The View From Above

As the news broke that Notre Dame's offensive coordinator/running backs coach Mike Haywood would take control of the play calling for the upcoming season, a great deal of uncertainty surrounded the program and the effect the decision would have on the team. So far, it's been smooth sailing.

"It's going pretty smooth," Haywood said. "Everyone's working really well together, stepping in. There's a lot of continuity between the staff members in the room. For example, today I go up to a meeting and it's just coach Weis and myself and we sit there and talk about the forty second clock, and how it worked in the NFL and how it's going to work in college. And the advice in which he gives me calling plays and dealing with the forty second clock."

The rapport between the offensive coaches doesn't only manifest itself in the meetings, according to Haywood. There is a continual support system between the coaches extending to practice as well, in which there is a free flowing exchange of ideas and strategies.

"We had a situation the other day in practice where we were just going through various situations, maybe coming out, maybe short yardage," Haywood said. "For example in the short yardage situation we talked about there's three different things we can do. If it's second and one, you can run a short yardage play and get the first down. Second and one, you can run a play-action pass and run intermediate routes because everybody's going to be sucking up on the play-action pass because they think that it's a run. Or you could drop back and throw it deep. We had a scrimmage Saturday and we had to go through these very situations and we ran all three effectively."

Throughout the process, Mike Haywood has matured as a play caller and has learned from the experience. At the same time, he thinks his players have gone through a learning curve as well.

"It's a learning experience for me," he said. "And at the same time, it's a learning experience for the players because they come over to the sideline and I said, ‘okay, if we get into a short yardage situation in this series, this is what we're thinking, this is what we're going to do. If we don't pick it up, this is what we're going to go to. This is the next call, which we're going to make.' And then they have a foundation on which they can go upon and just work it really well."

As a result, the dynamic has changed in practices too. Last season, Weis had a far greater say and input as to the instructions for his squad.

"Well we had separate periods last year," Haywood said. "And during separate periods, I would run the entire offense and make corrections on those periods. However, then we would go team period and coach Weis was at the team period and he would call the plays during the team period. Players weren't listening to any other coach. They weren't listening to the running back's coach, the wide receiver's coach the offensive line coach. They were just waiting to see what coach Weis was saying."

This year, it's an entirely different scene.

"And so, now, it's provided an opportunity now where guys can step up and be more authoritative," Haywood said. "They don't look to coach Weis, because coach Weis is standing over on the sideline, evaluating both teams at the same time or he's standing in the back giving a different perspective. At the end of the day or the next morning, I go in after we write it up and I sit there and talk with coach Weis about some of the things we did well, some of the things that we didn't do well. We may not have played with enough energy… And then I'll talk to him about the various things that we need to do as an offensive staff, and then I'll deliver the message to the offensive staff because this is what we need to do."

It's going to be an interesting adjustment for Haywood once he sets foot in the coaches' box, as opposed to his usual spot on the field. Having been over 19 years since Haywood has coached from the box, the Blue and Gold game could provide the perfect tune up and reminder of what it's like. Regardless of where he stands, however, coach Haywood is preparing for the contest as if it were a real game situation.

"Well, from watching from upstairs, we're going to play this like it's a game situation," Haywood said. "The reason why I say that is because we're going to have different guys in different positions. I haven't been in the box since I was a [graduate assistant.] So that's 19, 20 years ago. So I have to get familiar with being in the box, because I spent a lot of time on the field motivating guys. Where now I can't motivate guys anymore because I'm a little bit fiery on the field. I can't be that way anymore. My demeanor now has to change, my psychological disposition has to change. Now coach Weis will be that fiery guy on the sidelines, or coach Latina will be that fiery guy on the sidelines."

With this new scheme, coach Haywood is going to have to have a closer relationship with quarterbacks coach Ron Powlus. With both of them now watching the action from above, their communication has to be tighter than ever, as they iron techniques out, and the spring game will give them a great first opportunity to pick up on each other's style.

"The communication that Ron Powlus and I have to have together, because he's going to be sitting there sending in plays, and so we have to work these things out," Haywood said. "We're looking for game day operation procedures. We're looking for execution by the players up front. And I'm trying to get a feel for seeing everything from up above… It's just going to be a totally different picture for me."

Just because it's the spring game, however, doesn't mean that Haywood is going to treat this day any different than another in terms of his mental preparation. That starts in the morning when he wakes up, and continues through his daily routine.

"I go through it everyday," he said. "I sit in my office and I watch film, I do visualizations. I watch San Diego State. I've watched some West Virginia tape. I just go through it and visualize things as we go through. And I say, ‘alright this is what they're doing. They're spitting downhill blitz on three. Okay we need to have a seven-man protection and these are the plays that we need to run.' And I just make little notes to it or talking to myself through this… And it's really helped with coach Weis giving directions."

One would think that with Haywood waiting his whole life for this shot, he would be embracing it and having more exuberance from the opportunity. He hesitates to say that directly, but it's obvious that he's occupied.

"Is this the most fun I've had since I've come back to Notre Dame?" Haywood thought for a moment. "This is the fastest spring practice that I've had since I've been at Notre Dame. It's gone really fast. Interestingly enough, I was talking to Shane Waldron, one of our [graduate assistants] who went to New England, and he said, ‘well how's the scripting going?' And I said, ‘we're always a practice ahead.' And he was like, ‘wow.' He said, ‘okay, well that makes my job a lot easier.'"

As the saying goes — time flies when you're having fun.


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