The best moments of the Weis era at Notre Dame came in the distant years of '05 and '06. Leading the Irish to BCS bowls in back-to-back years, Charlie Weis came out of his first two years in South Bend with an impressive record of 19-6.
His predecessor, Tyrone Willingham, was constantly criticized for his recruiting (or lack thereof). However, it was Willingham's recruits that played these football teams into BCS berths in consecutive years.
Studs like Brady Quinn, Jeff Smardjiza, Maurice Stovall, and John Carlson manned the field during those years. Under the guidance of Weis, the Irish were back in the national spotlight. Life was good for the Irish faithful with Quinn, Weis and Company steering the ship.
And then, it all came crashing down.
In Weis' final three years, the Irish finished 16-21. After his fifth year with the program, Weis was let go after a major disappointment of a season in '09, finishing 6-6—even with future first-rounders (mark my words) Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate leading the offense.
Out walked Weis, and in walked Home Depot Coach of the Year Brian Kelly.
Kelly, known for his consistency and player development, led a Cincinnati team full of two- and three-star recruits to an undefeated regular season in the Big East last year.
The Irish and the Bearcats played two common opponents last year: Pitt and UConn. Cincinnati went 2-0 against them, while Weis' Irish went 0-2.
So the question now for Kelly is: Can he bring Weis' talented depth chart back to a BCS bowl, as his predecessor did at the beginning of his Irish reign?
Nothing proves that he won't be able to.
With a roster full of lower-ranked players coming out of high school—many overlooked by the big boys of recruiting, including Notre Dame—Kelly led his team to a 10-3 record in his first year with the program.
From '07 to '09, his classes ranked 89th, 60th, and 69th. In comparison, Weis brought in the 8th-, 2nd-, and 21st-ranked classes the same years.
Even with lesser talent on his roster—although the Irish faced stiffer competition—Kelly still managed a .850 winning percentage in that stretch. Once the winning started, he never looked back: something Weis failed to do.
Taking over with less than two months to go before National Signing Day, he has stressed his "RKG" (Right-Kind-of-Guy) mentality. As evidenced by the newly committed Bruce Heggie, Kelly wants football players: Players who know how to win, put themselves second to the concept of the team, and do anything in their power to bring Notre Dame back to prominence.
Succeeding on the recruiting trail and developing the guys brought in will lead to Kelly's prolonged success.
In the immediate future, however, Kelly will have to focus on developing the upperclassmen talent he has. He inherits a roster full of top 100 recruits; a luxury he has never had on his football teams.
Weis failed to live up to his promises to these recruits and never showed consistent strength in developing his players. Although it will be tough to beat out Weis' efforts on the recruiting front, you can bet that Kelly will make each player on his roster the best he can be.
That may mean transfers, position changes (like former Irish quarterback Demetrius Jones' transformation to a starting linebacker at Cincinnati) and a different look from recent Notre Dame teams. But Kelly deserves nothing but trust because of his track record.
There isn't any reason to expect a mediocre season in 2010 under a man with the mind-set of Rudy himself. With a very manageable schedule next year, Kelly will try to follow in Weis' first footsteps and bring the Irish back to where they belong.
The only difference is, Kelly won't stop after those two BCS berths. Instead, the coaching, recruiting, and developing won't let up until he brings a ring back to South Bend for the first time since '88.