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 II of a two-part interview with Weis.

What were your overall thoughts on the defense and Corwin Brown's performance in his first season as Notre Dame's defensive coordinator.

Weis: "I thought both he and the defensive played with a lot of enthusiasm. I think in spots they played very well. I think that he, along with everyone else, would agree that we have to play a little more consistently. We have to do a better job of stopping the run. Obviously we were fairly productive in pass defense. We've got to get to quarterback. There's things that any laymen can see. He brings a lot of energy to the table, and I think the players feed off that energy."

When you bring in a coach like John Tenuta, automatically people think "he brought him in to help Corwin." How did you handle that?

"Corwin and I were on the same page from the first second I brought the name up. He thought it was awesome. He said; ‘you think you can get him?' I told him; ‘I don't know but I'm not even going to call him unless you and I are on the same page.' Corwin and I, long before I called John up, Corwin and I had been talking about it for four days before I made the first phone call.

"The one thing you don't want to do, I think chemistry on a staff is important, and what you don't want to do is, with a young, energetic coordinator, that is an infectious personality, is put him in a position where he's looking over his shoulder all the time. It was important that this person was an experienced person…somebody that could challenge you intellectually and mentally. I think it's always important to have guys like that on that staff. I wasn't looking to bring some young guy in. I wanted someone experienced.

"I think it's also important that those guys can hit it off together, and they did right away. It's continued. These meetings between Corwin, John and Jappy (Oliver) have been going very well."

You were obviously very disappointed in your special teams play as you mentioned. What do you see as the underlying problem there?

Weis: "We've done it a couple of different ways. We've had coaches that worked on special teams and had a position. We've had the whole staff be involved. I felt after evaluating it that the only way to really get better in special teams is to take a coach, in addition to me being much more involved in special teams instead of just being the overseer, I had to take a coach and give him just special teams. Not special teams plus a position.

"I looked at our staff and Brian (Polian) was the best person to do that. That was in no way a demotion for Brian. That was me showing a confidence in Brian because, really last year when we'd have a special teams meeting we'd have the whole coaching staff in there. Now it's just going to be me and Brian. Brian's going to do the talking, and I'm going to interject the things that I believe that are important.

"I wasn't real happy with the return game. I can tell you the guy who will be back there with the returners, whether it be the punt returner or the wedge guys. Brian and I have already talked about it. We'll still assign assistant coaches to help us during special teams. It's not like those guys are going to be off, it's just now that with Brian now being able to be fulltime, spending the day, whether it be game-planning or researching or fundamentals and techniques, making up tapes, now we'll be able to devote much more time and energy to get this righted."

Shane Walton once told me that you won't be a good football team if you're not having fun. What are your thoughts on that? Do you think maybe at the end of the year they weren't having fun?

Weis: "If you were in the locker room the last couple of games you wouldn't say that. There was never any evidence on the field in practice of guys practicing on the field to get through the season. We beat Stanford. I understand Stanford isn't a perennial powerhouse, but we beat Stanford at Stanford and we were in that locker room after the game and you couldn't been much happier. It's tough for me to envision it the way the question was asked."

At this point, I'd think morale would be a big hurdle for the team considering the season. Do you see morale is an issue for the team at this point?

Weis: "No, I don't think morale is an issue at all. I think the biggest issue with this team is confidence. I think that's the biggest issue with the team. You've got a lot of young players that are very athletic and now have a season under their belt playing. You can even say we have some older guys who just got their first playing (experience) last year. Paul Duncan and Mike Turkovich, they're seniors this year. The first time they ever played was last year. It's almost like they're a freshman. The first time they ever played any meaningful football was last year.

"I think with a young team confidence can take an uptick in a hurry. They have to believe that good things are going to happen. I think that based off what we've seen so far, in early morning workouts, we have a long way to go, but morale is good. But that's my job to build the confidence of the team in this manner that I've been talking about, being around more. I'm confident in what they're doing. They'll be more confident. The thing is not to be worried about how confident they are on March 26th, the issue more is how confident they are on September 6th. I think that's the main issue we're dealing with right now."

One thing you mentioned earlier in the season was playing physical. After looking back, do you feel you needed to be more physical in practice? Do you see that changing moving forward?

Weis: "That comment might be one of the more overrated comments you could possibly have. The implication is that you don't hit in practice. Because you don't take them to the ground has nothing to do with not hitting in practice. We hit in practice every single day. I love implication that because you don't take them to the ground that you don't hit in practice.

"The other thing we don't do is cut. What are you going to do? You're going to go full speed on defense but you're not going to let the offense ever cut a blitzing linebacker? How realistic is that? Do you want to blow out a knee of one of your own players? There's a fine line when you talk about doing that. There's truly an issue when it comes to those things.

"Don't misconstrue full-speed, take-them-to-the-ground with not hitting. I think all the players would tell you that's the furthest thing from the truth."

Strength and conditioning is one factor that rarely gets discussed. I'm sure you looked at this as well. Did you have any concerns with what you were doing in the strength program?

Weis: "Probably the biggest change is we run a lot in the off-season. With the big guys this year, especially the offensive linemen, we run less and work more on getting them bigger.

" I'll use Sam Young for an example. At the end of the year he was about 300. He's 330 right now. Well, 300 to 330, that's significant. I'm not just talking about gaining fat here. With the big guys, even though they like to eat, for them to keep weight on when they're running a lot, there's a contradiction there. It isn't like they haven't run, it's just that they haven't run the same long distances that they have in the past."

What about agility and speed training?

Weis: "Agility and speed training is pretty standard about anywhere because you're going to do agility and speed training, and then you're going to incorporate position-specific things as well, realizing you can't use a football until spring football starts. You can do cuts, and go in and out of breaks with wide receivers and running backs, you can backpedal, straight-line drop as a defensive backs, but the bottom line is you still can't use footballs."

Looking forward to spring, you mentioned that you'll spend more time on individual drills and fundamentals and techniques, does that mean you'll spend less time installing the offense for next year?

Weis: "No, it means that you spend less time running team plays. The more you spend on team, let's say you're going to run 40 plays, well that's another 5-10 minutes of individual that went by the board. I think it's important, when you realize you only have four hours in a day, how do you best utilize those four hours in a day to maximize all the things you want to get done? It just means that we might go a little heavy on the individual or group work versus just the team work."

You've seemed to give all the older players a legit shot to earn a spot, but after a 3-9 season, is the window to win a job smaller this season?

Weis: "All they have now is a depth chart walking in. The difference is last year several positions there wasn't even a depth chart. For example you can say there were six offensive linemen who were really playing at the end of the year. You could say Sam Young, Turkovich, (Dan) Wenger, (Eric) Olsen, Duncan and (Chris) Stewart. When you start off the spring, those six guys will run with the first group. When Stewart is playing at right tackle, Duncan will be over at left tackle, and so on.

"Unlike the past, we finally have a whole another set of guys who are challenging those guys. Before, we played about 6-7 offensive linemen. We haven't got to the point where we felt we had a two-deep with guys contending for jobs. Besides (Thomas) Bemenderfer, you have Trevor Robinson, who is here now. You've got the three guys who didn't play last year. (Matt) Romine played a little bit in the beginning, but (Andrew) Nuss and Taylor Dever didn't. So now all of the sudden there's some legitimate competition going in besides the six guys.

"People know that you're a starter to start off the spring, but that has nothing to do with where you're going to be when we go into September."

Do you see any position changes coming this spring?

Weis: "Is there any guys moving from offense to defense? I don't see that happening. There's only a couple of guys who are candidates to do that with. Realistically, whether a guy plays weak-side outside backer or defensive end, there's a couple of guys that are in between those, but nothing I was consider drastic."

With the ban on texting, and now this new AFCA rule, it really puts a team like ND in a bad position. Do you think that kind of hurts Notre Dame compared to other teams that have all this talent in their back yard?

Weis: "E-mail. E-mail is just taking over for texting. E-mailing is the one thing you have that you're going back and using as a resource and that the kids are actually checking. It isn't like they have it sitting there in their pocket, but you go to e-mail as your legal way of talking to kids.

"I think the ban with the head coaches in the spring is a negative and a positive at the same time. Let's talk about the pros. It allows me much more time to spend with our own kids because I'd be gone the whole time. You get much more time to spend with your own kids. My wife will be able to see me more than she was counting on. It's also given me an opportunity, not related to recruiting, to go out there and hit a couple of these Notre Dame clubs that I really haven't had to the time to do since I've been here, and I think that's long overdue.

"The cons. There's only two rational reasons to have changed this rule. I'm not sure which one of them is the truth. Let's go over the two of them.

"The reason that it should be is to not have head coaches go into a school in an evaluation period where avoiding contact is an issue. That's the logical reason. For me, I consider that reason a good reason, because when the head coach from Notre Dame walks into a school, you can't even shake the kid's hand and say hello technically. You're in a standoffish, almost defensive mode when you do that, because you can't talk to the kids. You can go and see the coaches. It does put the head coach in a very precarious situation.

"I'm sure it's been storied that there's people who take advantage of that situation. But you're the head coach at Notre Dame you better not be one of them. Evaluation is evaluation.

"The other issue that some people are saying is that there a handful of head coaches that were out all the time and it was putting pressure on other head coaches to go ahead and get out there. If that's the reason why the changed the rule then shame on them. Because if you want to out-work somebody, that should never be held against you.

"I'm going to assume that the reason they did it was the former and not the latter."


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