Living the Weisian Nightmare All Over Again

Not too long ago I was reading one of our 18 Stripes Slack conversations on the criticism of Brian Kelly and it dawned on me, “Oh, my goodness we’re almost word for word repeating the same comments we made about Charlie Weis.”

Ever since then I’ve been poking around the internet trying to evaluate just how common this line of thinking has become during the off-season.

How much of it is really true? How much of it are we just projecting past experiences into a different situation to make them appear similar? Is it possible there’s something about Notre Dame that makes coaches fall into the same traps and make the same mistakes?

So I decided to take the top 5 issues that are being discussed and work through today’s problems versus the past.

Poor Defensive Hires & Lack of Development

Looking at things from 10,000 feet the similarities here are striking. Weis featured a couple decent defenses to start his tenure (and even the ’07 defense played well all things considered) and then things went into a deep nose dive through the 2009 season. Following Weis’ 5 years only 7 Irish defenders were drafted in the NFL with just a pair of 2nd round picks.

Kelly’s beginning and peak with Diaco lasted longer and was refreshingly strong but the VanGorder decision was arguably worse than anything Weis did to the program. That it feels like VanGorder was here for 5 years and not just a little over 2 years speaks volumes to the mess created.

Truth Comparison: 85%

The similarities are unavoidable.  Kelly gets credit for a higher peak and for actually proving he can lead a program with a strong defense. He also has 14 defenders selected in the NFL through 7 years with 6 coming in the first 3 rounds. There’s also some truth to Notre Dame not being conducive to recruiting defensive players as well as the offense, and thus more predisposed to bad coaching decisions looking even worse. Remember this for later!

Faltering S&C Program

We saw some criticism with the strength program in the recent past under Kelly with the rash of injuries and while that initially died down during the 2016 by the end of the campaign the S&C program was back in the spotlight once again. Poor 4th quarters and November losses reared their ugly head again, as did the old issue of player’s losing too much weight.

Weis dealt with nearly identical issues, especially late in his tenure. Worse for him, the offensive line was criticized much more widely for being soft and out of shape. Opponents looking “bigger and scarier” are creeping up again for Kelly but that was a big criticism under Weis.

Truth Comparison: 15%

This is one of the issues I think we are susceptible to “going from the script” when things go wrong on the field. Can anyone remember the last strength coach who left Notre Dame with a solid reputation? To me, these guys are unnecessarily made out to be scapegoats too often.

That doesn’t mean there can’t be some issues out there. I just think they’re overblown and if I’m honest it’s largely a Notre Dame culture issue that’s spanned multiple coaches. If there are problems for that long of a period when do we stop blaming the strength coach?

If there’s a common ground, it seems as if over time the players begin to tune out the strength program and go through the motions. Kelly recently stated that Paul Longo wasn’t able to get “down in the trenches” with the players like he used to, but there’s also plenty of rumors that players were slacking off on dietary issues, not giving 100%, and also getting too many academic exceptions to skip workouts, the latter verified by Kelly at his recent presser.

That sounds a lot like a cultural issue and not one easily solved long-term by one strength coach who shout loudly and blasts death metal in the weight room.

Genius Coach Thinks He’s Smarter Than Everyone

This summed up Charlie Weis perfectly. Ultimately, it was his greatest downfall because it distracted him from being able (or willing?) to run an entire program. Years ago, we talked about how Kelly was SO different as an offensive mind and play-caller. Today, he’s getting a lot of the same criticism.

To Weis’ credit his stubbornness was at least part of the reason why he was successful running an offense at times, or at least developing quarterbacks. Kelly’s system and playbook has always been different but it seems as though his lack of a strong hand in the offense has led to some issues, particularly this past season. Although, it is funny that out of the two it’ll be Kelly with the (likely) highest drafted quarterback–and from a much less heralded recruit.

Truth Comparison: 30%

Kelly, like every coach, has had his fair share of head scratching moments as a play-caller and offensive coach. Overall, he’s struggled far more with organizational issues (and hires) than trying to prove how smart he is as a beautiful mind. That was completely Weis’ mindset and he’d even tell you so.

Administration Not Spending Enough

When is this not a complaint? Say what you will about Jack Swarbrick but he hasn’t been shy about providing resources to the football program. The Gug continues to be remodeled with a renovated (or brand new) indoor practice field on the horizon. The training table and nutrition program have been expanded. Assistant coaching salaries have received a significant rise throughout Kelly’s tenure. Crossroads is pouring at least $100 million into the football program in one way or another.

During the Weis era the administration was just beginning to come out of its decade-long hibernation (the Gug opened in 2005, for example) although the training table was years away and coaching salaries, in particular, remained a large sticking point right through 2009.

Truth Comparison: 10%

It seems as if no matter what there will always be criticism that Notre Dame isn’t doing enough financially to make sure the program is at its best. Fifteen years ago that was much more of a legit argument and the truth is the likes of Alabama, Oregon, and Michigan keep pushing the budgets ever larger while Notre Dame is typically a step behind but not as much as in the past.

If this is a problem for Notre Dame it’s not a large one.

Poor Recruiting Organization

Charlie Weis never got tagged for poor effort. Even late into his tenure one of the positives always associated with his name was that he “proved” Notre Dame could attract super stars again. It took a while but Clausen, Kamara, Ragone, Gray, Floyd, Crist, Rudolph, Johnson, Te’o, and Watt were all elite recruits packed into his last 3 classes.

Weis did get criticized for star chasing and mismanaging too many defensive recruits thus creating a top-heavy roster that ultimately lacked depth. From day one, Kelly’s strengths were Weis’ weaknesses in this regard. Lately, Kelly has come under fire for a lack of effort, primarily for missing on too many elite players, poor scrambling late in the cycle, as well as underachieving on closing up to Signing Day.

Truth Comparison: 65%

Both coach’s strengths and weaknesses were seemingly polar opposites in some ways. In the big picture, Weis finished with better ranked but shallow classes while Kelly has lower ranked but better targeted classes. Either way, there’s always room for complaining about recruiting unless your Alabama and Kelly is headed towards his 4th straight non-Top 10 class, and possibly his lowest rated of his tenure. You can see why it’s a worry.


I have no doubt that we as Notre Dame fans sometimes unknowingly use our past experiences with old coaches to explain the current climate. At a place so tradition rich and obsessed with timelines (you gotta win a title in your third year!) we can make anything fit into something from the past.

In this vein, perhaps Kelly’s tenure feels somewhat like Weis’ except more elastic and drawn out.

Still, there are some striking differences between the coaches while the strength program, offensive tactics, and administration effort all look like more of a crutch for us to lean on when things start to go bad even if there are smaller similarities floating around through the years.

However, the defensive coaching blunders are a common trait and when paired with the problems in recruiting (which have tilted overwhelmingly toward defense) you have to wonder how much of this is a Notre Dame Problem. Perhaps that’s the lesson for any future coach–you’d better have a great plan for defense at every level of the organization and be able to adapt when assistants leave for other jobs.

By |2018-05-09T22:26:33+00:00January 31st, 2017|Football|28 Comments

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That sounds a lot like a cultural issue and not one easily solved long-term by one strength coach who shout loudly and blasts death metal in the weight room.

I lol’d.


Also, this quote:

you’d better have a great plan for defense at every level of the organization and be able to adapt when assistants leave for other jobs.

seems a little inconsistent – though I realize not entirely at odds – with your previous statements to the effect that you think it’d be a mistake to hire for our next HC a guy with a defensive background (if I am recalling correctly).  I’m a little on-the-fence about that, but I think it’s getting increasingly easy to find young offensive OCs that can bring new ideas (we just did! I hope!), whereas good college defensive coaching seems to be fairly scarce. Perhaps, then, there is some benefit to going against the grain and getting a defensive guy as HC, who is probably more likely to both have a consistent defensive plan and also is more likely to know the assistants that can implement that plan?


Just some feedback from a reader. This content is free and therefore I have no reason to “complain” about anything.

Irish basketball has just taken two gut punches over the past few days. There’s a lot to talk about, especially given how exciting the start of the season has been. Yet there have been seven football articles published here since the last men’s hoops article, no recaps of the basketball games, and no general analysis of what’s behind the recent free fall. I’m biased, because I care way more about the basketball team than the football team, which puts me in a serious minority of ND fans, but the calendar just flipped to February. Isn’t the relative coverage of the two sports a little disproportionate for this time of year?

Over the past few years I’ve had a great time reading the basketball articles at One Foot Down. They made me a better fan, they helped me enjoy the season more, and it was a good place to discuss things with fellow fans. When you guys migrated over here I just thought “okay, same great content, different place”. I guess I’m just disappointed that the level of coverage has fallen off.


For the best in Notre Dame basketball coverage, I suggest that you go check out these two awesome blogs: and



Brendan R

Such a kidder. Zero points for a complete lack of GIFage.


Duly noted on the lack of Kidder GIFage.

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There, is that better?

[Ed.: Our system flagged this as potential spam, since there were originally six well-chosen Margot Kidder gifs in it. In the interest of your page load times I cut it down to one, but I have to give the man credit. Well done.]


Thanks for not just deleting the comment.  For future reference, what’s the GIFs-per-comment threshold I need to stay below in order to avoid getting flagged?

RDU Irish
RDU Irish

Hobby, labor of love for most of these guys. Also the level of detail they go into the coverage is pretty intense so hard for fast turnarounds – especially on a Monday night game.

I will comment that Dook sucks. I really cannot stand that team and never have – games like this really make my blood boil. Allen with another stomp/trip incident – uncalled. Harry Giles (doesn’t that sound more like a disease than a person) elbowing Bonzi after the whistle is seen in real time, reviewed on the screen – and ignored. And that doesn’t even touch the worst sequence of officiating I have ever seen in my life – Vasturia’s “blocking foul” followed by Gibbs And-One being called before the shot – with Brey rightfully getting a technical – easily an 8 point swing and not accounting for lost momentum. ACC officiating is pretty awful – Joe touched on it in his last article. For the premier basketball league they might have the worst officiating in CBB.

All that said – we left this game at the free throw line. Shoot 85% instead of 60% and we are in it at the end instead of blown out on our own floor. Offense was stagnant most the game but beginning of second half they were back to a thing of beauty. Movement and flow leading to smooth scoring – boys need to bottle that mojo!

Concrete Charlie
Concrete Charlie

I was looking for something too, pnoles.  I figured Al and Joe are working through some issues after the last two games.

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Brendan R

Also, to your disproportionate comment – you might think so, but football’s national signing day is tomorrow and there’s quite a bit of drama and intrigue out there right now. We’ll have some signing day review stuff going up about the kids we got over the next week or so afterwards, but after that the football coverage should indeed quiet down a bit.

I’m leery of speaking too much out of turn here, but I think our hoops bros happen to be a little short on time at the moment as well. I’m sure you’ll see more coverage going forward as things settle down for them. And on their behalf, thanks for the kind words about their work!




I am sure Eric and the others would welcome another blogger’s perspective.


Think another similarly is a lack of charisma.  Holtz had it, Weiss less than Kelly.  Charismas big brother is leadership and Kelly struggles to foster it in his team as did Weiss.  T’eo was/is a natural leader and the team has lacked that since.


Nick Saban and Urban Meyer are not particularly charismatic.  Agree with Eric that, all other things being equal, it probably is helpful, but it very clearly is not a requirement for success.


Agree Nick Saban is not particularly charismatic but Dabo has it in spades.  My point is neither Weiss nor Kelly are particularly charismatic or strong leaders.  Meyer and Saban are strong leaders.