Thursday, April 26, 2007

Why is this man smiling?

The crew at Blue-Gray Sky have once again outdone themselves with a wonderful gallery of photos from the 2007 Blue-Gold game, which was played this past Saturday under a bright blue sky in Notre Dame Stadium. In perusing the BGS gallery, as well as other photo coverage of the game, I was struck by the photo of Coach Weis featured above. (Photo credit to BGS contributor John Maxwell). Is anybody in Notre Dame Stadium having more fun this man? I don't think so. Every other photo I have seen of Charlie from that day also shows him smiling, whether pre-game, in-game, or post-game. I'm sure there's an image of him somewhere with a more serious expression, maybe even a scowl. But the above image is very representative.

So what's my point? My point is that Charlie Weis absolutely loves his job. He loves being the head football coach at the University of Notre Dame. He loves being in Notre Dame Stadium, and he loved seeing Lou Holtz and Ara Parseghian back on the sidelines as much as any fan in the stands did. And he loves coaching Notre Dame kids. Charlie Weis has lost his star quarterback, top running back, and top two receivers, as well as key members of the offensive and defensive lines. You would think that he might have been distracted on Saturday by the four-way quarterback race, or the need to find somebody to throw the ball to. With 50,000+ of the Irish faithful filling the stadium for a glimpse of the future, Charlie had every right to be a little nervous. A little tense, anxious, or even testy. But he wasn't. Instead, he had a goofy grin on his face, amused by a trick play called by one of the honorary coaches. Just having fun with his guys.

I can't tell you how refreshing that is. Wins and losses aside, Notre Dame needs a football coach who loves the University and all that it stands for. I went to school during the Gerry Faust years. Being a Notre Dame fan in that era was maddening. We beat USC three of four years I was there, and lost to the Air Force Academy all four years (my Dad's alma mater). We would beat Michigan and Miami, then lose to Arizona and tie Oregon (1982). Stuff like that. But as frustrating as the team could be on the field, no one doubted that Coach Faust had a heart of gold and that he loved the University with all his golden heart. It was hard to harbor bad feelings toward the guy, even if he was in way over his head.

Lou Holtz was the same way. You knew he "got it" when it came to the whole Notre Dame experience. But Bob Davie never "got it." I'm sure he respected the football tradition, the National Championships and the Heisman trophies. But he never really understood the University. He never understood the Notre Dame way. To him, the Notre Dame way just meant that it was harder to get "baw players" and "ath-a-letes" into school. To him, the Notre Dame way meant that we would never win again, because expectations were unrealistic. Ty Willingham , I think, understood the Notre Dame way on an intellectual level. He embraced the concept of the true student athlete, the idea that character counts. But Ty never seemed to embrace the University and its tradition on a gut level. He maintained his emotional distance, never really investing himself in the place, and it showed.

With Coach Weis we're back to where we should be, with a football coach who embraces Our Lady's University and all it stands for. His enthusiasm and his faith in Notre Dame is infectious - it spreads to the coaches, the fans, and the players. The high school student-athletes who are exposed to this enthusiasm and belief can feel it too - and they want to be a part of it.

So why is Charlie smiling? Because he loves his job, a job which I suspect he feels he was meant to have. But there's something else in that smile. I can't help but get the feeling that Coach Weis knows something we don't. That he's got one or more guys who will do just fine at quarterback, that we're deep with quality running backs, that the offensive line will finally be truly "nasty," and that our new defensive coordinator is doing a very good job. In short, I think Charlie's smiling because he likes his team, and he likes their chances.

I just hope he's still smiling in November.

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