"I'm Not Reinventing the Wheel"

Three days into fall practice and I'm sure most are wondering what the differences are between a Weis-run training camp and a Willingham-run training camp. Are the changes drastic? Does Weis have some magic potion?

The question had even been on my mind before Monday's practice, the differences between two coaches and how they coach and approach a training camp. I certainly was as curious as anyone else. The stories of Weis in New England have grown legendary, but that's what winning a number of Super Bowls and leading the football team of the largest fan base in the country can do to a person.

Would I hear a river of profanity filling the skies around Notre Dame campus? That's what we were led to believe. The answer: not so much.

Will the Irish suddenly turn into a well-oiled machine? The answer: not yet.

So what has been the differences?

Not that much, actually, but that's the point. Football is football. As Weis likes to say often, "I'm not reinventing the wheel."

But I have seen one difference for certain, and probably the most important in my mind.


If I could point to one thing that I thought the previous staff failed at, I'd say it was accountability. Each coach has his own way of coaching, and there isn't just one way to be successful coaching football, but I do think accountability is a big part of the learning process.

Let me preface this by saying that I was not present during practice for either Willingham or Weis. We get our 20 minutes, and that's about it. But I do get to see those 20 minutes, and accountability is very noticeable now when we're out there—I didn't see a lot of it covering two years of Willingham's staff.

I noticed too many times during games the previous two seasons, an offensive go three-and-out and they'd walk to the sidelines with their heads hung low. Did anyone greet them? Did anyone sit them down and get in their face? Did I see fingers pointing and making people accountable? Very rarely. And what I never saw was the head man leave his post and stick his head into a group huddle to add some emphasis to that accountability.

So you might say that maybe Tyrone and his staff believed in the power of positive thinking and not screaming to get results—he spoke of it often. But I also never saw that happen under the same circumstances. There was no circling of the wagons for positive speak on the sidelines after failure, either.

Now I want you to envision what it will be like on the sidelines if the 2005 offense ever comes off the field after going three-and-out. I think it's safe to assume that court will be held and Weis is going to be judge and executioner.

If you stretch wrong during a Weis practice, you're going to get an earful, and you might be off and running as well.

You do something wrong in a drill and you're going to hear it, not just from the assistant coaches, but from Weis himself.

As a matter of fact, you're going to hear Weis loud and lengthy. It's not something I ever saw Willingham do, but again, plenty of coaches have won a lot of games without having to yell, including Tyrone.

But Weis isn't yelling just for the sake of yelling. He doesn't yell at anyone unless he needs to. He's smart enough to know that screaming can only catch the attention of someone for only so long. I'm going to guess that's why he sends them running.

I did hear a few coaches yell during practice under the previous staff, but I heard them constantly, and I just wonder if after awhile players just switch off.

I never saw anyone run for screwing up under the previous staff, but then again, I wasn't there for all of practice. But I also never heard of anyone running, and I've heard of a number of players that have found themselves circling the practice fields already, and it's only day three under Weis.

Probably the most impressive drill I've seen under Weis actually came during the spring when the media was allowed to watch a full practice of special teams practice. Every single coach was involved in every drill.

Take punt return for example. One coach was working with the returners. We saw Weis and Lewis working with the gunner protect men (a position the Irish were woeful last season and Weis knew it, thus his presence). Another coach worked on rush up the middle. Meanwhile, the other coaches worked on the punt team—setting up the wall, talking to the gunners about getting off the line, talking to the punter, snapper—every single person was held accountable on every kick, and that was something sorely lacking last season.

Three days into camp and I know three things about Weis as a coach. One: there will be accountability on his team. Two: there will be discipline on this team. Three: He's a successful coach because he's personable, funny, self-deprecating and joking, all the while being a strict disciplinarian.

Why is that important? Because you can beat a man down for poor performance as long as you shown him you respect him as a person. Weis will likely verbally undress a lot of players during fall camp, but you can tell he loves his players, you can tell by how he protects them from the media, and he certainly respects them.

It's a formula that has worked so well for many coaches long before him, including for Irish great, Lou Holtz. As Weis himself has said, "I'm not reinventing the wheel," but will he achieve the same type of results? We're going to guess yes.

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