In his first two seasons at Notre Dame, Charlie Weis finished 9-3 (2005) and 10-3 (2006), earning back-to-back BCS bids and the school’s first top-10 finish (No. 9 in 2005 AP poll) in 12 years.
Charlie Weis tasted early success at Notre Dame, but the bottom fell out in his third year.
However, in Year 3, the bottom fell out for Weis and the Irish football program while setting numerous negative records in its history:
• The 33-3 loss at home to Georgia Tech was the worst margin of defeat ever suffered by Notre Dame in an opener, and the 38-0 losses to both Michigan and USC were the worst setbacks ever versus those two rivals.
• The 0-5 start was the worst in school history, and for the first time ever, the Irish failed to score a TD on offense in their first three games.
• Notre Dame lost nine games in one season for the first time, and started 1-9. The 1956 and 1960 teams finished 2-8.
• The 0-6 start at home broke the previous school record of four consecutive losses in Notre Dame Stadium. This included consecutive losses to Navy (ending an NCAA record 43-game winning streak versus one team) and Air Force.
• Irish quarterbacks were sacked 58 times, the most in NCAA history, and for the first time ever Notre Dame finished dead last in total offense (242.2 yards per game).
• Partly because of the sacks, Notre Dame finished with its lowest ever rushing output per game (75.2) and averaged 9.2 yards per completion — the first time since the advent of the “T” formation in 1942 the Irish averaged less than 10 yards per completion.
• Defensively, the 345 points tallied by the opposition were the most in one season versus Notre Dame, and a minimum of 30 points were scored by Irish foes eight time. The previous record in a season was five in 1999.
How Did It Happen?
There were three main causes of this “perfect storm” 2007 campaign.
The first was the worst back-to-back recruiting campaigns in Notre Dame history in 2004 and 2005, a main reason why Weis predecessor Tyrone Willingham was ousted after just three seasons. The 17-man class in 2004 was the first ever at Notre Dame to be rated outside the top 25, and the 15-man haul in 2005 (the smallest Notre Dame recruiting class ever), wasn’t even in the top 30 and, in some cases, top 40.
Furthermore, by 2007 only seven of the 17 seniors from the 2004 harvest were still on the team, and only 10 of the 15 juniors from 2005 were still around. That’s a total of 17 players in your senior and junior classes — or what we referred to as “self-imposed probation.”
Second, the schedule became more treacherous because of the limited numbers, and an erosion of confidence occurred after getting out-scored 102-13 in the first three games while sorting out a quarterback mish-mash after the graduation of Brady Quinn.
Third, the preparation by the staff was woefully inadequate and the ineptitude became alarmingly egregious. It was best manifested at quarterback where Weis and Co. spent a good portion of August installing a newfangled “spread” scheme for sophomore QB Demetrius Jones that was quickly scrapped by halftime of the opener.
Weis had a similar four-QB dilemma in 2007 that Brian Kelly has in 2012.
Both had a blond Golden Boy five-star early enrollee (Jimmy Clausen and Gunner Kiel).
Both had a QB from a strong tradition-based area (Zach Frazer from Pennsylvania and Andrew Hendrix from Moeller High) that was trying to catch up to a classmate at the position but couldn’t seem to make headway.
Both had the stereotyped black quarterback/athlete who was deemed an ideal dual threat in the offense (Demetrius Jones and Everett Golson).
And both had the solid veteran who was classified as a good insurance policy but not necessarily a starter (Evan Sharpley and Tommy Rees).
Ramifications Of Year 3
It’s virtually impossible to be considered the “Messiah Coach” when in your third year you not only go 3-9 but also look so awful while doing so. It stretches the bounds of credibility.
Weis had two saving graces. One, he built some coaching equity his first two years with 19 wins and two BCS bids. Second, amidst the rubble of a 3-9 season, Weis and Co. kept together and reeled in the No. 2-ranked recruiting class of 2008 (behind only Alabama). Recruiting success (perceived or otherwise) always serves as the opiate of a fan base.
Weis was 22-15 after three seasons — barely better than the 21-16 ledgers during the Willingham and Bob Davie regimes.
Weis probably wouldn’t be the long-term answer … but he had at least earned the benefit of the doubt with his first two seasons and three straight top-10 ranked recruiting classes.
How Does It Relate to Brian Kelly?
Despite knowing there were going to be some major rebuilding efforts after the graduation of Brady Quinn and Co., Weis boldly declared, “May God strike me dead if I use that word,” of any rebuilding efforts.
This spring at a Notre Dame alumni function in Chicago, Kelly said if the Irish can reach eight wins this season, it would be the first time such a feat had been accomplished at the program since 1991-93 (at least 10 wins each time). There was some misinterpretation that after losing a strong senior class led by Michael Floyd, instability at quarterback and a perceived rough schedule, that eight wins would be the bar in 2012 — but Kelly quickly set the record straight.
“When you shoot for eight wins around here, you won’t be around very long,” Kelly said. “…[AD] Jack Swarbrick told me that. There are no eight-win seasons around here.
“Now, we can build toward that, and that’s part of what we’re doing, the building blocks of putting together a football program. We want consistency. The point of that statement was you need consistency, you need stability. Consistency is you can’t have a 10-win season (2006) and then a three-win season (2007).”
As Kelly approaches Year 3, it’s probably not so much about making the eagle or double-eagles (a la third-year national title coaches such as Knute Rockne, Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine and Lou Holtz) but avoiding the type of triple-bogey that Weis had in 2007. It’s difficult, perception-wise, to rally from such a setback.
The all-around program is in much better shape now to do so, but it’s on the staff to follow through with a regular season that exceeds the eight wins from the past two years.