February 14, 2009

The Charlie Weis press conference: Is he going to the booth?

Ok, lots of great stuff from the Charlie Weis press conference. On the whole, it was an encouraging presentation.

Some thoughts:

1) Coaching from the Booth - In my opinion, the most revealing thing that came out of yesterday's press conference was the statement by Weis that he is "50/50" on whether or not he's going to coach in the booth next year. Whoa! When he shot down the idea immediately after the Hawaii game, I sort of stopped thinking about it. But it sounds like he has put a lot of thought into the idea and now even appears to be considering it (his wife wants him up there as well, which all but guarantees it is going to happen). That would be a very interesting move. Has any non-Joe Pa head coach ever willingly gone up to the booth for games?? I know Lou and some other coaches have been injured and needed to be up there for a couple games, but Weis would be the first coach I can remember who went up there for strategic reasons.

I posted something about this right after the Hawaii game, and I feel the same way now. I like the idea. I think it is the proper allocation of the resources on this staff. At the end of the day, Weis is an offensive coordinator. He really likes the intellectual side of the game, and I think he had a great time up in the booth at the Hawaii Bowl observing things and getting a feel for what was working and what wasn't working. That's Weis' bread and butter. Scheming and looking for ways to exploit a defense. He has said that it's much easier to do that from up in the booth, which makes sense.

On the other hand, Corwin Brown is Mr. Intensity on that sideline. I haven't seen that kind of fire out of an ND coach since Lou Holtz was pacing the sideline. Let there be no doubt, Corwin Brown was the head coach of this team at the Hawaii game. He did the pregame pep talk (which was apparently legendary from the stories that have gotten out about it), he did all the sideline work, and he was the rah-rah guy firing people up down there. He coached that game like Bo Pelini coached Nebraska in the bowl game a few years ago. The ND sideline has resembled a morgue far too often during the Weis era. The NBC camera pans over to the ND sideline, and there are a bunch of sullen players standing around Weis while he wipes snot away from his nose and stares at his play sheet. You see guys slink off the field like they'd rather be anywhere but ND Stadium. It's downright depressing to see the ND sideline when Weis is down there. Meanwhile, during the Hawaii game, we were chest bumping and flying around and high-fiving and going crazy. Where has that been?? It looked like a USC sideline.

Weis is saying "50/50," but I really think he's strongly leaning toward doing it. Yesterday was a trial balloon, and the reaction was positive. Deep down, I think Weis knows he's an offensive coordinator at heart and that the players don't seem to respond to his leadership for whatever reason. Weis is a very introspective guy, and he knows that the team rallies around Corwin's leadership style. I think Weis LIKES being in the booth and knows that the team is better off with him up there, but he also is very self-conscious and wary of the fact that head coaches don't do that sort of thing. It's a tough decision. Do you do what "head coaches are supposed to do" or do you do what is best to help the team win?? I don't think there's any debate to it. Go in the booth and let Corwin run the show on the sideline. It is obvious that the team responds to Corwin's leadership, and you have to take advantage of that energy that he brings to the table. Weis has his back against the wall. If he wants to remain the head coach at Notre Dame, he needs to do everything possible to win next year.

I do have a couple concerns about this whole experiment. What happens when Corwin Brown leaves?? This guy is a rising star in the coaching world. If he's going to be the "face" of ND football on the sideline on national television every week, he's going to get a lot of exposure. And if the experiment works and we have success with Weis in the booth and Corwin on the field, Corwin Brown is going to be a hot commodity for a head coaching job and probably going to land one within the next 1-2 years. If he's the key to this team winning, he's going to think to himself "wait, why am I not in charge and getting the big dollars?" If/when Corwin leaves, would Weis go back to the sideline?? Would he decide to try to hire a new "associate head coach/sideline coach" that would allow him to stay up in the booth?? I'm just curious as to how that whole arrangement will work since Corwin obviously isn't going to be Weis' sideline coach for the rest of his career. If this thing works out, it almost makes me wonder if we would need to tag Corwin with the Will Muschamp Memorial "Next Coach in Line" tag or something. If he was the driving force behind our success, we wouldn't want him to lose him.

The other downside is that there would be absolutely NO recovery if this thing didn't work right out of the chute. Could you imagine ND being down 13-3 to Nevada in the 3rd quarter and the camera is panning up to Weis in the booth and he has the "Charlie Weis Face" going at full throttle?? Oh my. The horror. That would be the most depressing moment in the history of Notre Dame football. Weis with the sullen look going and completely helpless to do anything about the problems on the field even though he's technically the head coach. He would probably be fired the next day. If Weis goes to the booth, it has to work or that will be the moment when he loses any remaining Weis supporters forever.

Overall, I like the idea, but there are issues that need to be hashed out. Plus, the stigma for Weis would be that he's not the head coach of this team if he's up in the booth, and I think that would be an ego blow. I hope he can work through those things because it seems like the best plan for 2009.

2) The switch to the 4-3 - The other interesting revelation from the press conference was the apparent decision to revert back to the 4-3 defense under the leadership of Jon Tenuta. Tenuta is calling the plays, and we're going to more of a 4-3 look.

I am no football coach, but I agree wholeheartedly with this move. I was not a real big fan of the 3-4 defense that we have tried out in the last couple years. You can't run a 3-4 unless you have the personnel for it. You need big space cloggers on that defensive line who can take up blockers and do the dirty work, and then you need middle linebackers who can take advantage of those lanes to make plays. The 3-4 works great in Pittsburgh because they have Casey Hampton to wreak havoc in the middle, two workhorse ends who eat up blockers, and then an assortment of talented linebackers who can make plays behind them. We don't have any of those things. If we were in the 3-4 next year, we'd be using an undersized Kapron Lewis-Moore as a 3-4 end (Or Kerry Neal). And we'd have true freshman Te'o and maybe redshirt freshman Filer in the middle. Seems like too many undersized/inexperienced guys to run that defense. Plus, our best defensive lineman, Ethan Johnson, would be in the "take up blockers" role as a 3-4 end, and I'd rather see him utilized in a different way.

The decision between a 4-3 and a 3-4 comes down to whether you want an extra DT or an extra LB on the field. In college football, give me that extra d-lineman all day long. You cannot win in college football if you can't stop the run, and we've had one of the worst run defenses in the country the last couple years. I think it's because we haven't had enough beef up front. Our 3 linemen would get blocked easily, and then the RB would be 3-4 yards down the field with a full head of steam by the time our LBs got a shot at him. It's not a good sign when David Bruton has to be in on every tackle to stop the run.

One question about the 4-3 is how Tenuta/Brown plan to utilize the personnel. One idea that has been floated would be to move Ethan Johnson inside to defensive tackle. Not sure if I really like that move. Isn't the whole point of moving to the 4-3 so that we can get some beef up front?? If we have EJ in the middle, he becomes an undersized DT. We'd still probably be vulnerable against the run.

I'm curious to see if one of these redshirt freshmen DTs (Hafis Williams, Cwynar, Newman, etc) can step up and win a DT job alongside Ian Williams. If Hafis can win a job, you can move Ethan Johnson to his natural DE spot, and he can be flanked by KLM on the other side. On 3rd down maybe you move Ethan Johnson inside and bring in Kerry Neal/Fleming to defensive end. Sort of like what the Giants have done with Justin Tuck at times. Suddenly, a terrible pass rush unit could be pretty potent with all those stud d-ends in the game. I think this alignment would give us a lot of flexibility, and it would put people in a position to succeed. Squeezing this team into a 3-4 set without the right personnel always had a little bit of a "square peg in a round hole" feel to it. I like how the 4-3 sets up.

At linebacker, I love Brian Smith as a 4-3 OLB, and I'd probably have Te'o as my other OLB initially. Maybe Filer can win the MLB job, but we also have Toryan Smith around. There are plenty of people to fill those linebacker spots, and we can always try to show a 3-4 look at times with Neal and Fleming.

The story of the 2009 d-line?? I'll go ahead and say it's Kapron Lewis Moore. 6-4, 260, blazing fast, came up here from Weatherford, Texas (I agree with Matt on the Texas town names. They're the best). This guy has been getting rave reviews all year. Get him on the field and see if he can turn into a pass rushing freak. That's the type of presence we need to get pressure on the QB. Can't wait for Bob Davie to comment on KAPRONNNNNN LEWWWWWWIS MOOOOOOOOOORE from WEAAAAAAATHERRRRRRRFOOOOOOOORD, TEXXXXXXXXXXXXXXAS next year. Can't you hear him saying that?

3) Running game - Some interesting stuff coming out from the press conferences of Verducci and Alford on the running game. First, I think Alford sounds like a terrific guy and a good coach. The reviews of him from players have all been really good. We definitely upgraded at the running backs coach position from Mike Haywood (Miami (Ohio) fans...feel free to punch yourselves now after reading that last sentence....i know, the truth hurts). Our running back play has been turrrrrrrrrrrible for a number of years. Our running backs don't hit the hole, they don't break tackles, and they can't seem to stay on their feet. Robert Hughes has regressed. The o-line didn't help, but the running back play needs to get better. There are 4-5 star types all over the place back there.

As for the o-line, Verducci has been saying all the right things. Toughness and fundamentals are his priority, and he plans to really revamp the running game as the new "running game coordinator." I don't know what a running game coordinator does, but that's Verducci. By the way, Charlie Weis really embraces the job-related titles for his staff. We have like 14 "coordinators" and "associate head coaches" right now. Weis makes President Obama's staff of 700 advisers and "czars" and other superfluous nonsense look modest in comparison.

Anyway, we averaged like 3 yards a carry or something absurd like that last year, and Weis wants to bump that up another yard per carry. I'm all for it. You close games out on the ground, and you need to be able to have the threat of a run game to have success on offense. We can't have a repeat of 2008 where teams just sat back with 7 Dbs and waited for Clausen to throw into double coverage because we couldn't run the ball at all.

The ND o-line should always bee good. No excuses. Weis talked all last year about how he was going to "pound it" on the ground. That lasted all of two quarters of the FIRST GAME.

4) Grab-bagging - Uh oh. There's that word again. Amidst all my positivity, I had to drag out the dread "g" word after this press conference because it's still lingering around this program.

Weis is in his fifth year as the head coach at Notre Dame, and the following changes have been made in the last year or so:

1) Weis switched from the 4-3 defense to the 3-4 defense (even hiring a 3-4 guy in Corwin Brown and stating publicly that he was more comfortable in the 3-4) and now have SWITCHED BACK to the 4-3 defense that is now coached by a 4-3 guy (Tenuta)

2) We had a stated goal to "pound it" heading into the 2008 season, gave up on it in the FIRST GAME of the season, and now have a stated goal in 2009 to run the ball again

3) Weis may or may not be moving to the booth to coach the team next year after spending the last four years on the sideline (including a couple pretty good years in his early tenure)

4) Weis gave up the playcalling duties before the 2008 season in an attempt to be more of a "head coach", took them back in the middle of the season, and now is keeping them indefinitely

5) We have a new d-line coach, a new defensive playcaller, a new o-line coach, and a new running backs coach

And that's before you get to the week-to-week (and even in-game) changes that we've seen in the last couple years where we seem to fluctuate from pro-style to the no-huddle "chaos" mode to the spread to "wildcat" with no apparent commitment to anything (other than fades and jump balls of course). While I think these moves are all defensible and probably even beneficial to the program, isn't there also a little bit of a "I'm desperate, I'll do anything" feel to these moves?? Does anyone think Nick Saban is going to switch out of the 3-4 in a year or two and then SWITCH BACK to the 3-4 a year or two later?? Does anyone think Urban Meyer is giving up his duties as the sideline motivator and moving up to the booth any time soon?? Does anyone think Pete Carroll is suddenly going to stop calling defensive plays and then take them back half a season later??

Look, I am long past the point of bemoaning that Weis didn't have prior head coaching experience. We made the decision to hire this guy (which in retrospect was probably not a great move), and we're going to have to live with the growing pains. Part of the growing pains will be Charlie learning on the job what he needs and what he likes and what he wants to do. We've gone through all sorts of trial and error, but that's what we signed up for when we hired a first time head coach. It was inevitable that coaching changes would be made and philosophies would be adjusted. At some point, the investment made in Weis' on-the-job training may actually pay off once he figures this stuff out.

At the same time, I can't help but wonder if all these moves are more signs of a leadership vacuum that continues to exist within this program. If fans are confused about what is going on, can you imagine being a Notre Dame football player these days?? Some of them will be on their 3rd defense, their third playcaller, new o-line coach, new d-line coach, new RBs coach, and now the head coach is talking about going up in the booth. There's no continuity with this program under Weis. The guy is a mad scientist. It's one thing to tinker and another thing to CONSTANTLY tinker. You don't see this kind of inconsistency with Saban and Tressel and Mack Brown and others. They have run the same program since day one at their respective jobs.

5) Randy Hart - Finally, I'll end on some potentially really good news. The new d-line coach has apparently been hired. Randy Hart (sounds like a WWF wrestler) from the Washington Huskies. He's been there for a long time, and he seems to be old-school and highly-respected.

One sentence from his bio jumped out at me.

A disciple of Ohio State's legendary Woody Hayes

................Sorry, had to just tuck in my chubby. The name Wayne Woodrow Hayes always gets my attention, and I couldn't be happier that we have inherited a disciple of the "Old Man." Hayes doesn't have too bad of a track record for developing coaches, and two pretty good ones had a little bit of success at ND in their day:

Lou Holtz
Ara Parseghian

Hart played and coached under Hayes, he grew up in Cleveland, and he coached the d-line of the 1991 UW National Title team led by Steve Emtman. And he's INTENSE. My kind of guy. If Hart is the kind of old school coach who understands the physical style of football that has been successful in the Midwest for almost a century, then he was the perfect hire for the defensive line at ND. Anyone tied to the Hayes tree is going to understand that you win in football by winning the war in the trenches and beating up the man in front of you. Hart will hopefully send that message to Ian Williams and Ethan Johnson. And he seems like a good mentor for Bryant Young if BY is really serious about getting into coaching.

There's a perception that Weis only hires "Belichick guys," but he really hasn't followed that pattern much in recent hires. Tenuta, Hart, and Alford all come from outside that tree. Good to see.

Overall, I thought Weis had a lot of interesting things to say in the press conference, and I thought it went well. He has made a lot of changes, and most of the changes look good on paper. Time will tell how they look on the field.

I'm already fired up for spring practice!! Go ahead and pen me in for attending the Blue-Gold Game this year. April 18, 2009 inside lovely Notre Dame Stadium. Mark those calendars! Go Irish!

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