Dec. 28, 2005

PHOENIX (AP) – Charlie Weis came to Arizona with one thing on his mind — leading No. 5 Notre Dame to its first bowl victory in 12 years.

Weis was among a group of coaches and school officials that arrived Tuesday on a charter flight for the Fiesta Bowl. The first-year coach released the players for their holiday break on Friday, and said at an airport news conference that they all made it to Arizona for the matchup against fourth-ranked Ohio State (9-2) on Monday.

“We know it’s going to be a tough test, but I can tell you this: We didn’t come here just to drink margaritas,” Weis said. “We came here to play a football game, and it’s been well-documented that Notre Dame hasn’t won a bowl game in over a decade, and we’re hoping to change that.”

Weis left the New England Patriots to take over a sputtering program and guided Notre Dame to a 9-2 record in his first year as a college head coach. Before this season, the Irish had one winning record in four seasons, falling to 6-6 last year with a 38-21 loss to Oregon State in the Phoenix-based Insight Bowl.

Their string of seven consecutive bowl losses also began in the Phoenix area with a 41-24 loss to Colorado in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 2, 1995. Notre Dame’s last bowl win came in the Cotton Bowl, a 24-21 victory over Texas A&M on Jan. 1, 1994.

But Weis has increased expectations for legions of Notre Dame fans around the country.

“Charlie is head and shoulders above lots of people in this industry, and we’re very proud to have him as our football coach,” Notre Dame athletic director Kevin White said.

White knows Sun Devil Stadium in suburban Tempe well — he was Arizona State’s athletic director from 1996-2000, when he left for Notre Dame. Gene Smith, now Ohio State’s athletic director, replaced him.

He and Smith spoke recently at a National Football Foundation dinner in New York, but didn’t get into details about bringing the two programs, which have played only four times, together in the future.

This will be the last Fiesta Bowl in Sun Devil Stadium before it moves into the new Arizona Cardinals stadium in suburban Glendale.

Weis appears to be well on his way to extending Notre Dame’s long list of players whose names leap to the memory of football fans everywhere.

Weis, who was New England’s offensive coordinator, led the highest-scoring team in modern school history (38.2 points a game) and missed an unbeaten season by a total of six points.

He said his experience with the two-week layoffs before Super Bowls were small preparation for a college bowl because of the time difference. The Irish will go more than five weeks without a game.

To compensate for his inexperience with the college format, Weis consulted with friends in the profession. He was advised to give the players some personal time and not practice too much.

“A lot of coaches in the past would use all those practice days to bang their players around the whole time, and then you can get them banged-up, too,” Weis said. “So, really, you have two philosophies to take into account.

“One, to make sure that they don’t get mentally stale, so that they’re ready to go at their peak mentally, and the other is to make sure they’re flying around by kickoff and that you don’t wear them out before the game starts.”