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Sunday, March 18, 2007

Weis vs. Willingham

In a recent article in the San Jose Mercury News, author Jon Wilner builds the argument that if Notre Dame dismissed Tyrone Willingham for losing badly against elite teams, then the same standard should be held to Charlie Weis. He goes so far as to say that should Notre Dame not tighten the screws on Weis in 2007 -- pending lopsided defeats against foes like USC and Michigan -- then it would appear to be racially charged.

"Notre Dame" and "racist" are two phrases that have been coupled together with some regularity since the dismissal of Willingham, so this warrants some discussion. So let me make it clear: Notre Dame's termination of Willingham was a business decision, not an act of racism. Furthermore, dismissal of Weis after next season would be a poor business decision, and that is why Wilner is somewhat misguided. Allow me to explain before you either write me off or nominate me for a Pulitzer (depending on your stake in the debate).

First of all, let's look at the data. Here are the two men's respective bodies of work.

Tyrone WillinghamCharlie Weis
(N) MarylandW22-0@ PittsburghW42-21
PurdueW24-17@ MichiganW17-10
MichiganW25-23Michigan StateL41-44
@ Michigan StateW21-17@ WashingtonW36-17
StanfordW31-7@ PurdueW49-28
@ Air ForceW21-14Brigham YoungW49-23
@ Florida StateW34-24TennesseeW41-21
Boston CollegeL7-14NavyW42-21
(N) NavyW30-23SyracuseW34-10
RutgersW42-0@ StanfordW38-31
@ USCL13-44(N) Ohio StateL20-34
(N) NC StateL6-28@ Georgia TechW14-10
Washington StateW29-26Penn StateW41-17
@ MichiganL0-38MichiganL21-47
Michigan StateL16-22@ Michigan StateW40-37
@ PurdueL10-23PurdueW35-21
@ PittsburghW20-14StanfordW31-10
@ Boston CollegeL25-27(N) NavyW38-14
Florida StateL0-37North CarolinaW45-26
NavyW27-24@ Air ForceW39-17
Brigham YoungW33-14ArmyW41-9
@ StanfordW57-7@ USCL24-44
@ SyracuseL12-38(N) LSUL14-41
@ Brigham YoungL17-20Georgia Tech
MichiganW28-20@ Penn State
@ Michigan StateW31-24@ Michigan
WashingtonW38-3Michigan State
PurdueL16-41@ Purdue
StanfordW23-15@ UCLA
(N) NavyW27-9Boston College
Boston CollegeL23-24USC
@ TennesseeW17-13Navy
PittsburghL38-41Air Force
@ USCL10-41Duke
@ Stanford

Weis holds a decisive advantage in winning percentage (.760 to .583) and point differential (+242 to +18). However, Wilner would correctly point out that he never contended otherwise. His argument was that (a) Bob Davie (35-25 .583) and Gerry Faust (30-26-1 .535) both had equal or lesser winning percentages, but were allowed to complete their five-year contracts, and (b) Notre Dame claimed its firing of Willingham was justified by lopsided defeats in big games, yet Weis isn't being pressured despite recent lopsided defeats to USC and LSU.

Both of these arguments can be addressed at once. Davie and Faust combined for seven defeats by 21 points or more in ten years of coaching Notre Dame. Willingham suffered eight defeats by at least three touchdowns in just three years. In other words, Davie and Faust were averaging less than one such defeat per season, while Willingham was averaging almost three. And some of these (NC State, Purdue, Syracuse) were in situations where Notre Dame was favored to win. In contrast, Charlie Weis has suffered two such defeats, both in 2006 and both to top-10 teams (Michigan and LSU). Wilner's position is defeated.

There are other arguments people sometimes make in addition to what Wilner contended. If you have an argument to the contrary, feel free to reply to this post. We here at College Football Nation would be happy to discuss it with you.

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