It wasn’t quite the Miami/Florida International brawl. However, anyone who went to the 2008 Blue-Gold Game remembers the scuffle that occurred when Harrison Smith intercepted a Jimmy Clausen pass and ran it into the end zone for a touchdown. What we saw that day was what had been brewing since December.
This past off-season, Charlie Weis did some soul searching to figure out if maybe he was a contributing factor to Notre Dame’s 3-9 campaign in 2007. What turned out to be a nightmare for most Irish fans was a learning experience for Coach Weis and the rest of the football staff.
Charlie Weis came to terms that he was coaching a team of young, inexperienced players. He wasn’t coaching a team of mature, experienced veterans who knew the game and knew how to get the job done. Charlie found that he needed to change the way he related to his players.
We’re already two games into the season. Notre Dame fan’s expectations for this team continue to rise with every win that the team puts on their record – and with good reason. They are starting to look like a complete team instead of a team of misfits. They’re starting to play like a team, and they’re starting to win like a team.
But, what was the difference between the team we saw last year and the team we are seeing this year? Sure, they have progressed as players. Some have gotten bigger and stronger, some have gotten faster. But, things have changed in South Bend, Indiana. What’s causing the difference for this year’s team? Emotion.
Charlie found during his off-season that he couldn’t continue to treat each game as a business trip – at least, not with this team. He found that there were ways to reach his players and to get them to emotionally invest in the games they were playing. He found that in order to capitalize on your player’s abilities and their bond with one another, you must tap into their youthfulness.
You must tap into their abilities to carry one another and influence one another, on and off the field, to be better players and better people. “…I felt that the team didn't have fun. We'd go out for a game and you wouldn't - all those other teams would be out there loose and ready to go.
And I'm not talking about being goofballs now; I'm talking about going out and looking like they were going to enjoy themselves. And that wasn't our team.” It took Charlie quite a bit of time to realize that the mentality that you use in the NFL isn’t the same mentality you use with players who are still teenagers.
Essentially, you must let their personalities shine through their playing. As Notre Dame fans, we saw flashes of this coming through our veteran teams of 2005 and 2006, but never experienced it in 2007. What we saw last Saturday was something that this football team had been missing since the days of Lou Holtz.
And we’re slowly starting to see the difference in Coach Weis. During his press conference on Tuesday to preview Michigan State, he mentioned winning the game for the Megaphone Trophy– something he used to dismiss as a useless tradition.
Now, Charlie Weis is buying into the emotions that surround Notre Dame Football and he’s selling it to his players like a glass of cold lemonade on a hot summer day. He’s tapping into the emotions he undoubtedly experienced and participated in as a student at Notre Dame. And he’s encouraging his players to do the same. It’s about damn time.
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