A lot has been made of Charlie Weis at Notre Dame. Is he a good coach? Is he a bad coach? Was he only able to win with Ty Willingham’s players? If he doesn’t succeed, what will happen to the program?
Weis’ detractors narrowly point to several factors: his three-year record is 22-15, only a tad better than Willingham’s three-year record of 21-15. Yet Weis’ commitment to the team, to recruiting, and to surrounding himself with a competent coaching staff distinguishes him from his predecessor.
Notre Dame is heading into the fourth year of the Weis Era, and this will be the key season for the head coach. If he can turn things around after a disastrous 2007, it bodes well for 2009 and beyond. If not, fans may be discussing Notre Dame’s newest head coach this time next year.
Weis has been smart enough to surround himself with a talented coaching staff, and savvy enough to allow for coaching turnover when necessary (he fired quarterbacks coach Peter Vaas and defensive coordinator Rick Minter after the 2006 season.)
However, he has made some inexplicable decisions, and two coaches whose heads were called for in 2007 have been retained: special teams coach Brian Polian and offensive line coach John Latina.
Elsewhere, however, the coaching staff has been quite good: tight ends coach Bernie Parmalee made All-Americans of Anthony Fasano and John Carlson, wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator Rob Ianello has done an excellent job bringing in three consecutive top classes, and defensive coordinator Corwin Brown showed potential last year calling plays.
The addition of former Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta was a coup for this staff, and his blitz-happy schemes, hands-on approach to coaching linebackers and ability to help mentor Brown can only improve the Irish defense.
The entire coaching staff needs to step it up in a big way in 2008, but Weis has been fortunate and smart enough to hire smart, talented and experienced coaches who will do their best to turn around the team after an underachieving 2007.
A lot of mistakes were made in Weis’ management style, but the biggest gaffe, the QB fiasco from last year, is finally over. Weis wasted a lot of time and resources implementing the spread for Demetrius Jones, who jumped ship shortly thereafter.
With Jimmy Clausen firmly entrenched as starter, it appears that the situation has settled for the better, but Weis’ refusal to admit that 2007 was a rebuilding year hurt the team badly.
A portion of the mismanagement is attributable to the bare cupboard Weis was given in 2007, but his failure to allow full-speed practices and his admitted difficulty in macro-managing the team have been issues.
The biggest issue here is that Weis is a first-time head coach at anything other than the high school level. Up until last year, he was also used to dealing with professional athletes, and mature, battle-tested veterans like Brady Quinn.
Weis admitted that he had to “learn on the job” and figure out how to motivate younger players, which he admitted when he said that 18 year-olds respond differently than 22 year-olds.
While it appears that Weis is learning from his mistakes, there’s one major issue: Notre Dame is not the place to learn on the job. Former head coach Ara Parseghian claimed that he needed every year as head coach of Northwestern to prepare himself for Notre Dame.
Weis hasn’t had that luxury, and the transition from the NFL to the college level has been, at times, difficult. 2008 will be a key year for the head coach – if he can demonstrate that he’s learned from the mistakes of 2007 moving forward, then discernable progress (even at the expense of wins) may be enough. Otherwise, Weis may find himself learning the college game somewhere else.
Go take a look at Rivals or Scout and see how many top rated players have committed to Charlie Weis over the past few years. See also that Notre Dame has received verbal commitments from top players heading into 2008/2009, including 5-star runningback Cierre Woods (the second 5-star RB to commit to the Irish under Weis.)
Weis has completely debunked the myth that Notre Dame’s academic standards are too stringent to recruit well, an excuse shared by Bob Davie and Ty Willingham.
While you’re over there on Scout or Rivals, take a look at the recruiting classes under Willingham – note that in his last two years of recruiting, he recruited zero 5-star players, zero Top 100 players, and only 31 total players in two years.
Since Weis took over, he’s recruited 20 Top 100 players and six five-star players. Recruiting has been much improved, and the biggest question that then looms is whether or not Weis can develop that raw talent.
If so, then expect Notre Dame to be one of the top teams in the country in 2009 and onward. Otherwise, Weis, unlike Willingham, has left a talented and stocked cupboard of talented young players.
Sometimes they pay off (a fourth-and-five swing pass that Jeff Samardzija took to the house against Michigan State in 2005.) Sometimes they don’t (the infamous fourth-and-eight sack against Navy in 2007.)
Weis, like Les Miles and Urban Meyer, is a ballsy playcaller whose penchant for going for it is at once both a strength and a weakness. When he had the experienced athletes for it, as in 2005 and 2006, it often paid off handsomely.
But when he had youthful inexperience, as in 2007, that same all-or-nothing mentality backfired in a big way.
Weis has since turned over offensive playcalling duties to offensive coordinator Mike Haywood, but it remains to be seen if the weaknesses of his in-game decisions, which didn’t always play to his team’s strengths, can be rectified.
Irish fans who see Sam Young, Chris Stewart and Robert Hughes lining up hope that Haywood (who is also the running backs coach) will commit to the run, but Weis has always favored a Patriots-esque passing attack.
He has the players now, and if he wants to remain head coach in 2009 and beyond, his teams must play to their strengths while mitigating their weaknesses. Weis’ decision to turn over playcalling duties will subsequently be a definite factor in his team’s success or failure this year.