Joe Theismann was excited when Charlie Weis invited him to speak at the 88th Notre Dame Football Banquet.
"Let me just say what a privilege it is to have the opportunity come back to the University of Notre Dame and address the football program and address the University," he said. "I've still remained extremely excited about the University of Notre Dame. I know what it meant to me and I know what it's done for me and I understand the University and its presence in not only collegiate sports, but I think just in college programs in general. For me it's just a real honor, a real pleasure and I was delighted when Charlie asked me to do it."
Theismann and Weis go way back, but that was not going to stop the always candid Hall of Famer from speaking his mind about the state of the program.
"I feel that the program is better than it was a year ago and I think it'll be a lot better," Theismann said. "I think we have some incredible athletes at the skill positions, on the offensive side in particular. It's just something that needs to grow and grow more. How do I evaluate Charlie? I think he needs to do a better job."
But Theismann is confident that Weis will do a better job.
"I believe Charlie can bring this program back to where we can compete at a BCS level, yes I do. And I'm not just blowing smoke, I'm not saying it because I'm sitting here," he said. "I do believe in Charlie Weis and I'm glad that he's had the opportunity to come back and work with this program. I don't think that a change at this point would have been good for the University of Notre Dame. I believe in Charlie Weis, I still do.
"Everybody now, they say he's a friend of yours. Yes, he's a friend of mine and no matter what happens next year, he'll always be a friend of mine. But I have a lot of friends that I evaluate because I've been in the profession so long. I believe he has the abilities to be able to get this program back where it goes."
Theismann will always have a place for Notre Dame in his heart and has followed the program closely since his departure.
"I think anybody that watches the University of Notre Dame really wants to see progress. We want to see where did we start and where did we finish and have we improved and have we gotten better. I don't know whether that was the case this year," he said. "I think we started fast and all of a sudden there was a game where things started to get lost.
"You have to learn to finish. You don't put it off and say, ‘Oh, well it's a lot of young kids.' Well, they were young a year ago. There was 14 guys replaced a year ago, that's not the case now. I think that's part of the demand that Charlie will put on himself and put on this football team."
Theismann was excited when Weis got the job because he thought he would bring something that Notre Dame had been lacking.
"I think Charlie Weis, in my opinion, made his mark in the world of professional football because he was an offensive coordinator and he coordinated world championships," he said. "I looked at Charlie Weis and thought what a perfect fit he would be for the University of Notre Dame because I felt before Charlie got here we didn't have much offense. When Ty was here it was a team that won with special teams and defense."
But Theismann admitted that the offense needs to get better.
"I think that this football team needs to be more physical. I didn't necessarily see a physical dominance that I think they can, they're big guys up front," he said. "You need to figure out a way to get the ball in the hands of the people that make plays. Like I said, I didn't sit in the meetings, I don't know exactly what the game plans looked like or had any idea. I know what I saw and what I saw was not the kind an offense that is not going to allow you to be that successful."
Still, he thinks the Irish have the potential to get better in a hurry.
"I think the skill players are here," he said. "I don't think it'll take that long. I think the players are here. Now, when you put it all in the mix and combine the staff and the players, what are they going to be able to do?"
Theismann was impressed with the play of the young receivers, Michael Floyd in particular.
"I'd love to have thrown to Michael or even Golden (Tate), pick one," he said. "(Floyd is) one of those prototypical guys that I think a couple of years from now you look at and go, ‘Wow.'"
According to Theismann, the position that Weis needs to work on the most is quarterback.
"It's difficult at times to evaluate in a short period of time. You look at the first two years and he had the benefit of having veteran leadership on his football team, just Brady (Quinn) alone at the quarterback position," he said. "The most important position that is played in football is the quarterback position. When you have inexperience at that position and you all can look at anywhere in the country, your team tends to struggle a bit."
Theismann said that he would like to see Jimmy Clausen improve his decision-making.
"I would really like Jimmy to sit down and look at the last two years and evaluate his decision process," he said. "God gives us so many talents as an athlete, but what are you going to do with it from the mental side of the game. Jimmy made some decisions in some football games, when you have a chance to score, taking a sack. Throwing the ball into areas where maybe he thought he saw something. It's the decision process that I feel he can get better at.
"Sometimes you scratch your head and look at a throw that's made and think, ‘The safety's two feet from the sidelines and you're going to try and throw a fade.' It just doesn't compute."
He said that it would be difficult for him to evaluate Clausen's leadership, but as quarterback he needs to take on the role of a leader.
"If you're going to lead anything there has to be an assertiveness about what you do," he said. "Leadership is something that can't be delegated at the quarterback position. Charlie couldn't stand up in front of this football team and say, ‘Jimmy Clausen is the leader of this football team.' Especially at the quarterback position, it has to be one where the players look at it and say this is it."
Theismann said that there are two different ways to be a leader.
"You can either command respect or you can demand respect. If you demand it that's just simply saying to people, ‘I would like you to respect me and this person and this and that.' When you command respect is you do things that players look at and they admire. Staying extra, getting together, going to the weight room," he said. "Who's going to stand up? I guess the question that I need to ask and I guess it falls on Charlie's shoulders because he's the head coach of this football team…Who's going to stand up and take control as a player on this football team?"
But Theismann is confident that his alma mater will be on top again soon.
"I don't think they're that far away. People will be looking at this and saying, ‘Man, Theismann you are such a homer. You are such a Notre Dame guy. You're going to speak at the Notre Dame banquet. You're going to say all these things,'" he said. "I believe this. Trust me, I would not say it if I didn't believe it. I don't think the program is that far away because we do have players. A year ago if you'd have asked me that, I'd say, ‘Wow. I don't know. How long does it take young guys to learn how to play the game?' I think they've had a chance to learn."