By TOM COYNE
AP Sports Writer
SOUTH BEND -- It's going to be a long offseason for Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis.
It will start next week when he has knee replacement surgery on his right leg. After six weeks of rehabilitation, he will undergo surgery on his left knee, which was injured when a player was knocked into him during a game on Sept. 13. He also will endure an offseason of speculation about how many games the Fighting Irish (7-6) will need to win next year for him to keep his job.
Weis tried to put the best spin on Notre Dame's 49-21 over Hawaii in the Hawaii Bowl on Wednesday night, ending an NCAA-record nine-game bowl losing streak.
"This was a great step forward for us and leads us into 2009 with a good taste in our mouth," Weis said.
Perhaps. Many Notre Dame fans, though, are still reeling from the Irish giving up two fourth-quarter touchdowns to lose to a Syracuse team that finished 3-9 and the Irish being beaten 38-3 by USC.
Following that loss to USC, the seventh straight to the Trojans, athletic director Jack Swarbrick took several days before announcing that Weis, who has seven years left on a 10-year contract, would be back next season -- but with some changes.
Neither Swarbrick nor Weis would say what changes are necessary, but it is widely believed there could be some staff changes. Offensive coordinator Mike Haywood already has accepted the head coaching job at Miami of Ohio and hinted before the Hawaii Bowl that he might take a Notre Dame assistant or two with him.
Another big change expected for the offseason is finding a way to improve the running game. Weis confidently predicted before the season began that the Irish running game would be markedly better, saying: "We're going to pound it."
They didn't. The Irish rushed for 109.7 yards a game this season, the second worst season in school history. The worst was last season, when they averaged 75 yards a game. The third worst was in 2006, when they averaged 126 yards.
So the Irish have posted three of the four worst running seasons in the school's history under Weis, and even in his first season they averaged only 147 yards.
They also will need quarterback Jimmy Clausen to play well more consistently. Clausen had three straight career passing games midway through the season -- passing for 275 yards against Purdue, 347 yards against Stanford and 383 yards against North Carolina.
He slumped at the end of the season, though, throwing for only 110 yards against Navy and 41 against USC before having the best game of his career against Hawaii, completing 22-of-26 passes for 401 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions. Clausen said he simply felt more comfortable with his receivers during practices leading up to the bowl.
Weis said earlier in the season that he believed Clausen would be further along heading into his junior season than his predecessor, Brady Quinn, was going into his junior year when Weis arrived. He appears to be well on his way.
As a sophomore, Quinn was 191-of-353 passing for 2,586 yards with 17 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a 125.87 efficiency rating. Clausen was 268-of-440 passing for 3,172 yards with 25 touchdowns and 17 interceptions, a 132.49 efficiency rating.
Quinn made his biggest improvement from his sophomore to junior seasons, and Weis is hoping that Clausen will also.
Defensively, the Irish gave up 330 yards a game, their best season since 2003.
The Irish don't loose many impact players next season, with left tackle Mike Turkovich, receiver David Grimes, safety David Bruton, cornerback Terrail Lambert and defensive linemen Pat Kuntz and Justin Brown moving on. They also had a lot of young player gain valuable playing experience this season.
They also have a favorable schedule. After playing six games on the road and six at home this season, the Irish next season will begin their new schedule format of playing seven games at Notre Dame Stadium, four road games and a home game at a neutral site (Washington State at San Antonio). After playing teams with combined records of 71-75 this season, the teams the Irish play next season have combined records of 74-73.
For now, though, the Irish aren't looking ahead. They're content to enjoy their first bowl victory in 15 years.
"We have something to hang our hats on and something to motivate us," receiver Golden Tate said. "We're trying to get Notre Dame back to where it's supposed to be."
If the Irish could do that, it would make life a lot easier for Weis.