Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Urban/Charlie, Charlie/Urban | by Jay

In 1962 the Cahiers du Cinema released a publication entitled Hitchcock/Truffaut, the transcript of a conversation between two legends of cinema, François Truffaut and Alfred Hitchcock. It was a monumental meeting of the minds, a remarkable exploration bridging two generations of filmmaking, theory and culture.

Today, we've upped the ante on the French New Wave. BGS is proud to present our first-ever article exchange, a bicameral look at two auteurs of college football, written in conjunction with Every Day Should Be Saturday, the incisive and hysterical Florida Gators blog. Yes, it's Urban Meyer and Charlie Weis, two coaches forever linked by events of this past fall, two coaches hired in the same year, nearly competing for the same job...two men considered offensive geniuses, no-nonsense taskmasters, and upon whose shoulders rests the hopes and dreams of two legions of fandom.

BGS' Michael does a rundown of Meyer's spread-option attack for EDSBS, and EDSBS reciprocates with a look at the foibles and fortunes of our respective commandants, printed below. Enjoy.

Dating your Coach: A Primer for the Heartbroken Florida and Notre Dame Fan

by Orson Swindle, Every Day Should Be Saturday

For fans, coaches represent anything and everything under the sun. For some, they’re like lovers—some burn so bad they leave a permanent black smudge on their vision, or cause a rushing, angry buzzing their ears when mentioned; some put it on fans with such consistent ferocity that finding a replacement becomes impossible. (See Alabama for the dire aftermath of a good, consistent thirty-year relationship with a randy, rock-steady provider. Tide fans for the most part probably feel like they’ve gone from one deadbeat loser bartender/actor to another for the better part of two decades now, save for that nice Gene Stallings guy they dated for a while, and even he left them with a little going-away present that didn’t clear up for a while.)

For Notre Dame and for the University of Florida, you might say that we’re both coming off disappointing relationships. Different ones, to be sure, but both letdowns in their own way: Willingham, initially promising in that he was charming, looked the part, and teased the Irish with a delirious first season, and Zook, who just had so much energy, dammit, that something had to happen, right? Both led their respective fanbases/mass dates on agonizing declines. Willingham committed the relationship foul of being disengaged and distant, preferring to recruit through telepathy rather than pressing the flesh, and sometimes letting his team vanish into insignificance between the lines. In contrast, Zook was the obsessive type, always around and always talking, even if what he said and did amounted to less with each passing minute. Ultimately he became the boyfriend who, though they’d come home drunk from the tittie bar for the three-thousandth time, swore up and down he could change, really he could change. Both got the boot they deserved, and both immediately ran to new, unwitting, and less attractive partners eager for someone who just cared, even if they ran the program into the ground.

(Oh, we thought we’d let it go. Then FSN’s “Flash Classics” had to feature the 2003 UF-Kentucky game, the one where UF was down 21-3 going into the fourth with approximately jack shit to pin hope to. Jared Lorenzen did all the work, covered with a thrashing Channing Crowder while throwing a diabolically stupid gimme INT to Johnny Lamar streaking down the sidelines for a TD. What’s the point? Every time we saw Zook with his arms folded and his big, granitic chin stuck pleading toward the sky, we imagined cracking his skull open with the sledgiest of hammers.)

So maybe you weren’t ready to love again, Notre Dame and Florida fans. Too bad—life moves fast, the body count’s high, and the action is non-stop. (We ripped that off from an old Lobo comic, we’re pretty sure.) Enter our two new partners, Urban Meyer and Charlie Weis. Yeah, we know it’s awkward, especially since y’all were googly-eyed over Urban. But you’re already over it, right? We’re all adults here. Admittedly, one loss and we’ll get wandering eyes again, as will you when Weis, the dude with all the rings, well-timed screens and skinny posts that always seem to find a hole, yeah, when he loses a game to Purdue, you’ll be silently wondering why a guy named after the Pope couldn’t just nut up and take on a challenge like Notre Dame. But let’s compare notes on our new spouses, just in case we need to look back years later from now and laugh at how wrong we were when Weis dies in the middle of his third BCS national championship game and Meyer’s off coaching the tight ends at Northwestern Multidirectional State with Hal Mumme and Mike Dubose.

The Charlie Weis-Urban Meyer Dating Comparison

What’s their sign?

Weis is an Aries: confident, energetic, and quick witted. Though the humor hasn’t come through the streetwise Parcells/Belichick veneer yet, the confidence and energy can be seen in the way he coaches offense, a quirky, cerebral attack that is simultaneously simple and beguiling in its formations and attack. Weis often brought out entirely new attacks from one quarter to the next in his time with the Pats, going dink-mad in the first half, then switching to a perimeter game passed on quick screens and tosses for the fourth, and then confounding their next opponent by coming out throwing deep down the middle for the first four plays of the next game. The best word to describe the coaching style would be one that works with quantum predictability—that is, none at all.

The downside of an Aries is a strong daredevil tendency, often leaning to the foolhardy sign. See all those Pats fans nodding their heads? The moments at which the dynastic Patriots looked weakest came when Weis played a game against himself, trying to eke out the perfect play no matter what the defense was throwing at him. The 4th and 4 test would invariably result in Weis going for it. It will benefit his team, but in his first season look for him to go for it and send the Irish crashing in the name of bravery and ego at least once. Be prepared.

Meyer, weirdly enough, is the same sign as us: Cancer. Cancerians are, above all things, protective, moody, and imaginative types. Looking at Meyer’s gaudy offenses, you might think how incongruous this matchup is, but take another look at the fundamentals of Meyer’s system—short passes, tons of fakes, and a systematic emphasis on protecting the ball, moving sticks, and controlling the tempo of the game. The high-wire act Urban Warfare appears to be is actually at its heart a conservative approach, albeit a novel one. Thus a coach who could emphasize the importance of a retro-offense done in a novel fashion without batting an eye.

Darkside cancerian traits include an innate mercurial streak and an inability to let go. The comparison we heard coming in that frightened us most in relation to Meyer came in the form of one horrid name: Bobby Knight, who’s as moody and vengeful as they get. Knight drove his recruits like a swarm of demons for a decade of excellence, then proceeded to believe his own hype while choking players and cursing the paint off the locker room walls. We might be okay with that, since a single coach staying anywhere for ten years now would be an eternity—but Urban’s Cancer vindictiveness could lead to some of the ugliest run-it-up blowouts the world has known since…well, since Steve Spurrier, actually. Come to think of it, we have no problem with this at all. Forget we said anything, unless Meyer attacks a player with a chainsaw on the practice field for missing a block.

Are they cute?

Well, not really. Meyer has a certain Teutonic intensity about him, sure. Oh, and he does have well-sculpted legs in the runners mode. We think he looks like a character from a Wim Wenders movie, or maybe the Edge.

Weis, while not quite Jabba the Hutt fat, does have a teensy weight problem, though the surgery that nearly killed him did help a bit. Weis probably has those nice fat guy calves, though, the only part of a fat guy that’s really bankable in the attractiveness department.
For some reason, we always think of this in our heads.

Which side of the bed do they sleep on?

Both Weis and Meyer sleep on the offensive side of the bed, but don’t expect this to lead to the kind of neglect you sometimes see on the defenses of offensive masterminds. (Mike Leach! Put down that controller and listen the f--- up! We’re talking about yooooouuuu.) Meyer’s defenses do take their cues from the offense’s style and tempo; solid, unpredictable coverages coupled with balls-out bump and run technique and the occasional massive blitz package. Meyer takes more than a passing interest in his other units (groan at the punnery,) particularly special teams, where the Gators will be using a funky formation that resembles a well-formed free-kick defense in soccer.

Weis coached under Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick. Need we say more? The D is going to be integral, especially since Weis doesn’t have the smurf corps of speedy wideouts he seemed to prefer in New England or a proven line.

How do they fight?

A crucial question. How does your coaching partner fight?

If you’re an Irish fan, you’re about to marvel at a passive-aggressive genius. Weis’ attack relies on setting up call after call after call, forcing defenses to vacate zones, abandon gaps, and generally make asses of themselves based on the previous three or four successful calls. Aggressive defenses get a steady diet of screens, followed by countless under routes and power runs once they back off. That and plenty of throwing to the tight end creates a subtle, nibbling attack that eventually gives linebackers and dbs vertigo from the rocking motion they’ve been making all day. And just when you think you’ve gotten the idea, they go deep and embarrass you.

Weis will take the same tack in motivating his players, getting alternately icy and warm with them, much like Parcells did to great effect in New England and New York. Men who would have liked to see Parcells trapped under the ice of the East River came to love him after a while. Irish players, especially those with thick skins, will likely come to crave their coach’s tough brand of love.

Meyer, as Gator fans saw in the Orange and Blue game, is just plain aggressive. He points. He threatens to kick loafers not just off the field, but also off the team, out of the town, and out of the country and universe if necessary. His plays are designed to attack the entire field from sideline to sideline, and even the teeniest wideout is forced to compete in the “Circle of Life,” a mano a mano pit fight where the winner gets to sip Cristal while getting a lap dance, and the loser goes to work in the lead mines for a year to learn the meaning of pain. Or something like that, at least.

Weis, in short, would fight much like your girlfriend/wife/boyfriend/whatever does: methodically, unpredictably, and to great effect. Meyer would play Ike to your Tina and ask you to have some of his cake.

But are they serious? I don’t want to get hurt...

The answer here may surprise you: Meyer may be the more long-term, stable partner for those looking for a coaching relationship with some security. Meyer’s young, he’s in great health, he’s finished the last step of the three-rung climb to a major program, and he’s working with a system that would NEVER, EVER work on the professional level. He’s got kids in school, a wife with more money to spend now than she can handle, and beaches and golf courses a plenty surrounding him. The incentive to stay and the fit are there for the long haul.

Saying that Meyer’s the better fit is not a knock on Weis—he could be that successful-- but a few things must be remembered here. The money Weis could make after a few years at the helm at ND moving back to the pros could be too staggering to resist, especially after the snub job they’d given him before as an assistant. The comeuppance of pro GMs and owners begging a guy they’d rejected out of hand a few years prior to the Irish hire would be a powerful pull. There’s also the issue of health: Weis has already almost died once, his father died of a second heart attack at 56, and he’s a former pro assistant taking over a head coaching job for the first time. It’s not pleasant to think about, but you can bet your ass it’s something the Irish administration took into careful consideration when they interviewed him.

Be sure to check out EDSBS for your daily dose of wit and wisdom.