PHOENIX - Charlie Weis has one target left for a full turnaround of Notre Dame's high-profile program: Win a bowl game. The Fighting Irish made their formal bowl arrival on Tuesday, although their charter flight offloaded mostly school officials and coaches.
Weis released the players for their holiday break on Friday, and said at an airport news conference that they all made it to Arizona.
No. 5 Notre Dame plays No. 4 Ohio State in the 35th annual Fiesta Bowl on Monday.
The Buckeyes (9-2), another of a handful of elite programs that hardly ever worry about getting a postseason off, pose a formidable obstacle.
"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 years, 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 the Phoenix area with a 41-24 defeat by Colorado in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 2, 1995.
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 inside and out - 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 Glendale, a western suburb. White called the final-game berth an honor, but reserved his greatest nostalgia for Jake Plummer and Pat Tillman, two of Arizona State's most famed players.
Plummer is the Denver Broncos' quarterback. He and Tillman were Cardinals teammates when Tillman enlisted as an Army Ranger. Tillman was killed in Afghanistan in 2004.
"I was very proud to be somewhat a small part of that," White said. "Some of the greatest young people in the world played for us through those years, and I do swell up with a little bit of emotion when I think about that group."
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.
The former 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 four Super Bowl rings, earned after two-week layoffs following the NFL playoffs, 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 overpractice.
"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."