SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) – Charlie Weis handed Brady Quinn a New England Patriots playbook, and just like that the Notre Dame quarterback was feeling good about his prospects for the upcoming season.

“When you look at those Xs and Os you’re pretty confident in what they are able to do,” Quinn said.

There was a time when giving a football player a Fighting Irish uniform would instill the same type of confidence. The golden helmet alone seemed to be worth a touchdown a game.

Those days, like much of this storied program’s greatest accomplishments, are becoming increasingly distant memories. The Fighting Irish boast of having won 11 national titles, but none since 1988. They haven’t even won a bowl game since 1994.

Enter Charlie from New Jersey, Notre Dame Class of 1978, eyewitness when South Bend was to many the Mecca of college football – and most recently the offensive mastermind behind an NFL dynasty.

The one-time aspiring sportscaster turned football coach is the boss for the first time since his days leading a high school team in his home state. He’s landed a dream job with great potential to turn into a nightmare.

If Weis can meld Patriots mojo with Notre Dame mystique and make the Fighting Irish fearsome again, he’ll take a place with Rockne, Parseghian and Devine, coaches with icon status in South Bend.

“And the flip side of it is, if you don’t you’re just a dunce,” Weis said, typically blunt.

It’s impossible to watch the 49-year-old Weis, with his windbreaker pulled over his thick upper body and shorts down to his knees, slide behind a microphone and start zapping reporters in his Jersey accent and not think of Bill Parcells.

“Several people say it and especially my wife,” Weis said. “It’s not exactly the same but, really, I’m from Jersey, he’s from Jersey …. He’s earned the right to bust chops with the media. So I have to pick and choose my spots and be more tactful, because people are like, “‘What have you ever done?”‘

Hours before Notre Dame’s first practice of the preseason, Weis picks and chooses a couple of spots.

Asked about access to players:

“Well, what do you need to talk to them about? I’m coming up here and basically answering most of the questions that you’re asking. I think I know more than they do.”

On Notre Dame’s unforgiving schedule:

“You sound like the alumni,” before the questioner even finishes.

“Let’s worry about being ready for the first one and let everything else take care of itself.”

Might as well just call him Charlie the Little Tuna.

As a football coach, Weis was raised by Parcells, his first NFL job – and first Super Bowl ring – coming with the Giants. Weis followed Parcells to New England, went to another Super Bowl with the 96 Patriots, and to the Jets, where he became offensive coordinator in 98.

“When you get a guy out of high school, you never know what you’re going to get,” said Parcells, now with the Dallas Cowboys. “I thought he was a bright guy and he learned quickly. I gave him a lot of different jobs when he was with me and I think that really helped him move ahead. He coached the backs, the tight ends, the receivers – he did a lot of different jobs and he did them well.”

In 2000, Weis started working for the NFL’s other genius named Bill.

Patriot games

As offensive coordinator for Patriots coach Bill Belichick, Weis earned three Super Bowl rings in the last four seasons and helped groom sixth-round draft pick Tom Brady into the closest thing the NFL’s seen to the second-coming of Joe Montana – who, by the way, shared a suite with Weis and a couple of other guys at Notre Dame.

Weis’ resume alone could have convinced Notre Dame athletic director Kevin White to hire him, but he had something else going for him – he was a Notre Dame guy and it had been decades since the Fighting Irish were coached by one of their own.

“There’s a little magic about Notre Dame and there are innumerable idiosyncrasies about this special place as well,” White said, “and somebody who had attend Notre Dame as an undergraduate and had the opportunity to be part of the residential nature of this campus, and to have been touched by the spirituality that perhaps exist here, I think is just in a much better position to serve as one of the most visible leaders of this institution.”

Weis walked into a program fractured by the firing of Tyrone Willingham, who was let go three years into a six-year contract, an unprecedented move at Notre Dame.

Four non-winning seasons in the last six years had done little for morale under the Golden Dome, either.

Weis went to work, mending fences and putting his stamp on the program. He visited the dorms and met with students. Anywhere Notre Dame folks gathered, there was a good chance Weis was there speaking to them.

His appreciation of Notre Dame’s history has helped unify the Fighting Irish family in a way Bob Davie and Willingham never did, even when they were winning.

“The understanding of the lore, tradition and history, those kind of things were kind of ignored,” said Tom Pagna, a former assistant coach under Ara Parseghian and radio analyst for the Fighting Irish. “I think the personality of the team reflected it. I think you have a guy who understands Notre Dame and I think he’s going to make that right.”

The day before preseason practice, Weis tapped into that Notre Dame lore to motivate his team.

He showed his players the movie “Rudy,” the ultimate underdog story about an undersized walk-on and his oversized love for Notre Dame. As if that wasn’t enough, Weis had Rudy Ruettiger himself planted in the back of the room and after the movie ended, Ruettiger spoke to the team.

“He was saying it was the first time he’s talked to a team since he graduated,” safety Tom Zbikowski said. “We really have got to get that feeling and emotion back into Notre Dame that I think was lost the last couple of years. We’ve got to bring it back and just show what it means to people.”

Of course, holding too tightly to the past is partly to blame for Notre Dame’s struggles. For years, Notre Dame’s top selling point was its traditions, its indelible symbols – Win one for the Gipper, The Four Horseman, Touchdown Jesus.

The kids just aren’t buying it like they used to. But put a Super Bowl ring – or three – in front of an 18-year-old, and you’ll get his attention.

“I wear them any time recruiting is possible,” Weis said. “Every one of the kids you’re recruiting to a Division I school aspires to play on Sunday. So when you sit there and flash a ring on them they’re not looking at your face they’re looking at your hand.

“Like I tell my wife if I can get them to look at my hand instead my face I got a chance.”

As for the current Fighting Irish, they’re coming off a 6-6 season, return just three starters on defense and play one of the toughest schedules in the country.

“Mind you, the object is to win as fast as we can,” Weis said. “So what you have to do, the first message that we are trying to teach the players is, you have no chance of winning if you don’t believe you’re going to win.”

And that’s where Weis’ Patriots training comes in. New England doesn’t have the most dominant players, but the Patriots’ ego-less brand of football and unfailing confidence in their coaches and each other have turned them into the game’s dominant team. It’s not enough for the Fighting Irish to use the Patriots’ playbook; Weis needs to teach them to play the Patriot way.

“That’s what we’re working on,” he said. “Somewhere along the line, hopefully before September 3, but somewhere along the line, this university is going to get to that point, and when we do, look out.”

AP-ES-08-18-05 0903EDT

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