Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A Local Call | by Jay

I found this part of Charlie's presser yesterday pretty amusing, especially in light of the brouhaha a couple weeks ago over his "cheeseburgers" line and his perceived whining about the ranking of the Irish in the BCS.

Q. Some observers have said that one of your strengths is you're not afraid to ask questions or admit you're learning something; what would be the biggest lesson you've learned from this season?

Charlie Weis: Oh, we're getting into philosophy now. Well, there's several, but let's just cite one.

I think that realizing that this is Notre Dame and you're always under a microscope. I think that you have to understand that the people who cover you on a daily basis have a different perspective on what you're saying than the people who don't. And I think because of that, you've got to be very leery of saying something that even in jest, because it's often misconstrued as a state of mind rather than what is actually stated as. And I think that it's a learning experience, because sometimes you say it, you say something, and you don't realize the negative connotation that could go with it. I think that's something that I've learned that's kind of important.
There's a whole bunch more good stuff in yesterday's presser, too, from thoughts on Senior Day, to the play of freshman DE John Ryan, to Travis Leitko returning to finish his degree, to whom Charlie is rooting for in the Ohio State-Michigan game (Answer: neither. Whatever outcome benefits ND the most, that's what he's rooting for).

Anyway, it's ironic that one of the chiefs lessons learned by Charlie is not to be so loquacious. Do you remember the way Charlie barged his way into the Irish consciousness for the first time last winter, and how mollified the press was to hear him talk about how I am in charge now and this is going to be a tight ship and I will control all information and don't bother asking the players questions, because they don't know anything and so forth? He came on so strong in that opening conference back in January of '05, and a lot of people in the media freaked out, expecting a Belichick-style freezeout from the new Irish coach. I'm sure the beat writers were breaking out the flak jackets and helmets; it was going to be pure hell covering this guy.

Well, here we are a few dozen press conferences later, well into his second year, and what do you know? Charlie holds court for the local beat writers like they were all sitting on the porch with a pitcher of lemonade on a Sunday afternoon: relaxed, mostly jovial, and always gregarious. (Sometimes too gregarious). Access to the players seems to be a non-issue; the weekly interviews are plentiful and wide-ranging. Charlie even gave the 60 Minutes crew an extended insider-interview and allowed them to mike him up during a few games. (In fact, the structure of that program nearly mirrors our two-year experience with Charlie: the gruff exterior -- such language! -- eventually giving way to a more humane portrait of the big guy.)

That's not to say ND football under Charlie is an open book; sensitive stuff is still protected (what happened with Ron Talley, anyway?) and he can still get after guys who piss him off (the Carroll & Weineke episode). But the mood at the Gug isn't as austere as once feared, and Charlie's not the truculent lout everyone expected. Like a lot of things about New Jersey, there's the brash surface and the rough first impression, but then you get to know him, and the bark proves worse than the bite.