SOUTH BEND, Ind. — With a 30-minute highlight reel narrated by NFL Films voice Harry Kalas getting the festivities under way, the annual Notre Dame football banquet Friday night focused on the bright spots of a 2006 regular season in which the Irish finished 10-2.
Friday afternoon, however, was devoted to a much more candid assessment of the season, as Irish coach Charlie Weis offered both a postmortem on Notre Dame’s 44-24 loss a week earlier at USC, and a look back at the season as a whole.
“You know, sometimes I say statistics are for losers,” Weis said. “Well, all you have to do is look at the stats and see that both teams ended up with 404 yards for the game. Obviously, they played better than we did. We didn’t start fast. We didn’t finish strong. They outscored us in the first quarter and fourth quarters, which are the key quarters.”
Can the Irish do anything about that the next time out? Can they finally get off to a fast start in a tough game? Of the five losses Notre Dame has suffered in the last two seasons, four have come at the hands of top-tier opponents: USC and Ohio State last season and Michigan and USC this year.
“That doesn’t make it feel any better,” Weis said. “It’s better than losing to a team that’s not any good, but I hate losing.”
Even so, Weis said for this season’s bowl game, unlike the last one, he would refrain from harping on the fact the Irish have not won one in 13 years.
“It won’t be taboo, but I probably won’t make it like the end-of-the-world type of mentality,” Weis said. “(Still,) I think it would be very important for us and our program to walk away with a win.”
In an attempt to ensure that outcome, Weis said he plans to approach bowl preparation differently than he did a year ago.
“I’m not sure if they were stale, flat or what,” Weis said. “But I know we have a whole different schedule and a whole different approach.”
Is this year’s team better than last year’s?
Too early to say, Weis said. Although he had compared the team’s cumulative statistics this season to those from last year he hasn’t really studied them.
“And I don’t have a gut feel either,” he said.
What he does believe, though, is that the Notre Dame football is on solid footing.
“I like the foundation of our program,” he said. “The logical thing for people (to say is) he’s only been here for a couple of years and they are going to go through the post-Brady Quinn and everyone else years.”
Of course, replacing Quinn, named the team’s 2006 MVP Friday night, won’t be easy. Weis, however, spent the past week recruiting so the cupboard would not be bare in years to come. As for the loss to USC?
“I said (to recruits), ‘Well, that’s why we need you. . . . You want to come on board, let’s go. This way, it won’t be 44-24,”’ Weis said.
Former Irish coach Gerry Faust, attending a Notre Dame football banquet for the first time since 1985, his last season at the helm, said that during his interview for the Irish head-coaching job more than 25 years ago, he was told it was the toughest job in America.
Of Weis, he said, “Unbelievable in two years what he has done.”
But as Weis made clear earlier in the day, there is much work still to be done.