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Football Commentary: New mantra for ND: just win, baby

Matt Gamber | Thursday, September 3, 2009

When it comes to team mantras or philosophies, Irish fans have heard it all from Charlie Weis in recent years. Weis has asked his team to “get nasty,” to “dive right in,” and, most recently, to “just show me.”

Weis is an NFL guy, right? So he should be familiar with this little ditty from longtime Raiders boss Al Davis: “Just win, baby.”

Given the current state of affairs in Oakland, perhaps Davis’ Raiders aren’t the best role models for this Irish bunch. But that mantra – well, there’s something to it.

Fans and media alike have spent much of the offseason dissecting the failures of the past two seasons while reliving the Christmas Eve thrashing of Hawaii that seems to have, to some, signaled the rebirth of Notre Dame football. Many have pointed to an Irish schedule that boasts just one preseason top-25 team and have suggested that perfection, or at least 10 or 11 wins, might be in reach.

In short, there’s been a lot of chatter about Irish football in the months since the boys in blue and gold were last on the field.

To Weis’ credit, I think he’s on the right track with this latest concept of asking his players to ignore expectations and do their talking on the field. And looking at this team, I just can’t help but get the overwhelming sense that the 2009 Irish are ready to do just that.

It’s not all about the Hawaii Bowl, but I have to admit, that performance was impressive enough to give even the downtrodden Notre Dame fan hope.

Granted, Hawaii wasn’t the toughest opponent the Irish could have squared off against last bowl season. But considering the downturn at the end of last season – the home loss to Syracuse and the beating at the hands of USC – to come out and dominate anyone was a step in the right direction.

What has given me more hope than the Hawaii Bowl, however, has been the way the Irish have talked the talk and, it would seem, walked the walk like a team cognizant of its past failures and confident in its future successes.

Since that loss to USC, I’ve seen a greater sense of urgency and a more demanding level of accountability in the Notre Dame program, beginning with Weis at the top.

There’s no doubt he was on the hot seat at the end of last season, but athletics director Jack Swarbrick – who received rave reviews for his work after one year on the job – saw enough positives to give Weis another shot. Judging by the bowl performance and then the slew of new coaches he brought in during the offseason, Weis committed to making the changes necessary to make the most of that opportunity.

Tony Alford, Frank Verducci and Randy Hart were brought in to coach the running backs and offensive and defensive lines, respectively, bringing with them new perspectives and years of experience.

That sense of urgency and level of accountability seems to have been passed down to the players, as looking at the current Irish two-deep, it seems that the best players are going to see the field – regardless of expectations, recruiting rankings, class year, you name it.

The position battles we saw in camp weren’t determined (at least it seems) by one guy folding up his tent and quitting, giving in to the other; everything points toward competitive battles that, in many cases, remain too close to definitively call.

The fact that Weis seems prepared to play as many guys as it takes, to rotate talented players in and out with team, not individual, interests, at heart, shows me that he’s ready to win any way he can.

Do it with a run-and-gun, pass-heavy offense, or do it with a balanced, multi-back ground game.

Do it with an opportunistic, blitzing front seven, or do it with a rock-solid, big play-preventing secondary.

Do it with miracle-man Mike Anello forcing turnovers on special teams, or do it with fundamentally-sound field position tactics.

Do it with a “decided schematic advantage”, or do it, quite simply, with what’s working the best.

At this point, after watching two disappointing seasons follow on the heels of two blowout BCS losses, Weis, and Irish players and fans, should have just one thing on their minds.

Just win, baby.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer. Contact Matt Gamber at mgamber@nd.edu