One-on-One with Charlie Weis

Irish head football coach Charlie Weis has a big job ahead of him this spring after a difficult 3-9 season. I sat down with Weis to discuss how he plans to improve upon Notre Dame's disappointing season, and get the Irish back into the BCS hunt. This is part I of a two-part interview with Weis.

You mentioned you did a lot of team evaluation over December and January. What did all that entail?

Weis: "There's a whole plethora of things. The first thing you do, we actually started this in December, is you go through self-scout. It's self analysis of what you did during the year, good and bad. Whether it be generically the run game, pass game, situational football, down and distance. Then take the run game by each run, right formation, left formation, personnel group. So you can talk about the big picture all the way down to the smallest picture….the "we only ran this play three times all year" type of stuff.

"Then you try to identify, without personnel coming into play, what you did well and what you did poorly, and then why you did them well or why you did them poorly. Then decide if the things you did poorly are things you throw out, or decide if the things you did poorly are fixable.

"For example, offensively you talk about protection breakdowns. What were the cause of protection breakdowns? To a fan in the stands it just looked like somebody was just getting beat the whole time. In reality it might've been that guy was expecting a double team. He might've been expecting outside help. So he's playing with inside leverage because he expects somebody outside of him that's helping , and that guy outside of him might not be there. So there's a lot more to it than meets the eye in several instances.

"We did continue doing this the first week in January. (We) came back the 2nd of January and worked until the convention to kind of put us in a position of; "Okay, here's where we are."

"So now we get back to the first week of February from recruiting, and we're waiting on signing day, now we're can finally start working towards; "Okay, how are we going to fix these problems."

"It's more than just what the problems are and how to fix them. It's just as important to have a plan in place to when you're going to fix it. We'll continue from the beginning of February until March 26th to say: "Okay, what are we going to do? How are we going to do it? Who are we going to do it with? You start plugging in your personnel you currently have here, with an eye on the guys you have coming in, and where they'd fit in the grand scheme of things.

"Unlike this past season, where there were so many unknowns personnel-wise, you weren't really sure who was going to do what, going into this year there's a lot less unknowns at several positions. It's more can we get them playing well enough or do they have to be replaced?

What were the problems on offense as you saw them?

Weis: "Every play can work. Every scheme can work. It's not a question of, ‘the schemes don't work.' That's an easy answer from the laymen. The question is why didn't they work? They can work. They've been proven that they work. I always love when people talk about schemes. ‘They have to come up with new schemes.' The schemes aren't the problem. It's when you pull the schemes, the mechanics of the schemes. The fundamentals and techniques related to the scheme. The application of the schemes, and the success of the schemes. It's not where you are reinventing the wheel here. It's not as difficult as people make it out to be sometimes. It's why didn't it work? That's the bigger issue.

"There's not one answer to that. It's personnel, it's game plan. It's when you call the play. It's what the defense is doing when you call the play. It's execution of the play. There's a whole laundry list of things that lead to the success or failure.

I know you don't like to throw anyone or any particular unit under the bus, but offensive line play was obviously a problem. In your evaluation, what did you see as the main problems along the offensive line?

Weis: "The one that bothers you more than the rest of them is when people make mental mistakes. When a guy gets beat physically, there's only two answers to a guy getting beat physically. Either fundamentally he's not playing well, or he's not good enough versus the guy he's going against. Cutting through all the other stuff, that's really what it comes down to.

"The fundamental part you can spend more time on, which is going to be one of the big points of emphasis here this spring. We're going to give a lot of time, not that we don't normally give a lot of time to fundamentals, but we're going to really spend a whole lot of time on fundamentals. This year won't be as much about all new players playing. This will be there's guys there and there's guys trying to beat them out. That's the way it will end up being.

"The thing that bothers you more is a guy is lined up in front of a guy, and that's who he is supposed to block and then he doesn't block that guy. Why does that happen? That's a question I'm not sure I can answer. It's a rhetorical question. It happens.

"It isn't true just at the offensive line position, it's true of the quarterbacks, the wide receiver position, the tight ends and running backs as well.

"Say we have a quarterback. We have a play where if they run this coverage you throw here, and if they go this coverage you throw here, and then it happens and they throw just the opposite. Why does that happen? There's two possible answers there.

"One answer is the teacher/student process did not mesh. They didn't get it. Parcells used to say to us when we'd tell him ‘I told him a 100 times,' ‘well, you should've told them 101.' He never would let the coach blame the player for the fact that he'd already gone over that mentally. If a guy doesn't get it mentally, the coach has to take the responsibility. That's his job is to figure out how to get that mentally. The coach has to take some blame, and the player has to take some blame because some things are very simple.

"I think the greatest two areas where you can improve the quickest, one would be mentally, and one would be fundamentally. Talent is talent. But you can improve the greatest amount mentally and fundamentally, and I think those will be the greatest points of interest going into this off-season.

Do you think it's risky to turn over the offense to your staff when it appears 2008 is a critical year to show offensive improvement?

Weis: "No, I'm one door away. They know and I know that I'm a great resource. It's not like I'm not going to be involved. What it does is it allows me to be involved with the whole team. These guys have been around me for three years. They know how I think. They know that I'm going to ask for some things that I want in the game plan. They already know that I'll say ‘I want these six things, put them in.'

"They know when they're done with the game plan I'll go in there and I'm going to ask them what they're doing and why. If I don't like something I'll tell them to get rid of it. It's not like I'm going to not be involved at all, but I think after three years, the offensive staff and I know and think enough alike where it isn't that I have to be there to tell them ‘this is what we're doing.'"

You also mentioned a lot of self-evaluation. You spoke with a lot of people. What were some of the things they said that really stuck with you and why?

Weis: "The first thing I came up with in that self-evaluation is if you're going to play younger players, you can't teach them and coach them the same way as older players because they're just out of high school. There's pros and cons with playing so many young kids as we play. The cons are you go 3-9, (I'm) not blaming their youth for us going 3-9, but more experience is definitely a detriment when you're dealing with that. Especially when at times through the year you're starting 11 true freshmen. That's great for the freshmen, but not so great for the coach.

One of the things I'm really working on is that these guys need somebody around them a lot more. Older guys don't want to be around you as much. Older guys just want you to coach them and teach them. Younger guys are used to being around those high school coaches all the time.

How do you plan to do this? Do you have anything specific you plan to do?

Weis: "First of all, I can say I've been in the weight room more times since February 1st than I have in the three years I've been here. They work out in the morning. I'm walking around hanging out in the weight room, busting their chops a little bit. I ask them how they're doing. I tell them they look like garbage. It's just being around a lot more than they've ever seen me.

Through the NCAA they let you give guys occasional meals, so I broke the team down to six groups of people, and depending on the size of the group, I've been having some kids over to my house to let them have a home-cooked meal. We go downstairs and play video games with Charlie. They get to know my wife a little bit more. I think these guys have a little bit better understanding that you're a coach, but you're also a husband and a dad and all that other stuff. It gives them a different insight and a different feel. So now they don't feel threatened. Not that you ever meant for them to feel that way.

People want to know what the difference was between the first two years and the third year, besides the wins and losses, is when you're playing a more experienced team, you don't need to do that. They're not looking for that. Jeff Samardzija didn't want to be around me. The younger guys like it more when you're around them.

They talk about "buy in," is that what this entails?

Weis: "It's not about buying into me. It's about buying into the program. These young guys were all the stars in high school. Now they're just one of the guys trying to get their feet wet. There's quite a transformation, besides just the talent change, which is astronomical, as you know.

"You go from the star to being just one of the boys. It's not just a culture shock, but a psychological shock. He might've been the greatest star but he might not even be playing. There's homesickness, their girlfriend is as home, and all those other things come into play.

"Even though I'm cognizant of the fact, you're not around as much, you leave that to the assistants. I just felt, in this self-evaluation period, the more I could be around these kids, the more they could feel like it was the family that we try to promote. Not just like I'm the grandfather that you hardly ever talk to. That's not the way I want it to be. Top Stories