Charlie Weis Faces Critical Off-Season Heading into 2007

( – For the first time in the young tenure of Charlie Weis, some Notre Dame fans have begun to openly question Weis abilities to win big games and make enough adjustments to keep defenses guessing. As astonishing as that might sound considering Weis has won only 1 fewer game in two seasons than his predecessor won in three, it has been the case since Notre Dame’s latest bowl debacle.

Unfortunately for Weis, he is becoming a victim to his own success. From day one Weis has raised the expectations of Irish fans who had begun to become complacent with just being competitive. Just being competitive wasn’t going to be good enough for Weis and as a result, the throngs of Notre Dame fans wanted championship caliber teams right away.

After three blowout losses for the Irish this year and the loss of at least six offensive and at least five defensive starters, panic has already set in amongst Notre Dame fans. In reading the various Notre Dame message boards, you’ll notice a lot of posts predicting 7-5 and 6-6 seasons for the Irish.

Well, as Weis told us all on his first day on the job, that’s just not good enough. Weis won’t accept such a record and won’t make excuses about new starters or a lack a talent next year. He will go out and expect to win each game, as he should.

Before he begins game planning for next year, however, Weis will face a critical off-season that could make or break his tenure with the Irish. There is a lot of work between now and then for Weis and his staff, and there’s no reason to believe that Weis didn’t get started right after the Sugar Bowl ended.

This off-season’s number one priority will be finishing this recruiting class off strong. Saturday’s All American Bowl didn’t make matters any easier for Weis with Ben Martin, Chris Donald, Michael Williams, and Lorenzo Edwards all opting for schools other than Notre Dame.

Despite gaining just one commitment Saturday, Matt Romine, there are still some recruits left on Notre Dame’s board starting with defensive tackle Will Blackwell. Blackwell has to be priority number for the Irish because of the lack of depth along the defensive line. The Irish absolutely need another defensive tackle in this class and Blackwell is the most likely. He is down to Notre Dame and LSU and the Tigers picked up defensive tackles Saturday alone in Joseph Barksdale and Luther Davis.

Next on Weis’s list should be Major Wright. If there is anything we have learned from Notre Dame’s defense over the last two years is that the Irish safeties have a knack for giving up the big play. Wright is a lights out hitter and showed good coverage skills Saturday in San Antonio.

Joe McKnight should also be high up on Weis’s list. McKnight is one of the most dynamic backs in this year’s recruiting class and there is still a chance Weis can get a visit out of the Louisiana native. With only a few recruits left on the board, Weis could very well put on the full court press with McKnight.

There’s other recruits left out there as well like Robert Hughes, Jason Peters, and Maclolm Smith. Smith is intriguing since he is listed as’s #3 weakside linebacker which should make him a high priority as well after the Irish lost both Edwards and Donald on Saturday.

Recruiting, however, is just the tip of the iceberg for Weis this off-season. Fixing a defense which has been shredded by the likes of Michigan, LSU, and USC this year also looms large for Weis. After the last two bowl games under defensive coordinator Rick Minter, it’s clear something needs to be changed.

Minter’s defense was said to be too complicated last off-season. Miscommunication was a common answer to most of the Irish defensive woes in 2005. Well, a year later miscommunication is still being offered up as a reason for the numerous big plays this defense has surrendered.

Either Minter’s defense is just too complicated for this team, or he and his defensive staff are doing a poor job of teaching it. While Notre Dame might not be stock piled with five star recruits on the defensive side of the ball, the Irish have more than enough talent to be at the very least competitive with elite offenses. Weis either needs to tell Minter to change his philosophy or he needs to make a change in his staff.

For whatever reason, the Irish defensive players have just not picked up Minter’s defense nearly as fast as the offense picked up Weis’s system and with the way the Irish defense is getting beat, its becoming clearer and clearer that the defensive scheme is a major reason three different teams have scored 40 or more points on the Irish this year.

If there is one thing we’ve learned from Weis though, it’s that losing in any fashion, let alone blowout style, is simply not going to be good enough.

Weis faces more challenges off-season than either of his previous two with rumblings about the lack of a bowl win or lack of a “signature win” in his first 25 games. How he handles the added pressure that two bowl losses and three blowout losses this year is going to say a lot about what kind of coach Weis is going to end up being for the Irish.

Again, all of this seems a bit astonishing considering that Weis has gone 19-6 with two straight BCS bowl games in his first two years as a head coach on the college level, but such is the case for the head coach of Notre Dame.

While he may have a lot of work this off-season, nothing Weis has done leads me to believe that he won’t find a way to get it done. Recruiting may look a lot dimmer now than it did a week ago, but if there isn’t anyone who will be working harder to fix things than Weis.

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