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Students voice optimism about Weis

Claire Heininger | Tuesday, December 14, 2004

If first impressions are any indication, new head football coach Charlie Weis and the Notre Dame student body will make a strong match.

Whether or not they favored the firing of former coach Tyrone Willingham, most students were optimistic Monday about the football program’s chance to leave behind the controversy of the past two weeks and move forward under its new leader.

“[Weis] seems like he’s a football guy – he’s going to put a system in place, relate to the players,” sophomore Adam Higgins said. “I don’t think anyone disliked [Willingham] as a man, but he wasn’t getting it done as a football coach. I think [Weis] will.”

Senior Nick Moller agreed that from a purely football standpoint, Weis seemed to be an improvement on his predecessor – but should be held to an identical standard of performance.

“I think he’s been working with one of the most successful programs in the country, so hopefully he can bring that to Notre Dame,” Moller said. “[But] it’s going to take wins on the football field … if Charlie Weis can’t perform, he should be fired, and we should bring someone else in.”

It is “absolutely” a realistic possibility for the Weis-led Irish to return to national championship contention, Moller said.

And while Weis will have to contend with the notion that he was Notre Dame’s second choice – after Utah’s Urban Meyer, who signed with the Florida Gators last week – students expressed confidence in the selection of the new coach.

“When we didn’t get [Meyer], I started to be against [firing Willingham] because I didn’t want us to get our second choice again [after the 2001 George O’Leary episode],” sophomore Robbie Rhinesmith said. “But Charlie Weis seems like a good second choice … he seemed like a very straightforward guy, and he’ll do a good job with the X’s and O’s.”

Freshman Michael Verdeyen, who followed the coaching search, said he and his friends had mixed feelings about the hiring but looked forward to the offensive magic the coordinator could bring to South Bend.

“He taught Tom Brady a lot, so hopefully he can coach Brady Quinn,” Verdeyen said.

Interacting with players should be – and already seems to be – Weis’ priority, said sophomore Chris Sergio.

“He’s going to come in strong and not take less than the best from the players,” Sergio said. “Not that he’ll boss them around and be a super bad guy, but get it done on and off the field.”

Players loved Willingham, Sergio said, but the former coach did not accumulate the on-field record Notre Dame requires.

“[Firing Willingham] was kind of a necessary step to get us where the University wants to go with the football program,” he said. “But “[Willingham] did some great things off the field and I really respect him for all that he did.”

In the eyes of senior Sarah Wallace, it will be difficult for Weis to immediately achieve the same level of respect.

“I think [Willingham] was a more likeable person to watch talk, so unless this new coach puts out a lot of wins, he’s not going to compete with me,” Wallace said. “It seems like the people in charge are willing to hurt a lot of feelings and put winning before everything else.”

Sergio disagreed.

“It’s not necessarily all about winning,” he said. “But both sides [of athletics and academics] have to be considered … and from what I saw it looks like Weis can take care of both.”