Charlie Weis and Notre Dame: The “What If” Era

Jim MiesleCorrespondent INovember 30, 2009

PALO ALTO, CA - NOVEMBER 28:  Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis shakes hands with fans as he walks off the field after their loss to the Stanford Cardinal at Stanford Stadium on November 28, 2009 in Palo Alto, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

When a coaching change comes, it’s hard not to look back (in this case, over five years) and wonder what might have been. In the case of Charlie Weis, I think it is especially apropos.

While I am sure the list I compiled is by no means all-encompassing, it’s a start:

2004 – The Coaching Staff

It would be difficult to start in any other place. Weis took the job after a lengthy search by then AD Kevin White, and by all accounts wasn’t at or near the top of anyone’s wish list. Guiding the New England Patriot offense to a third Super Bowl title in four seasons, Weis was forced to assemble his staff hastily on top of his prior job commitments. Proclaimed as an “exceptional, talented and experienced group of assistant coaches ” one has to wonder about if Weis had more time to assemble his initial staff, where the team (and program) would be today.

A few notables:

David Cutcliffe, Assistant Head Coach (offense) and quarterbacks coach. Known as the guy who coached the Manning brothers, he resigned due to health issues in June 2005. He was replaced by Peter Vaas.

Rick Minter, defensive coordinator. Not much that needs to be said here other than the defense was the weak link during the 2005 Irish season, which would become a recurring theme during the Weis era.

Of the original nine assistant coaches hired by Weis in January 2005, only three would survive his five year tenure (Rob Ianello, Bernie Parmalee, and Brian Polian).


2005 Recruiting Class

In the wake of the Willingham dismissal, Weis was left to pick up the pieces of a nonexistent recruiting class. Signing only 15 players, the lack of depth would become evident during the 2007 season, as the team was missing key upper class leadership. What if Ty had put in a bit more effort in recruiting and left Weis with a bit more than six verbal commits at his departure?


2005 Regular Season

One has to wonder about the 2005 season, one that was probably the best overall during the Weis era. With only two regular season losses by a total of six points (one coming in overtime to Michigan State and the other on the “Bush Push” against USC), Weis looked to have the Irish headed for the pinnacle of the college football world.

What if the Irish pulled out the victory over the Spartans after rallying from 14 back in the fourth quarter? What if Matt Leinart didn’t complete the 4th-and-9 pass? How would that team have matched-up with Texas?


2006 Regular Season

After transforming an average offense to record setting, the 2006 season started with sky-high expectations. After an early season blowout loss at home to Michigan, expectations were tempered somewhat. With holes appearing in the defense, along with a lack in overall team speed, Irish fans were forced to sit through more close wins (Georgia Tech, Michigan State, and UCLA) then was comfortable. What if this team had a few more difference makers? What if the proverbial cupboard wasn’t so bare?


2007 Regular Season

I would prefer to believe that the 2007 season never happened. Fielding a roster with only 24 scholarship seniors and juniors (the aforementioned 2005 recruiting class), too many underclassmen were forced into service before they were ready.

Preseason predictions placed the Irish somewhere around .500, with anything less beyond the worst nightmares of Irish fans everywhere. The offense couldn’t move the ball (starting three different QBs), and the defense was struggling with a change in identity (the new 3-4 defense brought in by Corwin Brown).

What if this team had additional junior/senior support (especially on the OL)? What if Weis brought in a different DC? What if Darius Walker hadn’t left a year early for the NFL draft (and consequently went undrafted)? What if Demetrius Jones didn’t fumble on the first possession in the opener vs. Georgia Tech?


2008 Regular Season

The 2008 season is where a lot of the big questions about the Weis era began to emerge. For the most part, following back-to-back BCS berths fans were willing to concede the 2007 season as a rebuilding year.

After an all-too-close opening win over San Diego State, the Irish seemed to be heading in the right direction with a 4-2 start (including a come-from-ahead loss at North Carolina). Finishing the regular season at 6-6, rumors started to circulate about Weis being fired.

You have to wonder about what would have happened had the Irish held on to double digit leads over NC, Pitt and Syracuse? What if CW brought in new line coaches a year earlier and had an actual running game? What if Jimmy Clausen took better care of the football, especially against Boston College and USC, instead of throwing 17 INTs?


2009 Regular Season

Simply put, there are a lot of scenarios that could have played out during this season. In each of the six losses (and four wins), you can go back to a few plays and wonder about them going a different way.

What if the kickoff team hadn’t allowed two kickoff returns for TDs (vs. Michigan and Connecticut)? What if a kicker who had made 15 straight field goals doesn't miss two straight vs. Navy? What if the defense stepped up and made a play or two (vs. Navy and Stanford)? What if the offense made one more play or avoided key penalties (vs. Michigan, USC, and Pitt)? In the wins, they were one play away from losing to Washington, BC, Michigan State, and Purdue. What if one of those plays went the other way?



The biggest question one has to ask themselves about the Weis era is pretty simple—what if he had a defense to go with the record setting offenses? Ultimately, we will never know how that would have played out.

It’s never a good thing when someone loses their job. There should be no joy taken in that, regardless of how you feel the program was run over the past five seasons. The guys at BlueGraySky said it better than I possibly could in their Thank You to Coach Weis . I echo their comments and know that he will have no shortage in job offers in the coming weeks (including possibly being reunited with Brady Quinn in Cleveland, or elsewhere).

Thank you Coach Weis for your tireless work and leaving the program in a better place than you found it. Your true contribution may never fully be realized, but this Irish fan will try not to forget that you brought the program from life support to a place with a brighter future than five years ago. It’s just hard not to wonder what if…