When Charlie arrived at ND, he quickly turned a hapless squad around into a two-time BCS team, something Notre Dame hadn't done since Lou Holtz (major bowls = BCS Bowls).
Willingham had told insiders wouldn't do better than .500 (one of the main reasons he was canned).
But that early success didn't wear well on Weis, who had never been in the main chair before. The anti-Notre Dame press quickly labeled Weis as arrogant, and strangely Weis seemed to embrace the label.
Now, I don't believe Weis thinks arrogance is a good thing, but it probably felt much like the same dynamic with Coach Parcells, one of his mentors, and thus felt right (BTW, no one was more arrogant or disdainful than Willingham.)
Of course the problem here is that Weis had never been in the main chair and seemed to lack any ability to self-identify problems.
Worse, he had isolated himself internally and had no one who could give him counsel and course corrections. He certainly helped promote his 2006 team, which seemed to bask in the limelight, but just didn't play hard or cohesively on the field. That was the first sign that all was not right in the Bend.
Most of those close to the program know that it was a good team, but had no business being in the Top Five. Things started to go south mid-year in 2006 and, with a two-year black hole in recruiting, all signs pointed to a cratering in 2007.
The team was fractured (which is normal, when a new coach takes over). We've heard from many people that there was a division between the older players (who didn't have the talent) and the younger players (who clearly had the talent).
Weis was recklessly going for it on fourth down, clinging to a passing game that couldn't protect the passer (what's the point?) and out of touch with his players.
The aftermath of the nuclear bomb of a season that hit in 2007 was the burning platform Notre Dame and Weis needed to change.
In the executive world, when an executive is underperforming, you have to identify the causes of underperformance.
Sometimes they're just not smart enough (Davie/Willingham). Other times they haven't built the skills, and then there are the executives who just don't care enough about their company or about reaching excellence (Davie/Willingham).
They're not willing to sacrifice to be great. You need all of these to be successful.
Weis clearly has the intelligence. He has the commitment to Notre Dame, and he wants to be excellent. What he seemed to lack was a specific skillset that applied to the college game and people skills needed to manage a top-tier program (or he didn't value the people skills).
So a few things happened, aside from the calls for his head. Jenkins supposedly called him in and told him he was losing the support of those around him.
Weis was faced with a choice. He could either pull a Willingham and retrench, or he could embrace need to change. Those who retrench are usually managed out, but for those who embrace it, this type of acute pain and challenge often leads to a transformational experience in executives.
Through these experiences, they gain an understanding of humility and through that the empathy to understand others and thus the tools to manage them.
Think about it. If you can't understand someone else's point of view, you're going to almost useless when it comes to influence. The ability to understand other's points of view and sources of pain is power.
Weis embraced change. He underwent leadership coaching. He met with over 20 people close to the program to get their feedback (sort of 360-degree feedback), and he made his bucket list.
Not that he's going to die, mind you, but things he needed to do to change the team and himself. If you think about it, the number of things on this list are extraordinary for a man of his stature, but obviously much needed changing.
- Seeking feedback
- Leadership coaching
- Coaching his team to play with emotion
- Instituting harder-hitting practices
- Bringing in more experienced coaching on defense
- Simplifying the blocking/working with Latina
- Emphasizing protection
- Instituting more power runs
- Changing the day off after a game
- Letting Haywood coach the offense
- A renewed focus on special teams
- Becoming more approachable to his players
- Becoming more engaged with Alumni
- Not going for it on fourth down in absurd situations
- Not always receiving the kickoff
- Changing the risk/reward trade-off on our passing game by lifting the lid on our controlled passing game and throwing downfield to stretch the defense (more work needed; see 4th down)
- Willing to fire his DC
I'm sure there are many more. Now all of this is in addition to the changes he made after Willingham such as embracing former players, outworking everybody on the recruiting trail, embracing tradition (the Navy salute)...
The bottom line is that Weis isn't lacking in innate ability. He's doesn't lack in the aspiration to be the best and he certainly isn't lacking in engagement to his job. These are the three killers of success.
He was lacking in specific competencies that restricted his ability. Weis is showing true leadership by embracing change and to be honest, this seems to suit him better than the Parcells model. Charlie's grown beyond his mentors... as he had to.
None of this means he'll succeed or that he won't backslide, but it does elevate him by a significant margin above his two predecessors, who didn't have any of the three attributes necessary for success.
My hunch is that Charlie's ensured himself a decent level of success and his bucket list won't mean that he's going to kick the bucket as our coach for some time.
Of course he still needs to figure out that we can't sell play-action on the cheap. Let's face it, anyone with eyeballs know that our tendency is to pass it on third and fourth down and short. We're not foolin' anybody.
Charlie seems to think that running for a hundy means we can now fool people into thinking we're going to run. Two 100-yard games aren't going to change three years of scouting. We're getting there, but that works best when you're running for 200 a game. We're selling our running game like a cheap...
Sorry, the fan creeping back in.