Listening to Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis speak last Friday at his press conference was a delight. I thought; "Here is a man who understands he has problems, quickly identified those problems, and came up with some well thought out solutions."
Many of those solutions sound like excellent ideas in my opinion. But, Charlie Weis has almost always said the right thing. He's almost always known he has problems, and he's almost always known what the answers were to fix these problems.
Now the real test will be can he implement his solutions and actually fix the problems. Many of us also knew what the problems are/were and we certainly have our ideas on how to fix them. The future of Irish football will rest on whether his solutions are the right answers, and if he can indeed fix these problems.
There was a lot said at Friday's press conference, but I think the single most important thing Weis talked about was being the head coach and not the offensive coordinator, and probably not for the reasons many would think. Weis spoke of being around the team more often, being more accessible, and being more human. To me, I think this was the most important solution he came up with.
Notre Dame doesn't play inspired football often enough. They don't play with the "nasty" that Weis spoke of when he was hired. Weis knows this, just as well all know this. And to get to the level Weis wants to be at, the attitude must change before anything else will change. He'll have to fix the attitude of the team first, and that will be the single-most important thing he has to do now before any of the other stuff will matter.
I also believe you have to be having fun if you're going to be good at anything. When you're 3-9, nobody is having fun. If you're 3-9 and the hammer is coming down, it definitely won't be fun. I believe the Irish players will see a lot more of Charlie Weis in the next three months than they ever have, and much more jovial Charlie Weis in most cases. He'll still have to bring the hammer now and again, but I also think he'll be a much more open, happy and warm person this spring and summer.
I'm not speaking so much on the practice field, although I do believe you'll see a gentler Weis there as well, but I'm more speaking in the weight room, locker room, meeting room, and his office. Players have to know he's invested in winning like they are, and his presence will show that. And they also have to know that he cares about them individually. A lot of head coaches distance themselves from the team as to not get too close or show favoritism to particular players. That may work when you're 10-2, but not so much when you're 3-9.
Most Notre Dame fans love the Charlie Weis we get to see in his press conferences. He's almost always happy, cracking jokes, smiling, and you get a very warm feeling being there. I believe that's the Charlie Weis his team wants to see because that Charlie Weis is a very inspiring and human person, and fun to be around.
Weis is essentially starting over, just as he did when he first got here. He'll have to get the entire team to "buy in" as he did the first two seasons, but it will be harder to get that "buy in" again. It has to start now, and that's why I believe Weis made it such a strong point in his press conference. If the Irish are going to turn their fortunes around for next season, the first step has to happen now. The first step came from the head coach, and now he'll have to get the team to follow.
Turning over the play-calling duties
The big surprise news that came from Weis on Friday was his willingness to step aside a bit on the offensive side of the football. Saying it and doing it are two different things. But I think the real question is: Is it even a good idea?
I believe the answer to that is yes, and here is why. Just like the players, coaches also have to feel their efforts are worthwhile, important and needed. Nobody is properly motivated if what they do or offer really matters little in the grand scheme of things.
I'm not suggesting Weis would make his assistant coaches feel this way. But I do think there are two ways to look at the coaching situation right now. You can either micro-manage a situation and take over as Lou Holtz used to do at times, or you can step back a bit and give your assistants some freedom to not feel the weight of the world coming down on them. I think Weis chose the second, and it was probably the right choice. When you have one problem and it's the middle of the season, the Holtz method might work better, but that's clearly not the situation here, and coaches need to be properly motivated just like the players. Taking away responsibilities is not the way to inspire people.
Weis will still play a very active role in the offense. My guess is Weis also wants to see what ideas Michael Haywood might have, or Latina or anyone else on the staff. They'll still have the same offense, but new wrinkles and ideas will certainly add to the element of surprise, and that's a good thing.
Not so special teams
The one thing I admire about Weis is his willingness to admit he doesn't know everything. He acknowledges this often, and that will make him a better coach. I also liked the fact that he personally is visiting the Virginia Tech staff and looking for answers to his special teams problems.
Why? Because coaches leave. Weis needs to know how to fix this problem himself and he'll have a better understanding if he makes the trip. You want to build a team foundation for special teams, and if you have the proper attitude and schemes, it won't matter which coach is coaching teams. I also like the idea of him becoming personally involved and investing in fixing this problem. Others will take notice, and that should help in solving the problem.
Special teams have not been a strong point for the Irish, and I don't believe you can win a championship with poor special teams. He obviously feels this is a problem, and I like his idea on how to fix—go to the best and learn from them. It's also a good idea to start building some friendships within the college ranks. They'll come in handy down the line.
The defensive staff
I also believe the addition of John Tenuta to coach linebackers and the move to switch Corwin Brown to coaching defensive backs was a very wise move. I mean no disrespect to Brian Polian, but the Irish really have struggled at linebacker recently, and they need a solid, veteran coach to come in and maximize some young potential. And as Weis said, it's good to have another veteran coach and an "idea guy" on the defensive staff. With the prospects of a young, inexperienced and not overly talented defensive line for 2008, this was needed more than most realize.
Corwin Brown played defensive back at the highest level as well as coaching the position at the highest level. Notre Dame's strength on defense is the secondary and I believe Brown will only make that strength better.
Most importantly the Irish need to learn to tackle better. They won't be able to solve all their defensive woes this year, but if they can tackle better, that will go a long way in becoming a better defensive unit.
The loss of Kuntz and Yeatman
The loss of Will Yeatman will hurt much more than Pat Kuntz, at least for the spring. Notre Dame has one scholarship tight end for the spring, Mike Ragone. This will surely help Ragone's development, and that's a very good thing because he has a lot of talent, but it will limit what the Irish can do on offense and what they can practice. It should also be a positive for players like Asaph Schwapp and Luke Schmidt as they'll be involved more often with the lack of tight end depth.
The loss of Kuntz will hurt his development a bit, but may actually help the team. Players like Emeka Nwankwo, Paddy Mullen, Sean Cwynar and Kallen Wade will benefit from the absence of Kuntz, but will they take advantage of their opportunity. At least two of these players need to develop quickly and become reliable backups for the Irish. The loss of Kuntz just gave these players some extra reps. Hopefully they'll take advantage of them.
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