Coach Charlie Weis dropped a few bombs on the Fighting Irish football faithful Friday, stating—among other things—that he is relinquishing offense play calling duties to his offensive staff. This effectively allows Mike Haywood to do what his job title states he should: coordinate the offense.
Weis also announced that Jon Tenuta will coach the linebackers, moving defensive coordinator Corwin Brown back to work with the secondary. I believe this is a positive move, given the quality of linebacker play Georgia Tech exhibited over the past few seasons, along with the fact that Brown's experience in the NFL was coaching the secondary.
Weis mentioned the conversations that he had with both Brown and Tenuta before Tenuta was hired. They discussed their coaching relationship, how they would work and interact, and the responsibilities each would have going forward. All three agreed on the way things would work, believing that only good would come of the situation despite Tenuta having less responsibility and no playcalling duties.
The move by Weis to give up playcalling duties is puzzling, given his background as an offensive coordinator, developing a reputation for being one of the most innovative offensive minds in the NFL while working under Bill Belichick with the New England Patriots. Weis is an exceptional play caller not only because he can scheme and attack opposing defenses, but also due to his innate ability to set up and call the perfect play, at the perfect time. It is this last characteristic of Weis' offensive play calling abilities that makes him one of the best in the business.
Ultimately, this decision by Weis leads to the following question: Does losing his offensive play calling prowess and scheming advantages outweigh the positives associated with this move?
This decision by Weis doesn't come without positives. It shows a willingness to change, to distance himself from what he is comfortable with, to move outside his comfort zone. This must be a truly difficult thing to do. Weis is stepping away from doing what he does best for what he believes will ultimately lead to Notre Dame becoming a better football team and he becoming a better head coach. In the past, Weis' stubborn and domineering personality has caused problems, not allowing his assistants to properly perform their jobs. The fact that Weis specifically commented on how he was restricting the creative capabilities of his offensive staff reiterates his belief that this move is for the greater good of the team.
This move will allow Weis to manage the team, the game, and his staff better. A great deal of being a head coach is doing just that, managing your players, making critical decisions during the game, and developing your staff. In the past, decision making in games has been an often criticized component of Weis' coaching. This move frees him up to hopefully make better in-game decisions at critical points of the game.
With his extra time Weis plans to get more involved with special teams, even making a trip to see Frank Beamer in the off-season. Beamer is an excellent special-teams coach, and Virginia Tech has had excellent success in the past blocking punts and field goals as well as in the return game. Weis also plans on using the extra time to become more involved with the players. He wants to become more approachable and less intimidating for the players, specifically with the younger players:
"I talked to former players and current players, and I think the biggest issue as I looked at this is if you're playing freshmen and sophomores, it's not the same as when you're playing juniors and seniors. The maturity level of the players is not the same. So you can't take for granted that 18- and 19-year olds are the same as 21- and 22-year olds as far as how you can coach them and the maturity level.
"I never looked at it from that perspective before. But if you think about it, a kid right out of high school is not the same as somebody who's been weathered for four years in the program.
"So therefore as I look at it, we're going to be playing those kids, and a lot of those freshmen and sophomores that you played last year are really only in the program for the second or third year, might have only played for one year. And I just felt that too many times when a guy makes a mistake, the only thing they're concerned about is getting yelled at, versus when you make a mistake, being concerned about letting your team down.
"So I'd like to move in the direction that if a guy made a mistake he was more concerned that he was letting his teammates down than worrying about the fear of 'is Weis going to yell at me?' The fear of a kid, the younger guys, too many times they play with that mentality. So what do you do? You get it so that they know you better so if you yell at them they know that it's not personal.
"The first two years were a little bit easier to be honest with you because when you're playing with older guys, they've already been through that process. You can be harder on them because they're older and they've been more weathered. I played a lot more younger guys this year, and I think in self evaluation, which is what you're talking about right now, I don't think the freshmen and sophomores are really quite ready for the full load, so to speak. I think you have to -- they're not going to change. You're going to bring another group of freshmen next year. They're still going to be freshmen. You're not going to change, you've got to be the one that changes."
Weis' comments indicate he has evolved and adapted, and he has more understanding one of the primary differences between coaching in college vs. the NFL. This move is an attempt to create a better team, building it from within and starting with himself. Spending more time with the players will build closer relationships with him, creating loyalty to Weis' system and leading to more motivated play.
Weis will still be involved with the offense, primarily with the quarterbacks and interjecting when he feels necessary. This is important for two primary reasons. I believe this will allow him to continue to have influence on the timing of the offensive play calls. It will also allow Notre Dame to continue to bring in top quarterback talent, as he has a superb reputation for developing quarterbacks.
Without Weis calling plays control of the offense will go to Michael Haywood, who's background is in the running game. Haywood played running back at Notre Dame, he coached the running backs at Texas (including Ricky Williams and Cedric Benson), he currently coaches the running backs at Notre Dame, and I believe he will renew the Irish commitment to running the football consistently and effectively.
If there have been any criticisms about Weis' play calling in the past, it was that he was too cute, that he didn't develop a power running game to convert short yardage situations and have an effective goal line rushing attack. With the talent up front along the offensive line and at the running back position Weis and his staff have brought in over the past three years, this could bode very well for the future of the Irish rushing game.
Losing Weis' excellence in offensive play calling aside, what puzzles me most about this move is the timing. While I think that ultimately this is a good decision, having two very young and inexperienced coordinators on the same staff has the potential to be problematic. Weis must have confidence in Haywood, otherwise I don't think he would allow him to call plays, but the fact of the matter is that Haywood has no experience calling plays in a game.
The problems associated with this lack of experience at both coordinator positions may also be mitigated by having Weis' presence with the offense and Jon Tenuta's presence with the defense. Still, I believe this introduces an area of concern for the near future and the importance of losing a play caller like Weis cannot be overstated.
The 2007 Notre Dame football season was a disaster due to a combination of problems all occurring at the same time: Three new starters on the offensive line, youth and inexperience at many of the offensive skill positions, a true freshman quarterback, lack of depth at the defensive line position, a new defensive scheme, coordinator, and terminology, and a front-loaded schedule with good defensive football teams all contributed to a 3-9 season.
In the history of college football there may have never been so many unfavorable factors facing one team.
In 2008 many of these problems will either be reduced or gone. There will still be youth at many of the offensive skill positions. However, there will be more experience. The offensive line returns four starters. Jimmy Clausen should be healthy, have more practice time with his receivers to improve their timing, and have a more developed understanding of the offense. The defense should be more adept with the new 3-4 scheme. And the schedule is much more manageable.
Only the depth issues along the defensive line will remain as big problem of a problem as it was in 2007.
By making this decision now, Weis has introduced another factor that could negatively contribute to the 2008 season. It isn't having one weakness or problem area that makes it difficult to win football games. One problem area can typically be covered via adjustments and scheming. It's when there are several weaknesses and problems that winning becomes difficult because opposing teams can more easily adjust to exploit multiple weaknesses.
It remains to be seen whether or not this decision by Weis will be a good move or bad. However, when one lines up the positives and negatives, it looks like a forward step for the Notre Dame program.