Coaching Changes, Running Game, Conspiracy Theories
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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