Wednesday, July 04, 2007

the Independent | by Jay

Happy 4th. Lou Somogyi published the last part of his six-part Charlie Weis interview this week on If you've got some time to spare before the barbeque and fireworks get started today, pull up a chair; the whole series is a helluva read.

Part 1: Rigors of coaching

While many athletes possess deceptive speed, Weis is blessed with what might be termed deceptive conditioning. He might not look the part, but…

"I’m never tired," said Weis, whose days often begin around 4:30 a.m. and don’t end until near midnight. "When I go get physicals (regularly), other than the fact that my feet are messed up and I’m pudgy, you can’t believe how good my numbers come across. My heart is great, my cholesterol is great, my blood pressure is great…I should eat more cheeseburgers."

Hey, that sounds like a good headline!

"Don’t make that the headline," Weis laughed. "I already got into trouble last year with my Florida comment on them eating cheeseburgers (during a bye week)."

Like Parseghian, Weis does not need much sleep, and he does not fear that his health will be stretched to the hilt at his current job.

"No, because I’ve been doing this pace for 30 years," Weis noted.
Part 2: Being the hunted
In their first two seasons at Notre Dame, Weis and Co. had two dramatically different preseason projections. In 2005, pundits had the Irish starting 1-5, maybe 0-6, and finishing near .500. That was beautiful for the team. Last year, the Irish were a popular No. 1 or top-3 pick.

Consequently, while a 9-3 record in 2005 was deemed a "success" (although not by Weis), the 10-3 record in 2006 was labeled "blasé" by Weis himself. Part of it was a psychological barrier the program had to experience.

"That first year you could play the disrespect card -- and it’s a good card to play," Weis said. "The second year you couldn’t play it. I’m not saying they weren’t hungry in the second year…but it was a different set of encyclopedias. This year will be easier than last year to have the team ready to play, because everybody thinks they’re going to stink. As a coach, it’s easier because there’s a whole different psyche involved."

While that role can be more enjoyable from a motivational standpoint, Notre Dame ultimately needs to be the hunted, not the chaser, if it wants to get to where USC currently is.
Part 3: Recruiting adjustments
"You want to know something: I’m having more success by having more, hard, fast rules than when my attitude was, 'Let’s just recruit the whole country,'" Weis said. "Think about it: How many kids are really family-oriented guys? Most of them are. So when you lay it out for them like that, they understand the concept. Every one of the kids I talked to about, 'Once you get married, there might be good looking girls walk by, but you’re married.' It’s not like, 'I can go with her, or I can go with her' -- they all understand that analogy. And if they don’t like that, they’re not going to fit here, no matter how good they are.

"So when I lose a kid, sometimes I lose him for the right reasons. You can’t believe how many kids say, 'I like the family atmosphere. I like the high character, the high standards.' It’s making a positive impression on them. When everyone thought it would be a deterrent, it’s had the opposite residual effect, which has been encouraging to me not so much as the head coach at Notre Dame, but as a person. It’s encouraging to me that there are enough people out there who 'get it.'"
Part 4: Building quality depth
The big deal has been the lack of "quality depth." In Weis’ debut season with the Irish, Notre Dame had a paltry four offensive linemen from three classes: two from 2003 (Ryan Harris and John Sullivan), none from 2004 and two from 2005 (Paul Duncan and Mike Turkovich). That year, the Irish had only six offensive linemen who were primed to play, and rotated Bob Morton at center and guard to give at least one interior player a breather. At the end of the year, Weis admitted he was knocking on wood all season in the hope that no one along the offensive line would get injured.Consequently, the Irish signed six offensive linemen in 2006, led by Sam Young, to replenish that area. This spring, Weis noticed a vast difference as far as parity along the offensive line...

"The offensive line this spring, there wasn’t a big difference between the first and second guys, you had more contenders," Weis said. "When you have more contenders, that means you no longer are going into a game playing only six guys. You might have 10 guys to play now -- not that you’re going to play 10. But at least now if somebody goes down, you’re not going to throw in the towel and say, 'What are we going to do now?'"
Part 5: Starting fresh at QB
This May, Weis reportedly met with West Virginia head coach Rich Rodriguez, whose spread option schemes have made the Mountaineer offense among the most lethal and feared in the country. As esteemed as Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta is, Rodriquez's offense made mincemeat of it in the 38-35 Gator Bowl victory last January. West Virginia trailed 35-17 in the second half but rallied to victory with 311 yards rushing, 145 of them by quarterback Patrick White. Georgia Tech happens to be Notre Dame's opener this year.

Naturally, Weis would not divulge the Xs and Os aspect of such a meeting with Rodriguez, nor even verify that it occurred, but he did say this is the best time of year to enlighten and broaden your own coaching horizons.

"I sent every coach on our staff out this spring to do a different project," Weis said. "Last year we all went to Carolina (Panthers) together. This year we went all over the country. We covered all sorts of different ground. It was just research projects.

"We have our own offense and our own defense. We're not going to run somebody else's offense or somebody else's defense. But that doesn't mean we can't get ideas from all those other places. We went out to see what things are out there that we can apply to our offense or defense. I call it professional enhancement."
Part 6: In for the long haul
But in just two years at Notre Dame, an endowment of $3 million already has been created by the Weises and a third party, ground has been broken for the site to be located in South Bend, Ind., the local community is heavily involved with the infrastructure (including a caretaker's cottage that will be constructed by Notre Dame's school of architecture), and residents are expected to be taken in by the summer of 2008.

"Now why would I take on a project like this where you had to go through a lot of red tape if I was looking to jump ship?" Weis asked. "That doesn't mean they might not want to get rid of me somewhere along the line."

If that occurs, it could be a bleak moment in Notre Dame's football annals. If Weis, with his unbridled work ethic, Xs and Os acumen and acceptance of the immense expectations he himself possesses as a Notre Dame alumnus, can't return the Irish to the summit, who else could fill the demands of the job – or would even want to?