“‘Right now, you’re a six and five football team. And guess what, that’s just not good enough. It’s not good enough for you and it’s certainly not going to be good enough for me.” —Charlie Weis
Those words echoed a feeling of hope that the future for the Notre Dame football team was bright and it brought temporary ease to the gruesome year that the Irish had just a season before. In his introductory press conference, Charlie Weis spoke promises of an improved football program and an improved attitude throughout that program and for the first two years after he was hired, he delivered on his promise. But what many sports enthusiasts didn’t count on in 2005 was a surprisingly good team—a team that was poised to break out and compete heavily against every team they faced.
It is now 2009, besides those two, what most people would call “good years,” the Irish had two lackluster years including a 3-9 2007 campaign and a 7-6 2008 campaign. Fall camp is underway and even though most fans are fairly optimistic about the upcoming season, some cynical fans are waiting on the edge of their seat for the Irish, or Charlie Weis, to implode and provide a reason for them to call for the coach’s departure from South Bend.
This upcoming season should look surprisingly similar to the scenario that took place in the 2005 season. That year, the team was loaded with some decent talent that were at the peak of their collegiate careers. That, coupled with the new coaching philosophies instilled by Weis and his original team of position coaches (of whom only Ianello, Parmalee, and Polian remain) and an ideal schedule for a young, talented team allowed the 2005 squad to come just a few plays shy of vying for the BCS Championship. Am I saying that this year’s team could be playing for the national title? Yes. Is it likely that they will? No. But given the circumstances, there is little evidence to doubt that they are capable of doing so.
For the past two seasons, Notre Dame fans, myself included, have reassured themselves that the sterling classes that Weis and his assistants were bringing into Notre Dame were going to change the face of Notre Dame football for this generation. But it was also common belief that the bevy of fresh talent needed a few years to mature and develop into collegiate players and that the Notre Dame program would be two or three years removed from national prominence.
This is the year that the first true Weis-recruited class will come to fruition. Sam Young, James Aldridge, Chris Stewart and others are no longer the heralded freshman, but upperclassmen that will lead this year’s squad onto the field Saturday after Saturday. You can’t judge the effectiveness and prominence of a recruiting class until they have matured and, as Lou Somogyi wrote, this is the year in which that first class will be judged.
This is also the turning point for Charlie Weis as a head coach. Even though the 2007 season was much worse than it should have been, most fans gave Weis a pass on the season, chalking the poor performance on the field up to the Great Quarterback Derby of 2007, the lack of effort on the defense, the lack of cohesion on the offensive line, and the lack of a consistent running game, or Weis learning to coach technique and mechanics instead of schematics. Much like the 2005 season was a showcase of Charlie Weis’ capability of coordinating experienced football players, 2009 needs to be a showcase of his ability to coach raw, fresh-out-of-high school talent into truly technical football players. And even though the Irish are still probably at least a year from being a pre-season title contender, this is the season that Charlie Weis needs to show that he can take a team from a rough 3-9 campaign to a national powerhouse.
Weis himself made it clear in his media day session with the press that this is the year in which the talking of an improved team and an improved attitude stops and more focus will be placed on bringing the results to the field. His players echo that same attitude. If this team needs to exemplify one thing this year, it is a “put up or shut up” attitude because this is the year that Coach Weis, his assistants, his staff, and his players do not get a pass on a sub-par season.
Was the Hawaii Bowl last year the break-out game for this current 2009 team that the Pittsburgh game was for the 2005 squad? Are this year’s personnel poised to have a break-out season like 2005: Charlie’s first year at Notre Dame? The program needs a breakout season, Charlie Weis needs a breakout season, the University needs a breakout season, and the fans desperately need a breakout season.
The seniors of this team are the same players who were freshman the last time the Notre Dame football program was poised for a great season. Much has passed since then and for Charlie Weis, much has been learned. It truly is time for Coach Weis to put his money where his mouth is. Talk is cheap and I don’t think that anyone associated with the football program would have any reservations in agreeing with me and that, in itself, bodes well for this season.