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Year 3 ND Countdown: Charlie Weis

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.

QB Quandaries
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.

  • The 3rd year was Charlie's death-knoll in my mind. It was so horrendous, that in looking back via your article, it is just mind numbing in the ineptness.

    The way Charlie abandoned the new offense he spent all summer installing, and at halftime of the first game, was eerily reminiscent of BK's pulling Dayne at halftime last year. At least last season didn't bomb quite as badly.

    For this team, the QB situation has to get settled. And whoever it is, they have to get it done. The only thing worse that playing QB carousel is playing coaching carousel. And one may precede the other.

    "Having the right to do something doesn't mean it's right to do it." -- Chief Justice Warren Burger

  • BlueandGold

    J_Law

    Great read, Lou,

    Interestingly, it feels as though Kelly had his 2007 last year. QB situation scrapped after a half and, as the year went on, it became about limiting further damage to the team (the same way Weis had to cobble together some "moral victories" for his team). Obviously, Kelly had a defense that at least kept us in some games. Then again, as many who aren't happy with Kelly will point out, he didn't help by throwing gas on the fire with his "my guys" comments.

    Lou, could you list how the two staffs compare heading into their follow up year? Did the chemistry issues Weis has cited contribute to the continued lack of success? Has Kelly defused any sort of issues with the staff turnover?

    Thanks again for the good read...

    This post was edited by J_Law 22 months ago

  • in 2007 we looked like a highshcool team my god so many bad plays losing to navy airforce ughhh the michigan game where our center kept snapping it over jimmys head bad memories.

  • Dave83nd,

    I agree that the handling of the QB situation in '07 and '11 were both similarly handled poorly. However, hindsight is 20/20. I still believe that Charlie is better than given credit for, but he should have stopped seeking advice from NFL people and stuck to his own convictions.

    Willingham left the program in a shambles and Weis left it with fairly full cupboards. Charlie should curse Willingham and Brian should thank Weis.

  • Dave83, I have to respectfully disagree with your comparison of Crist getting yanked and the change that Weis made...Rees for Crist was simply a change of players, not an offense. Charlie spent a huge amount of time working on the spread ... all of Fall camp...and gave up in 30 minutes.

    Lou, your article reminded all of us just how horrible year 3 of Weis was....easily the worst in history...no excuse, he should have been better. I had forgotten just how bad it was...I did a good job of erasin it from my memory, thanks a lot ...

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  • Thank you, Lou, for noting the "self-imposed probation." Even the most seasoned head coaches would have struggled to overcome 17 upperclassmen and salvage a winning season.

    However, you failed to note the ridiculous changes to the coaching staff. Replacing experienced coaches such as Peter Vaas and Rick Minter with greenhorns such as Ron Powlus and Corwin Brown, respectively, showed Weis' inexperience at putting together a coaching staff. I understand that Weis was effectively the quarterbacks coach, but at least with Vaas, he didn't have to coach his assistant coach as well. Vaas wasn't in over his head at Notre Dame, in my opinion. Powlus was. The same went for Corwin Brown at defensive coordinator. Minter wasn't the ideal answer, but at least he wasn't a complete disaster. The point is that Weis didn't upgrade at either position, but instead took major steps in the opposite direction.

    Weis was very much a victim of circumstance, but he victimized his tenure as well at the outset of year three. With that said, I'm curious to see how Kelly's coaching hires impact the duration of his tenure moving forward.

  • John..I actualy thought bringing in Jon Tenuta was a more horrendous move that tossed the defense into chaos.

    As bad as 2007 was, I thought 2009 was worse. Losing the last 4 games, including home games to Navy and UConn! It highlighted how poorly conditioned Weis' teams were. Their late season records were awful. I will give Charlie credit for those first 2 BCS seasons and making ND football prominent again. However, as Brian Smith frustratingly related, (paraphrase) "We've lost to Navy twice in 50 years and I played in both of them".

    Kelly seems to have a positive attitude among th eplayers and they physicaly look better than Weis' Over the Belt' gang. I feel we have a chance to win every game and I think we have the deepest talent on defense in a very long time.

  • J_Law,

    John did a good job of pointing out the staff issues under Weis. In an interview earlier this season at Kansas, Weis mentioned how one of his regrets was putting together a staff on the fly coming to ND. He hired everyone via a phone conversation, other than DB coach Bill Lewis, who he knew personally while competing against him in the NFL.

    An impressive hire was Dave Cutcliffe, who in turn recommended two staff members John Latina (OL) and Mendoza (strength and conditioning), but Cutcliffe never ended up coaching here, leading to the hiring of Vaas. Tenuta in 2008 was a "wow factor" hire in name — sort of like Joe Moore in 1988 — but just not the right fit.

    To be honest, I was a little taken aback by what seemed to be to me a sour grapes reaction from Kelly regarding the departures of Hinton and Warinner to OSU. He's human and I understand, but it's his own fault for saying before the Champs Sports Bowl that everyone on his staff would return in 2012.

    When it comes to staff chemistry, only the passage of time dictates it. On paper, Barry Alvarez didn't look like an impressive hire as DC over the more seasoned Foge Fazio, but he ended up doing a superb job. On Ara's staff, DL coach Joe Yonto had coached only at the high school level and LB coach John Ray came from little John Carroll — but they turned out fantastic.

    Ultimately, it's the head coach who has to set the tone and expectations for everyone else on the staff.

  • "Third, the preparation by the staff was woefully inadequate and the ineptitude became alarmingly egregious."

    In my mind, this statement perfectly summarizes the Weis era. Add to that a dash of arrogance ("I have three Super Bowl rings ... Whoop -de-doo!") and an air of do-no-wrong superiority that annoyed me to no end. Yeah, he might be an offensive guru, but a head coach at the college level, he ain't.

    I only hope that, for Dayne Crist's sake, Charlie Weis makes this year a good one.

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