Weis brings out the best in Quinn

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Before Charlie Weis came to Notre Dame, Brady Quinn's development was like a slow, steady drip.

Quinn had arrived at Notre Dame as a highly touted quarterback from Coffman High School in Dublin, Ohio. However, he wasn't able to live up to the high expectations during his first two years in South Bend, Ind.

A starter since the fourth game of his freshman year, Quinn gained knowledge slowly. His talent was questioned. No one really knew what to expect in his junior season.

Then Weis arrived on campus. Hello, Niagara Falls.

The first-year Notre Dame coach said Quinn had all the requisite intangibles, all the things that made the junior a top prospect in the first place. All it took was a mentor to squeeze it out of him.

"All we did is put in this system, which is a quarterback-friendly system," Weis said. "It puts a lot of pressure on a quarterback, but you try not to put anything in that the quarterback can't handle. Because he has been able to handle a lot, we have been able to do a lot.

"I think the success of our offense can be pinpointed to the progress of Brady."

Progress can be seen in the way Quinn handles himself on the field. Early in the season, he occasionally overthrew receivers and made mental mistakes. But since the Michigan State game, Quinn has been nearly flawless and prolific, throwing for more than 250 yards in each of the final nine games of the season.

With one season of eligibility remaining, Quinn holds almost every major Notre Dame single-season and career passing record. His improved play has much to do with the Irish's return to a place among the nation's elite programs.

"He is the key to this season," Notre Dame sophomore halfback Darius Walker said.

"Especially as we're concerned as an offense. Whenever something productive happens as an offense, it's because of Brady. He has something to do with it. I've seen him improve so much. You can see his energy in the huddle. It's incredible."

The improvement started in the spring, when Quinn and Weis spent hours together, and student absorbed everything teacher had to say. Weis had the pedigree. Quinn had the mind.

And thanks to that relationship formed, Quinn said Wednesday he is definitely returning for his senior year -- mainly because of the man who helped turn Notre Dame around.

"I have so many goals and ambitions outside of football that I believe it really is best for me to come back for an extra year and get the tutelage from Coach Weis that you can't receive in the NFL," Quinn said. "He's not there anymore. He's here now, so why not utilize that as long as you can and go for every goal that you want? I want to win a national championship.

"[Weis] is a pretty big key. Or at least a large part of it."

Quinn and Weis have become almost like one. Weis' personality and football knowledge melded into Quinn. The quarterback isn't sure when it happened, when two became one, but it has.

"He's one of my favorite guys because of how he handles himself, not because of how he plays," Weis said.

Coach and player have become so intertwined, Quinn can't imagine life without him now. After throwing for 3,633 yards and 32 touchdowns this season entering the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State, who can blame him?

"It's tough," Quinn said. "Being around him now, it's tough to imagine what football would be like without having Coach Weis there."

He won't have to think about it for at least another year. And then both player and coach might accomplish some of those goals -- like winning a Heisman Trophy, where Quinn finished fourth in this year's balloting, or winning a national championship.

It all makes last season's struggles and 6-6 record seem like a long time ago.

"Everyone knows Brady's always had the arm," said Jeff Samardzija, a junior who emerged along with Quinn this year, becoming one of his favorite targets. "He's always had the physical talent. He's always been a smart quarterback. But once Coach Weis got here, he kind of instilled a mentality in Brady to let him know he's got that skill."

Now, thanks to the river of knowledge from Weis to Quinn, everyone knows.

Michael Rothstein covers Notre Dame football and men's basketball for the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Journal Gazette.