- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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What's most amazing about how spectacular Charlie Weis failed in 2009 is how much the season was set up for him to succeed.
The Notre Dame schedule wasn't the cream-puff lineup as some people described it, but by Irish standards it was very manageable. Only three teams on the entire slate -- Pitt, USC, and Stanford -- are ranked in the Top 25, and none of them are among the nation's top 14. Stanford wouldn't be ranked if Notre Dame had won Saturday's game, while USC came to South Bend with its most vulnerable team in several years.
All Weis really had to do to keep his job was to beat Navy and Connecticut at home and a Michigan team that finished 5-7. That would have made the Irish 9-3 and given the coach a strong argument to return for a sixth year. Yet he couldn't do that or avoid a disastrous four-game losing streak to end the season despite having one of the best quarterbacks in school history (Jimmy Clausen) and the finest receiving season ever by a Domer (Golden Tate).
Notre Dame's best wins this season were against 8-4 Boston College, 6-6 Michigan State and 4-7 Washington. Not exactly the kind of victories you include in a great moments in history section of the media guide.
Because of all that, as athletic director Jack Swarbrick said Monday night, "you couldn't know with significant certainty that next year's results would be better."
Here's what I think is certain: if Swarbrick hires the right caliber of coach, he'll produce much better results than Weis.
Notre Dame is not the super power it once was, but it's hard to go 3-9, 6-6 and 6-6 in three straight regular seasons in South Bend, as Weis did. Sure, the Irish will lose Clausen and probably Tate, much of their offensive line and several defensive starters. But the cupboard is far from bare.
Dayne Crist, who should return from an ACL injury by the spring, was a highly-rated quarterback recruit who got some valuable experience this year. Star receiver Michael Floyd returns, along with promising youngsters John Goodman and Shaq Evans. Tight end Kyle Rudolph is back, as well as running backs Armando Allen, Robert Hughes and Theo Riddick.
Defensively, the Irish can build around guys like Darius Fleming, Steve Filer, Kapron Lewis-Moore, and future superstar Manti Te'o, assuming Te'o does not go on his Mormon mission after this season. Yes, the defense needs serious improvement, especially in its tackling, but that's what good coaches do.
Weis got this team close this year but couldn't get over the hump. Ten of Notre Dame's games were decided by a touchdown or less.
Next year, the Irish have Army, Tulsa, Navy and Western Michigan on the schedule and get Purdue and Michigan at home. Those are six winnable games right there.
Weis's failure was in not winning the games he should have won and never winning the games he wasn't expected to win. That's not a very high standard for the next guy to achieve.