The Charlie Weis era at Notre Dame has been one heck of a roller coaster ride over the past four seasons. Picking up the pieces from the previous coaching staff, Weis was able to generate new excitement in the Irish program, and took his team to consecutive ten win seasons and BCS bowl appearances.
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
To be sure, Weis is a bit of an enigma, and it follows that his teams have been so, as well.
Is he an offensive genius? Or is he vastly out-coached by nearly every opponent? And why can't his huge lineman have their way with much smaller teams? Can he get the job done in South Bend?
Over the years, we've witnessed the high of a powerhouse offense not seen in South Bend in decades—but also faced the low of consecutive BCS bowl losses.
There were heroic victories against Michigan (2005), Michigan State (2006), Georgia Tech (2006), and UCLA (2006) where we thought Weis could take Notre Dame to the next level.
Yet, four years into his tenure there is still no victory over USC, and some would say no "signature" or "defining" victory for Weis.
Now as the 2009 season approaches, Weis stands at a crossroads in his Notre Dame coaching career. No doubt, the pressure is on full blast.
Can we expect great things from this Notre Dame team led by Charlie Weis after what we've seen the past two seasons?
I believe we can, and here's why:
First, no matter who is coaching, the players on the field have the biggest impact on how good a team can or will be. The Irish trotted a sub-par, inexperienced, and unfamiliar team onto the field in 2007 and paid the consequences.
Was this really Weis' fault? What could he have done better? Perhaps he could have played his backups more in 2006 or handled the trio of new quarterbacks better coming into the 2007 season. But really, none of these changes would have made much of an impact on the outcome.
It's true that Weis won with Willingham's players initially, but the recruiting simply was not there to uphold future success. Unable to sign great talent as he took over in 2005, Weis was left with one decent class of recruits and the worst class ever in Notre Dame history.
This needs repeating: In over a century of football in South Bend, Weis inherited the WORST RECRUITING CLASS IN IRISH HISTORY.
In all likelihood, the '07 & '08 seasons would have played out the same way in all but five schools in the nation, where programs cannot survive without talent for two years.
Today, Notre Dame is ready to unveil what could be their most talented, and certainly most explosive offense in the modern era. Weis now has a legitimate star in junior QB Jimmy Clausen, as well as a stable of effective running backs led by star in waiting Armando Allen.
Wide receivers Golden Tate and Michael Floyd combine what could be the nation's best duo, and are supplemented by tight end Kyle Rudolph. Together, these targets alone can give Clausen 25 touchdowns.
Best of all, the Irish return a veteran offensive line under new management. and keen on erasing the past and becoming dominant.
On defense, there still remains many question marks, but the talent has been slowly accumulating, and there's reason to believe this unit could be very effective. Although they are still young, the defense is poised to bring the speed and nastiness that permeates other top programs.
What this really boils down to is that Charlie Weis has put together a team that will be as talented as any we've seen since the days of Lou Holtz. The fact that he was able to do this at a strict academic institution coming off 10 wins over the past two seasons is miraculous.
After losing to Syracuse last year, all hope seemed lost and it appeared that Charlie Weis would be ousted as head football coach at Notre Dame. Nevertheless, he is still standing and ready for another campaign in September. And let's not forget top defensive recruit Manti Te'o witnessed the Syracuse game firsthand, and still decided to come to South Bend.
Somehow there seems to be an enduring spirit that keeps giving Irish fans hope. The program hit rock bottom only a short time ago, but already it is back and prepared to compete on the highest stage. Give Charlie Weis credit for getting Notre Dame to this point.
Weis and Notre Dame are now at a tipping point, and the time to deliver has arrived. He's finally bringing in a plethora of talented recruits—even beating USC at times—and the window of opportunity is wide open.
The victories now need to follow on the football field.
It remains to be seen whether the Fighting Irish can compete for a national championship, but don't be surprised if they play their way into the top 10 at some point of the season. The experts have the Irish pegged as a border-line top 25 team, but this Notre Dame squad is much closer to a top 10 team than most people realize.
Certainly, they are being judged by their performance over the last two seasons, and that is fair. But 2009 will be a whole different season full of new stories and conquests. In short, the Fighting Irish will be a force to be reckoned with.
The fun begins in just over 50 days.