Irish head coach Charlie Weis joined some elite company this morning as he was named the winner of the 2005 FWAA/Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award. Weis, in his first season, guided Notre Dame to a 9-2 record and his efforts were rewarded earlier in the season when the university gave him a 10-year contract extension. He joins former Irish coaches Lou Holtz (1988) and Ara Parseghian (1964) as past winners. Three out of the past four winners have gone on that season to coach in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, which sponsors the award.
"Obviously, I'm honored to be thought of in the light of guys like Parseghian and Coach Holtz," Weis said. "But anytime you get an award like this where only one person gets the award, that would be selfish and egotistical to think that's the reason Notre Dame had a good year.
"I'll accept the award, but on behalf of the University of Notre Dame, not on behalf of Charlie Weis."
Weis met with the media for around 30 minutes to discuss the upcoming game against the Buckeyes, who come into the match up with a six-game winning streak and the fourth-best defense in the nation, including 1st against the run. Many are pointing to members of that unit, including Lombardi Award winner A.J. Hawk, as being the toughest to contain.
But it's Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith and his versatility that gives Weis some concern. Smith is coming off his best game of the season against Michigan. The Cleveland, Ohio native racked up 386 yards of total offense in the contest, including 300 yards through the air. Two drives engineered by Smith in the final eight minutes helped the Buckeyes overcome a 21-12 deficit into a 25-21 victory and a trip to the Fiesta Bowl.
"He worries me the most of anyone on their team," Weis said. "What scares me is that anytime you have a quarterback, and especially a quarterback who started out with a reputation of being a runner first and a thrower second, and now has reversed those roles, you have a problem.
"It's the multi-dimensional players that scare you the most. He knows he's a passer first and a runner second and that's the toughest thing to teach a quarterback that has athleticism."
Buckeye head coach Jim Tressel has his fair share of worries as well. It starts with a Notre Dame offense that scored 31 or more points in every contest but one. Quarterback Brady Quinn and the Irish passing attack averaged 334 yards per game through the air but also got a 1,100 yard season from running back Darius Walker. Tressel is impressed by the balance.
"They have tremendous players," Tressel said. "Their folks up-front, they're veterans and seen it all and played so many games over their careers. You can't show them anything that's going to frustrate them. They throw the ball, run the ball, screen well. They apply pressure in so many ways that their ball is extraordinary and their fundamentals are outstanding."
The Fiesta Bowl could almost be called the "what could have been" bowl. Notre Dame lost two games by three points each, including a heart-breaking 34-31 defeat to top-ranked and defending national champions, USC. The Buckeyes were beaten by second-ranked Texas on a last minute drive and to third-ranked Penn State at a crazed Happy Valley.
Irish fans are generally pleased by the turnaround from a 6-6 mark in 2004. There is a reason to cheer again. But Weis is not the in that group. He knows this team was close to it's goal of winning every single time they stepped out onto the field. He'll get one more chance on Monday afternoon to add another W to the win column.
"That's the way we approach this game and every game," Weis said. "It's really about winning. Obviously, we can talk about playing with integrity and all of those things, but don't ever tell me about a good loss. There's no such thing.
"To be honest with you, I'm not happy personally. We lost two games. When you're the head coach, you better take responsibility. If you're waiting for me to do cartwheels, you'll be waiting a long time."