Monday, October 22, 2007

Media Savvy

Every time I start to doubt Coach Weis, he manages to pull a rabbit out of a hat and renew my confidence.

After the 38-0 drubbing I witnessed on Saturday, I felt numb and had lost all confidence in Coach Weis as I walked across campus. I got back to the car, and listened to the press conference.

Then I heard the carefully worded sound byte that lifted my spirits (albeit briefly) and gave me hope coming down the stretch:

"Enjoy it now."

Three little words, but words dripping with such confidence (or perhaps some would say arrogance) that I couldn't help but be buoyed by the though of smoother sailing ahead.

So that covered the sound byte for Saturday night and Sunday morning, temporarily deflecting the national media spotlight from the fact that this was the second worse loss in the history of Notre Dame Stadium.

So what trick did Coach Weis have up his sleeve to keep the program from being ripped to the ground by a mob of angry alums and fans after being embarassed by our main rival?

A five-star receiver named Michael Floyd.

Say what you will about Weis' on the field struggles with this young team. But him and his staff are damn fine salesmen.

Weis getting Floyd to commit to the Irish this weekend is like selling a car with no wheels to a stock car driver for his next race.

I was talking to my buddy Justin via text message on Saturday while I was at the game, and we both lamented that this loss had to be very, very bad for recruiting. We were worried about kids jumping ship and going someplace with a little more stabilty.

So Coach Weis flipped the script. It has long been rumored that Floyd was all but committed to the Irish shortly after they offered, but Floyd chose to be responsible and work through the entire recruiting cycle to weigh his choices. He stayed out of the media spotlight and just started sifting though his offers.

This weekend, Charlie closed the deal with Floyd, creating the perfect story to deflect the ongoing criticism of his on field struggles on offense.

I have no inside knowledge of Floyd's recruitment, but I'd bet a dollar to a doughnut that Weis and Floyd have known for a little while that he would be Irish. There are some who know Floyd that were convinced that he was only waiting for the All-American game to pull the trigger.

But Coach Weis knew that after this game, we the fans were going to need something to hang our hats on, something to give us hope and confidence. So he asked Floyd to pull the trigger and announce.

I've said time and again on this blog that I think Coach Weis is the right man to run this program. On Saturday evening, I was ready to leap head-first off of that bandwagon.

Now, I'm merely teetering on the edge.

Oh, Coach Weis still needs to turn the offense over to someone else - someone whose FULL TIME JOB is to make sure that it is effective and runs smoothly. He still needs to hire a legitimate special teams coach, and replace Latina as O-line coach. He still needs to work a little harder on fundamentals and assignment football in practice, and a little less on X's and O's. He needs to trust his very talented staff, and focus on player development like he used to as a position coach.

But as the leader of this organization - as a celebrity with a blistering spotlight on him - Coach Weis is as steady as a rock.

The players on this team are behind him, and the freshman class coming may be the best in the history of Notre Dame football. And considering our record, that is a major achievement. To see exactly how hard it is to land a top class with a bad record, look at the past 5 years top 10 recruiting classes and final records of those teams (losing records in bold):

12-1 #1 USC
13-1 #2 LSU
11-2 #5 Miami
10-3 #11 Florida State
10-3 #6 Michigan
11-3 #7 Georgia
12-2 #3 Oklahoma
8-5 Florida
10-3 Tennessee
10-3 #12 Texas

10-3 #13 Tennessee
9-3 #14 Michigan
9-3 #15 Florida State
10-2 #7 Georgia
12-1 #3 Oklahoma
13-0 #1 USC
8-4 #20 Ohio State
10-2 #8 Iowa
10-2 #9 California
5-6 Nebraska (Callahan's first year)

12-1 #2 USC
9-3 #12 Florida
13-0 #1 Texas
10-3 #10 Georgia
9-3 #9 Notre Dame
11-1 #3 Penn State
11-2 #6 LSU
8-4 #22 Oklahoma
9-3 #14 Auburn
7-5 Michigan

13-1 #1 Florida
11-2 #4 USC
10-3 #13 Texas
9-4 #25 Tennessee
11-2 #3 LSU
11-2 #9 Auburn
8-5 South Carolina
6-6 Pittsburgh
7-6 Oregon
11-2 #8 Michigan

1-7 Notre Dame
5-2 UCLA
5-2 Georgia
6-1 #12 USC
5-3 Miami
6-2 #19 Texas
6-2 Texas A&M
4-3 Florida State
4-4 Nebraska
7-1 #6 Oklahoma

In the past 5 years, there has only been one team that has finished the season with a losing record, but still had a top 10 recruiting class. More than halfway through arguably the worst season in Notre Dame history, we have the #1 recruiting class in the country. And that was even before Floyd's commitment.

Weis clearly understands how to sell the program. And he has assembled a staff of stellar recruiters. His salesmanship is astounding, and the timing of his commits announcing their school choices displays a level of media savvy that is unsurpassed. If every player currently committed signs, we'll have a top 10 class regardless of what other schools do at the end of the recruiting cycle. And lest we spend too much time obsessing over the transfers, consider for a moment that Weis can now use those scholarships to attract even more players with his recruiting momentum.

With the last 4 games appearing to be winnable, don't be surprised if the maturation of the younger players results in a bit of a winning streak and some momentum going into signing day. Also, with the Irish out of bowl contention, Weis can spend December tirelessly hitting the recruiting trail.

For all of my frustration surrounding the USC game, and the fact that I believe it marks a bottoming out of historical proportions, I can't help but still believing that the program is - long-term - headed in the right direction. Pete Carroll, one of the best recruiters in the game, admitted in the post-game press conference that he saw this season coming 3 years ago, the same thing that anyone who follows recruiting wll echo. Therefore, I can't hlep but buy into Charlie's somewhat arrogant statement in his post-game press conference:

"[Notre Dame haters] better enjoy it now, have their fun now."

'Cause we're not gonna be trampled on for much longer.