Chicago Sun-Times
with Mark Lazerus

January 2009 Archives

January 29, 2009

Bryant Young Joins Notre Dame Football Staff As Graduate Assistant
Notre Dame graduate and 14-year NFL veteran to help Irish defense
It looks like Tim Grunhard, a former ND star, may turn down Charlie Weis' offer to be a grad assistant. Grunhard reportedly is visiting Notre Dame today just out of respect to Weis.

Gruden to Notre Dame?

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THIS IS FROM PROFOOTBALLTALK.COM: With each passing hour, speculation is mounting that former Bucs coach Jon Gruden could become the next coach at Notre Dame. Apart from the rumors published recently in the New York Daily News, we're hearing more and more talk pointing to the possibility that something will be going down, apparently right after the Irish's incoming recruiting class give their binding, written commitments to attend the school, on the assumption that Weis will be the head coach. And so, once it's too late for the recruits to change their minds, they might find out that they'll have a new head coach when spring practice opens.

Charlie Weis needed a running backs coach. That position has underachieved along with the offensive line the past two seasons. Tony Alford, who was named as Mike Haywood's replacement on Monday, seems like a capable replacement (see previous entry for more background on Alford). 
The biggest news, however, is the anticipated announcement that ex-Irish All-Americans Tim Grunhard and Bryant Young will join the staff as graduate assistants.

Tony Alford Named Notre Dame¹s Running Backs Coach New running backs coach has produced seven 1,000-yard rushers in his coaching career

Verducci Named OL Coach

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January 14, 2009

Frank Verducci Named Notre Dame¹s Offensive Line Coach
Veteran offensive coach brings 27 years of coaching experience to Irish

NOTRE DAME, Ind.  Frank Verducci, a veteran offensive coach with 27 years
of coaching experience at the NFL and collegiate levels, has been named
offensive line coach at Notre Dame, head coach Charlie Weis announced

Verducci joins the Irish after working eight of the past 10 years in the NFL
with Cleveland (2007-08), Buffalo (2004-05), Dallas (2002) and Cincinnati
(1999-2001). Prior to moving to professional football, he spent 19 seasons
in the college ranks at Iowa (1989-98 and 1985-86), Northwestern (1987-88),
Northern Illinois (1984), Maryland (1981-83) and Colorado State (1980).

³Frank provides an excellent background on both the offensive line and run
game in general from two perspectives, having coached several years in
professional football and at the Division I level  predominantly in the Big
Ten,² Irish head coach Charlie Weis said. ³His experience will be an asset
both to our players and our staff.

³In addition, the name Verducci in New Jersey high school football is
legendary as both his father and uncle were coaching icons. This should aid
our recruiting efforts in New Jersey and the Northeast.

³On a side note, it didn¹t hurt that his wife (Noel) is a Saint Mary¹s

The past two years Verducci served as an offensive assistant coach with the
Cleveland Browns. His job responsibilities included assisting the offensive
coordinator in framing the run game, presenting the weekly opponent scouting
report to the offense and installing Friday¹s game plan for the offensive
unit. Verducci assisted the play caller on game days with situational
offense and was responsible for clock management.

In 2007, the Browns won 10 games behind an offense that was one of the best
in the NFL. The 10 victories were the most by the Browns since 1994 and the
offense ranked eighth in the NFL, best by Cleveland since 1981. Verducci
assisted with an offense that sent four players to the Pro Bowl that year:
quarterback Derek Anderson, wide receiver Braylon Edwards, left tackle Joe
Thomas and tight end Kellen Winslow Jr.

Thomas became the first Browns rookie offensive lineman ever to be selected
to the Pro Bowl. In 2008, Thomas was tabbed for the annual all-star game,
becoming the first Browns offensive lineman to be chosen in consecutive
seasons in 21 years.

Verducci also assisted an offense in Cleveland that resurrected the career
of running back Jamal Lewis. Lewis eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards in 2007 and
2008 and became the first Browns running back to accomplish that two-year
feat in 27 years.

³I¹m very excited for this opportunity and am grateful to Coach Weis,²
Verducci said. ³Notre Dame is the one college job I pursued and is the only
school I considered leaving the NFL for.

³I¹m looking forward to this return to college football and developing the
talent we have here. The difference between the pro and college levels is
the development you are able to see as they transform from young men when
they enter to mature men when they graduate. I can¹t wait to get started.²

Prior to joining the Browns¹ staff, Verducci spent two years with Buffalo as
an assistant offensive line and tight ends coach in 2004 before being
promoted to offensive line coach in 2005. He worked closely with tackle
Jason Peters (2007 Pro Bowler) who started 10 games in 2005 including each
of the final nine contests.

In his first two seasons as a pro, running back Willis McGahee gained more
than 1,100 rushing yards both years and scored 18 combined touchdowns, with
Verducci part of the offensive line coaching staff. In 2004, tight ends Mark
Campbell and Tim Euhus combined to catch seven touchdowns.

Verducci joined the Dallas Cowboys as offensive line coach in 2002 after
being the tight ends coach of the Cincinnati Bengals from 1999-2001. With
the Cowboys, Verducci worked with three Pro Bowl offensive linemen: guard
Larry Allen, guard Andre Gurode and left tackle Flozell Adams. Allen only
played five games while Gurode started 14 contests in his rookie season and
Adams started all 16 games while blocking for Emmitt Smith, the NFL¹s
all-time leading rusher.

Ten years of working with the offensive line at Iowa preceded Verducci¹s NFL
coaching career. From 1989-98 he worked for Hayden Fry as the Hawkeye
offense averaged 171.5 rushing yards per game during his decade in Iowa
City. From 1989-91 Verducci served as the assistant offensive line coach and
recruiting coordinator before becoming the offensive line coach in 1992. In
1995 he added run game coordinator to his title. Verducci was ranked one of
the top 10 recruiters in the country by Tom Lemming in 1990 and by Allen
Wallace at SuperPrep from 1990-92 and in 1995.

Twelve of his offensive lineman at Iowa went on to make NFL rosters and six
players were named first-team all-Big Ten performers. In 1992, center Mike
Devlin was selected the Big Ten Lineman of the Year and was a first-team

Verducci was part of the coaching staff that helped guide the Hawkeyes to
six bowl games during his decade in Iowa City (one Rose Bowl, one Holiday
Bowl, two Alamo Bowls and two Sun Bowls). He also served as a graduate
assistant at Iowa from 1985-86 when Iowa attended the Holiday Bowl and Rose

Three of the 10 best single-season rushing totals occurred with Verducci as
offensive line coach at Iowa, and five of the top eight individual
single-game rushing performances happened between 1989-98.

Iowa won the Big Ten Conference title in 1990, and the rushing attack was a
major contributor to the Hawkeyes¹ success. Iowa averaged 224.9 rushing
yards per game that year, the most by an Iowa team since 1968. The Hawks
averaged 221.0 rushing yards per game in 1994 and 217.0 rushing yards in
1997.  The aforementioned rushing averages are three of the four best in the
last 40 seasons of Iowa football.

Sandwiched between his stints at Iowa was a stop in Northwestern where
Verducci coached wide receivers from 1987-88. He started his coaching career
in 1980 as a graduate assistant at Colorado State before working with
Maryland¹s tight ends as a part-time coach from 1981-83. The Bobby
Ross-coached Terrapins were ACC champions in 1983 and appeared in the Citrus
Bowl after concluding the 1982 season with a trip to the Aloha Bowl. In
1984, Verducci was the running backs and strength coach at Northern Illinois
for head coach Lee Corso.

A native of Glen Ridge, N.J., Frank James Verducci was born March 17, 1957
in East Orange, N.J., and graduated from Seton Hall Preparatory School. He
played fullback and tight end at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy  Kings
Point and received his bachelor¹s degree from Seton Hall University in 1980.
He and his wife, Noel, have a son, Jack, and a daughter, Cameron.

Verducci replaces John Latina who resigned Wednesday to pursue other

Year                  School/Team                  Assignment
1980                  Colorado State                  Graduate Assistant
1981-83                  Maryland                  Tight Ends
1984                  Northern Illinois                  Running
Backs/Strength & Conditioning Coach
1985-86                  Iowa                  Graduate Assistant
1987-88                  Northwestern                  Wide Receivers
1989-91                  Iowa                  Assistant Offensive
Line/Recruiting Coordinator
1992-94                  Iowa                  Offensive Line
1995-98                  Iowa                  Offensive Line/Running Game
1999-2000                  Cincinnati Bengals                  Tight Ends
2001                  Cincinnati Bengals                  Tight
Ends/Assistant Offensive Line
2002                  Dallas Cowboys                  Offensive Line
2004                  Buffalo Bills                  Assistant Offensive
Line/Tight Ends
2005                  Buffalo Bills                  Offensive Line
2007-08                  Cleveland Browns                  Offensive
Assistant Coach
2009                  Notre Dame                  Offensive Line


The following is a release from John Heisler, Notre Dame's Senior Associate Athletics Director for Media and Broadcast Relations:

The 3.03 television rating (2,974,026 households) for the Notre Dame-Hawaii game gave the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl the second most improved rating of any of the 34 postseason bowl games in 2008-09.

The '08 Hawaii Bowl rating jumped 106 percent compared to the 1.47 rating last year for the game that featured East Carolina and Boise State. 

The only game that showed more improvement was the Roady's Humanitarian Bowl that finished with 217 percent improvement. Maryland and Nevada in '08 drew a 2.44 compared to a 0.77 for the '07 game between Fresno State and Georgia Tech.  


Jappy Oliver Resigns

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I just received this e-mail from Notre Dame football sports information director Brian Hardin, which is ironic given this morning's post dealt specifically with defensive assistants and the program's struggles to recruit blue-chip defensive linemen.

Tom Lemming's quote echoes ... 

Here's the statement from Hardin: "Defensive line coach Jappy Oliver has resigned from his position at the University of Notre Dame to pursue other opportunities." 

Oliver didn't fail as a coach so much as he did as a recruiter. Expect Weis to bring in a quality recruiter to replace him. Who knows? Maybe they will join the Bears in the Rod Marinelli sweepstakes (kidding). 

Charlie Weis must make some coaching moves eventually. 

I wrote a short column for the Sun-Times website on Tuesday about the Big Ten's woes in bowl games. I've thought a lot about this topic in recent years and had even come up with a theory of my own. I wondered if basketball wasn't partially to blame. Think about it. Basketball draws a lot of talent away from football in the Midwest's largest population centers. I don't know if that's true in places such as Texas and the South, where football is the undisputed king. Imagine if Derrick Rose had played football instead of basketball. 

I'm not saying that's the only reason why Big Ten teams seem to have less talent than teams from other conferences. But I thought it was a factor. In researching the piece I did for the website, however, I spoke with CBS College Sports recruiting analyst Tom Lemming and his explanation blew mine out of the water. He said that schools in the SEC and in other major conferences are more willing to pay big bucks for position coaches who are talented recruiters because school officials realize that it takes talent to win and winning brings in more money. He contends that Big Ten schools are traditionally less willing to pay non-coordinators big bucks and therefore the top recruiters go elsewhere. 

If you're wondering what all this has to do with Notre Dame, stick with me. 

Logic says Weis will soon make staffing changes. Not only must he replace offensive coordinator Mike Haywood, who accepted the head job at Miami University, but other changes are likely in the offing. The aspect of my job that I enjoy least is speculating about other's people's jobs, especially when it's difficult to decipher just who is responsible for what. That said, it would be difficult to justify the return of offensive line coach John Latina after the way that unit has performed the past two seasons. There could be some turnover among defensive position coaches as well.

Recruiting will and should play a large role in the process. As we all know, Weis has proven to be an effective recruiter. His last two classes ranked in the top five in the nation and Lemming says the current class will rank somewhere between 10th and 20th as it currently stands, although that could change with additional commitments. 

Attracting top-notch defensive linemen continues to the biggest weakness in Notre Dame's recruiting efforts. Lemming said the incoming class has no impact defensive lineman, either, which would make adding an assistant who can effectively recruit the type of defensive linemen it takes to have a dominant defense a wise decision.

"Defensively, they don't have Alabama-Florida talent but offensively their talent is as good as anybody's this side of USC," Lemming said. "It's an offense waiting to explode. Defensively, they have real good defensive backs but they really need linebackers and defensive linemen. They're really not getting quality players there."

As I've said before, if poor recruiting contributed to Ty Willingham's firing than it stands to reason that Weis' vastly improved recruiting record would have been a factor in athletics director Jack Swarbrick retaining him after this past season. But this is a troublesome trend. The teams that contend for national championships are dominant on both sides of the ball. If you don't believe me, check out Florida and Oklahoma tonight (as I'm sure you all will).

The only vacancy on Weis' staff as of today is on offense but one of the most critical issues facing the program --- lack of impact defensive linemen and perhaps even linebackers --- must be addressed, which means he may need to make some defensive changes as well.

"The defensive coaches need to bring in great players like Alabama, Florida and USC and they'll win big," Lemming said. "It's the defensive coaches' responsibility to bring great players to Notre Dame. If the defensive coaches aren't doing it the blame should be entirely on them. Ethan Johnson is the only heavily recruited defensive lineman they have brought in in recent years. Other schools bring in three or four per year. The defensive staff should bring in impact players every year and if they don't it's their fault."

It will be interesting to see if Weis shares Lemming's view. Stay tuned.

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