Frank Commentary

The reaction to the news that Irish head coach Charlie Weis will return to coach the 2009 season has been mixed amongst Irish fans. Some are excited to see Weis coach this impressive collection of talent he's amassed. Some, well, aren't. Regardless, Weis will be back and it's time for Irish fans to accept that fact and move on.

The 2008 season certainly has been a disappointment for all Irish fans—I think all would agree. However, there still is a lot to look forward to with this team if, and I understand that's an if, Weis can turn this team around.

One can likely also assume that changes will be coming to the 2009 Irish. Following a 3-9 season with a 6-6 regular season would certainly suggest something is wrong. Weis has to figure out what is wrong and make the necessary changes. More than likely that will mean assistant coaching changes.

The one thing that has stood out to me, when I look at the current Weis offensive coaching staff, is I don't see a lot of mean guys on his staff. While they're all good coaches and have proven that elsewhere, all seem to have the same happy-go-lucky demeanor Weis has most of the time. There certainly is nothing wrong with that attitude, as that's usually my demeanor as well, but I'm not sure that's a good thing for a football team.

All five assistants on the Irish offensive coaching staff appear to be guys who bring the "player's coach" mentality to coaching. First, there's nothing wrong with that. You have to be you in order to be successful in coaching. You can't try to be someone else because your players will see right through that. I think head coach Charlie Weis has found that out himself. While he can be known as a tough guy at times, that's really not his personality in my opinion, and that's why I think he can only go to that well so many times before players will stop paying attention.

If Weis does make some changes on offense, it's my opinion he should find a couple of "mean" guys on offense. Former Irish offensive line coach Joe Moore was a tough guy. Former ND linemen tell stories of how physical practices were at Notre Dame under his leadership. They'd say ‘the game was easy because he'd beat you up and challenge you so much during practice that the games became easy.'

Many former Irish wide receivers would tell me of a young Urban Meyer. ‘I hated that guy with a passion,' they'd say. ‘But I respected him because I knew he was making me a better player.'

Tough coaches are rarely fun to be around for a player, but the good ones can certainly have a lot of success as long as the players understand that the coach has nothing against them, he's merely trying to make them better players. There's a fine line there that sometimes can become blurred. The effective mean coaches are those that can dish out the love as well as the fire and brimstone.

When you look at the Notre Dame offense it's obvious they're looking for a spark—something to ignite a fire under them—something to get them going again. I don't believe that the head coach can play the role of the jerk or the tough guy all the time with his players. Why? He's not around the players enough to do that. They'll shut him out and lose respect for him if he does.

In my opinion, the head coach needs to be the tough guy on his assistants when they're not producing, and I know Weis does this. He can be the tough guy with the team at times in a "let's pick up the pace" type of way, but he can't do it continually or I believe he'll jeopardize losing their respect.

An assistant coach can be the tough guy because those are his guys. He's around all the time and can give out the right amount of love and respect, as well as the foot in the posterior that most kids need to play with the intensity and focus they'll need to be a good football team.

It's interesting to watch Corwin Brown on the field. Brown is a tough guy on the field at practice sometimes. He's very much a player's coach on the field at times as well. I've heard he's a very tough guy in the film room, when watching what happened at practice or in a game, but that is when the true teaching takes place.

I've seen him be very hard on players in practice. I've seen him act like he's 18 years old, like one of them, many times in practice as well. He seems to be able to dish out the right amount of tough love with just plain love and that's why players seem to play for him. In games we've seen him run across the length of the field to catch one of his players after a terrible mistake to make them accountable for the mistake, but we also see him celebrate with his defensive unit as if he's one of them when they play well. It's a nice mixture and why I think he's effective.

Jon Tenuta, on the other hand, is old school. He's yelling, most of the time. But, he's not yelling just to be yelling. When someone does something well, he's quick to compliment and reward their good play. Tenuta is hard on his players, but it's a comical hard usually. He's funny when he's hard. I laugh every time I'm by there. That's different because while it's never fun to be the brunt of criticism, he also makes it fun for his players as well. Again, I think that's why he's an effective coach.

If Weis does make changes on the offensive staff, I believe he has to find some guys with some toughness in them. Notre Dame lacks toughness on offense, and the only way they'll find it, I believe, is to practice tough. They need to find some coaches to challenge these kids, challenge their heart, to light a spark, to get them thinking again--to get them to focus again.

What Weis can't do is take a bunch of "player's coaches" and then try to make them become "tough guys." That won't work. That's not their personality and the kids won't respond……I think that's been proven. It's obvious they've tried, but it isn't working. So something has to change.

Another thing I believe that Weis should look at is how his team practices. It was interesting watching the Georgia/Georgia Tech game this past weekend and listening to the announcers talk about Paul Johnson' s Georgia Tech team. The announcer said that Tech practices in full pads three days out of the week. That makes them a tough football team. That gave them the toughness they needed to finish the game and win against a good Georgia team. They were both mentally and physically tough in crunch time.

The Irish have struggled to finish games recently at Notre Dame. Maybe this is something Weis should look into? One thing is certain, nobody can ever question if Paul Johnson's teams are tough—they are. The same can't be said about Weis' team currently.

It's also my opinion that Weis should also look at the strength and conditioning program. It seems to me that the better teams are still manhandling Notre Dame up front on both sides of the line of scrimmage. The Irish got beat up against Boston College and completely lost the battle at the line of scrimmage, and that just shouldn't happen. The same thing can be said for USC and Michigan State. Notre Dame will never be a good program until they can win the battle at the line of scrimmage. Part of that is attitude and coaching, but part of it is pure strength and explosiveness.

Last season Weis looked into special teams play with a trip to Virginia Tech. Maybe his focus now and in the off season should be to find out what's not working here, because it does appear to be a problem based on what we've seen this past season.

The good news is if ND can somehow find some toughness, this is going to be one fun offense to watch. When they play tough they're a good football team. When they don't, they look awful.

Notre Dame is loaded with skill talent and plenty more weapons are on the way with names like Cierre Wood, Shaquelle Evans, Nyshier Oliver and Theo Riddick expected to sign with the Irish. Notre Dame will become faster and more explosive next season with these freshmen being added to the mix. But it won't matter in the slightest if they can't become a tough football team. Notre Dame's most important recruits this season will be the assistant coaches they hire, because the toughness of the team needs to be fixed before any of these recruits and current players can shine.


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