After a dismal 2007 season Charlie Weis said that he was going to do a complete evaluation of the program and implement changes. Now as the 2008 season is right around the corner, more and more of those revisions are becoming known. Some are larger football issues like a more physical training camp, while others are more subtle, like making a point to be more approachable or changing the players' day off from Sunday to Monday.
"I wasn't expecting to have so much free time in December last year, but I had a whole bunch of free time, more than I would have liked," he said. "I really hadn't spent the time, in the time that I've been here, to try to go from top to bottom, every single item on or off the field. There were some issues like, ‘Well, it's OK so let's just keep it that way.' I'm trying to find a better way and sometimes just getting out of a normal routine shakes them up and gets their attention more."
As for being more congenial with the players, Weis said that it was about making an effort to get to know the entire team as much as anything.
"I identified that as something that I needed to do because the young guys didn't get me, the older guys did but the younger guys didn't. One of the things by not being in all of the offensive meetings, it allowed me to be around everybody instead of being around just one portion of the team all of the time," he said. "For (David) Bruton and (Maurice) Crum and the guys on defense, for the last few years I haven't been around very much and now I'm around them a whole lot more. They might get sick of me before it's all done, but I am around them a whole lot more now."
Weis said that it can be difficult for some of the underclassmen to get a full picture of their head coach when they only get to see him in that light.
"I'm sure they'll also tell you that any of them that know me, know me different than the rest of the guys do," he said. "They've already seen all sides of you where it's the younger guys that really don't know, that's where I've kind of made my special attention to make sure the younger guys, whether they're sophomores or freshmen, have a better understanding of who you are."
FAVORITE SUBJECT: CHEMISTRY: One of the themes among the team during preseason camp was an increased bond on the team. Time and time again, players have talked about the tightness that this group has developed in the offseason. This was another change that Weis and his staff tried to make during camp.
"On many teams you'll see cliques, just like in anything else in life you'll see cliques. We tried to do some things in the offseason a little different, even the way we assigned lockers in the locker room, that was even different," Weis said. "So it wasn't just all of the running backs with the running backs, now it's numerical and an offensive player could be sitting next to a defensive player. It's all to try to eliminate those cliques, to try to get people to pull for them no matter what."
Crum has made a point to integrate the new guys into the program and Weis also gave his captains credit for building those relationships.
"Mo Crum and David Grimes and David Bruton, when I first got here you would have thought that the chance of any one of those guys being a captain would have been minimal because none of them ever opened their mouth, they never talked," he said. "These guys have grown into the type of leader that doesn't have to be the ‘Rah-rah, win one for the Gipper'-type of leader. They're just more the show-by-example and are willing to open themselves to being more verbal way of doing things. I think that our team responds very favorably to that type of mentality. It's kind of trickled down from the top right on through all of the way to the freshmen."
SMITH EARNS RESPECT FROM SIDELINES: When Scott Smith was named to the leadership committee, Weis thought it said a lot about the other guys on the team, but he recently found out one of the reasons why those other guys voted for him.
"The other day in practice I did something where when I was watching the defensive period, I stood behind the defense and I just watched the players on the sideline more than I watched the players on the field. It was pretty obvious for the 20 or so players that were involved on the defense that were not over there running show team, they've got one guy who was coaching everyone," Weis said. "Making sure everyone knew the calls, calling out the offensive formation as if he were playing the game. It was pretty evident to me why these guys look up to him because here's a guy that even when he's not repping physically not only is he taking a mental rep, but he's helping everyone else take a mental rep by making calls. He's watching the signal, going ahead making calls, making sure our people are making adjustments just like they were on the field. It was pretty impressive to watch to tell you the truth."
Smith represents the Irish special teams on the committee and while Weis said that he would be involved with every special teams unit, he expects Smith to have an impact as a linebacker as well.
"He'll have to play especially if we get into those games where it isn't much of a spread game, it's more of a pound-‘em game," said Weis. "Let's use Michigan State as an example, they look like a big, bruising team with that 23 (running back Javon Ringer) being pretty darn good. Well, you're going to have to be able to hold up against the run or else you're going to have a tough day. They'll be games where he'll probably be more involved with the gameplan."
PREGAME WILL BE DIFFERENT THIS WEEK: Weis put his players through a mock pregame routine on Saturday, but he admitted that it will be very different for some of the younger guys when there are 80,000 people in the seats this Saturday.
"The ones that are most involved in the mix just kind of follow the leader. It's easy for Michael Floyd, wherever Grimes goes he follows him, so that's an easy one," he said. "There will be some pregame, not jitters, people looking in the stands rather than going through pregame warmup with the freshmen like there always are. There's always about a million people on the sideline before the game starts too, so sometimes it can be a little bit of a circus atmosphere, but I think that they'll grow out of it. It's just part of the learning experience that you go through."
40-SECOND CLOCK NO BIG DEAL: Weis put new playcaller offensive coordinator Michael Haywood on the new 40-second clock early in preseason camp, but as a former playcaller Weis does not expect any difficulties with the new rules.
"I think that the 40-second clock is a very, very easy rule to manipulate. It just forces offensive playcallers to get into a quick flow. I've always been a quick flow guy so I always felt that the clock was a non-issue," he said. "I think it will become more of an issue for the playcallers who are used to waiting for right around to when they're blowing the whistle for the 25-second clock and sending in plays. Before you know it you're already at 20 and now everything becomes rushed. I think it'll just force more guys to establish that same mentality that I grew up doing, so for our program it should be a fairly easy flow.
"I think it has everything to do with the offensive playcalling. The defense is just going to react to the offense, they're waiting to see what personnel you put on the field, they're seeing what down and distance. They're reacting, not so much to the defensive call, but on the personnel that they're going to put on the field. I think the most pressure is put on the offensive playcaller just to make sure that they're doing things expeditiously."
OPPONENTS GO 5-6 IN WEEK ONE: For the most part, the teams that the Irish will face this season struggled in the first week of the season. Stanford, Boston College, North Carolina, Navy and Southern Cal were victorious in their openers, but few were impressive. The Trojans whupped Virginia 52-7 while the Cardinal started to erase a tough 2007 with a 38-26 win over Oregon State and Navy rolled up Towson 41-13 without its starting quarterback. Meanwhile, Boston College defeated Kent State 21-0 and North Carolina struggled to beat McNeese State 35-27.
Among the losers was Pittsburgh, which lost to Bowling Green 27-17 to put a damper on a season with high expectations. Also, Washington let a game against Oregon get away from it big time in the second half and lost 44-10. Michigan State lost a shootout to California 38-31, Michigan made it close in the end but fell to Utah 25-23 and Syracuse lost 30-10 at Northwestern. The score that attracted a lot of attention was San Diego State's 29-27 loss to FCS Cal-Poly.
Weis did not necessarily channel his inner-Lou Holtz, but he did give credit to the Aztecs' opponent and said that his squad would not be taking them lightly on Saturday.