Thursday, May 29, 2008

Trip of a lifetime | by Pat

However many miles Charlie has accumulated recruiting in year's past pale in comparison to his latest spring road trip. Along with four other college coaches -- Mark Richt of Georgia, Tommy Tuberville of Auburn, Randy Shannon of Miami and Jack Siedlecki of Yale -- Charlie went on a whirlwind five day trip to visit the troops stationed in the Middle East. The trip was documented by Ivan Maisel in a series of entries on ESPN. But perhaps the best account was given by Charlie himself. Each day he recounted the journey to Eric Hansen who transcribed it for the SBT and Aside from the information about the trip itself, the writing presents a much more causal and off the cuff Charlie than the one frequently heard at the mostly scripted press conferences. Here's a rundown of the trip complete with links and daily highlights.

Day One - From Scott Air Force Base in Illinois to Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany

The article and video of the stop at Scott Air Force Base was posted here before, but here's the link again. The first installment of Charlie's diary (blog?) of the trip covers the stop at Scott and the flight over to Germany aboard a KC-135 Stratotanker.

The guy who flew us from Scott Air Force Base to Germany, in fact, is a Notre Dame grad, class of 1976. His name is Fred Roggero. He's a two-star general, and he let me sit up in the cockpit with him on the takeoffs and the landings. We had kind of a funny exchange. He said, "It's your turn to say the Hail Marys now. I've been doing them for the football team for the past few years."
The diary links as well as the Hannah and Friends website has a great collection of photos from the trip, including Weis watching the Stratotanker refuel another craft mid-flight as well as Charlie trying his hand with a few different guns while at Scott Air Force Base.

Day Two - Germany to Qatar

From Germany, Weis traveled over Iraq to a US base in Qatar.
Later in the day I got to see a B-1 bomber. Not only that, they let you go pick out a bomb and write a message to Osama Bin Laden. They wanted you to write a message on one of the bombs that they'd go ahead and drop. You just literally pulled out a Sharpie and wrote on it. "Go to hell" or something like that. I wrote something like "You will lose. Go Irish." I think everyone might have written something a little nastier, but I was conservative.
After dinner, all the coaches sat at tables outside for about four hours and signed things. We signed and signed and signed and signed. Needless to say, you were spent at the end of that. And it's worth it. They're just so happy to see you that it makes you happy. They're trying to thank us, and we're the ones who should be saying, "Thank you." If you saw the enthusiasm of these people, you'd be shocked. It's infectious. You definitely feel something special here.
I'm sorry, but I had to chuckle a bit at this.
We gave them T-shirts. I was in cahoots with the (Notre Dame) bookstore. We gave out the old (official) shirts from last year. With the help of the bookstore, we sent over like 5,000 or 6,000 shirts.
Gee, I wonder why there were so many extra 2007 shirts lying around.

Moving right along, here's the Day Two photo gallery.

Day Three - Qatar to Bahrain to the USS Nassau

Flying into Bahrain, the coaches took a helicopter ride to the USS Nassau in the Persian Gulf.
We weren't going to go to this ship originally. We were going to go to the USS Ashland. But it was way farther out in the gulf. The Nassau was a little bit closer. And let me tell you, that was fine with me. This has been a Dramamine special for me. The helicopter ride and the ship aren't my cup of tea, if you get my drift.
While on board the USS Nassau, the coaches held a mock NFL Combine to test the crew in the 40 yard dash, short shuttle, bench press, and other combine events.
Tuberville manned the starting line. Shannon operated the stopwatch at the other end. When Weis walked up, he shouted at Shannon, "I'm going to run the 40, Randy. Ready? Got a calendar?"
Here's Day Three's photo gallery.

Day Four - Back to Bahrain

A few more hours were spent on the USS Nashua, including a Q&A with the coaches where Charlie was no doubt asked about the status of the offensive line. After that, it was another helicopter ride back to Bahrain. Once there, they held more question and answer sessions with the troops while signing shirts and taking pictures with everyone, as long as they were dressed correctly.
Not everyone here is a Notre Dame fan, now. I have run into a whole bunch of Michigan fans, but Saturday it was a USC fan who really got my attention. This USC fan has a wife who is a Notre Dame fan. She's back in Scranton, Pa. He comes up for a picture (Saturday) night. He's got on a USC football shirt, and I refused to take the picture with him.

He goes, "C'mon coach, you can't do me like that." I said, "I'll tell you what. I'll put it up for a vote. I'll put it up to your buddies, see what they think." So I said, "How many of you guys think I should take a picture with him with this USC football shirt?" Everyone's saying "Noooo. Nooo. Boo."

"How many think I shouldn't?" And everyone raises their hands. He went and put on the green Notre Dame shirt. He said, "My wife is going to rag me for the rest of my life." It was one of the more humorous moments of the trip.
Charlie also reflected on being overseas at the start of the Memorial Day weekend.
Being over here on Memorial Day weekend is really very different than the way a lot of people celebrate Memorial Day back in the States. The real meaning of the holiday is a constant reminder. It slaps you very clearly in the face.

Memorial Day, to me, almost takes on a greater significance in the grand scheme of things. You're thinking about, "I'm only here for a short amount of time." These people are putting their lives on the line and they're doing it every single day. They are, literally. It really makes you feel proud, to tell you the truth."
Here's the Day Four photo gallery.

Day Five - From Bahrain to the Southwest Pacific

Visiting an undisclosed base, Charlie and the coaches settled in for the final day of their overseas trip. In addition to the usual meet and greet, they found time to coach a flag football game.
Late in the afternoon, they held a flag football game on the base. The Southeastern Conference coaches -- (Auburn's) Tommy Tuberville and (Georgia's) March Richt -- coached one team. And (Yale's) Jack Siedlecki and (Miami's) Randy Shannon coached the other team. I was the head referee, because I was the only one not affiliated with a conference. So I got to bust everyone's chops.

So right away I called a 5-yard, delay-of-game penalty on Mark Richt for "overcoaching." And then Tuberville's yelling, "The fix is in. The fix is in." Actually their team won 14-12. It was 6-6 at halftime. Their team scored and went for two to go up 14-6. The other team scored with 14 seconds to go, went for two and didn't make it. Everyone loved it, the base just loved it. The field was 80 yards long and made of dirt. No grass anywhere. After the game, they had a big cookout. They gave them kebabs and ribs and lobster. That was like the big Memorial Day cookout they had.
This was the final day of the trip, as the coaches left early in the morning to fly back to Washington D.C. to visit the White House. As to be expected with such a long trip, Charlie commented on his time spent with the other coaches.
I think the other coaches and I have become pretty close on this trip. I don't think you can help it. We've been busting chops with each other pretty good, to tell you the truth.
Day Six - Memorial Day at the White House

The final part of the trip was following the 15 hour flight back to the US. The coaches journeyed to the White House to take part in a press conference with President Bush. Maisel noted the security protocols of such a visit.
On the way to the White House, someone reminded the coaches to have some identification ready.

"Can't we just say we're with Charlie?" Mark Richt of Georgia said, teasing Charlie Weis of Notre Dame.
Charlie gave a few comments to the media at the press conference and with that the tour was over and the coaches were able to head home.
I think that Mr. President definitely had the inspired part right, but that inspire part definitely worked both ways. We went over there to help motivate the morale of the troops -- but I think we came home probably more inspired than even they were. I mean, it was just an unbelievable experience to watch the enthusiasm and the pride and the teamwork over there.

I mean, I can't -- we saw thousands and thousands of troops, and when they heard that we were coming to the White House on Monday, to a man and to a woman almost everyone said, "Could you just pass on one message to the President," and asked us to thank him for him supporting them. I mean, think about it -- they're there for four months, six months, a year -- it was just unbelievable -- from Germany, you know, seeing guys and girls that had gotten injured in battle; and their framework, their psyche; it was just an unbelievable experience.

And I think all five of us said we just wish we could have brought our players over there, you know, the 18-to-23-year-olds that we deal with, so they could see what maturity looks like at a young age and teamwork at its utmost. I tell you what, on behalf of all five coaches I can -- it was just an invigorating experience, one that we'll always treasure the rest of our lives.

And we got something special going on over there because there wasn't one person, of the thousands and thousands of soldiers we met, that had one negative thing to say -- and that's almost overwhelming to think about it; not one. Now, there were a couple at the end-of-their-year tours that were very much looking forward to getting their call to get home. But I'll tell you what, it was great. And what a perfect way to end up our trip, to end up at the White House on Memorial Day
Maisel wrote a summary article about the trip that is worth a read too, mainly talking about how the coaches will surely use this trip to motivate and inspire their teams. Charlie made it very clear that he plans on doing exactly that.
When the 2008 Fighting Irish football team reconvenes in August, what Weis saw and heard and felt in the past week just may come up.

"The first day," Weis said. "You have one day where you can't do any football. You have an orientation day. That will be the perfect opportunity to talk about the [military's] sense of team. We put signs up in January saying, 'Leave your egos at the door.' These people live that creed. If you get your team to live that creed the way these soldiers do, you'll be OK."
Finally, Weis held a quick press conference today to speak with reporters looking for quotes on the trip. Here is the transcript and video courtesy of Irish Eyes of the presser, which largely recounts many of the anecdotes including in the daily diaries.

It's a shame that head coaches were kept off the recruiting trail this spring, but the rule did provide for an occasion for a much more important road trip. Hopefully this is not the last time in a while that college coaches take a break from their busy schedules to visit the troops stationed around the globe.