Friday, January 07, 2005

Warm-up Acts | by Jay

Coach Weis had a brief press conference today, and it was a hoot. After admonishing the reporters about the new way of doing business ("If I start reading those anonymous quotes now, you're shut down...I will never say another word to you...So let's make sure we understand what the terms are walking in the door" -- BGI has the rest of the smackdown Charlie went on to answer a few questions on his assistant coaching staff, building a team, the state of recruiting, and various other matters of great import (like which Super Bowl ring he was wearing. Actually, he gave a great answer on that: "The most recent one").

Listening to Charlie speak, you get the distinct impression that at any given time, he's got a bunch of things going on in his mind. He repeats himself some, he cuts sentences short, he rambles a bit, but he's always talking, and always thinking. Nothing seems prefabricated or overly considered; it's a garrulous, ongoing riff, as expansive and ungainly as a herd of cattle moving quickly over the plains. Yet in all the dust that's being kicked up, in every half-phrase and rambling sentence, there's a point to be made, an idea to impart, a command to give, or a moment of self-deprecation. You're getting it straight, honest, and unfiltered, right off the cuff. It's refreshing.

Anyway, the occasion provoked me to go back and read the introductory press conferences of Weis, Willingham, O'Leary, and Davie. Now, by point of comparison, it's quite easy to make kneejerk judgments based on isolated soundbites between say, Weis and Willingham, who share about as much in speaking style and charm as Jackie Gleason and a grocery checkout clerk. Juxtaposing the two leads to a lot of cheap criticisms at Willingham's expense: in comparison, and with the benefit of hindsight, Willingham seems like a real dud. Perhaps we're clouded by his crummy brand of football -- I can remember a time when Willingham was praised for his succinctness and seriousness of purpose -- but now, it all seems like a whitewash, the hollow platitudes of a politician or a high school principal.

One of the other things that strikes you upon reading the transcripts is the vastly different language used when the coaches were introduced (whether it was by Monk, Kevin White, or Father Jenkins). The intro of Ty is couched in terms of academic and spiritual achievement, with Monk expounding at length about all the non-football aspects of the Notre Dame head coaching job: family, academic performance, "appropriateness", residentiality. Monk basically delivered his stump normally reserved for the Sports Business Council, the NCAA committee on gambling, or the Society of Christian Ethics. You'd think he was introducing a new team chaplain, not a football coach.

With Charlie's introduction, you got the broad strokes, and then it was down to business. It's brief, almost terse: Monk says about two things, Jenkins hits the main theme ("Acting with integrity, giving our students a superb education and excelling on the field"), and White goes over his coaching credentials. The new regime seems to be saying: enough speeches, forget the platitudes and save the political grandstanding. Let's get this party started right.

Ty Willingham Introduction, 1/1/02

FATHER MALLOY: Happy New Year to you all. What a great way to start. I am very excited about this day and I'd like to offer a few comments if I could before inviting our Athletic Director Kevin White to come up to introduce our new football coach.

Yesterday I spent some quality time with Coach Tyrone Willingham, his wife Kim, and his three wonderful children and I can tell you this is a great family and we are just delighted to be able to welcome them into the Notre Dame family.

Coach Willingham and I had a chance to talk about all those fundamental things that have been an integral part of the history of Notre Dame as an institution of its athletic programs and of its football program.

We talked about what it takes to win consistently in this kind of academic environment. We talked about the things that we expect of our coaches and of our student athletes, whether it is with regard to academic performance or behavior, or the way in which they represent the University of Notre Dame.

This is a kind of occasion which has the potential to be described entirely as a kind of social statement and surely there's an element of that to it.

What I want to say very straightforwardly that the reason that Coach Willingham was chosen after a very exhaustive search was because he was the very best coach who was appropriate for Notre Dame and all it represents.

We heard over and over again from very knowledgeable people, about college and professional football, that he was one of the most highly regarded coaches out there. That he had done an outstanding job in circumstances where very few had achieved the same level of success. That he ran a program that was exemplary in terms of the success rate of his student athletes moving on not simply to graduation, but to meaningful lives, including lives of leadership in every walk of life.

That he held his student athletes to the same standards that he held himself. And if there's anything that you hear over and over again about this man, is that he is a person of integrity who lives by the highest standards and really tries to live an example to those he's instructing.

He's not only a good family man, but he's tried to induce a sense of family among his players to be firm but understanding, to try to hold them to high standards without embarrassing them in the process.

This is a very difficult job, maybe one of the most difficult jobs in the sporting area and yet there's a lot of rewards that go along with it as well. It's a high-profile position. It takes a person who knows himself well, who is not acceptably sensitive, who can speak straightforwardly, who is not trying to impress the masses, but simply do a good job.

We talked about all of that. I felt a great rapport and a great sense of confidence. I really believe, despite all the speculation, much of which was idle and uninformed, this process has resulted in the selection of an outstanding coach for Notre Dame, who knows that we have a high bar of excellence here, that he recognizes what it means to work within an outstanding academic institution, for a meaningful education is our first priority, that he's comfortable and excited about working in a religiously affiliated school, where we use God language regularly and meaningfully and in which we expect that one of the things that will happen to the young people entrusted to our care, is that they will grow in the life of faith as well.

So I can say once again, it's a great new year. I am happy to be able on this occasion to welcome into our midst, our new football coach, who I think will do an outstanding job and I pledge that we will do everything we can to support him and to give him the resources necessary to succeed.

He knows what our standards are. He embraces them. He's excited about being at Notre Dame and we're so excited about him agreeing to be our new football coach.

Charlie Weis Introduction, 12/13/04

FATHER MALLOY: Welcome to you all. I am pleased to be able to welcome our new football coach. He has great pedigree, not only as a Notre Dame graduate, but in terms of his achievements in the professional ranks. I want to say to him, to Coach Weis, you have my whole-hearted support. We are really pleased to welcome you and your family back to our community and I encourage every member of the broader Notre Dame community to give you the support that you deserve.

I'd like to now welcome to the podium my successor, father John Jenkins, who I am confident will do an outstanding job and who will be working with our new coach in the years ahead. John?

FATHER JENKINS: Thank you. At the University of Notre Dame, the success in our football program consists of three things: Acting with integrity, giving our students a superb education and excelling on the field.

Meeting all of these goals is a tremendous challenge. But I believe we have found a person in Charlie Weis who can lead us to such multifaceted success. Charlie is a Notre Dame graduate, an offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots and holder of three Super Bowl rings; a man of tremendous character and a man who understands and embraces the highest ideals of Notre Dame. Charlie was clearly the most impressive candidate we interviewed, and I could not be happier that he will be the new football coach at the University of Notre Dame.