The schedule has been another problem. During the dark days of his tenure, Davie would pull a copy of future schedules from his desk drawer and place it on the desk as if it were a death sentence. While maintaining independent status and playing a national schedule, Notre Dame has too often loaded its docket with powers from major conferences. Change is in the works. "It's nice to play a Top 10 team every week," says Jenkins, "but it's too much to ask." If the NCAA, as expected, passes legislation permitting teams to play 12 regular-season games a year, Notre Dame will adopt a schedule that will include seven home games, three of which will be against lower-tier teams from BCS conferences or mid-major conference teams--not patsies, but schools that Notre Dame will consistently be expected to beat.
Admissions is a more nebulous issue. Notre Dame famously took a pass on such future stars as 2002 Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer (USC) and T.J. Duckett ( Michigan State), but sources familiar with the school's admissions system insist this wasn't because Notre Dame was rejecting all athletes with grades or test scores below the Notre Dame norms; it just made poor choices (in football terms) as to which underperformers to admit. The school has a sterling record of graduating whomever it accepts, and Weis says, "I've found admissions more than willing to work with us."
For now Weis will have to win largely with Willingham's--and even some of Davie's--players. "We have enough here to be very competitive," Weis says. At spring practice he did no coddling. On the first day, his players needed more than a dozen tries to complete eight satisfactory sprints. In the spirit of the Patriots, there will be no individuals, only a team. "He told us that playing like champions means more than touching the sign [in the stairwell leading from the Notre Dame locker room, which reads play like a champion today] on the way out to the field," says senior kicker D.J. Fitzpatrick. Weis built a first-rate Notre Dame staff in January while he was game-planning for the Super Bowl, which should put him in the multitasking Hall of Fame.
The players have also learned that the coach can, indeed, X and O. "He tells you what every player on the field is doing," says sophomore tailback Darius Walker. "Then you watch the tape and it's, like, Man, he knows what he's doing." Quinn has been force-fed the Patriots' offense, a multiple package widely praised for its flexibility, while Weis tries to assess how much the quarterback can handle. If Weis is worried, it doesn't show. "I went into the Jets and New England with Parcells and Belichick, and those situations were much worse than this one," he says.
Malloy, meanwhile, serves out his term across campus, beneath the venerable golden dome in the same modest office where over the 18 years of his presidency he has regularly professed his belief that the university will return to football preeminence. "Hopefully Coach Weis and his staff will be successful," he says. "Only time will tell how quickly he can be successful at the level that some parts of our constituency expect." This is Weis's honeymoon, of course, but at Notre Dame, honeymoons are not what they used to be.