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Charlie Weis deserved one more year at Notre Dame

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He never says anything around which quote marks could be placed to prove it is so, but KU football coach Charlie Weis appears to harbor bitterness toward Notre Dame, his alma mater.

He uses phrases such as “another institution where I worked,” or “while working at another school.” If he says “Notre Dame,” it’s only in a printed release. Nobody actually hears the words roll off his tongue. The question is not whether Weis harbors resentment toward Ole Notre Dame, rather why?

The answer: Because he’s human.

A closer look at his Notre Dame career suggests 2010 very well could have been a turning point season so successful that if he had been allowed to stay one more year it’s entirely possible he would have been on the job for the duration of his 10-year contract.

Think I’m crazy? By that I mean do you think that even more so than usual? Think again.

Weis got shafted by his school, the very same university at which he used to sit in his dorm room and second-guess every move made by then Notre Dame coach Dan Devine. Never mind that Devine won a national title Charlie’s senior year. Weis was a football-crazed college student. What’s the point of investing your emotions into a football team if you can’t second-guess the coach?

To understand what must boil inside Weis’ belly every time he thinks about what might have been in 2010 requires a close look at his fifth and final season at Notre Dame. The 2009 Fighting Irish went 6-6, not a record that sits well with alumni from a school with such a rich football tradition. But look closer. Not one of those six losses was by a margin of greater than a touchdown. Add up the margin from all six losses and it’s a paltry 28 points.

If Weis had returned, it requires no great leap of faith to believe quarterback Jimmy Clausen would have delayed his NFL career by a year and would be a better NFL quarterback today for having done so. Clausen’s improvement each year under Weis was significant. Plus, he could have contended for the Heisman Trophy. With Clausen and Weis back, maybe receiver Golden Tate returns as well. Both players announced they would forego their senior seasons six days after Weis was fired.

An additional year of experience from countless returning players easily could have turned most of those close losses into close victories. No need to venture outside KU football history books for evidence of a 6-6 football team plagued by close losses bouncing back with a 12-1 team driven to the top by coming out on top in the close ones.

Mark Mangino’s sixth Kansas football team went 6-6. Two of the losses (Toledo and Nebraska) came in overtime, two others (Baylor and Texas A&M) by a combined margin of four points. A year later, Mangino was holding up an orange with that signature semi-smile, an image that represents what is possible when a stubborn football coach is given time to do it his way.

That doesn’t mean Weis would have executed a similar leap forward under the Golden Dome, but the similarities between KU in 2006 and ND in 2009 certainly tickle the imagination. Weis’ first KU season included five losses by margins of seven points or less. That doesn’t exempt the coach. Sometimes close losses can be traced to the head coach’s decision-making.

In the home loss to Rice, the Owls never could have closed the 11-point deficit if Weis, who doubles as offensive coordinator, had stayed with the run. The Jayhawks’ offensive line was manhandling the visitors. Not yet aware he did not have an accurate passer in the huddle, Weis mixed in too many passes instead of staying with the run and opened a door through which Rice stormed.

In the overtime loss at Texas Tech, a surprising pass-play call on second and five at the Tech 15 predictably failed and took the momentum right out KU’s upset bid. Kansas had started that fourth-quarter drive on its 11 and gained 75 yards on six plays, all runs. A Nick Prolago field goal tied the score with 45 seconds left. Nothing suggested Tech was going to keep KU from getting five yards on two more running plays. By then, Weis had changed quarterbacks and knew accurate passing was not Michael Cummings’ forte. It was a strange call in a game Kansas might have won had Charlie called a run play there.

With promising Brigham Young transfer Jake Heaps at quarterback the next two seasons, Weis’ team has a chance to perform better in close contests. Even if it doesn’t, that won’t change the reality that Weis deserved one more year on the job at ND, a year that might have been so successful it earned him many more.

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