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Weis has seen the best and worst of Notre Dame

Nov 28, 2009, 11:00 AM EDT

Tonight could be the last time we see Charlie Weis roam the sidelines of his alma mater’s football team. If that’s the case, the man deserves a very large thank you from fans and foes alike.

Five years ago, Weis was the perfect man for Notre Dame. He had a Super Bowl winning pedigree. He not only understood the unique difficulties of the job, he embraced them. And he was one of us. He charmed us with stories from his days in the student section. He validated many of our own feelings, that we had the answers for the football program (if only we decided to commit a lifetime to coaching). And he talked a game that so many Notre Dame fans needed to hear. You just wait, he might as well have told us. We’ll back back and better than ever.

We watched him work two jobs that first winter, coordinating the Patriots offense during a Super Bowl winning run, while putting together a coaching staff and recruiting class in the wee hours of morning. He didn’t play golf or hit the tanning bed, he slept in his office and built winning football teams. This was the guy Notre Dame needed on the sidelines. This was the guy that was going to truly wake up the echoes.

And to think that he almost did…

While people forget, Weis is the same coach that brought the program out of its darkest times in 2005. With a group of players that had floundered under Ty Willingham and a school dealing with a serious PR problem after firing their coach after only three seasons, Weis stormed out of the gates, drubbing a ranked Pitt team 42-21. The Irish put up 28 points in the second quarter, before coasting to an easy win. This was the offense Notre Dame was supposed to have, many thought. And for those of you looking for a “signature win,” Weis had two those first two weeks, none bigger than the shocking 17-10 upset of #3 Michigan in Ann Arbor. As for that golden Saturday afternoon when the Irish battled USC… there’s just too much to say. But if tonight brings a close to the Charlie Weis era, the lasting remnant could be his terrible luck.

If you want to fire Charlie Weis because of his last three seasons, you need to appreciate his first two. Regardless of whose players he coached, Weis propelled a rudderless program to a 9-3 season in 2005. In 2006, he had the Irish on the cover of Sports Illustrated and had the media buying into a program that many had counted out as irrelevant. The Irish garnered 10 first place votes in the Week One AP poll, were ranked number two in the country, and placed the much yearned for bulls-eye once again on the Notre Dame football program. Weis didn’t run from it, he embraced it, challenging his players to achieve more with an infamous banner that hung in the Loftus center weight room that summer: “9-3 ISN’T GOOD ENOUGH.” And while the season ended with two disappointing losses to USC and LSU, on Thanksgiving day that 2006 team sat at 10-1, and its three losses that season were to 3rd, 4th, and 8th ranked teams in the country.

That Weis has been unable to recapture the early success he had at Notre Dame has been obvious. Yet he’s the very same coach that propelled the program to the upper stratosphere of college football and got players and recruits excited about a NFL ready system. It’s a system that will churn out two first round quarterbacks and two first round wide receivers (it would’ve been three if Jeff Samardzija decided to play football for a living). And it’s a program that is in much better shape than the top heavy one he inherited.

Like Charlie Weis or not, the man did not forget how to coach football. Whoever replaces Weis when his time at Notre Dame is finished, will also have strengths and weaknesses. Whether it’s Bob Stoops, Urban Meyer, Brian Kelly, or Jon Gruden, no coach is bullet proof. Stoops lost five games this season, the last by four touchdowns to a 7-4 Texas Tech team. And while Urban Meyer continues to be the apple in many Irish fans’ eye, if he does backpedal out of Gainesville, he’ll be forced to coach without a transcendent quarterback in Tim Tebow, and will install an offense that does nothing but hurt the professional potential of his players (ask an NFL scout if you don’t believe me… or Louis Murphy.) While Brian Kelly’s run at Cincinatti has been impressive, he’s only won three games in three seasons against BCS teams outside of the Big East and he’s another offensive guru whose team struggles to play defense. And Jon Gruden will bring another complex NFL offense to South Bend, and has a personality that doesn’t exactly fit with Notre Dame’s image. While many choose to look at these coaches with rose-colored glasses, it’s easy to find warts on any coach if you look hard enough.

If tonight is Charlie Weis’ last game on the sidelines, his successor will likely benefit from the man’s tireless work ethic and young stable of talent. They’ll also be forced to live up to the offensive standard that Weis delivered, no small task when you consider how prolific the offense has been.

More detrimental, they’ll also be forced to live up to the expectations of Notre Dame nation, a group of alumni and fans that feel like elite football is a birthright, something that goes hand-in-hand with Touchdown Jesus, Knute Rockne and gold helmets. Charlie Weis was never one to run away from those unrealistic expectations, even while they suffocated his past two football teams. While these past three seasons certainly didn’t live up to standards, he dazzled us all in that rousing beginning, a beginning that reminded everyone that Notre Dame can still be an elite team on Saturdays.

  1. rob - Nov 30, 2009 at 1:03 PM

    Good recap, except for the part about Weiss succeeding “with a group of players that had floundered under Ty Willingham”. How about these Ty Willingham players had matured and were finally coming into their own. We saw what Weiss was able to do with the players he recruited to ND.

  2. willmose - Nov 30, 2009 at 4:31 PM

    About time.

  3. NNND - Nov 30, 2009 at 4:42 PM

    Tate not being in Heisman contention was a result of ND pushing Black Eye Jimmy to win it. Once your main candidate earns the right to lose credibility, there’s no second chance. JC’s best week? The one ND didn’t play. As much as everyone touts Limo Boy, the combination of too few little gray molcules mixed in with too much ego results in interceptions, incompletions and fumbles at the end of the 4th quarter. Brady Quinn, a more accomplished QB, languishes now as the new incarnation of the mistake by the lake. Jimmy is going to waste some pro team’s money. Ryan Leaf II?

  4. StephenOfTroy - Dec 1, 2009 at 6:56 PM

    tj, since you make such a compelling argument for him, I’ll look into Tuberville. Don’t know much about him.
    SCarIrish, NO, I am not at all worried about Weis having the tools to dismantle USC. If anything, keeping Weis around would simply have meant that USC would continue to humiliate the Irish. We rushed 3 or 4 guys, put the rest in coverage, and got up by our customary 20+ pts until some of the players relaxed and our frosh QB threw an ill-advised pick. Weis doesn’t have what it takes to coach either a complete team or a complete game. As you said, it’s a different post, but it would be a post for fantasyland.
    el (#24), great post. Couldn’t have said it better if I had a thousand Robert T. Gillerans at a thousand typewriters.

  5. Mark of North Carolina - Dec 1, 2009 at 7:49 PM

    I’ve been a Notre Dame Football Fan for more than 35 years, and will be for hopefully what amounts to 35 more. One thing I’ve always appreciated about the school and it’s football program is the way that it has demanded exemplary class in the way it’s players and coaches behave. After reading some of the comments in this blog, its painfully obvious that not all of our fans have learned how to emulate that behavior and hold themselves accountable to the same expactations we hold the program participants to.

  6. barng - Dec 2, 2009 at 5:27 PM

    ogre of troy
    i tried a lot to get something in your pea brain.charlie only had three years to get the job done he had to start from 0 in 2007because ofthe sorry state of the talent.this was the same man that went up to washington and left them in the same shape,ask their coach if you don’t want accept what i was3-9 in 2007 7-6 in2008 7-6 maybe this why don’t you just admit it that it is a personal thing with you remember these names he was called snot nose,doughboy.fatass obcenely obese, and that he ought to take his millions and hobble out of town.
    if you had any class about you you would see that it was personal

  7. dave s. - Dec 2, 2009 at 8:53 PM

    good job K A you are right on. I also think it is a discrace,how people personaly attacked c w and his family. God bless you coach Weis and wish you well.

  8. StephenOfTroy - Dec 3, 2009 at 4:06 AM

    barng: I’m not sure why I even bother dignifying your comment with a response.
    Oh yeah. It’s because my mother never taught me to suffer fools politely.
    It’s not “personal.” I don’t go around calling Weis “doughboy” or any other personal-appearance-oriented name. The man went 3-9 WITH HIS OWN RECRUITS. It was year 3. Get over the excuses. He talked a lot of smack when he showed up. People notice that.
    If Weis was such a great recruiter, then he should have had his own players in place by year 3. USC took a freshman QB into the Shoe and into Cal and won in both places. It CAN be done. Just not by arrogant, defense-ignoring, running-game-ignoring Charlie Weis.
    If I have a “pea brain,” then what does that say about YOU? At least I understand reality and don’t make excuses. Are you saying that Weis lost all those EASY games because he felt bad about being made fun of for being overweight? If you had any class about YOU, you would just admit that Weis was long on promise and short on performance.
    Go crawl back under your rock. I’m done indulging you by responding to you as if you were a serious person.

  9. barng - Dec 3, 2009 at 8:28 AM

    steven ole boy you do not address the things i say,must be a reason for that?you did not address the mess we were left with in the willingham simply will not address the two year gap in real close i did not say you called cw names.your freshman qb doesn’t have a very stellar record as i see it.maybe pete aughta go before i get back under my rock i’ll leave you with this anology. if you were driving from la to ny and you broke down along the way,for 3 hours.common sense would say you would never get that
    time back,your trip would be delayed by that amount of time,correct?
    the same with the 2 yesr gap in recrueting impossible to make you only deal in reality surely you surely aught to understand the logic of the call it arrogance i call it confidence in your proven abilities. by the way arrogant is personal.please respond as i enjoy this

  10. Sorry Charlie - Dec 3, 2009 at 12:01 PM

    Charlie Weis you are a great coach. ND as my favorite team of all time has made a huge mistake by letting you go. Coach i hope you read this and know that I am the one who talked to on the phone monday from alabama. i love your way of coaching and I hope and pray that I see you do it again. If it is for a College football team. I may even consider coming to whatever college it is and enlisting myself to classes so I can walk on and play for you. You had one bad year as a coach in 2007 and what people dont realize is you were battling in court about your health situation, you were playing with a million cocky freshman who were just not that great. You coached them into Men who now understand and are excellent players and people off the field. They made few mistakes and the last two seasons you have lost 12 games as a coach by a total of 53 points minus one usc game. Thats definately a result of Big East/Big Ten officiating and a few bad bouces, NOT COACHING. GO COACH WEIS ! I wish they would rehire you! it can be done!

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