When Charlie Weis said that he was giving up play-calling duties for the 2008 season he said that he was doing it so that he could become a better head coach. One way to do that, he said, was to become more approachable to his players. Six months later and it sounds like Weis has become exactly that. Senior captain David Bruton has noticed that Weis is different.
"Very adaptable. He's changed how he interacts with the team after the season we had last year, the way he's been able to change for the well-being of the players and the well-being of the team and the coaches," said Bruton, who recognized the difference during the offseason. "It's been very enlightening to see how your head coach who was once so stern, to be able to actually talk to him now and joke around with him a little bit. It was surprising to me because freshman and sophomore year I hardly talked to him. I felt uncomfortable coming up and talking to him just because I was a young guy and didn't know anything. It's gotten a lot better and I feel as you get older it's a lot easier to talk to him."
Fifth-year senior Maurice Crum has had the chance to see Weis in a different light more than some of his teammates and thinks that it will benefit the team.
"It makes it easier to understand where he's coming from a lot of the time. Guys don't get so tight when they walk in the room, ‘Oh, there's the head coach,'" Crum said. "Now he's kind of like one of the guys, he fits in. So now when he talks, you understand him or know him a little bit more so that you can get the message and the things that he's saying.
"I could see it instantly when he said he was going to start doing it. I probably know him the best because I spend the most time with him so I know that side of him, but I think for the other guys to see it, I definitely think it's a benefit for the team."
Crum's classmate Terrail Lambert has also seen a change in the head coach's personality.
"Definitely. I first noticed it late winter. It's been good," Lambert said. "I think knowing that we can go and talk to him, we can talk to him on a personal level, it makes you more comfortable working with a person and it kind of makes you closer as a player. More often than not you're going to end up playing for that coach."
DB's D Pants: Lambert came into the media room wearing some interesting Grizzly Bear pajama pants on Saturday and was happy to explain the significance to reporters.
"These are pajamas that I have on that I wear before every home game and every away game as well. The night before I sleep in these, I wake up in them, I walk around in them. My great-grandmother actually sent me these when I was an incoming freshman," said Lambert. "A week before I reported for camp she actually called me and told me that she had been on the internet, it was funny to me because she's my great-grandmother, 80-plus and she's still sharp enough to be fine-tuned in mechanical stuff and technology and this and that. She's talking to me, she's telling me, ‘I understand that it's going to be cold where you're at. You've never been to the Midwest before your blood is too thin and do you have enough clothes?' I'm like, ‘I'm going to buy some, I should be fine grandma, don't be worried.' And she's like, ‘Well, take these pajamas, take these with you they'll keep you warm.'
Four years later and Lambert is still wearing them.
"Got to wear the pants, they've kept me safe for awhile, I love these pants. These were the reason why I survived my first February. I always wear these, the issue sweats over them and the issue shoes and walk off in the snow, slush off to class and I'm off to practice and that's it," Lambert said. "I haven't been hurt since I've worn them so that's always a plus. I just call them the pants. D Pants."
Lambert also offered an interesting story about his first home game as a freshman in 2004.
"My redshirt year and me, Maurice (Crum), Justin Brown all of us were all freshmen and Michigan came here to play us. I'm walking down the tunnel and I'm standing next to Mo and I'm standing next to JB and everybody is hitting the sign," Lambert recalled. "We're walking down the stairs and I turn to Mo and I say, ‘Man, we're about to hit the sign.' He was like, ‘I know.' I was like, ‘Damn, Tim Brown, damn Paul Hornung, you know all of these greats.' It really doesn't hit you until you're in that moment and then just running out on the field and hearing the whole crowd scream and all of the fans, the student section going wild, the sea of green, the whole nine, it was amazing."
STICKING TOGETHER: Not to say that last year's team was not close, but if you asked players on this year's squad to name a difference in 2008, eventually the word ‘chemistry' will be used.
"I think that's huge. Not just hanging out in little groups, hanging out with the whole entire team," Jimmy Clausen said. "That's one thing that we do. When we go out, we all go out as a team together, it's not just one group that goes here and one group goes there, we're all together. We're together all of the time during the day except for class and that's really going to help us."
Scott Smith has noticed the same thing.
"Everybody is friends with everybody. There's not going to be one group that won't talk to another group. We can go around as linebackers and kind of joke around and goof off with the running backs or tight ends," said Smith. "But when we get into practice it's time to go, but at the same time we want the best for everyone but we still want to be competitive because we realize that being competitive is going to help everybody reach their potential.
"I think it's just guys being around each other more and just having more time to spend in the locker room. When you get the opportunity to do that, to spend 24 hours a day with one another, you're going to try to branch out to other guys, you're going to make your way around the locker room and hang out with many guys."
ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL?: With a week off before they open their season, the Fighting Irish get to sit back and watch some college football just like the rest of the country. Crum said that he needs to be in charge of the clicker so that he can enjoy the games and possibly learn something.
"I change between games. I have to have the remote, I have to and no one else can tell me anything," he said. "I got to see all of the games and all of the action. I'm flipping between SportsCenter and ESPN trying to see what's going on and getting scores, updates, highlights and everything."
Crum was asked about the times when there are five games on at a time.
"I want to see them all. If I can, I want to see them all," said Crum, who doubles as a fan and an analyst. "A little bit of both. I watch as a fan and then I always look at the linebackers and what they're doing and see if I can take anything from that and do a little film study on other teams. Just try to pick up anything I can for the game, I'm a student of the game."
For Lambert, the free weekend gives him a chance to check out some old friends.
"I love watching other college games. It's a good time, you have a lot of comrades across the nation that are playing. There are guys that I grew up with that are playing all over the nation at this moment," said Lambert, who has friends at Ohio State, LSU and USC.
Lambert also said that it was tough to sit back and watch games without doing a little film study.
"You do at times become analytical with what you see because that's what you're accustomed to but you try to be a fan and take yourself out of that realm for a minute," he said.
When they're watching games though, the Fighting Irish cannot avoid some of the negative things that are said about them by commentators.
"A lot of times I sit back and laugh. They're on the outside looking in, they have no idea what goes on in our own confines. I just sit back and take it with a grain of salt and move on," Lambert said. "It can get humorous at times, very humorous. People are going to say what they're going to say so let them be."
NEW INTERVIEW ROOM LOOKING SHARP: The captains and the members of the leadership committee marveled at the new Monogram Club Alumni Players' Lounge, formerly called the postgame interview room.
The interview room doubled as the defensive team meeting room for halftime of home games. Folding chairs have been replaced with luxury furniture and dry erase boards have been replaced with flat screen televisions. The Players' Lounge now features plaques honoring past national championship teams and former coaches while the upper trim of the walls pay homage to each decade of Notre Dame football.