Wannstedt Ready to Go

Irish nation can barely contain their glee over this Saturday's opener at Pittsburgh. This is because new head coach Charlie Weis will start a new era at his alma mater and try to erase the disappointments of the past two seasons. The expectations grow with every day.

On the flip side, the Panthers will also start a new era this weekend. Head coach Dave Wannstedt has made the move to the college game after two stints in the NFL with the Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins. His team returns 16 starters and the level of excitement does not reside solely in South Bend.

"I always reference everything back to our fans and our players," Wannstedt said about the glee he senses about the opener. "I tell them, `This is why you come to the University of Pittsburgh' - to play on national TV games, sellout crowds, and ESPN GameDay and everything that goes along with it. When you make a decision to come here, this is what it's all about. It'll be an exciting day."

With two new head coaches, there will be two new systems put in place at each program. Trying to figure out which system will be used is the trick. Weis has two coaches, secondary coach Bill Lewis and tight ends coach Bernie Parmalee, on his staff who were with Wannstedt last season in Miami to help him game plan.

"It's a mesh of what they were doing and what he likes to do," Weis said about what he expects to see from Wannstedt. "For example, they kept the defensive staff. They kept the defensive coordinator. He didn't leave. You have to know Dave's personality which I do.

"Remember now, the one advantage I do have, I feel Dave knows me and I know him, I know these guys. But the difference is I have two guys on my staff that were working with Dave last year. One was on offense and one was on defense. I don't have to guess what he was saying. I just ask what he was saying. If I want to ask Dave, ‘Hey, Bill, what adjustments would Dave want to do to this?' I walk down the hall and go ask Bill what adjustments they made. That's the only difference between the obvious knowledge and respect we have for another."

Wannstedt has had a lot of run-ins with Weis to prepare him for Saturday. As a coach with the Dolphins the last several years, he was in the same division, the AFC East, as Weis's Patriots were. Wannstedt is a defensive minded coach and the battle with him and Weis is all strategy-oriented.

"A lot of people are asking me about my relationship with Charlie," Wannstedt said. "We're friends and we get along, but we probably know each other from an Xs and Os standpoint a lot better than we know each other personally. We are preparing for some New England (schemes). We are preparing for a couple of other assistants that are on that staff. We looked at some of their film, but the most important thing in this game is really not as much what they do, but making sure that we execute what we're supposed to do. And that goes for both sides of the ball. They're going to see things for the first time from our offense and from our defense. I really think that the team that has the best grasp for their own offense and defense will be able to make the adjustments as the game goes on, and it will give that team a chance to be successful."

Wannstedt inherits a team that beat Notre Dame last season 41-38. In that game, quarterback Tyler Palko threw five touchdown passes, a record for an opposing signal caller at Notre Dame Stadium. The junior's main target is All-American candidate Greg Lee, who has been hampered in fall camp with a shoulder injury. Wannstedt thinks Lee (1297 receiving years and 10 touchdowns in 2004) is ready to go.

"He's back doing everything," Wannstedt said. "He's fine. I think because those guys (Palko and Lee) are so close and they've been together the last couple of years, I don't think we've lost anything. He looked great the last couple of days at practice, and I think he's back to his real form. I think we're fine there."

Both sides have been eyeing this game for months. For Weis, it's an opportunity to show the nation that Notre Dame is back on the right track. For Wannstedt, it's a chance to reverse his NFL head coaching fortunes and make Pitt a perennial contender in the Big East. The time to shine is quickly approaching and Wannstedt is focusing in on his new job.

"My job as the head coach, when I get on the field, is to manage the game, Wannstedt said. "I've got to make sure that I'm on top of every play and thinking ahead to the situation with special teams, offense, defense, and really kind of manage the football game. So I'll be focused on that. It's an exciting time for me because it's the University of Pittsburgh and I'm back here."


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