Chicago Sun-Times
with Mark Lazerus

Coaching Changes, Running Game, Conspiracy Theories

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Now that the season is finished we can expect Charlie Weis to make some staff changes. Not only are changes necessary but inevitable in the wake of Mike Haywood being named head coach at Miami University.

As several readers correctly pointed out, the only blemish from an otherwise stellar performance in the Hawaii Bowl was a running game that only averaged 1.9 yards per carry. Problems with the running game/offensive line have been discussed again and again here and in other forums. In fact, several readers said a vastly improved performance by the offensive line and running game in the Hawaii Bowl would be the one thing that would make them feel better about the team heading into the offseason. 

I resisted making a similar statement because I didn't think such a performance was in the offing. At some point, you are what you are. ND's o-line is what it is. There's no sense wishing for something that is not going to happen.

But there's also no doubt that fixing the running game should be Charlie Weis' biggest priority heading into next season. He's a pass-happy coach. The opinion here is that deep down --- whether he admits it or not --- he would rather pass then run. That's OK. You can win regardless of whether you pass to set up the run or run to set up the pass. The key is balance, which you must have to be a BCS contender. It doesn't matter how you achieve it. 

That's why, if I were Weis, I would look for a "running game coordinator" to replace Haywood. He needs an old salt --- an offensive version of Jon Tenuta, if you will --- whose sole responsibility is getting the running game up and running. Perhaps it's an offensive line coach who is ready for more responsibility. Maybe it's an run-oriented offensive coordinator who would work in concert with an offensive line coach of his (and Weis') choosing. Either way, Weis needs someone he can count on to improve this critical area because it hasn't improved enough under his watch during the past two seasons.

This might seem like an awkward set-up but it has worked elsewhere in the past. Bill Callahan successfully served in such a role when Jon Gruden coached the Raiders. If I'm not mistaken, Gruden called pass plays and Callahan running plays for a team that was dominating the AFC West at the time. Such a relationship might even benefit Weis, who seems more effective calling passing plays than running plays. (Is it just me, or do ND's running plays seem predictable to the point of being telegraphed?) In fact, it might be the perfect solution. If the proper chemistry can be found between Weis and his new "running game coordinator," the result could keep Weis involved with game-planning and play-calling while also allowing him to spend some time in the more traditional head-coaching role.

Now for the conspiracy theory ... 

If you were Weis, and you knew you were on a short leash heading into next season, you might decide to be your own offensive coordinator for a couple of reasons. First of all, if the ship is going to go down, you may as well be at the helm. Weis' speciality is offense. Why wouldn't he want direct control of his and his team's fate? It's like he said after the Boston College game (I'm paraphrasing here): "If what's broken falls under your area of expertise you better go fix it." The Irish offense was potent during his first two years when he was the primary game-planner and play-caller. He relinquished those duties last season and probably regretted it. Nobody could blame him for serving as the primary offensive coordinator once again.

The second reason is where the "conspiracy theory" comes into play. What happens if Notre Dame loses to Nevada in the 2009 season opener? Would Weis get fired? What if the offense performs poorly in the first three games? Would AD Jack Swarbrick be tempted to make a move during the season? Put yourself in Swarbrick's shoes. Let's say Weis replaces Haywood with himself and adds another assistant to the staff. If Swarbrick did want to fire Weis during the season, who would run the offense? That would have to factor into his decision. Is Ron Powlus ready to be an offensive coordinator? It wouldn't be fair to players for Swarbrick to get rid of Weis is there is nobody else on the staff capable of running the offense.

The point is this: By not hiring an offensive coordinator Weis might be able to buy himself some time in case the worst-case scenario unfolds. Let's say the Irish have a rocky first three games, then straighten things out and win the rest. In such a scenario, not having anybody on the staff experienced enough to run the offense might save his job. 


  

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19 Comments

The running game's problems result from missed OL assignments. So often double teams leave a DL or LB unblocked. And 1/2 our running plays are without a fullback to block. All those runs for losses have at least one untouched tackler. Often the OL looks blind to the assignment lined up in front of them and leaves them completely untouched. The coaching challenge is to get these guys playing better mentally. They have the skills. And getting Chris Stewart back helped. Rudolph needs some work. Grimes is a great blocker, rarely misses and assignment. Once solved Jimmy and company should be able to pick apart much of the competition. Also, Jonas Gray should be a factor next year with that nice ability to make tacklers miss.

The running game's problems result from missed OL assignments. So often double teams leave a DL or LB unblocked. And 1/2 our running plays are without a fullback to block. All those runs for losses have at least one untouched tackler. Often the OL looks blind to the assignment lined up in front of them and leaves them completely untouched. The coaching challenge is to get these guys playing better mentally. They have the skills. And getting Chris Stewart back helped. Rudolph needs some work. Grimes is a great blocker, rarely misses and assignment. Once solved Jimmy and company should be able to pick apart much of the competition. Also, Jonas Gray should be a factor next year with that nice ability to make tacklers miss.

I love the idea of Andy Heck for OC / OL coach. Get a new new young hotshot RB coach and great things can happen!

Running back coach? Why not Anthony Johnson?!!

Who cares? Let's look at the entire body of work. It pathetic and this guy should have been fired after the USC game. How can anyone be motivated by Weis. I've heard several players regret their decision to come to ND. This team will be in the same position next year and all ND will still be the laughing stock of college football. Wake up people.

Who cares? Let's look at the entire body of work. It pathetic and this guy should have been fired after the USC game. How can anyone be motivated by Weis. I've heard several players regret their decision to come to ND. This team will be in the same position next year and all ND will still be the laughing stock of college football. Wake up people.

Who cares? Let's look at the entire body of work. It pathetic and this guy should have been fired after the USC game. How can anyone be motivated by Weis. I've heard several players regret their decision to come to ND. This team will be in the same position next year and all ND will still be the laughing stock of college football. Wake up people.

Who cares? Let's look at the entire body of work. It pathetic and this guy should have been fired after the USC game. How can anyone be motivated by Weis. I've heard several players regret their decision to come to ND. This team will be in the same position next year and all ND will still be the laughing stock of college football. Wake up people.

Who cares? Let's look at the entire body of work. It pathetic and this guy should have been fired after the USC game. How can anyone be motivated by Weis. I've heard several players regret their decision to come to ND. This team will be in the same position next year and all ND will still be the laughing stock of college football. Wake up people.

What about Tony Franklin? He had success developing explosive offenses even though he got the ax at Auburn 6 games into the season.

Nice article -- A running coordinator will do no good unless the O line can learn the fundamental blocks that are the foundation of any running game. It is hard to watch week after week such a potentially good line with top recruits not being able to consistently execute basic blocks as a unit. This is the poorest line coaching that I have ever seen at ND (and I am 59 years old). It is unfair to the players. More importantly then Latina leaving, which needs to happen today, is Weis's understanding of the fundamentals of college football. X's and O's are great but college coaching starts with teaching basics and the focus on teaching needs to start with Weis's committment. It cannot be delegated. Even if Weis doesn't teach himself he needs to hire the right coaches and create an atmosphere of committment for their success.

What about the jaguars Andy Heck for o-line coach, or if it's too much of a step down maybe give him some oc consideration?

Mike Coffey has suggested Mitch Browning of Syracuse for OC (http://www.suathletics.com/News/Football/2007/12/7/browning12707.asp?path=football). Sounds like the kind of guy who could get through to CW.

great article except for mentioning powlus in the oc context. He has done absolutely nothing to help the irish and he hasn't brought in one recruit we need a proven oc and quaterbacks coach who also can be good recruiters.

John Latina a disciple from Joe Moore must have been sleeping as a GA and understudy. I am not an offensive line coach nor do I profess to know it all but I can tell you that in the 1st half of the Pitt game our O-Line was downfield blocking. Not sliding upright at the line of scrimmage. I know Pitt was weak in the D-Line but I have a hard time believing our O-Line isn't strong enough to push around 80% of the College football teams D-Line. Look at what's weak and that has been our O-Line since Lou left.

Charlie will hire an OC and if he tried to do it himself the AD would step in.
A smash mouth OL coach like under Holtz, an OC who can say no to Charlie and a proven QB coach and ND is off to the races.
If Charlie is not 10-2 or 9-3 in '09 then he is gone. ND will be able to hire a top notch coach because the stable is full, unlike when TW left.


...powlus isn't the solution...he's part of the problem...

Good article. The conspiracy theory is interesting, but I dont see Weis going that route. I dont know who is out there that he can bring in as O-coordinator or even who could help with RB's. How many people would want to come knowing Weis could be fired.

Nice idea on the "running game coordinator" position. The conspiracy theory is hardly worth responding to, but I will anyway. For all the faults Weis has, I don't believe a motivation to selfishly "CYA" is one of them. He will devise a strategy that gives them the best chance to win, not a strategy that protects himself if they lose. That said, I suppose it's possible that he could still come to an honest conclusion that naming himself offensive coordinator is what gives them the best chance to win (for example if all the best OC candidates are unwilling to hop on board a sinking ship). In that case, if I were Swarbrick I would overrule that decision and insist that he hire a coordinator for the reason you mentioned. But odds are, if they fire Weis mid-season they'll probably ask him to finish the season anyway.

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This page contains a single entry by Neil Hayes published on December 29, 2008 9:45 AM.

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