We've all had time to reflect on how Charlie Weis was ultimately given his walking papers, and there have been many debates about not only whether/when he should have been fired, but also who should replace him, how his dismissal will affect the team the rest of the year, and pretty much anything else that you can think of regarding the hopefully program-changing move.
However, it seems that throughout all the debate, pretty much everyone has criticized Zenger for either waiting too long (he should have been fired before the season started) or pulling the plug too early (there was nothing to be gained by firing him in the middle of the season). However, I'd contend that not only was Zenger smart in waiting to decide on Weis until this year, but that firing him when he did mid-year was really the only move he had available.
First, the case against firing Weis at the end of last year is actually a really strong one. While the overall record had been horrible, Weis was working to overcome the debacle that was he Turner Gill era. Not only did he have to turn around a dismal record, but he had to deal with a program that was in complete disarray. As Bob Lutz put it in talking about the Gill firing:
Turner Gill never commanded the room, never sounded like he was cognizant of just how badly things were going with his football program at Kansas. He came across as out of touch, as someone who could not put down his rose-colored glasses to take a serious, contemplative look at where he was and what he was doing.
In that respect, Charlie was a breath of fresh air, and those of us who remembered Gill's denial of facts well often welcomed the stark honesty that Charlie gave us, most notably the "pile of crap" comments during his recruiting pitches. It was much too easy to write off the problems we were seeing as fallout from the disaster that Gill created.
And let's not forget, the problems were numerous. Our very own Owen laid out many of the issues in his piece in January 2012. We had a well-known issue with an ineffective strength and conditioning program, there were multiple issues related to some ridiculous team rules, and there were a myriad of academic/eligibility/discipline issues that lead to Charlie cleaning house. He dismissed a slew of players who didn't fit into the culture of the program he wanted to build. Any time that you have to make a change that drastic, it will take time to see any progress.
And in fact, in year two, we started to see that progress. Beating West Virginia to break our 27-game Big 12 losing streak was a major accomplishment, even if it did come against a team in the middle of a complete nosedive. We still had issues to work on, but Charlie had been straightforward about the issues he saw, and while Cleat-gate seemed to derail any momentum we gained from our win against WVU, we still had some reasons to be optimistic going into season 3.
So we covered why keeping Charlie going into the year was reasonable. But if firing him after two years would have been unfair, then why not keep him through the rest of the year? Doesn't he need more time to see how the gains of the offseason will translate into any tangible improvement? The short answer is no. But we don't like short answers here, so let's dig in a little deeper.
The real question you have to ask yourself is what it would have taken for Weis to save himself this year. If we let him finish out the year, how many wins would he have to get in his last 8 just to give him a shot at a 4th year? I think it was safe to say that he needed to win at least 3 Big 12 games (or beat Baylor/Oklahoma/Kansas State) to even have a shot, and that was not even guaranteed to save his job. So if the forgone conclusion was that he wasn't going to have enough on his resume to save his job, then there is no reason to keep him until the end of the year. Convention would say that you wait until the end of the year, but the situation gives you the flexibility to make the move early if you have a good enough reason.
And Zenger had a really good reason - a chance to give himself two shots at finding the next coach for the Jayhawks. Say what you will about Clint Bowen's coaching capabilities, but the enthusiasm and passion he has is a huge asset for a head coach, who primarily is tasked with overseeing the scheming that is done by his coaching staff and motivating both players and coaches to reach the goals he has for the team. This enthusiasm was in direct contrast to the apathy that appears to have gripped Charlie at some point in the offseason and was among the biggest complaints about Weis as coach. But with nearly zero real coaching experience, the interim tag that Bowen has gotten is a perfect opportunity to show that he has the ability to learn from the mistakes of the Weis regime and start the progress that the team desperately needs. Since it is unlikely that any new coach will be hired prior to the end of the season, it virtually guarantees that Bowen will get a full two-thirds of the season to settle in and show what he can do. If he makes real progress, Zenger gets a sneak peek before choosing an inexperienced coach to fill what will likely be his last football coaching hire. If Bowen is unable to get traction in the position, Zenger can diffuse any complaints that would arise from overlooking such an obvious KU guy for the top spot.
The other side effect of making the decision this early is that he gets to conduct a thorough search for the next coach, and more candidates are available now than we had at the end of last year. In all seriousness, regardless of how much stock you put in the rumors about Jim Harbaugh and his falling out with 49ers staff, there wouldn't have even been an inkling of hope that he would leave the NFL for a college job again if we were talking during the NFL playoffs. Coordinators have had more time to think about striking out on their own, and now they have about 3 months to decide how interested they would be in the Kansas position.
But regardless of whether you think this was a smart move on Zenger's part (it was), there is one overriding reason for why Charlie Weis HAD to be fired after the Texas game: He pretty much said so. "I'm only asking for September. You give me September, and I'll give you a reason to come in October and November." That simple statement was meant as a way to rally support for the team, but it really came across as a pitch for him to keep his job. He didn't give the fans anything to be excited about in clench-your-teeth wins against SEMO and Central Michigan and blow-out losses at Duke and to Texas. As a result Zenger didn't have a reason to let him come back in October and beyond.