Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Offseason Update

Lots going on since my last post.

I never did finsih the post-season wrap-up that I should have, mostly due to a lot of personal and professional turmoil that has limited my posting time. But now that things are settling down a bit, I should be a bit more regular in my posting (probably on Tuesdays and Thursdays).

I'm going to put in my 2 cents on the offseason moves so far, rating Weis' ability to respond to the weaknesses I have perceived in the program.

To identify what I think the weaknesses were, let's look at some of my posts this past season:

"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."
"I believe, as I've stated before, that he needs to hand off the reins of the offense to someone else, and focus on his head coaching duties ONLY."

So, lets take these criticisms one at a time, and see what Coach Weis has done to address them:

Problem 1: Turn the offense over to an offensive coordinator.
I've been harping on this one all season, and part of last season. I felt that Weis needs to focus on the bigger picture as the head coach, and get out of the minutiae that the coordinators have to focus on. At no time was this a bigger problem than at the end of the Navy game, when Coach Weis was so involved in the minutiae of the gameplan that he failed to notice what the rest of the stadium saw - we needed to attempt the field goal.

Weis' response:
Well, I'm going to try to cut the proverbial -- the figurative -- umbilical cord and try to move myself a little bit away from being the sole primary guy on the offensive staff. So in the springtime we'll start off with the offensive staff running the offense. That means (offensive coordinator) Mike (Haywood) will write the scripts and set it up on offense, and that means that all the offensive coaches now won't have to worry about the ever presence of the head coach breathing down their neck all the time. I'm trying to do this. This is a tough one for me to do, but I'm trying to give them an opportunity to run the offense with me interjecting rather than me demanding and telling them everything that we're going to do. So that's how we're going to run this in the spring.

Finally giving up the reins of the offense is, in my opinion, Weis' biggest move of the offseason - now he can focus on the big picture (kind of - more on this later). Whether Mike Haywood is the guy to do this with or not remains to be seen, but I hope that now that Weis has let go of the reins, he keeps them in the hands of the coordinator, and doesn't take them back at the first sign of trouble.

Problem 2: Hire a legitimate special teams coach
Our special teams play the past few seasons has been horrendous. Something had to change, and my approach would have been to fire Polian and hire a proven special teams coach that can identify and develop the particular types of talent that are needed for special teams.

Weis' response:
As far as special teams go, I screwed that up last year. Brian Polian is going to be the special teams coach. He's not coaching defense. He's just coaching special teams, and I'm his assistant. So the only two people who will be coaching special teams this year will be Brian as the special teams coach, and that's his, and I'm going to be his aide because since I've been here I've been talking about how special teams, special teams, special teams.

As a matter of fact, I'm going to meet with Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech, who I think has done the best job of anyone in the country on special teams. I've already set up an appointment with him. I don't know whether or not I'm bringing Brian or not at that time, but I know one thing: I've got to figure out a better way of getting special teams righted, and I think (Beamer's) done the best job of anyone I know in college football with special teams. I asked him if I could mention his name at the press conference to make sure that I was not overstepping my bounds and got his permission to do so.

But we already have a time set, and before spring ball starts I'll be flying over there to spend some time with them to see if we can't get this righted. Brian will be the special teams coach, it'll be his deal, but I'll be his assistant. And I think when the head coach makes himself an assistant to an assistant coach, I think it might create a little sense of urgency with us on special teams.

I've coached special teams in the past myself, and I think that we can't be hypocritical. I think we really need to move in that direction, and I think by me pulling away from the offensive staff, it'll give me a lot more time to do just that.

Well, I wanted to see Polian out the door, but Weis is clearly not ready to do that yet, with Polian's family ties. So I can forgive him for that. But something had to change as far as the special teams, and Weis is not simply letting things stay the same. If you asked me who I would talk to about special teams, 10 times out of 10, I'd say Frank Beamer. And that is exactly what Coach Weis is going to do. And although he didn't fire Polian, he certainly isn't cutting him any slack, by making himself the assistant special teams coach. Although I'm a little uncomfortable with that level of involvement (I think Weis needs to be more big picture, and less involved with minutiae), I think it's a pretty clear statement to Polian that he needs to bust his ass to turn this thing around, or else Coach Weis will be on him like flies on shit. And, Weis does have experience as a special teams coach, so he isn't simply giving Polian a job to do and then hanging him out to dry.

Problem 3: Make coaching changes.
OK, so I'm doind a little revisionism on my calls for change posted above, as I had called for Latina and Polian's jobs, and both are still on the staff. However, it was my frustration with the status quo that led me to call for change, and Weis has clearly not been sitting on his laurels when it comes to shaking up the staff to keep things fresh.

Weis' response:
As you all know, last week we announced that (assistant head coach/defense) Bill Lewis was going to move over from a coaching position into administration. A little background on this. Back in early December we were on the road recruiting in some little cafe waiting to go into a home visit, and he informed me that he had to get both his hips replaced. So he gave me like his game plan that we had talked about where he was going to have one hip replaced, then coach spring ball, then have the other hip replaced, then be ready for the start of the season, which I thought was a little optimistic on his part.

I said I would heed his advice and then come back. So I thought about it for a while, and I came back, and I said, listen, Bill, here's what we're going to do. Let's get one done and let's get the other one done. (Defensive coordinator) Corwin (Brown) will coach the DBs in the springtime and you go ahead and get those done and get healthy, and let's get you ready for the season so we don't have any downtime and leave some margin for error in case anything went wrong when we have that done.

In the meantime, over the holidays, (Notre Dame athletics director) Kevin (White) and Bill had some coffee, and they were talking, and Kevin asked Bill if he had ever considered going into administration. Everyone loves Bill. He's beloved by our staff, and I think the feeling is common for anyone who knows him. If he'd be interested in going into administration.

So Bill was a little bit worried that he was doing something behind my back, and he came to me and we talked about it. I said, `well, I'm not aware that you had the conversation, but it's fine with me.' And he goes, `well, I'm going to actually consider doing it.' I said, `well, listen, we're in no rush here, you have no timetable. I already told you what we're going to do as far as coaching goes. If you want to do that, that's on you and we'll address it after recruiting is over.'

So now it got to be January, and I wasn't really sure which way this was going to go. He had met with both Kevin and he had met with (Notre Dame senior associate athletics director) Bill Scholl, and this wasn't like etched in stone yet but this was something that was a possibility more than a definite.

I was now on the road spending some time -- a whole entire week with Corwin, so we were addressing this issue while we were on the road, and we threw about a number of possibilities where if Bill decided to step aside, what would we want to do. The number one thing I wanted to do was make sure that he had an idea guy. I told Corwin, `as long as you're defensive coordinator, you're always running the defense, you're always calling the defense.' I think if Bill steps aside, that veteran coach is something that we need to replace with a veteran coach.

So we threw a couple names about and started making a few phone calls. At the end of the day when it was all settled, one of the guys that was available, fortunately for us, one of the guys that was available was Jon Tenuta. So I called Jon and we had met briefly -- we had talked briefly at the AFCA convention on January 7th when I was out there to pick up the Presidents Award for graduation rate. I bumped into him and we talked a little bit at that time.

I'm flying back from California, and it rattled through my mind, like God, this guy is on the street. This would be a great guy to help, and that's really how it played out.

So I talked to him a couple times and Corwin talked to him a couple times, and Corwin and Jon have a very close mutual friend at Virginia. Jon went to UVa, Corwin coached at UVa. They have a very close mutual friend that they're both very close with, so they both inquired about each other, about the chemistry and working with each other, because to me it was important to Corwin and to me that there be chemistry, because without chemistry it doesn't make any difference how good a coach you have if there's no chemistry.

So Corwin and Jon met, and I flew Jon in under the radar to meet with Corwin and I for a day, which he did, and went back and kind of had the plan in place where if, in fact, it came down with Bill, that's the direction we were going.

So when rumors start spreading in recruiting, I think it's important never to lie to any kids about what's going to end up happening. So rather than -- I got a hold of Bill, and I said, `look, rather than waiting until next Thursday until the day after recruiting is over, it's an issue, we're going to address it, let's address it right now.' So he decided that he was going to move over there. As a matter of fact, Bill Scholl hadn't even had an opportunity really to talk to his entire staff about it yet because it hadn't been an issue yet. But we felt that it was only the right thing to do to make sure that we were honest and up front with everyone, and I kind of force fed -- Bill's kids weren't even quite ready because we weren't even going to address it until the Thursday after recruiting was over.

So he decided that's where he wanted to go, and we got everything worked out with Jon, and as a matter of fact we had -- before I announced it that day we had a contract faxed in because it isn't like he had a contract signed. Everyone had him pegged that he was coming here already. We had to get him a contract and he had to fax it in just so we had a copy of a signed contract so we could legally say that we were going ahead and hiring him.

But it was after a lot of due diligence that started back in December, and there were some people involved in this possibility, and what I'm really happy about is twofold. Number one, that Bill is staying at the University because it's somebody who -- I love the guy, and the last thing I'd want is for him to not be part of our program. And I think with him staying on in administration I get the best of both worlds. And with Jon, obviously we get an experienced coach that Corwin can lean on as an idea guy that can really help as our defense evolves and can really help our defense.

Corwin will coach the defensive backs and Jon will coach the linebackers with assistance from other people, and that's the way that'll go.

Major coup with ND signing Jon Tenuta, the defensive mastermind of Georgia Tech's blitz-happy defense that tore us up to start the season. As the old adage says, f you can't beat 'em, join 'em. The kind of experience that Tenuta brings to the staff is invaluable. What makes this hire particularly exciting in my view is that Tenuta should have been up for head coaching vacancies with the success he's had at coordinator, but instead he's taken essentially a position coach position with Notre Dame. And Tenuta himself stated that the opportunity to work with Coach Weis was a big reason for his decision.

What this tells me is that it isn't just 18-year old kids that Weis has been able to sell this program to - there are veterans of the college game that see the potential of this program and want to get involved.

I'm still holding out for some changes to the offensive line, but that may simply be something that is addressed in practice and through player development (our numbers are getting closer and closer to competitive levels as far as scholarship athletes go).


The rest of the problems I discussed above won't be answered until Spring practice begins, but so far, Weis has shown an impressive ability to identify the weaknesses not only within the program, but also within himself, and then the courage to take steps to address them.

I love the changes so far, and can't wait to see how they translate into improvements on the field.