Wednesday, January 14, 2009

It was Verducci All Along | by Michael

After four years of an inconsistent ground game, and one year after his offensive line contributed to the dubious record of 58 sacks allowed, John Latina has been replaced by former Cleveland Browns assistant OL coach Frank Verducci.

There isn't a lot of info out there on Verducci, but here's an attempt to reconstruct his past.

Like many entry level assistant coaches, Verducci bounced around for a while. Finally he found a home at Iowa, where he coached from 1989 to 1998. Although the stats would seem to suggest otherwise, Iowa fans remember him more as a strong recruiter, particularly in the state of New Jersey, where his father was a head coach at Seton Hall Prep, than for his offensive lines.

In 1999, Verducci left Iowa for the greener pastures of the NFL. He joined Bruce Coslet's Bengals as the TE coach and kept his job even as Coslet was fired and replaced by Dick Lebeau.

Coslet resurfaced in 2002 as the offensive coordinator of the Cowboys, who were floundering under Dave Campo. He lured Verducci to Dallas by offering him the opportunity to be the OL coach. However, the stint was short-lived as the Dallas offense struggled behind rookie quarterbacks Quincy Carter and Chad Hutchinson. In fact, midway through the season, Dallas switched from zone blocking schemes to man blocking schemes presumably because their offensive line personnel were better suited as man blockers.

Verducci was unemployed in 2003, but Mike Mularkey offered him the opportunity to coach TEs for the Bills in 2004. A year later, Verducci was reassigned as the offensive line assistant coach, and he worked with veteran OL coach Jim McNally. However, after the 2005 season, Verducci was fired (while McNally was kept). One week later, Mularkey resigned himself.

Verducci sat out 2006, and Romeo Crennel hired him as the assistant offensive line coach in 2007. Cleveland's offense surged to 10th in the NFL as the offensive line coached by Steve Marshall and Verducci paved the way for a successful ground and air attack behind Jamaal Lewis and Derek Anderson, respectively. More detailed information about Verducci's responsibilities in Cleveland from today's press release:

His job responsibilities included assisting the offensive coordinator in framing the run game, presenting the weekly opponent scouting report to the offense and installing Friday's game plan to the offensive unit. Verducci assisted the play caller on game day's with situational offense and was responsible for clock management.
And now Verducci will travel to South Bend, the one college job he said he would leave the NFL to take. At the same time, it's a homecoming for his wife, who attended Saint Mary's.

Verducci will inherit an offensive line that returns four starters, an experienced "sixth man" in Trevor Robinson, and the lofty expectations that Latina, whose resume seemed much stronger than Verducci's at the time of his hire, never achieved in his four years as OL coach. Verducci seems to be an assistant coach whose entire background is in zone blocking, so in that regard, continuity of schemes should not be an issue. Additionally, he would appear to be a more fiery personality than Latina. And while Latina enjoyed some successes as a recruiter -- despite the tag as a supposed poor recruiter -- Verducci would seem to own the edge. How quickly he can reestablish the pipelines he had in New Jersey remains to be seen, and then again-- what top Jersey prospects with grades have the Irish failed to land recently?

Questions abound, and one of the bigger ones will be addressed by Verducci in the spring: Who will win the vacated left tackle position?

As far as the long term ramifications of the hire, it's hard to imagine that such a journeyman assistant OL coach was a top tier candidate for what is arguably the most important coaching hire in Weis's tenure. Can he really be the key to unlocking the potential in the Irish offensive line?

Current Irish verbals may believe that, but after the offensive struggles the last two years, many in the Irish fanbase probably won't believe it until they see it. Who knows, maybe this will work out. I'd have rather had someone who's a current college success, and someone whose most recent track record was more definitively positive, but maybe Charlie knows what he's doing with this hire.