For a long time I was a Charlie Weis apologist, someone who defended his poor performances the last two years and believed better days were ahead. Now, it’s pretty tough to stick up for Charlie.
But let me be clear: I think Charlie Weis is a really great coach.
It’s just he’s not the kind of coach one needs leading a program like Notre Dame. Weis’ coaching abilities are based largely around his teaching abilities primarily to offensive players. He is able to get teenagers and young men to understand and execute complicated offensive systems while honing the talents of his best players.
Most of all, Charlie Weis is adept at developing quarterbacks as evidenced by his work with Brady Quinn and Jimmy Clausen. While Weis has been coach at Notre Dame, the Irish offensive record books have been rewritten.
However, all this really means is that Weis may be nothing more than a glorified quarterback guru.
Weis can recruit top flight skilled players on offense and his aforementioned destruction of the record books is certainly admirable. But in the end, this type of coaching isn’t helping Notre Dame and it is plain this program is underachieving.
The funny thing is we are always told that Weis is an “offensive genius” and someone who can out-scheme any opponent that’s placed in front of him. Everyone says his offensive game plans are second-to-none in college football and the pro game.
I’m not so sure I agree.
What’s Weis’ biggest problem? He hasn’t developed a strict system on offense to work from and he loses his patience and cool far too much for someone who is a supposed game-planning god.
If you ask anyone what kind of offense Notre Dame runs they are likely to tell you it is a pro-style offense. But is it really?
NFL teams run the ball a majority of the time while Notre Dame rarely runs the ball. Watching the game against Pitt last weekend I couldn’t help but believe that it was Pitt who had the pro-style offense and not Notre Dame.
Pitt was pounding the ball on the ground and mixing in a solid short passing game, getting the fullback involved, and taking periodic shots down the field. In other words, Pitt looked like an NFL team.
Weis was fairly stable in his play-calling in his first two years, but ever since then it’s been a mess of epic proportions. With an injured Clausen in 2007, Weis decided to implement a spread option attack with Demetrius Jones.
After one half of football Weis reverted to his former system with Sharpley and later a healthier Clausen. Who knows how far this set the team back, but the results that year show that it wasn’t pretty.
Since then the game-planning has been more consistent and based around the arm of Jimmy Clausen, yet it isn’t really a pro-style offense and there’s no overriding identity to the offense.
Once in a while, Weis will have Notre Dame play a true pro-style offense, other times he’ll go five wide shotgun for long stretches of games. Some games he’ll give opponents (usually weaker ones) a heavy dose of a power running game, while other times he’ll flat out refuse to run the ball for an entire half.
As good as this offense has been this year statistically (especially in terms of yardage), this lack of identity is killing Notre Dame. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the red zone where Weis’ tendency to throw the ball at all costs and to rely on the ever difficult fade route to Floyd or Tate just doesn’t work against good teams.
When you add this lack of identity with the fact that Weis seems to panic even when the Irish are losing by one score in the first quarter, well it is clearly a recipe for disaster.
How many times have we seen Notre Dame come out and run the ball effectively, fall behind by three or seven points, then effectively stop running the ball the rest of the game? How many fourth down attempts have been squandered in close games because Weis would not settle for a field goal in a close game?
Nowhere is this style of coaching more apparent than the Navy game this year. Hughes was running hard as usual and Riddick was ripping Navy for serious yards early in the game. Then, Notre Dame faced a fourth and two deep in the red zone trailing 7-0.
What happened? Instead of kicking the field goal and gaining a little bit of momentum, Weis decided to gamble on a big momentum swing with a pass play to the end zone. The pass ended up incomplete and Navy took over.
First, there is no identity on offense where Notre Dame can run the ball as much as pass the ball. That put them in the predicament in the first place. Secondly, Weis panicked early in the game and ended up doing more harm than good.
Navy took over and marched down the field scoring a touchdown and gaining a momentum swing twice as large had Notre Dame scored a touchdown on their previous possession. The Irish never recovered, the red zone troubles continued, and the team lost a game they should have easily won.
What this all means is that Charlie Weis isn’t a very good football coach. I wouldn’t even call him a great offensive coordinator at this point either. And I’m not even taking into account that he seems to bring nothing to the table defensively, doesn’t fire his team up, and seems unprepared in far too many embarrassing moments.
There are times when it seems like Weis is more concerned with showcasing his talented skilled players and proving to everyone how much of an offensive genius he is by running dozens of different formations throughout any given game.
We were told that wide receiver Michael Floyd would see limited action against Navy to ease the budding star back into the lineup after breaking his collar bone.
“Boy did I trick everyone!” Weis exclaims!
Instead, Floyd was targeted early and often, including several failed fade routes that left the Irish empty handed and scoreless. Weis ended up showcasing Floyd all game long, but was it the best thing for the team?
So many of us just want Notre Dame to get tough again, run the ball with power, set up the play action and take advantage of the passing game this way.
Instead, we’re subjected to shotgun formations with no threat of running the ball and endless gimmicky gadget plays.
At this point, I’ve changed my mind and believe the odds are a new coach could improve this team offensively. You can’t argue with some of the stats Weis has been able to put up in his time in South Bend, but its becoming evident that his style doesn’t lend itself to winning football games at the college level.
That’s why probably the best position for Weis right now is being a quarterback coach. He can be successful as on offensive coordinator in the NFL, but even that position may be too much for him at the college level.
After five years it looks as though that is who has been leading the Irish on to the field each weekend, merely a quarterback guru who can talk a big game and recruit a collection of really great skilled athletes on offense.
With these players in place, Notre Dame should go out and find a proven coach who has won at the college level, will install a program identity, run the ball, and play tough defense.
It is imperative that a new coach commits to a system and recruits players to fit that system. Look at the top teams in the country right now and you’ll see the overriding theme is tough defense mixed with a consistent game plan and identity on offense.
It’s simple and fundamental: run the ball, play tough defense and play smart football. Notre Dame doesn’t do any of those things. And it is all but a foregone conclusion that the Irish never will with Charlie Weis at the helm.