Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Book on Weis

"You are what you are, folks, and right now you're a 6-5 football team. And guess what, that's just not good enough. That's not good enough for you, and it's certainly not going to be good enough for me. So, if you think they hired me here to go .500, you've got the wrong guy. But you are what you are. How fast or how well we get and how long it takes to get to the top, I'm not giving you those answers. I'm not going to predict that. But I can tell you this. You are going to have a hard-working, intelligent, nasty football team that goes on the field because the attitude of the head coach will be permeated through the players."
-Charlie Weis

For those of you just joining us, Charlie Weis is the new head coach for the University of Notre Dame. A 1978 Notre Dame graduate, he comes to us from the 3-time Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots, where he served as Offensive Coordinator. Rather than go on and on about Charlie's biography and background, I am simply going to present my argument that Charlie Weis was the best choice for Notre Dame, far superior to Urban Meyer (the popular choice at the beginning of the search for a new football coach) and also far superior to Tyrone Willingham, Weis' predecessor at Notre Dame.

Charlie Weis has been successful in every position he has held as a football coach

Charlie Weis began his coaching career as an assistant coach in high school. I couldn't find records for his teams during that time, but he must have been successful, as he was hired as a graduate assistant at the University of South Carolina.

For all of the hype surrounding Charlie's offensive mind, his first positions were with the defensive backs (1985) then linebackers (1986), then defensive ends (1987). While he was certainly not the sole reason for the team's results, he helped coach almost every defensive player on that team, which played in back to back bowls (1988 Gator, 1989 Liberty). Also of note, Charlie was appointed assistant recruiting coordinator for the 1988 season; this is paying dividends today.

Charlie then spent a year as a high school head coach. Result: 10-1. Mid-State Champions

Then the Tuna (Bill Parcells) called, and Charlie was off to the NFL. After a year as a defensive and special teams assistant, he won his first Super Bowl ring with the New York Giants.

The next year he was moved to running backs coach. The result: Rodney Hampton's first 1,000 yard rushing season in 1991, followed by Rodney Hampton's first Pro Bowl appearance in 1992.

The Tuna moved to New England, and brought his protégé with him. Charlie was moved from running backs to tight ends. Charlie suffered his worst outing as far as win-loss record, going 5-11 on the year. However, rebuilding projects take time, and TE Ben Coates was named to the Pro-Bowl during his second year under Charlie.

Charlie was then moved back to running backs, and he pushed the Tuna to draft a young running back who was on nobody's radar: Curtis Martin. The result: Curtis Martin is elected to the Pro-Bowl in his very first season under the tutelage of Weis after rushing for over 1,400 yards.

The Tuna needed a passing game, however, and so he moved Charlie to Wide Receivers. Again, Charlie and the Tuna draft a rookie. The result: Rookie WR Terry Glenn becomes a 1,100 yard receiver.

Again, the Tuna changes teams, and so does Charlie, although he is still a receivers coach. So what does Charlie do? He takes an underperforming young receiver named Keyshawn Johnson and gets him elected to the Pro-Bowl after his second year under Charlie.

That second year, 1998, Charlie was both the Offensive Coordinator and the Receivers coach. His offense was 4th in the National Football League in total offense, and the Jets went 12-4, narrowly missing a Super Bowl berth, losing in the AFC title game.

In '99 K. Johnson was elected to his second straight Pro-Bowl under Charlie.

In 2000, Charlie was hired out from under the Tuna by his buddy Bill Belichik to go back to the Patriots. Charlie is made the offensive coordinator and running backs coach. The first year as coach of the Patriots, Charlie and the Patriots repeated the 5-11 record he experienced the first time with the Patriots, largely due to current USC head coach Pete Carroll's careful three-year dismantling of Bill Parcell's team.

During his second year with the Patriots, Belichik gave Charlie even more responsibility, making him quarterbacks coach on top of his current duties as running backs coach and offensive coordinator. The result: Due to a lucky break (pun intended) Charlie's friend and protégé Tom Brady is handed the reins of the program when long-time starter Bledsoe goes down. The Patriots win the Superbowl, and Tom Brady is named MVP.

Charlie, as offensive coordinator, won two of the next three Super Bowls, and his buddy named Brady was named MVP of both.

This brings us to his current position: Head Coach of Notre Dame.

To sum it up: Four Super Bowl rings. Developed a Pro-Bowl caliber player at every position he coached. Quite simply has never failed (within two years) to achieve his goals as a coach.

Charlie Weis is a "Notre Dame Guy"

19 total National Championships, 11 of which are consensus (almost all Domers use only the 11 championship number, 'cause its still nearly twice as many as any other school, and it avoids the whole consensus/shared argument - oddly enough, however, USC is getting no guff for claiming its shared National Title from two years ago).

7 Heisman trophy winners.

77 Consensus All-Americans.

The highest winning percentage in college football (until the Davie/Willingham era, now we trail Michigan by like a hundredth of one percent).

But Notre Dame, contrary to the voices of all the Notre Dame haters, is not all about winning. Fr. Hesburgh said it best:

"There is no academic virtue in playing mediocre football and no academic vice in winning a game that by all odds one should lose….. . There has been a surrender at Notre Dame, but it is a surrender to excellence on all fronts, and in this we hope to rise above ourselves with the help of God."

What make Charlie a Notre Dame guy is that he probably relates more to Fr. Hesburgh's quote about excellence than he does to the expectations of championships and Heisman trophy winners. The following are some quotes in which Charlie shows that he understands how Notre Dame football works far better than Tyrone "I've never been a loser" Willingham and Bob "Now Notre Dame is all about winning" Davie.

On academic requirements:
"The most important thing is to find those guys, who are academically and character-wise combined with football ability give you an opportunity to be proud of them when they end up graduating from Notre Dame that they are a high-character kid who was able to graduate and by the way they could play a little football, too."

On recruiting:
"When young men are deciding to come to college, they should be picking Notre Dame for Notre Dame."
"Recruiting is recruiting, and it's people skills and you have to be able to sell both the school and yourself. I have the utmost confidence that I'll be able to do both of those things."

On scheduling: "They schedule them and we play them. That's the way it is. If they are on road, you have to go win on the road. If they are at home, you have to win at home. And I think that the people complain about those things are looking for excuses. The schedule is what it is. I don't make the schedule. I just play it."
"Doesn't make any difference where you go, you intend on beating them."

On choosing Notre Dame rather than a pro head coaching position:
"It's Notre Dame."

Charlie Weis understands the college football landscape

I alluded to Charlie's thoughts on recruiting above, but Charlie is no pie-in-the-sky idealist when it comes to getting things done. A great example of this is in recruiting, which many so-called experts said he would struggle with when he was hired.

The first thing Charlie does in recruiting is sell himself. Shortly after being hired, he made a circuit to every dorm and graduate school at Notre Dame. I was at his talk at the law school at Notre Dame, and I can tell you from personal experience that those Super Bowl rings are impressive, and he's not shy about flashing them. As Charlie puts it, "they [the recruits] come here to play on Saturday so that they can get to play on Sunday. I know what it takes to play on Sunday." When he is pitching a recruit, he casually brings his hand full of Super Bowl rings up to his chin while he speaks, and if the recruits eyes don't become transfixed, he starts fiddling with the rings, taking them on and off. He told us that every one of the recruits he has talked to has gotten a little googly-eyed looking at them.

But Charlie isn't just selling his NFL experience. He is also selling the school. Because he is a Notre Dame guy, and an alum, he can tell the students about the academics, the atmosphere, the incredible support system at Notre Dame (of which I can attest to with first-hand knowledge).
He can sell the history: the four horsemen, Joe Montana, Tim Brown, and Jerome Bettis.
He can sell the future: The "Gug," our new multi-million dollar training facility, the recently renovated stadium, his relationships with former Irish standouts such as Montana, Theismann, Brown, Ismail, and Zorich, and their futures with the program, his coaching staff, which when compared to Ty's staff, is like comparing Navy Seals to Mall Cops (thank you to NDNation for the analogy).

And the best part of all is that his plan is working. In his first full recruiting class, Charlie's verbal commits to date (12) comprise a class that far exceeds any of the classes that Willingham or Davie brought in, and is currently the best recruiting class in the country, with the possible exception of Texas. He has two potential superstar quarterbacks (both in the top 5), a stud running back (rated as high as 3rd in the country), and an excellent fullback to lead block for him behind a great O-lineman. He has one of the nation's best tight ends, and two solid Wide Receivers. On defense, he's gotten commits from a great cornerback prospect, and plenty of help for his defensive line. The best part is that he's not done. Notre Dame is on the short list of the nation's top tight end, top cornerback, top offensive tackle, top defensive tackle, two of the top ten receivers, three of the top five offensive guards, and a top five linebacker. At the rate he is going, and with a couple of breaks, this class has the potential to go down as not just the best recruiting class in the past decade, but as one of the best of all-time.

And people said he couldn't recruit. If he keeps this up, soon he'll have another ring to flash around.

Charlie Weis will enjoy the level of institutional support that the program deserves

While every time a new coach is hired at Notre Dame, there is a lot of rhetoric about it being a new era, this time is different. There is more than just a new coach at Notre Dame. Construction just wrapped up on the "Gug" and the dome has been regilded. But the real reason that this is truly a new era at Notre Dame is that the University, not just the football team, is under new management.

Please bear with me for a moment while I rant about the failure of Monk Malloy as a president - it might take a while. In the history of Notre Dame, many legendary men have served as President of the University: Fr. Edward Sorin, Fr. John Cavanaugh, Fr. Theodore Hesburgh. Sadly, Edward "Monk" Malloy will not go down in history as one of the great presidents. During his tenure, the University's great achievements were largely the result of projects started by Fr. Hesburgh, which "Monk" was powerless to stop. He inherited a national championship caliber football program, and slowly attempted to dismantle it in an attempt to prevent the football program from outshining the academics at Notre Dame. Apparently Fr. Hesburgh's words about academic virtue and athletic excellence fell on deaf ears. When Malloy hired replacements at the University, rather than searching for great leaders and thinkers, he searched for yes men who would follow his lead. There are exceptions to that rule, but certainly as it pertains to the athletic department, he has gone wrong. After pushing out Holtz for being too difficult to control, he ignored pushes to hire some of the great coaches available in favor of a Notre Dame assistant, Bob Davie. Davie did everything Monk wanted, but despite his extension of Davie's contract, the cries of the alumni and board were too much, and Davie was terminated. Then, Monk and his yes-man AD White, botched the following search process, offering the position to several high-profile candidates, but not selling them on the idea, before settling on a sub-par choice, George O'Leary of the Georgia Tech Yellowjackets. Then, having failed to perform even a perfunctory background check into his credentials, they installed him as head coach. Seemingly moments later, O'Leary resigned in shame after it was discovered by the media that he had lied on his resume. Frantic, Monk and White chose the best candidate from a P.R. perspective, without considering factors such as ability to succeed. Thus started the brief career of Tyrone Willingham. The first African-American football coach at Notre Dame, even that did little to curb the haters, as they hounded Notre Dame for not having made that choice the first time around. Willingham, in the eyes of fans and alum, was a decent choice, but they were far from impressed with his resume. After a season marked by excellent defensive play (for all of Davie's faults, he is a great defensive mind), Williingham's inability to create any offense resulted in failure to land a BCS bowl game despite an 8-0 start. It was all down hill from there. After the 8-0 start, the next two and a half years was the worst period in Notre Dame history since Joe Kuharic; worse even than Gerry Faust. Notre Dame routinely got routed by opponents, lost games that they should have been able to win on talent alone, and posted on of the worst back-to-back years in history. The team was making progress in throwing the ball, but other aspects crumbled. The secondary which in his first year almost single handedly won the first eight games had slipped to the bottom of the barrel in pass defense. Special teams, another highlight of his good start, had been marked by blunder after blunder, hallmarks of poorly coached players. Willingham was fired (and for good reason) when the board of directors, alumni, fans, and students cried out with one voice that this was unacceptable. Monk was in his last year of his presidency, and was overruled by the board in the decision to fire Ty. Because he was on his way out, he was (thankfully) not involved in the search process for the next coach. However, Monk never liked people to stand up to him, and instead of standing by the decision of the University and supporting the incoming President, he publicly denounced the firing of Willingham and made a mockery of the administration of the University.

Compare the comedy of errors above to what the new search team of Jenkins and White did. They initially contacted the popular choice for coach, Urban Meyer, but learned that he had already completed negotiations with Florida. They contacted the usual suspects mentioned by alums (Gruden, Shanahan, etc.) but really had their sights on getting a Notre Dame guy, not someone else's great coach. None of the other great coaches at Notre Dame were somebody else's championship head coach, it would almost cheapen the aura of Notre Dame.

Two names came up that were Notre Dame guys who had the credentials to make a successful jump to head coach of Notre Dame: Tom Clements and Charlie Weis. While Clements would have had a lot of nostalgic support (he won a National Championship for Notre Dame), Charlie had the better resume. And so the new era began.

Charlie and the administration worked together to put the program back together. The new administration has given Coach Weis everything he needs to recruit, support, and coach elite athletes. He was given a blank check to go find his assistants. If Ty had done so, instead of showing unfailing loyalty to his Stanford assistants, the program would not have devolved as much as it did - Billy D and Kent Baer were not up to Notre Dame standards. Charlie got the right people for the job. Former head coaches, NFL assistants, even a NFL Europe head coach signed on. They will continue to work together over time to improve and maintain the integrity and competitiveness of the program.

A new shine on the dome, a new President, a new coach, a new training facility. This isn't your Daddy's Notre Dame any more. A new era has arrived.

I could go on for page after page explaining how Charlie has a higher football intellect than any of the coaches he will face, or how his standards for excellence on and off the field will restore the luster to the dome that many critics have tried desperately to tarnish. I could talk endlessly about why he will be more successful in the long run than Urban Meyer, and why he will probably never lose to Tyrone Willingham. However, all of this will become clear over time. I believe that Charlie Weis is the perfect fit for Notre Dame, where every single year he will be expected by media, alums and fans to compete for the national championship, and not just to compete, but to win at minimum once per decade. Charlie understands this, and took the job anyway. Even better, his personal goals he says are even higher. Enough said.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

1-7. The failure to hire Tom Clements 3 times will be the ruin of the nD program.