Following a disappointing 7-6 season in 2008, any rational Notre Dame fan knew that the Charlie Weis era was ultimately going to end with the Fighting Irish unable to return to glory. Yes, he had brought in top-skill position talent, such as Jimmy Clausen, Golden Tate and Michael Floyd, but it was clear the three-time Super Bowl-winning offensive coordinator was in over his head trying to run a major college program.
Newly-hired athletic director Jack Swarbrick elected to bring back Weis for a fifth season, but after a four-game losing streak to end the season, Weis was axed, leaving Weis with a damaged ego and Notre Dame with a sizable contract to pay off.
Despite two BCS bowl appearances, the Weis era can be considered nothing but a failure. However, three years later, the last remaining impact of Weis' tenure in South Bend is being felt, this time in a far more positive light than in which he left some 36 months ago.
It comes in the form of the senior leadership that has carried the 2012 Irish to a 10-0 start and a legitimate opportunity to win the school's first national title since 1988. The Class of 2009 was the final one that Weis signed at Notre Dame and includes such names as Manti Te'o, Theo Riddick, Tyler Eifert, Zack Martin, Robby Toma and Zeke Motta.
While their development into stars can be credited more to Brian Kelly and his staff than to the Weis regime, the Class of 2009 has shown to be made up of "right kinda guys," or RKGs, the term that got Kelly in a bit of heat last fall when he appeared to draw a line between "his" players and Weis's players.
Te’o’s story is known by all. There is no defensive player more important to his team than the Fighting Irish middle linebacker. Eifert is a virtual lock to win the Mackey Award on Dec. 6. Riddick has overcome two position switches to become the team’s most reliable running back. Martin has played at an All-American level in his third season at left tackle.
Toma and Motta aren’t the most talented players to don the fabled gold helmet, but have steadied the receiving corps and secondary respectively, both of which were full of youth and inexperience heading into the season.
Notre Dame, and Kelly particularly, learned the hard way over the past year that not every kid will make it at Notre Dame. It’s cold, it’s academically rigorous and it’s in the middle of nowhere.
Aaron Lynch lasted barely a year. Tee Shepard was gone after two months. Deontay Greenberry reneged on his verbal commitment on National Signing Day. Kelly reexamined his recruiting philosophy in the offseason, and it has paid off, with the Irish on the verge of singing one of the best classes in the country, a group with as much camaraderie as any.
Weis accomplished exactly that four years ago, laying the foundation for Notre Dame’s best season in almost 20 years, despite him being three years removed from the program as it continues to unfold. Despite going just 22-16 in their first three seasons, the 2009 class may be Notre Dame’s most important of the post-Lou Holtz era.
Weis deserves plenty of criticism for his lack of on-field success, but he constructed the senior class that is currently taking the Irish to heights unseen by anyone under 25. If Kelly is lifting a crystal ball eight weeks from now, Weis will be the last thing on the mind of any coach, player or fan.
While he wasn’t the “RKG” to coach Notre Dame, the “RKGs” that Weis lured to South Bend to play for the Irish have, three years later, helped uncover a small ray of sunshine behind a tenure that to this point was seen as strictly dark and gloomy.