Oklahoma was dead. Louisiana State was dead. Southern California was dead. That is what people were saying before coaching changes at each of those programs quickly ascended each one of them to the top of the college football world. Why? A total commitment to winning from every aspect of each from those universities.
There are many different areas of a football program that people often times forget about. At Notre Dame, like any other college football program, all areas need to be working together for its ultimate goal of winning a national championship to be reached. There are several areas that are once again working together at Notre Dame that up until this year were not always on the same page…
Monday, Aug. 8 will be the Notre Dame football media day. It will be head coach Charlie Weis leading the Irish for the first time this fall. Expectations are mixed for the 2005 season depending upon whom you speak with, but coach Weis is not the type of man who wants to sit back and wait to win big. The same goes for his coaching staff, or he would not have hired them.
As coach Weis said to the summer camp participants this past June 25, "we had zero tolerance for losing," he said in reference to his coaching days with the New England Patriots. Coach Weis is bringing that same attitude to Notre Dame.
This is the type of attitude that simply has not been utilized at Notre Dame all-around since the 1993 season, the last time Notre Dame contended for a national championship.
The term all-around is referring to every aspect of the university expecting to win football championships, not just one facet or another. Former Notre Dame head coach Lou Holtz was a guest this past Tuesday on ESPN's new show Quite Frankly, hosted by Stephen A. Smith. Coach Holtz eluded to having the Notre Dame administration back the head football coach 100 percent is a vital component for Notre Dame to win big once again. It is no secret that coach Holtz did not have the greatest of relationships with the Notre Dame administration during parts of his tenure in South Bend, and it cost him, and the football program, dearly. That is not the case with coach Weis. He has the support of the administration and it is already working with him so that he can win immediately.
While Dan Saracino is often times made out to be a villain, do not be fooled. He is the head of the admissions office and has a difficult job to do. He is paid to make the difficult decisions. The overall feedback I have received since Mr. Saracino has been head of admissions at Notre Dame is good. Saracino does a good job of being fair with the Notre Dame football program, as well as all other sports. Coach Weis and his coaching staff are simply doing a better job of utilizing Mr. Saracino's support as compared to previous coaching staffs. It's like having a 100-dollar bill and never spending it. What good does it do you? Coach Weis knows when and where to spend his money, if you will. Coach Weis and Mr. Saracino have a good relationship and that will certainly help the football program.
When coach Weis hired his assistant coaching staff it was a beautiful thing. No need to expand upon it now, as it has been done so already here at IrishEyes, as well as many other outlets. Notre Dame has an excellent assistant coaching staff. No matter how good a head football coach is, he must have an excellent assistant coaching staff around him to contend for a national championship. Southern California is a great example of this. Head coach Pete Carroll is going to find out what losing (or running off) your top coaches will do to a program. He may have more talent than he knows what to do with this year, but a lot of that talent will depart after this season (what are the chances of Bush and White not turning pro early?) and it will cost the Trojans down the line. What could have been a long lasting dynasty was lost when egos began to muck the program last season.
No program loses great assistant and replaces them with novices and continues to dominate. It's the nature of the beast. Especially with pressure-packed programs such as Alabama, Southern California, Texas (another great example of an underachieving coaching staff, particularly when it comes to game day), Miami, and so on and so forth, there needs to be an excellent coaching staff from top-to-bottom, with as little turnover as possible. That's a big task, but generally speaking the great runs throughout college football history took place with this type of coaching infrastructure.
Every program needs the best facilities it can muster. With the new Gugliemino Athletics Complex now being utilized by everyone within the Notre Dame football program there are no more concerns. Notre Dame used to lag behind when it came to facilities, but no more. It's top-notch and will make everyone's life easier from the players and coaches, to the trainers and student managers, everyone wins. And oh, yes, "the Gug" will certainly help with recruiting, too.
Speaking of recruiting, my favorite subject, finally I can say with pride that Notre Dame is not being out-recruited by its peers. This current Notre Dame coaching staff works as hard as any other program across America to land the best recruits it can. That simply was not the case before. Expect to see a lot more talent playing for the Irish in coming years, starting with next year's incoming freshmen class. It will not stop there either, as inroads are already being made by the Notre Dame coaching staff and administrative assistants with the class of 2007 and beyond…
Then of course any program needs great fans. This just in: Notre Dame has incredible fan support. Notre Dame fans are demanding, but the true Notre Dame fans are die-hard. The student section at Notre Dame Stadium certainly helps as well. No opposing team enjoys driving towards the north end zone of Notre Dame Stadium with the student section in a frenzy. Coach Weis has all the fan support any head coach could ever want.
This season could bring many many different outcomes. If the Irish stay healthy it would not surprise me if they finished with a 9-2 record. Then again, a few injuries (if BQ goes down forget it) and it is a whole different ball game. Anything that happens this year is a bonus in my eyes.
Looking ahead to the 2006 season, Notre Dame will once again have what it takes to play for all the marbles. It would be foolish to project the Irish to win a national championship this season, but starting with the 2006 season I personally expect to see Notre Dame playing in a BCS bowl game, and perhaps the national championship game. The only concern right now are a few players from the current roster to step up and/or recruits to make an impact. That's why recruiting is so important this year.
Fair or not, and college football is rarely fair, both the Notre Dame offense and defense will have a very talented overall group of starters returning for the 2006 season. To begin with, when you have talent like Brady Quinn returning at quarterback again for the 2006 season, along with tailback Darius Walker, tight end Anthony Fasano, left tackle Ryan Harris, center John Sullivan, defensive end Victor Abiamiri, defensive tackles Derek Landri and Trevor Laws, middle linebacker Mitchell Thomas, outside linebacker Maurice Crum, Jr., and strong safety Chinedum Ndukwe, we are talking about definite NFL talent. Several other members of the Irish roster could end up playing at the NFL level, too. There is no reason not to win big.
Dwight Stephenson, Jr. and Marcus Freeman could end up playing for NFL teams and may never be a feature player for the Irish. Stephenson is trying to find his niche along the defensive line while battling several talented teammates for playing time, while Freeman has his own battle with Fasano for playing time at tight. Think about that for one second. Again, NFL talent is already at Notre Dame. With the current Notre Dame coaching staff now firmly entrenched talent will no longer go to waste. Instead, the Notre Dame coaching staff will exploit its opponents weaknesses with talent it available right now.
Bottom line, Notre Dame needs to find talented players who are hungry for this season and beyond. All that appears to be missing for 2006 are two inside linebackers, two cornerbacks, two wide receivers and one right tackle to be as good as anyone else in the country, at least in terms of the starters. Depth may still be a concern, but again, that is what recruiting is all about. Obviously this is a lot to ask, but it's Notre Dame we are talking about here. Remember, no tolerance for losing.
Coach Weis and his and his assistant coaching staff could well find the pieces from the current roster. Only time will tell. Many new faces will have opportunities this fall as either a starter or a player that will see significant minutes. Will the aforementioned Mitchell Thomas make the transition from SAM linebacker to MIKE linebacker and be the starter next year after Corey Mays departs? How about Mike Richardson at cornerback? How about the three redshirt freshmen cornerbacks, Terrail Lambert, Leo Ferrine (who also could play safety) and Junior Jabbie? Each of them will have his opportunity as well. Any way you slice it, the players will receive the coaching they need to excel. That is all anyone can ask. The best players will play, regardless of class or returning status from the previous year (now that will be a change).
Adding any of the following recruits to the roster beyond the ones that are already committed for the class of 2006 such as Toryan Smith, Allen Bradford, Darrin Walls, Raeshon McNeil, Richard Jackson, George West, Terrence Austin, Laron Moore, Bartley Webb, Daron Rose, Matt Carufel, Chris Stewart and Sam Young will be the final ingredients to make it all work. Each of the aforementioned recruits could play as true freshman.
Notre Dame certainly lacks depth this season, and still has deficient areas until otherwise proven such as the secondary and special teams units. Which players will step up? That is the question. With a little luck with injuries next season combined with a few recruits making an impact do not be surprised to see Notre Dame being ranked in the top five by the end of the 2006 season.
So how soon will Notre Dame make it back to the top? Probably much sooner than the hosts of any of the ESPN college football shows would ever think, that's for sure. Notre Dame has all the pieces in place to return its football program to the elite of college football. Look for that success to come sooner rather than later.