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Guest Post: How Did I Get Charlie Weis Wrong?

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How did I get Charlie Weis Wrong? I didn't.
By Christopher Hitchens

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To mark the third anniversary of Charlie Weis' first spring practice at Notre Dame, SMQ has asked one of the many prominent writers who originally supported hiring Weis to answer the question, "Why did we get it wrong?"
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A "record" of "wins and losses" is in many ways the least useful metric by which to take stock of something like the Weisian intervention in Notre Dame, if only because any such formal observance involves the assumption that a) the intervention is, in fact, a failure and b) it is by that definition an exception from the long arc of outside engagement with that school. When I wrote the essays that go to make up A Long Short Return to Glory: The Postponed Liberation of Notre Dame, I was expressing an impatience with those who thought that attempts at restoring the Irish's self-determination had not really "begun" until Kevin White made a certain decision to engage in so-called "regime change" in the winter of 2004.

Here again we confront our obsession with the hieroglyph, #1. Remember when America itself was #1? Are we not #1 today? Has Notre Dame not been #1 more than any other? Must they not be #1 tomorrow? Anyone with even a glancing acquaintance with Notre Dame would have to know that a heavy malcontenence in the affairs of that program began no later than 1994, with the role played by the Colorado Buffaloes in the coup that ultimately brought Bob Davie's wing of the 3-4 defense to power. If you can bear to keep watching this flickering newsreel, it will take you to the moment when Beano Cook predicts an unprecedented string of stiffarming bronze relics for Ron Powlus and, not much more than a decade later, the sublime irony of the tarnished golden child himself inheriting the fortune of his spike-haired millenial doppelganger, Jimmy Clausen. In every decision taken in between, from the decision to depose Matt LoVecchio and install Carlyle Holliday as starting quarterback, to the shameless endorsement of this oppressive apparatus in the form of his hand-picked successor, Arnaz Battle, to the decision to leave Davie in power in 2001 to the decision to extend Weis' reign just prior to the passage of the disastrous Manningham Liberation Act of 2006, there was a really quite high level of public participation in Notre Dame policy, all of it directed at this trope, a "Return to Glory." To #1, and all that. All criticism of Weis hings on this species of paradox: a vast change in the natural order that somehow leaves the conventional wisdom unchanged.


"Mission Accomplished."
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This is all overshadowed by the unarguable hash that has been made of the intervention itself. I don't know of a satisfactory way of evaluating one hypothetical against the other any more than I quite know how to balance the disgrace of losing to Navy, say, against the digging up of Hollday's immense network of mass interceptions. Nonetheless, the very thing that most repels people when they contemplate Notre Dame today, which is the chaos and misery and fragmentation (and the deliberate intensification and augmentation of all this by the legion of "haterz," especially in the south), invites the inescapable question: What would post-Willingham Notre Dame have looked like without Weis' presence?

The past years have seen Notre Dame both shamed and threatened by the implications of its hires, from Davie to O'Leary to Willingham. Had it decided to attempt the right thing in those cases (you will notice that I say "attempt" rather than "do," which cannot be known in advance), it could as glibly have been accused of standing aboard the deck of a sinking ship in the name of some fatalistic "loyalty." Instead, it is derided for embarking on "a pink slip of choice."

But the thing to remember about Weis is that all or most choice - as well as talent, thanks to Willingham's well-documented recruiting blunders - had already been forfeited. Notre Dame was already deeply involved in the life-and-death struggle of its program, and December 2004 happens to mark the only time that it ever decided to intervene on behalf of a high-scoring, passing-oriented revolution. It could have worked, and it still can. But even if the revolution lay in tatters, the attempt must, and still does, count for something.

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Update [2008-3-24 14:16:44 by SMQ]: A reader suggests a link to this might be helpful for non-politicos in the house. Probably. So there you are.