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Weis' Irish have new attitude

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Charlie Weis brought more than a Super Bowl-winning playbook from New England to South Bend. He also brought a Jersey attitude and the Patriots' team-first philosophy.

The combination has resulted in two upset victories and a No. 10 ranking that have the Fighting Irish smiling after successive seasons of 5-7 and 6-6. About the only person not surprised by the start is Weis, who couldn't believe all the preseason predictions that the Irish wouldn't win.

"My expectations were high, so I thought I was delusional there for a while," he said. "But the fact that the team is playing more to my expectations than to everyone else's expectations hasn't really surprised me, but validated what my thoughts were."

His thoughts when he took over the job were to turn the Irish into the kind of "nasty," team-first squad he left behind. He's done that by encouraging players to play with chips on their shoulders, praise one another and share their big plays with teammates.

"You practice it. You watch those guys after a good play now. You don't see any these guys showboating, do you? You see them turning around and partying with their teammates," he said.

Weis started preaching the attitude during his first meeting with the Irish.

"There's a difference between having a chip on your shoulders undeserved and a chip on your shoulder when you're trying to prove something," he said. "I thought that's what these players are trying to do. They're trying to prove that they're better than everyone thought they were."

The team attitude starts with Weis. He continually praises his assistant coaches, giving much of the credit for the team's strong showing to defensive coordinator Rick Minter.

He also spreads around compliments liberally, but won't spend too much time on any one player. When Weis was asked to talk about tailback Darius Walker as a receiver, he talked about his good hands and pass-blocking ability. Then he started talking about the need to throw the ball deep. Then he talked about throwing to tailbacks and tight ends.

Quarterback Brady Quinn gets it. Asked to talk about what makes Walker such a good runner, Quinn talked about the whole running back corps, how they take the pressure off the passing game, then said most of the credit goes to the offensive line.

It's happened repeatedly the past few weeks. Ask an Irish player or coach about a player, and they give a quick answer and turn the subject to the team.

Weis seems to have no interest in trying to hype a player if one of them suddenly emerges as a candidate for the Heisman Trophy or some other postseason award.

"I only can draw an analogy from where I've been before I got here," he said. "That organization I just came from never really worried about which guys went to the Pro Bowl. The goal was always going to the Super Bowl, not going to the Pro Bowl."

The main thing Weis demands from his assistants, aside from being good teachers, is that they allow Weis to be the team's voice. That was what Weis did when he was an assistant, and it's what he expects from his assistants.

"I think that my coordinators do a great job of taking the message that I have here and pressing it to everyone," Weis said. "You can't have too many people voicing their own opinion when it comes to those things."