Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Nobody's Fault But My Own | by Pat

As the losses started to mount this past year, a number of fans starting calling for Charlie to fire an assistant coach or two, and for someone to take the blame for the unfathomably bad 2007 season. However, at his latest presser, Charlie Weis did the unexpected, and in essence, fired himself.

Now, on the offensive staff, one of the things that I've done, and you guys know that I've spent a lot of time here since the season's end to change some things around here. Well, I'm going to try to cut the proverbial -- the figurative -- umbilical cord and try to move myself a little bit away from being the sole primary guy on the offensive staff. So in the springtime we'll start off with the offensive staff running the offense. That means (offensive coordinator) Mike (Haywood) will write the scripts and set it up on offense, and that means that all the offensive coaches now won't have to worry about the ever presence of the head coach breathing down their neck all the time.
The decision to hand over play-calling is a surprising one, one that Charlie explained in further detail to Dennis Dodd.
"My question is, 'Was I the head coach or was I the offensive coordinator?' Which one was I? My answer is I was probably too high a percentage offensive coordinator and not a higher percentage enough a head coach. I'm flipping those percentages."
When everyone was looking for a scapegoat, Charlie spared his coaching staff and made himself the one to blame. An honorable decision, yes, and certainly a turning point in the Charlie Weis Era. But will it prove to be a good one? Plenty of good can come out of this decision, much of it hinging on Coach Haywood and his adeptness at taking over playcalling. Accountability for Haywood -- and all the assistant coaches -- just went up several notches, with Charlie roaming around. Not to mention, it will make ND a more attractive destination to future offensive coordinators who know they will do more than just hold a copy of Charlie's laminated play sheet (Haywood, for instance, gets to list offensive coordinator on his resume and really mean it this time.) Charlie summed it up thusly:
I think that sometimes when you have a number of good coaches, sometimes they get stymied or stifled a little bit when you have a very domineering presence when the head coach is also involved in the offense. They know that I reserve the right to change some things, they know that I can interject things, but at the same time I want to give them an opportunity to do it, so that's what I'm going to do.
But even more than that, by stepping back Coach Weis can finally become the supervisor of the program instead of just a glorified unit coordinator. And according to Charlie, his first step is re-connecting with the players and becoming more approachable.
So therefore as I look at it, we're going to be playing those kids, and a lot of those freshmen and sophomores that you played last year are really only in the program for the second or third year, might have only played for one year. And I just felt that too many times when a guy makes a mistake, the only thing they're concerned about is getting yelled at, versus when you make a mistake, being concerned about letting your team down.

So I'd like to move in the direction that if a guy made a mistake he was more concerned that he was letting his teammates down than worrying about the fear of is Weis going to yell at me. The fear of a kid, the younger guys, too many times they play with that mentality. So what do you do? You get it so that they know you better so if you yell at them they know that it's not personal.
Despite the new approach, Charlie's innate personality probably won't let him magically transform into a "player's buddy" type of coach. He's still gruff; he's still Jersey. But it is good to see him acknowledge that toning down the "I'm not your friend, I'm your coach" mentality was a needed step.

Charlie's decision is hardly a unique one. Two other notable examples of play-calling coaches who took a step back and handed over the OC duties are Georgia's Mark Richt and Cal's Jeff Tedford (both linked pieces are worth a read). But what strikes me is just how big of a change this was for Charlie, personally. He had to eat a lot of crow, and acknowledge that much of his early bluster about Xs and Os and "schematic advantages" didn't amount to a hill of beans last year. The biggest worry was that Charlie would stick with the status quo, and given his healthy ego, that wouldn't have been a surprise. Giving up playcalling, as he said, is probably the hardest thing he's had to do in his football career. Scheming and strategizing was obviously what he loved most.

But I think with these moves, he's overwhelmingly shown that he's not afraid of critical self-analysis, and not afraid of switching things up when they're not working. Let's just hope this last play call is the correct one, and turns out to be the kick in the pants the program needs right now.