Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The rest of the story... | by Pat

Yesterday we touched on the major story of the latest Charlie presser, but it was hardly the only topic of importance. He's the rundown on the other three major items of note.

First and foremost is the case of ND special teams, spared from being the worst aspect of the 2007 team by the ineffective offense.

As far as special teams go, I screwed that up last year. Brian Polian is going to be the special teams coach. He's not coaching defense. He's just coaching special teams, and I'm his assistant. So the only two people who will be coaching special teams this year will be Brian as the special teams coach, and that's his, and I'm going to be his aide because since I've been here I've been talking about how special teams, special teams, special teams.

As a matter of fact, I'm going to meet with Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech, who I think has done the best job of anyone in the country on special teams. I've already set up an appointment with him. I don't know whether or not I'm bringing Brian or not at that time, but I know one thing: I've got to figure out a better way of getting special teams righted, and I think (Beamer's) done the best job of anyone I know in college football with special teams.
A new year, a new approach to special teams. Let's just hope this is the one that finally works I guess. Having Coach Weis personally spend more time with the units is a good thing and Coach Polian finally will get to focus on special teams without any other positional responsibilities. Still, Coach Polian has been working in some aspect on special teams for all three years so a drastic makeover in one off-season might be asking a lot.

Now, ND has had some very bright spots on special teams...Zibby returning punts...Bruton and Anello on punt coverage...Landri and Laws blocking kicks...well-timed fake kicks and punts...Price and Maust punting...but overall, of the "big 5" areas (kickoff coverage, kickoff returns, punt returns, punt coverage, field goals) ND has come up short in many of them. Will a re-dedicated emphasis by the head coach and the continued upgrades in the talent levels of the younger players that typically make up many special teams units be the ticket? At the very least, ND needs to find a dependable and accurate field goal kicker. Easier said than done.

Speaking of kickers, Charlie addressed the kicker issue in a Q&A series ($) with Irish Illustrated. Irish Insights reproduced this section about kickers before getting a response from Coach Bobby Clark.
Irish Illustrated: Most people are thrilled with the (recruiting) class. But some have questions as to why you didn't go out and get another kicker.

Weis: My feeling was that there wasn't one out there that I said, 'We need to get him. After this spring is over, if we don't feel good about our answer, I'll beg the soccer coach (Bobby Clark) to give me the best he's got. It isn't like I haven't thought this through. We've got a whole bunch of kickers right here on campus. They just happen to be playing a different sport.I'm going to give our guys the spring. If that doesn't work, we're going to go poaching.

II: Does the soccer coach know that?

CW: "(Laughing) He will now."

II: Are you confident that the answer at kicker is currently on the team?

CW: "Yeah, I think so."
My guess is that Charlie is banking on Brandon Walker to work out that nasty slice on his kicks. Walker has the leg to be a good kicker for ND, but will need to iron out whatever technique or mental roadblocks tripped him up last year on longer kicks. (5-5 inside of 30 yards, 1-7 on longer kicks with two being blocked)

Bobby Clark had a few good lines about loaning a soccer player to the Irish football team.
"If there is something that would work, maybe it could work," Clark said. "But it could be very difficult. It could be easy if it was different seasons."...

And, as Clark, who is one of the more humorous coaches on Notre Dame's campus, quipped: "I don't know if any of our guys can kick a football. I don't know if they can kick a soccer ball sometimes."
The second major issue that Charlie addressed was the hiring of Jon Tenuta and his confidence level that Jon will integrate seamlessly into the coaching staff.
So you knew from afar what you were getting, but I think that more importantly, he understood right from the beginning, I said, here's the way it's going to be, here's what I'm looking for. It was really important -- we spent an entire week, Corwin, Jon and I, round robin conversations for an entire week. This wasn't like it happened in a day. We spent a week's worth of conversations going on to make sure that we could blend this, before he understood what the offer was going to be, and then it was can we all three of us mutually coexist. I think that we came up with a ringing "yes" when it was all said and done. So everyone knew how the dynamics were going to work.
I was never really worried about how Tenuta and Brown will get along, but it's great to hear that they spent a week checking and double-checking just to make sure that this thing will work out for everyone's benefit. Honestly, I am really excited to see how this plays out this spring and into the fall. Those who claim that Tenuta was this year's top recruit just might be right. Charlie confimed that Tenuta will be coaching the linebackers and I can't wait to see what he is able to do with the young talent ND has at linebacker. Tenuta is scheduled to have a press conference on Thursday, so we'll have more direct quotes from ND's newest coach shortly.

The last of the major issues that Charlie mentioned has to do with head coach recruiting.

The American Football Coaches Association apparently has decided that head coaches can not go on the road and recruit during the spring evaluation period immediately following spring ball. We could make a cheap joke about the timing of this rule that limits a head coach's recruiting responsibilities and the recent appointment of Ty Willingham as AFCA president...and it looks like I just did. Seriously though, this will definitely have a negative impact on ND.

Charlie was one of the very first coaches to spend the entire month of spring evaluation on the road. The normal routine for spring evaluation was that assistant coaches would spread out and canvas the local region, hitting up the traditional high school powerhouses as well as those out of the way towns with the star junior player. When Charlie started his month long trek, coaches like Pete Carroll had started to make more personal spring visits, but it was still not a widespread practice. Carroll soon upped his travel miles as did other recruiting-oriented coaches like Urban Meyer and Ron Zook. Others have started to follow suit, but the new AFCA ruling has put a stop to all of that for now, freeing up coaches for more golf and the rubber chicken circuit. Charlie's new plans don't include golf, but they do include more interaction with ND alumni clubs.
Now, this time allotment now, after the spring game until right before Memorial Day, that month or so, that month of change, it will allow me to do a few things. Obviously the number one thing is spend more time with our own players. That's the one thing it'll do. Obviously my wife and kids, I'll get to see them a little bit more, especially when my kid is playing baseball. I'll get to see him play a little bit more than I have in the past.

But the other thing that I haven't been able to do since I've been here -- when I got here, we came and made a statement that every year we'd go to the Rockne dinner, and because of the amount of time I was going to spend recruiting, that was going to be it for alumni associations or Notre Dame clubs.

But now I've got this month of time, so I met with (Notre Dame Alumni Association executive director) Chuck Lennon a week or two ago, I went over to his office and I sat down and I told him I was going to give him some time during this time, and we went over a game plan.

Each year the Alumni Association awards different clubs at different levels for what they've done, production, whatever. I'm not exactly sure, but there's anywhere from eight to 10 award winners. This year there happened to be 11. So what I'm going to do is during that time frame where I would have been on the road recruiting, I'm going to go meet or go visit with all 11 of those associations to kind of pay them back for being award winners. Chuck is going to notify them all today. He's all jacked up now. He's pumped, as you can imagine Chuck; he isn't a guy who lacks for adrenaline to start off with.
Having more time for the players is a good thing and it never hurts a coach's popularity to make a few alumni club appearances. Still, as a team that requires a national recruiting approach moreso than a reliance on local talent, ND will be affected by this new rule more than most. The good news is that Corwin Brown proved to be an excellent recruiter over the past year and no doubt will be hitting the pavement all month in an effort to get the ND name out to as many recruits and high school coaches as possible.

One last item as mentioned by Charlie involves the futures of two current football players. Bartley Webb and Darrell Hand are indeed done with football for good for medical reasons. Both are expected to stay in school and Webb will stick around the football office as a student assistant. That puts ND's available scholarships for the 2009 recruiting class around 15 before factoring in additional scholarships gained via attrition or 5th year players not coming back. In all likelihood ND will probably take 17-20 players in the next recruiting class baring any major unforeseen changes.