Weis knows pressure is on for him
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- A new billboard facing the Notre Dame campus offers a not-so-subtle reminder to coach Charlie Weis that the past two seasons have not been up to the standards of the storied Fighting Irish football program.
It reads: "Best wishes to Charlie Weis in the fifth year of his college coaching internship." Weis said Tuesday he had not yet seen the billboard, about a half mile from his office, but had been told about it.
"Everything was great until the last word," he said, laughing. "So tell them thanks a lot for wishing me best wishes."
Weis is well aware that Notre Dame fans have high expectations after the Irish have gone 3-9 and 7-6 the past two seasons -- the most losses in a two-year span in the 120-year history of Irish football. Those 15 losses are three more than Knute Rockne had in 13 seasons as coach, four more than Frank Leahy had in 11 years and two fewer than Ara Parseghian had in 11 seasons.
The 15 losses have wiped out most -- if not all -- the goodwill Weis built in leading the Irish to Bowl Championship Series berths in his first two seasons.
Weis has a 29-21 record, a .580 winning percentage that puts him behind Tyrone Willingham at 21-15 (.583), Bob Davie at 35-25 (.583) and ahead of Gerry Faust at 30-26-1 (.535).
Many Irish fans are saying he needs another BCS berth this year. Weis was asked Tuesday about being on the hot seat.
"I'm the head coach at Notre Dame. Welcome to my world," he said.
While he tries to brush off the pressure, he's acknowledged in the past that the Irish struggles have taken their toll. Weis was so concerned about his teenage son taking abuse after the Irish lost to an eight-loss Syracuse team last November that he let him skip a few days of high school.
So Weis made some changes in the offseason, replacing the offensive and defensive line coaches, hiring a new running backs coach and taking over himself as offensive coordinator -- the same position he held with the New England Patriots for five seasons when they won three Super Bowl championships. Being offensive coordinator means more than just taking over the play-calling duties, something he gave up last season.
It means he's involved from the beginning of studying film of opponents up until he writes the first set of plays.
"You're with the coaches all day and then you're with the players until they leave, and then you get to be the head coach at nighttime after they're gone. So it just extends your day some," he said.
Weis said his focus this week isn't on his job status but on the opponent, the Nevada Wolf Pack, which went 7-6 last season and has gone to a school-record four straight bowl games. He said it's important for the Irish, who open the season ranked No. 23, to try to get off to a strong start -- something that hasn't happened since Weis' first season in 2005 when the Irish beat No. 23 Pittsburgh 42-21.
The next season, the second-ranked Irish eked out a 14-10 victory over Georgia Tech. In 2007 Tech embarrassed the Irish 33-3, the worst season-opening loss in Notre Dame history. Last year, the Irish appeared headed to an embarrassing defeat to San Diego State until David Bruton forced a goal-line fumble as Notre Dame rallied for a 21-13 victory.
The Irish are hoping for a better start this time.
"I'm not worried about hot seats, cold seats, anything," Weis said. "I'm just worrying about trying to beat Nevada."
Weis also released his updated depth chart Tuesday with just a few surprises. Freshman tailback Theo Riddick is one of the starting kickoff returners. Highly touted freshman linebacker Manti Te'o is listed as the weakside backup. Weis said Te'o will play.
Jonas Gray is the backup tailback ahead of last year's backup, Robert Hughes, who won't play in the first half against Nevada because he's serving a suspension for getting in a fight during a game last season.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press