• You and I both you know you have a lengthy contract with this University, and it's more than a little likely there is a semi-sizable buyout provision included in that contract. Considering these rough economic times, and considering we just finished paying an individual not to work at this university, we're not particularly interested in doing that again. We'll do it if we have to, but we'd rather not.

• We also know this football program hasn't sniffed stability since the late 90s, and establishing the program's reputation as a coaching slaughterhouse is similarly not in our best interests.

• Furthermore, as of right now, no slam-dunk, premier coaches are currently available or capable of taking the job.

• And while there are promising, up-and-coming candidates for your job that I have been in contact with, Notre Dame has had the bad habit recently of bringing in coaches who end up being unqualified for the position. I'm not particularly interested in rolling the dice on an upstart just yet to find myself having this same conversation 4 years from now with them.

So, what do I like about what you've done?

• Recruiting, even with recent setbacks on the field, appears to be holding steady at a very successful rate. Your work ethic in this area is top-notch, as are your results. Talent is coming into the program, and that's an inherently healthy thing.

• And considering that you've assembled a very talented roster, we'd like to keep it. Dismissing you and risking a number of transfers just when the roster is beginning solidify is not a smart long-term move.

• While I have serious issues with your staff -- I'll get to these later -- you've not only shown a willingness over your time with us to address areas of deficiency (specifically on the defense), and you have shown the ability to land the hires that will fix those problems. That's good, because you'll be needing to do it again.

• Furthermore, you've shown a willingness to make changes to your own coaching style. Obviously, undergoing a head coach's learning curve here is less than ideal, but that's on Notre Dame as much as it's on you. We appreciate you were willing to take the job in the first place, and you've shown some examples of being able to learn and adapt.

• You are, indeed, an alumnus of this fine university, and while oftentimes that can be dismissed as a squishy, feel-good intangible, it is a positive aspect of your tenure here, and one that we would likely lose if we took on another coach. You understand the traditions and the standards we uphold, and you don't try to work against them. In short, you "get" the place, and not every coach we could bring in could say that.

• It seems like a long, long time ago for both of us, but there was a time when you were guiding this team to outstanding records, BCS bowl appearances, and fielding All-Americans and Heisman Trophy contenders. You've had two good seasons and two bad ones. I'd like to see you figure out how to return to the former category, which you are obviously capable of. If we didn't think you were capable of success here, we wouldn't be having this conversation.

• Thanks to your outstanding recruiting, starting next Fall we will finally have a full and talented depth chart for the first time in many years. The pieces will be in place. We want to see what you can do with it, once inexperience truly is no longer an arguable issue.

• And at the very least, keeping you around for one more year -- presuming your recruiting continues to be successful -- ensures a stable base of talent for your successor to use. Harsh, but true.

The previous items in your favor are why I'm willing to have this conversation, and why you're meeting with me instead of a FedEx guy delivering a pink slip. However, the reason this conversation was even necessary is as follows:

• At this point, it's evident that you and your coaches are not adequately preparing our players for Saturday. Fundamentals are fundamentally lacking and execution is inconsistent. Changes have to be made, and while you've shored up the defensive side of the ball, it's now time for you to fix the offense and put together a complete team.

• While the team is admittedly talented, they've grossly underperformed for the past two years. If you're not coaching fundamentals properly, it does me no good to keep you, even with more talent incoming, if it's just being squandered. While youth and inexperience was a legitimate scapegoat in 2007, it was no longer a credible excuse in 2008, and the team does not appear to be as far enough along as it should be. There are many reasons to believe that your over-reliance on schematic wizardry meant that you've ignored the most basic of football fundamentals, with lack of consistent first downs on offense, especially on short yardage, being Exhibit A. I don't care how good your playbook is if the team can't make it work on the field. If you want to spend your time finding the chinks in the armor of every opponent under the sun and taking advantage of them with complex schemes, you can go back to being an offensive coordinator in the NFL. We need a head coach and an offensive staff that will get the most out of our players and consistently move the ball down the field.

• What's more, because of your frustrating inability to field competitive teams against top talent and a subpar win-loss record, your credibility with many alumni and fans of the program is rapidly approaching nil. If many of them were in my shoes, you would've been unemployed after the Boston College game. You've got a big hole to climb out of.

• Many of your underlying problems have lingered for a number of years, and I'm not sure one more year is enough to correct these deep-seated disadvantages. I am skeptical but willing to give you one more year. You need to prove me wrong.

So, Charlie, we've decided to retain you for now, both for reasons of your own merit and reasons entirely outside of your control. However, rest assured that serious and fundamental changes need to be made to the program, and we will be keeping a very, very close eye on the development of this team. We want you to succeed, and we will help you to achieve that end, but we won't sit around forever waiting for you to stop failing.

(End Swarbrick)

That's a whole lot of variables to take into account, but it seems like the crux of the decision was that, at this point in time, the devil we knew in Weis was better than the devil we didn't know in whatever other coach would or could take the job. Recent interviews given by Swarbrick seem to confirm this (see Blue & Gold's two-parter, here and here.) Now it's up to Charlie.