December 22, 2009

Notre Dame round-up: Thoughts on Austin Collinsworth, Vinny Cerrato and Brian Kelly on recruiting and player development, and a big win for ND hoops

Some thoughts on the latest developments in the world of ND sports:

(3) Nice win for ND hoops the other day against UCLA. I don't think this team is an NCAA Tournament team, but I'm stepping away from the ledge a little bit. After the Northwestern game, I walked away thinking we were a bottom 5 Big East team with an NIT-type ceiling, but I was encouraged by our performance in the UCLA game. Still a terrible team defensively, but at least a core nucleus is starting to define itself. Nash and Gody up front, Abro on the wing, Hansbrough and Tory Jackson at guard, and Peoples coming off the bench.

Some observations on the starting five:

-- Love Abromaitis this year. He's Danny Miller reincarnated. Not only is he a great shooter, but I love that he can put it on the floor and drive aggressively to the bucket. Abro is going to have a great career at ND. Two more years of him. Wow. Gotta get him up to speed defensively, but he's already a very good offensive player.

--Anyone else think that Tory Jackson looks a little too bulky this year? I won't say he looks pudgy. Just wider and thicker. Not sure if it's on purpose to withstand the rigors of Big East basketball (he has worn down the last two seasons), but I prefer the quicker and smaller Tory Jackson. He just doesn't look as explosive this year.

--Nash is an interesting player. He's not a Big East-caliber power forward right now by any means, but at least he has a Big East-kinda body. He might still be raw, but at least he can get in there and bang. We haven't had many guys like Nash in this program in the last ten years. I know he's already a junior, but Nash is a guy who should continue to get better and better and hopefully will be a rebounding/low post force by this time next year.

--Also liked what Hansbrough showed against the Bruins. He looks a lot more comfortable in the Brey system than he was earlier in the year. Not as capable of taking over a game like McAlarney, but a better ballhandler and rebounder. Problem is that I wonder if he'll be capable of guarding 2-guards in the Big East. I have my concerns.

--As for Harangody, this is completely unfair to say this about him, but I really wish he would put the NBA stuff behind him and get back to camping out in the low post. When Harangody is in the low post and driving to the bucket and getting to the free throw line and clearing the offensive glass, he's the best player in the Big East and one of the most dominant players in the country. When he's out there chucking up fadeaways from 20 feet and shooting threes and lingering on the 3 point line, he becomes a guy that teams aren't afraid of. Teams don't mind Harangody shooting 22 footers, and they certainly don't mind it when he's not inside grabbing offensive rebounds.

I know Harangody wants to prove to NBA scouts that he can hit perimeter shots, but this team needs him inside. It's not like we have anyone else on this roster who can camp out down low while Gody works the perimeter. This team is going nowhere with him on the outside hoisting up shots.

On the whole, it's a pretty good starting five that might be fairly frisky in league play. Throw in Peoples off the bench, and that's really not a bad nucleus of 6 guys right there. You can win games with those 6 guys. Of course, that's also the problem. We're only playing 6 guys!! AGAIN!! Death, taxes, and Mike Brey playing 6 guys. By March when this team is sucking wind for the 10th straight year, we'll all be complaining about yet another late season fade. You can practically set your watch to it.

Here's your minute distribution from Saturday:

Luke Harangody - 39 minutes
Tory Jackson - 39 minutes
Ben Hansbrough - 39 minutes
Tyrone Nash - 33 minutes
Tim Abromaitis - 26 minutes
Jon Peoples - 16 minutes
Carl Scott - 8 minutes

Three guys played 39 minutes. Is there any doubt that Jackson and Hansbrough will be out of gas by the end of February?? Tory Jackson will probably go down as the all-time minutes leader at ND. How could he not?? The guy hasn't been off the floor in four years.

Nothing against either of those guys, but they shouldn't be playing 39-40 minutes every single night, especially in the Big East. All you're asking for is tired legs, especially when teams like Louisville start throwing waves of 3-4 guys at a time at them. How has Brey not learned these lessons after all these years of doing the same thing over and over and over?? We've gone from Chris Thomas playing 40 minutes a game to Chris Quinn playing 40 minutes a game to Colin Falls to Tory Jackson and now to Ben Hansbrough. I think I wrote before the season that I had no doubt that Hansbrough would be playing 35+ minutes every night. I was hoping that Brey would prove me wrong, but that's where we're headed yet again.

The other thing about the heavy minutes is that we know it has an effect on the defense. Heck, Brey admits it. If you're playing 39 minutes every night, you're going to conserve yourself and maybe take some possessions off. It also hurts your ability to close out a game. If you're tired and the other team makes a charge late in the game, it's harder to hold up.

Look, I love Brey's offense, and I do think this team can be competitive in the Big East if the core nucleus continues to grow together. I feel better about this team after watching them on Saturday, and I'm as tired of talking about the 6 man rotations and shaky defense year after year as anyone. But it does amaze me that we do the exact same stuff every single year.

The 6 man rotation will hurt this team down the stretch and in the Big East Tournament. It does every year.

(2) On to football. I don't see what the big fuss is about Austin Collinsworth signing with ND. It's one recruit!! It's not like Kelly views Collinsworth as the cornerstone of this program. He's just a guy that Kelly has been scouting for a couple years who he thought would be a good fit in his system. What's wrong with that?? Did I miss the memo that ND no longer recruits 3 star players?? Not every guy you bring in is going to be a superstar. Every team has to bring in some 3 star type guys to fill out a class.

I was actually hoping Weis would float a scholarship to Austin Collinsworth a couple months ago. Maybe Collinsworth will amount to nothing at ND, but he's the type of guy I like taking a chance on. He played at a legendary high school program in northern Kentucky, and he's got those bloodlines. His dad was an all-time great with the Bengals.

I don't care what star he is. If Kelly thinks he can play and that he'll fit into his system, that's good enough for me. RKGs. That's what I want out of my head coach. Kelly has been a head coach long enough to know what types of players he wants, and if he thinks Collinsworth is worth giving a shot, sign me up.

Brian Kelly is going to bring in a whole new philosophy to recruiting and player development. I'm beginning to realize that personnel evaluation is the most underrated aspect of being a head coach in college football. We always equate personnel evaluations with NFL scouting for the draft, but it's probably even more important on the college level. What kind of athletes are you looking for?? What types of guys do you need to win in your system?? Where do you see guys projecting in terms of position when they get to college?? You are taking 17-18 year old kids and trying to mold them into football players. Personnel evaluation is a huge part of the game, and you need to have a philosophy for how to do it.

On that note, I read an outstanding article from Lou Somogyi in Blue and Gold Illustrated the other day. If you don't read anything else the rest of the offseason about ND football, I'd recommend this article just for the insight into player evaluation.

Some great quotes here from Vinny Cerrato:

“I never wanted to take an offensive lineman in high school who was just an O-lineman — because if he can’t play O-line, where is he going to play?” Cerrato noted. “It’s a wasted scholarship.”

“When we won the national title, Ricky (Watters) and Rocket were our receivers,” noted Cerrato of shifting Watters to flanker and Ismail to split end. “It was about recruiting athletes and speed. We never said, ‘We’re going to take four defensive linemen this year

“If you look at our great defensive linemen (Chris) Zorich, (Bryant) Young, (Jim) Flanigan … they came in as linebackers. Before we offered anyone, I had to see him do something live physically. I wanted to see all the DBs play basketball. I never saw (quarterback) Tony Rice play football. I saw him play basketball a number of times … If they have the feet and are smart, they can play a lot of positions.”

How great is that?? I learned more in three quotes about recruiting and player evaluation from Vinny Cerrato than anything I've read on those subjects in ten years of following Davie, Willingham, and Weis.

Cerrato (and by proxy, Lou Holtz) wanted athletes first. They'd worry about positions from there. They liked recruiting defensive linemen because those guys tended to be more physical than offensive linemen. If a guy is physical, you can work with that. You can move a guy who played nose guard in high school to guard in college, and he can blow guys off the ball. You could also take a great athlete who came in as a tight end and bulk him up into an offensive tackle.

They also looked for speed and agility for their backs. QBs, DBs, RBs, WRs, etc. They didn't care about technique or any of that. They could coach all that into you. They wanted to see that you had the raw abilities to be great. It's that "finished product" debate that we've had so many times on this blog in the past couple years. Do you go for athletes who you can mold or the "finished product" guys that have higher floors but lower ceilings?? ND has skewed too much toward the "finished products" in recent years. Notice how a lot of these "finished products" will look good their freshman year and then tail off as other guys catch up to them.

This is the type of stuff that I don't think Weis ever really understood about the college game. Weis recruited positions. He treated these guys like they were finished products at a certain position, like it was the NFL Draft or something. If you played o-line in high school, you played o-line at ND. If you played rb in high school, you played rb in college. If you played lb in high school, that's what you were under Weis. DUMB. In recruiting, you take athletes, and figure it out from there. How do we know a guy like Robert Hughes couldn't have been a nasty linebacker?? Or that a guy like Cierre Wood couldn't have contributed at safety?? Or if some of those linebackers could have bulked up into defensive ends or even defensive tackles?? Or a guy like Hafis Williams as a bulldozer offensive guard or center??

It is so important to be able to visualize where a recruit should be playing. Weis had no real plan on where he wanted guys, especially defensively. He just went off the Tom Lemming reports. I actually think Weis got better at identifying prospects as he went along (really liked the Utopo signing as a projected DT), but he dug himself in a hole early on.

Here's another great interview with Kelly where you really get a feel for what he values in terms of recruiting and managing his staff. Great quotes right here:

“But even more so in recruiting. I think where we got off track as programs is that recruiting becomes a résumé-builder and we’re not here to build résumés. We’re here to recruit the right kind of guys. When I talk about coaching the coaches in those particular areas, making sure the message is clear on a day-to-day basis – offense, defense and special teams – in terms of what we want from our young men and secondly, in the recruiting process. We’re all recruiting for the same reasons. It’s not about who’s in your area geographically and what you’ve got out of your area.

“I’ll give you an example, right now Tony Alford is recruiting all of those areas. He’s doing a heck of a job because he doesn’t have to worry about, ‘This is my area and I’ve got to go before of the coach and I’ve got to tell coach my guy in my area is better because of these reasons than the kid in this geographical area. That’s how you want to recruit.”

Let’s face it, if the recruiting is dysfunctional, if you’re out there just, ‘Hey, look at the guys I pulled.’ If that’s all you do and that’s your agenda, that doesn’t serve the good of the overall program. It’s the same thing relative to, ‘My DBs are doing great. They’ve never had the ball thrown over their head.’ Well, it doesn’t matter. We’re not winning games and that’s the work that I do on a day-to-day basis.”

WOW. Phenomenal stuff and the type of stuff we haven't heard from an ND coach in a long time. It's almost as if he's taking shots directly across the bow of Charlie Weis and even Brian Polian. Recruiting isn't some resume-builder thing or getting this many stars or whatever. Recruiting can only be successful if it helps you win games in the fall. The assistants should be on the same page pulling together to find the best players for the program. And if you can't coach, you're not on the staff. Kelly doesn't want a bunch of glorified recruiters on staff.

I almost feel like Kelly is trying to wean ND fans off the star rankings and all that other stuff. We've been so brainwashed by the Tom Lemmings of the world into buying into all the hype, but none of that has gotten us anywhere in terms of wins. Of course, you need to find great players in recruiting, but it has to be the right kind of guys and an overall team philosophy toward recruiting. A four star finished product type with a low ceiling and a shaky work ethic is not a "good" recruit even if his star ranking is high. And recruiting a four star offensive linemen just because of his star ranking and his high school position might not be as wise as grabbing an athletic four star defensive linemen who could potentially switch over to offense someday. Kelly is trying to set a different type of bar for recruiting than the one we've been used to for all these years.

I think Kelly will do the best job of evaluating personnel since Holtz. He has a good eye for talent, and he was a master at getting guys into the right positions in his UC days. The Connor Barwin project was probably his best work, but he did it with a number of guys. Kelly knows what an OT or a guard should look like in his system and what that player should be able to do from an athletic standpoint. I think he'll be a major upgrade in the personnel department.

(1) Finally, a couple staff developments. Great to see that Paul Longo is coming on board as the new strength coach. Sounds like that guy is a critical component of Kelly's success and the one guy that he needed to bring with him to ND. Seems like Kelly's big thing is producing mentally and physically tough players, and Longo is the point man on that front. I'm a huge believer in offseason preparation leading to success on the field. Very pleased about the Longo hire.

Tough break losing Jeff Quinn to Buffalo though. I was hoping he would be joining Kelly at ND. Quinn has been with Kelly for almost 20 years. Seems like there are conflicting reports out there about how valuable Quinn was to Kelly's system. Some folks will say that he was integral, but others say that Kelly is the brains behind the operation and that everyone else is just riding his coattails. I really have no idea. All we can do is wait and see how things turn out.

As for his replacement, rumors seem to be circulating that Mike Denbrock will be replacing Quinn as the o-line coach. Hearing the words "former Tyrone Willingham assistant" and "associate head coach at Indiana State" associated with Denbrock aren't exactly music to my ears, but he's another guy from the Kelly coaching tree who has worked with Kelly at Grand Valley State as his offensive coordinator. He should be able to fit right into this program.

Ultimately, no one out there has any idea about these assistants and how valuable they are to a staff and whether they will be productive under Kelly, so it's a waste of time to make a bunch of judgments about the coaching staff. Kelly is very hard on his assistants, so he seems to prefer guys who are familiar with his style of coaching.

It all comes down to a philosophy on how you want to manage your program as a head coach. There are two types of head coaches:

1) The CEO head coach -- Examples would be Mack Brown, Les Miles, even Bob Stoops -- Guys who will set the tone as far as an overall philosophy (recruiting, defense, management), but leave a lot of the details to their assistants. Seems like the assistants on staff are really important because of the role they play in the program.

2) The micro-manager head coach -- Examples in my opinion would be Urban Meyer, Nick Saban, Jim Tressel -- This is the group of coaches who really prefer to be involved in every detail of the program, and manage things from the top down. With these guys, the assistants might be talented, but they are usually younger guns who are going to take orders from the top.

Urban Meyer is the perfect example of the micro-manager head coach. I don't think it matters who his assistants are. He just hires guys who can take orders and who he is comfortable with. He doesn't need to bring in some established big name offensive coordinator or DC to prop him up. All the ideas flow through him anyway, so those guys would just be getting in his way. And if Urban loses a couple assistants, he just moves on to the next guy, especially since that guy is taking orders from him anyway.

Same with Saban. Saban likes having young gun assistants on his staff who are hungry and ready to learn from him and take orders, but Saban is the ideas man. Saban found Will Muschamp when Muschamp was a young stud assistant, but everything Muschamp was doing was coming from Saban. Muschamp learned at the knee of Saban, and now he's off doing his thing at Texas. Saban just moves on to the next guy.

Meanwhile, Mack Brown seems like an extreme delegator who really is dependent on his staff to set the tone for the program. His assistants aren't just lackeys or young guns taking orders. They are actually out there running the show on their side of the ball. It's not some coincidence that Texas' defense has been great these last couple years under Will Muschamp and that Texas is paying Muschamp head coach money to stay around. Mack Brown really relies on these big time assistants. Whenever he has had staff turnover, the team has taken a step back.

I don't really think there's a good way or a bad way to run things. We've seen coaches have success using both formulas. Mack Brown is a CEO type coach, and he is one of the most successful coaches in the game. But personally, I like the micro-manager head coach and especially at a place like Notre Dame. These guys usually have a philosophy that they believe will win them games, and they bring in assistants who can work under that philosophy.

I think Kelly fits into the micro-manager profile. He has a system in place, and he only wants assistants who will fit into that system. He's not going to hire a big name DC because Kelly already has his own philosophy on how to run a defense that has won him many games. He might bring in a young gun like Bob Diaco, but Diaco is going to be selling the Kelly brand. Same with offense. Kelly is the de-facto offensive coordinator.

The only downside with a micro-manager is the stubbornness factor. Perfect example would be Jim Tressel. Tressel has his own philosophy on how to run an offense, and there is no way he's delegating that authority to some outside offensive coordinator even if it might be beneficial to the program. People have been clamoring for a new offensive coordinator for years, but Tressel is not bringing in some Gus Malzahn type guy to spice things up. That's just not how he's wired. He's a micromanager. He is going to run the offense his way, and that's that.

Kelly really hasn't been at any job long enough to develop a reputation for stubbornness or refusing to change an obvious flaw, so we don't know how we'll respond to some adversity on that front. The good news is that Kelly has proven to be very flexible in terms of changing philosophies and has tried to stay ahead of the game at each stop he's made. He recently changed to a 3-4 defensive philosophy, and he's gone from a power running attack to more of a pass-oriented attack since he's been at UC. Kelly is a full-control kinda guy, but he also seems to be very introspective in terms of changing and adjusting along the way. He doesn't need outside coaches to bring in new ideas if things go stale because he seems to reinvent himself with new ideas all the time.

The more I read about Kelly, the more excited I get about his tenure at ND. He is going to bring a new approach to recruiting and staffing and offseason preparation that we have not seen in this program since Holtz. When I read things from Kelly, he reminds me of what we've heard from the other great head coaches out there in college football.

Should be interesting to see what happens with the rest of this coaching staff. I'm very interested to see how the defensive staff shakes out.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Saban likes having young gun assistants on his staff who are hungry and ready to learn from him..." Okay, then explains to me Bobby Williams - - perhaps, his presence demonstrates what is lacking in your analysis of college recruiting.