Which way will Weis, Irish go?

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

At the same time a group of former players had a billboard put up in South Bend mocking Charlie Weis' coaching skills, a former coach was on television predicting Notre Dame would play for the BCS title.

Then there was the media, either predicting Weis was "doomed" to fail or guaranteed to win 10 games this season.

You ever hear of a coach with such a range of expectations?

So Charlie Weis shrugged and refused to take the bait. His team followed suit. Both before and after his Irish opened the season with a 35-0 throttling of Nevada, the entire Notre Dame program has decided to heed the advice of the 26th president of the United States (via a West African proverb).

Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.

"We're thanking Teddy Roosevelt on that one," Weis said. "Believe it or not we've been living off this little mantra. We're not T-shirt bound or anything. But we're not talking about it; we just want to go out and do something about it. "

Notre Dame's been the exact opposite since Brady Quinn left. The Irish talked loudly and swung a weak stick. The recruits rode stretch limos and then didn't deliver. The coach promised a decided schematic advantage and then couldn't get his team to run a simple screen pass. Notre Dame lost more games the past two seasons than ever.

Now the Irish deal with contradictory predictions – a combination of excessive hype, snarky logic and long-standing schadenfreude.

This group is either terrible and is led by a coaching intern or it is just OK, but will ride a supposedly weak schedule to the BCS, or it will overwhelm everyone (USC included) and take on Tebow for the title.

More likely, with those heralded recruits maturing, Notre Dame is back to being at the very least a good, solid, top-25 team.

What's the fun in that, though? Torturing Weis is a cottage industry.

One thing Weis is aware of now is that hokey college adage that it's about the Johnnys and Joes, not the Xs and Os. It's difficult to argue with it, though: Jimmy Clausen took one step back and threw a quick pass to Michael Floyd in the flat Saturday, only to have Floyd run around his man and not stop until he hit the end zone 70 yards later.

That touchdown wasn't schematic; that was Weis winning a recruiting battle two years ago to lure the dynamic Floyd out of Minnesota. Everyone wanted the kid, from Florida to Ohio State.

Weis got him to take an October campus visit, where Floyd watched Southern California lay a 38-0 beat down on Irish, who were en route to a three-win season.

He committed that day anyway.

It's the most astounding part of Weis' coaching career/internship. When he took the job on the eve of winning a fourth Super Bowl ring, including three with New England, the question wasn't whether he could coach, but whether he could recruit.

Turns out he never struggled with the recruiting, just the coaching. The guy can talk. He even convinced the Notre Dame administration to give him a 10-year deal in the middle of his first season.

With it all has come a level of attention that's breathtaking even for the coach of Notre Dame. He's easily the most hated and mocked rival coach in college football. And he doesn't have his own fan base so firmly behind him either.

"Scrutiny for a football coach comes with the territory," he told me a couple years ago, when he was about to ink Floyd and so much of this talent. "Hey, if you call a play and it doesn't work, 80,000 fans know it. And forget about the fat jokes. Or the, 'Hey, you went 3-9; you're a terrible football coach.' "

All he ever asked was that people lay off his family (they didn't) and give him time to turn the Irish around (he got that).

So no one is going to feel bad for the guy; he has had more than his fair chance. He has talked himself into his own corner. That said, two endearing things about him are that through the ups and downs he has never blamed his players and he has never complained that the school's academic standards were too strict to compete.

If he fails, he fails. And at this point, there's no sense talking about it.

So now here come Weis and the Irish to Ann Arbor on Saturday to take on Michigan, another historic power trying to regain its footing and another coach being proven a genius by the talent he has recruited.

In the preseason minds of the prognosticators and title-game dreamers, Michigan was inked in as a Notre Dame victory. Now, it's a bit more than anyone expected. The Wolverines looked like a traditional Rich Rodriguez team last Saturday, the kind that wins a lot of games.

Not that it matters for Weis. Not that anyone will cut him any slack.

He's supposed to win. He's supposed to lose. He has finally built a program. He's still a coaching neophyte. He's going to play for the BCS title. He's going to be fired at last.

So he has finally shut it up, a bit, for the time being. No "talking Jersey" as he calls it. Speak softly and use that big stick of a roster.

Maybe that's what he learned on the internship.

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